‘Blood Strangers: A Memoir’ by Katherine A. Briccetti
Author: Laura Heston
November 2, 2011
What causes us to call each other ‘family’? Do genetic links hold meanings in the absence of actually meeting one who shares them? Is blood thicker than water when water is all you’ve ever known? Each of these questions is considered in Blood Strangers (Heyday Books), a memoir of one woman’s search for her father’s biological family. Briccetti documents, in vivid detail and often elegant prose, her obsession with her own genealogy. She also consciously, and thankfully, juxtaposes her own experience as the daughter of an adoptee to that of her father who has no interest in searching for his long-lost biological kin. People are more or less invested in biogenetic families compared to the families they’ve built—Briccetti is clear on this. It is also clear that discovering unknown blood kin has a strong psychic pull for her.
Briccetti situates this story in the context of her own experience of becoming a parent to two biological children with her partner, Pam, and a creeping anxiety over whether she has denied her sons a father by using an unknown sperm donor. Briccetti has two fathers of her own; a biological father who her mother left when she was a toddler and a step-father who eventually adopts her but whose connection to her is in question after he leaves her mother years later. Briccetti tells us that this tumultuousness is the catalyst for her turning back to her roots and looking for the grandparents she never knew.
Though it is clear from the outset that Briccetti would never use such a politicized phrase, beneath the details of Briccetti’s account is a story about queer families. I mean ‘queer’ in two senses: Briccetti and her partner are both women, sure, but they are also doing family in a way that incorporates and honors both non-biological kin and blood relatives in equal measure. Briccetti is ready to welcome perfect strangers, blood strangers, into her life while never discounting her connections to non-biological kin: her step-father’s family, her birth-father’s adoptive kin, the relationship her partner has to their children. In a time when divorce is more common than staying together, remarriage is normal, and many children have more than two parents, this story is above all about the adaptability of modern (or, post-modern?) families.
As an adoptee I was more than satisfied with Briccetti’s portrayal of the search for belonging and connection that became a defining character trait for her as she reached an age when searching for biological kin was her only recourse. Briccetti communicates these feelings brilliantly and thoughtfully throughout the memoir, and particularly the role of fantasy.
I’d hoped to feel a jolt of recognition, an immediate connection to him, the sense that I knew him, had always known him. I had fantasized about our reunion, our own made-for-television movie: We embrace then pull back to stare meaningfully into each other’s faces, he gingerly touching my face and whispering something like, “Never again will you be lost to me.”
However, as a queer woman, I felt disappointed by Briccetti’s dismissive treatment of queer politics. For instance:
Neither Pam nor I was what I called an in-your-face lesbian, women who kissed in public, rode motorcycles topless in the Gay Pride Parade, marched stridently for the cause…Our contribution would be more subtle. Every person who got to know us would see we weren’t to be feared. We would infiltrate with stealth, change minds one at a time.
Talk about fantasy.
Perhaps unintentionally, through her own story, Bricceti suggests all of our families are fantasy– affiliations that exist predominantly in our own minds. Families are certainly not dictated by genetics, they change shape many times in a lifetime, positive feelings are not necessary to their constitution, and people continue to make families in ways that defy legal classifications in new, and decidedly queer, ways. This book is one of many recent testaments to this.
Blood Strangers: A Memoir
By Katherine A. Briccetti
Paperback, 9781597141307, 299pp.