At this year's annual meeting of the Law and Society Association (in Honolulu), I chaired an "author meets reader" session on Mignon Moore's 2011 book, Invisible Families: Gay Identities, Relationships, and Motherhood Among Black Women. I had a distinguished set of "readers" who commented on Mignon's book. The group consisted of two law professors, Kim Pearson and Catherine Smith; a women's studies professor, Cathy Connolly; an NCLR staff attorney, Cathy Sakimura; and a state supreme court justice, Sabrina McKenna of the Hawaii Supreme Court.
You may have read much research on lesbian mothers and lesbian families that includes the disclaimer about the low number of women of color as subjects. The title of Mignon Moore's book, Invisible Families, speaks volume about those disclaimers. With this book, black lesbians and their families are no longer invisible. Not that one book can appropriately balance out glaring research deficits. It's just that now we have something to look to. This book frequently notes different findings about her subjects than those found in research on white lesbians, especially those with feminist leanings/awareness. (Perhaps the biggest contrast to this book is another that was the subject of a Law and Society session: Transforming Law's Family: The Legal Recognition of Planned Lesbian Motherhood, by University of British Columbia law professor Fiona Kelly. Most of the families in that book are both white and feminist. I was honored to be a "reader" at that LSA "author meets reader" session.)
Invisible Families is receiving well-deserved acclaim. It is the recipient of this year's American Sociological Association Sex and Gender Section's 2012 Distinguished Book Award, which will be presented in August at the ASA's annual meeting in Denver. In honoring the book, the selection committee wrote:
While Moore’s title reflects the near invisibility of Black lesbian families in the literature on gay and lesbian families, she demonstrates that Black lesbian mothers have in fact become increasingly visible, living openly and crafting and displaying non-normative gender presentations of self in a range of public settings. Moore’s landmark text now makes these women’s lives visible in sociology.
We appreciated her strong analysis of the intersections of gender with race, sexuality and class within a single group. As one committee member put it, “Invisible Families offers a rare piece of in-depth empirical intersectional work that analyzes the complex and nuanced intersections of multiple identities, while still making a clear contribution to sex/gender scholarship.” Moore’s contributions to gender scholarship include her close attention to how women come into “the life,” and how these trajectories impact family formation; how gender displays and the “politics of respectability” operate at various points along these paths; and her analysis of the division of labor and power and gendered notions of mothering within Black lesbian families.The LSA session on Mignon's book was packed. I'm most appreciative of the readers for their thoughtful comments, and to the many audience members who participated in the discussion. This book is a must-read for anyone trying to have a complete understanding of who lesbian mothers are.