Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Not-so-new after all
In my August 14 meditation on family history, I call gay families "something totally new under the sun."
But my landlady, Ruthanne Lum McCunn, an award-winning author of Chinese-American historical novels, says that it's more complicated than that.
"Gay families may be new here in America," she told me, "but some of the 19th century independent spinsters who lived as couples in China's Pearl River Delta adopted and raised daughters."
That's interesting, and I just learned of a new study by Allan A. Tulchin of Shippenburg University that argues for evidence of homosexual civic unions in 15th century France.
Yes, I agree, that sounds pretty freaking unlikely. Turns out that Tulchin doesn't have a smoking gun of hot man-on-man marriage, but he did discover a legal framework, called a affrèrement ("brotherment"), that allowed same-sex people ("affrèrés") to set up households together.
“All of their goods usually became the joint property of both parties, and each commonly became the other’s legal heir," writes Tulchin in the September issue of the Journal of Modern History. "They also frequently testified that they entered into the contract because of their affection for one another. As with all contracts, affrèrements had to be sworn before a notary and required witnesses, commonly the friends of the affrèrés.”
Most of the affrèrés were brothers, but Tulchin finds examples of single unrelated men. "I suspect that some of these relationships were sexual, while others may not have been," he writes. "It is impossible to prove either way and probably also somewhat irrelevant to understanding their way of thinking. They loved each other, and the community accepted that."
My verdict: Intriguing and fun, but highly speculative. Gay and lesbian families might have historical precursors, but I still think that we are witnessing a rare and wonderful event: the emergence of a new family form, where same-sex parents can live their lives free of euphemism and fear--in San Francisco, anyway, and in plenty of other places.
Incidentally, Ruthanne just published a new novel, God of Luck, that is well worth a read. You can see Ruthanne read tomorrow, Sept. 26, at the San Francisco Main Public Library at 6:30 pm in the Latino Community Room.