A new memoir by a lesbian mom interweaves the strands of her life from San Francisco in the 1960s through teaching, law school, coming out, starting a family, and surviving two types of cancer.
Martina Reaves’ I’m Still Here (She Writes Press) moves us back and forth between two periods of her life, beginning with her arrival in San Francisco at age 20, where she marries a hippie streetcar driver and lives in a commune that he founded. We then jump forward several decades to when she and her female partner are trying to figure out how to tell their grown son about her diagnosis of tongue cancer. Each thread evolves gradually to fill in the details of her life, from living in the commune, to teaching in the Virgin Islands with her husband, to becoming a lawyer and mediator, meeting her future wife at the law firm where they both worked. This braiding of narratives gives texture to the tale and avoids the linear, one-thing-after-another plodding that mars some memoirs. We are given glimpses of her later life and wonder how she got there, then move back to explore the earlier events and encounters that shaped her.
While the book does not focus primarily on becoming a lesbian mom, Reaves nevertheless offers insights into life as one of the first intentional lesbian families. “No lesbian mom handbook existed,” she observes, and takes us through the process she and her partner Tanya went through to find a donor, define his role, and raise their son despite criticism from Tanya’s Bible Belt family and a lack of legal protection. “We struggle with systems that don’t actually recognize our family,” she writes. Later, she observes, “The thing about being the first lesbian family in your neighborhood or school is that any time your child acts out, you fear that everyone will think it’s because he’s from a lesbian family.” Both are sentiments many readers here will likely understand. We also see the everyday challenges of parenting that she and Tanya face as their son grows into his teens, and how their family expands when, in college, he wants to meet his donor.
This is not a story primarily about parenting, however, even though parenting occupies much of it. Rather, is Reaves’ emotional and spiritual journey after her ostensibly terminal cancer diagnosis that provides the core of the narrative around which the rest intertwines. How can she make meaning of her life when she thinks she is about to lose it? What are the important moments and relationships that have shaped her into who she is today, and how can they help sustain her?
Despite the somber topic, however, this is not a sad tale but rather a hopeful one. There is gentle humor here, too, as well as self-reflection and wisdom that may benefit many, whether grappling with serious illness or not. After finishing radiation treatment, for example, before she knows the outcome, she observes, “All I can do at the moment is live my life day by day and savor what’s important: intimate moments with family and friends, the yellow roses that just bloomed in my backyard, and the wisteria falling over the front fence, so softly blue.” Those seeking an inspiring read as well as a look at one early intentional lesbian mom family should find much to satisfy them here.
(I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program that provides a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.)