Monday, September 21, 2015

"Modern Families: Stories of Extraordinary Kinship," by Joshua Gamson

Joshua Gamson, a University of San Francisco colleague who is a sociologist, has written a compelling book titled “Modern Families: Stories of Extraordinary Journeys to Kinship” (New York University Press, 2015). It is a fascinating combination of sociological text, memoir, and gripping and suspenseful stories (Will the technology work? Will the surrogate change her mind? Will the legal issues be overcome?). It is also both thought-provoking and moving. Gamson looks at the topic of today’s various ways of forming families, focusing on several lesbian and gay parents who created their families through technology, surrogacy, adoption, and other ways now available. The sociological observations are woven throughout a series of extended true stories. One of the stories is his own; he and his partner, with the help of friends, kind strangers, technology, and some good fortune, have two daughters together. The path was not easy for them or for the other parents and their families described here. There were hesitations, discussions, money spent, trips taken, legal issues overcome, setbacks, disappointments, hope, hope dashed, and fear of others changing their minds, but finally, there were children and there were families. Gamson outlines many of the issues from a sociologist’s point of view and approach. He also addresses issues of equity, exploring the possible inherent moral issues in, for example, using a surrogate who is doing it partly for the money, or in adopting children from a faraway country and/or a different race than the parents. Also discussed are the political issues and fights that have led to the possibilities of these "modern families." And of course there are still fights to fight, in society and with the law. The author also reminds us how problematic it is that currently it is almost impossible for those without middle or upper-class resources to achieve families in the ways that those in the book have done. But this book is definitely not only for fellow sociologists, or just for activists; Gamson’s writing makes the book, and its stories and its issues, accessible, extremely readable, and even gripping to the general reader. And of course the fact that one of the stories is his own, and others are stories of friends and acquaintances, makes the stories feel very up-close and personal. The author is generous in sharing his own experiences and feelings, as are the others portrayed here, although of course he protects their privacy to the extent that they requested it. He writes engagingly, with passion, openness, and a bit of humor. What comes through most strongly is that these adults wanted children and families so much that they were willing to spend a tremendous amount of time, money, energy, and emotions in order to create those children and families. Their joy at doing so is beautifully evident. And the reader can’t help feeling joyful for them as well. This particular reader was drawn in to the stories, worried about the families, read faster to see what happened, and rejoiced with them when they were ultimately successful.
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