“You feel like you can’t because that’s the message we get when we’re different. That’s how the culture punishes people who are different: it tells us that if we don’t make ourselves “normal,” then we can’t have the benefits “normal” people get. Family, friends, kids, work and so on. That’s bullshit.” -Bergman
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Publisher’s blurb (from Amazon): “S. Bear Bergman is an acclaimed writer and lecturer who travels regularly across North America to speak on trans issues. Bear’s first two books, Butch Is a Noun and The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You, are considered seminal texts on the subject of trans life. In his third essay collection, Bear enters, describes, and rearranges our ideas about family as a daughter, husband, father, and friend. In Bear’s extended family “orchard,” drag sisters, sperm-donor’s parents, Sparkles and other relations provide more branches of love, support, and sustenance than a simple family tree. Defiantly queer yet full of tenderness and hilarity, Blood, Marriage, Wine & Glitter is a beautifully thought-provoking book that redefines the notion of what family is and can be.” (Arsenal Pulp Press ©2013)
I’ve been thinking about what adjectives I want to use in describing this collection of essays, and not be be redundant with the blurb, but ‘tender’ is the one that keeps coming to mind.
I don’t think I’ve ever seriously used the word ‘tender’ in my life, but it fits. This books is thoughtful and sweet, but doesn’t shy away from challenging issues. Instead, heavy topics are discussed in a loving, compassionate way, even when it’s clear that the author was hurt or angry.
I was introduced to Bergman through the (sadly discontinued) Ask Bear series on bitchmedia.org. It’s sort of like Dear Abby, except Bergman is so much gentler and more helpful than any other advice columnist I’ve ever read. His response to letter writers is always practical, but emotional, and reads like it’s genuinely a letter from a friend, instead of a stranger on the internet. He ends each response with ‘love and courage,’.
So I already knew I liked his style, and was excited about reading a full-length work. I decided to start with ‘Blood, Marriage, Wine and Glitter’ for two reasons. 1- the title is freaking amazing and 2- I think essays about families tend to be the most complex- there’s love there, but also disappointment, anger, regret and the million other feelings that come along with family ties.
Bergman didn’t disappoint. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone, of any of gender, sex, or sexual orientation.
I want to do this book justice. I want to explain it in a way that will convey how touching it was. Bergman’s essays weave together his experiences as a spouse, as a parent, as a child and as a friend. It’s about the family you create for yourself, but it’s so much more than that too.
It’s about how your identity is shaped by the people around you, yet how your identity is wholly personal. It’s about the complexity of navigating societal expectations, and the pull between personal information and educating others. It’s about mundane things, like tea and matchbooks. It’s about life-altering things like love and connection.
Some of the essays focus on trans-specific experiences. Some don’t. Some focus on polyamory. Some don’t. Some are about being Jewish. Some aren’t. In any case, each essay ties back into the idea that family isn’t a cut and dry concept. I don’t want to downplay the role that sex and gender play in Bergman’s essays- they’re a vital piece of the storytelling, but I also don’t want to give the impression that this book will only be understood by people who can relate directly to those issues.
If you have a family, whether they’re related by blood or not, this book is for you. It touches on those deep truths that cross cultures and religions: the people we love, and the families we live in are complicated. They can be joyous and enriching, but it isn’t always easy. Life isn’t straightforward, and neither are the people we share ours with.
The only downside (if you can call it that) is that Bergman’s style is a little ramble-y. There are lots of interjections and it sometimes reads like stream-of-consciousness. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it might take a little bit of adjustment before you can follow his rhythm.
It’s well worth the read. My TBR pile is totally unmanageable, but I’m going to add Bergman’s other works anyway. His warmth and humor shine through, even when the topics are rough, and I set the book down feeling a sense of contentment and satisfaction that I can’t seem to describe. It reaffirms all of the good things about love without becoming unrealistic.