The Kin We Break: Rethinking Connection with Queer Kinship: Race, Sex, Belonging,Form

As a rural lesbian, I always make it through Pride month with a few difficult questions: Whom can I count on? Where can my wife and I go? Who’s calling themselves an ally, and who’s “reclaiming” the rainbow? At the heart of these and similar questions is how I am intimately — or violently — connected to the people and places around me.

Growing up queer and into queerness often means to have been forced or to have felt compelled to (re)evaluate and (re)consider what it means to be in community and feel at home.

Growing up queer and into queerness often means to have been forced or to have felt compelled to (re)evaluate and (re)consider what it means to be in community and feel at home. While we know humans are a social species and need affirming affective connections, the notions of how communities thrive (or don’t) have been especially fraught for queer individuals, and these difficulties tend to compound as race, place, gender, class, and ability intersect with various systems.

While reading Queer Kinship: Race, Sex, Belonging, Form and writing this review, I have been surrounded by friends, family, colleagues, and my little menagerie of pets – groups I all call kin. Like many other queer people, I have come to understand “kinship” as a positive and desirable part of personal lives and community relationships. My liberal education has also proposed “kinship” as a goal for justice work and necessary to myriad forms of resistance and liberation. “Kinship” has come to mean finding connections, being seen, making homes, and letting others do the same — what could be wrong with that?

This collection wants us to be unsettled…

Queer Kinship asks us to think differently about our relationships. This collection wants us to be unsettled (in the way that good writing unsettles us), and one enjoyable way it achieves this is through linguistic play. Queer Kinship makes us confront (kin)coherence, (k)incoherence: a concept that “fuses the mutually constituting and complicating forces, desires, practices, relations, institutions, and forms that render kinship a horizon of violence and possibility.” You’ll also encounter kin-aesthetics, kinematics, kin(d)nesskinstillations, and a-kinship. In disrupting words, so too are their meanings and associations challenged.

With essays invested in situating and critiquing the ways queer theory and kinship theory overlap, the collection covers a wide range of material and critical interests. The volume organizes twelve articles and one interview into three sections: Queering Lineages; Kinship, State, Empire; and Kinship in the Negative. These sections speak to the theoretical foundations of kinship theory as well as its present and future application in queer, trans*, race, and gender theories. Theoverall narrative editors Tyler Bradway and Elizabeth Freeman offer stands apart from many progressivist or naïvely optimistic readings of queer kinship wherein it is coded as comfort, connection, and “chosen family.” While not discrediting the affirming aspects of kinship, the collection is much more interested in the “complex relationships to the historical, ontological, and epistemological violence that kinship engenders.” In other words, in what ways is the desire to make kin and have that kin recognized as such related to imperialism, racism, homophobia, ableism, and classism? Bradway, Freeman, and contributors — which include philosophers, decolonial scholars, anthropologists, and queer/trans literary critics — ask us to rethink the family as something no longer desperate for or validated by its recognition as what Judith Butler calls “socially coherent.” Instead, by looking at non-biological, non-linear, and non-capitalist modes of inheritance and care, we see how these dis/connections have looked and might affect the future as marginalized queer communities continue to make, find, and reject kin.

The kin we break reforms the kin we make.

As the list of contributing authors suggests, a major goal, and one I think achieved, of Queer Kinship: Race, Sex, Belonging, Form is to “underscore that there can be no history of queerness without an attention to the ways that kinship operates as a key site of dispossession, exploitation, and struggle for racialized and minoritized social groups.” As someone reluctant to buy into the Pride and progress narratives of social Rainbow-washing, I find the pointed language and critical readings in Queer Kinship: Race, Sex, Belonging, Form essential, illuminating, and even refreshingly pessimistic. The kin we break reforms the kin we make.