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Beyond the prism of heteronormativity

by Saturn De Los Angeles April 7, 2015
Beyond the prism of heteronormativity

To My Children explores the challenges that same-sex parents face

Karkour speaks to various LGBT parents in the bilingual documentary To My Children. Stills courtesy of George Karkour.

Karkour speaks to various LGBT parents in the bilingual documentary To My Children. Stills courtesy of George Karkour.

We often hear the narrative of teens who fear scrutiny when they come out of the closet to their parents. But we rarely hear what happens on the other side—the stories of parents who are brave enough to break the established, normative, mother-father-child family structure.

One documentary offers an alternative view.

To My Children extensively explores what it’s like to raise a family as LGBTQ-identified parents, searching for that balance between staying true to themselves despite their sexual identity and experiencing the joy of caring for someone they treasure without prejudice.

Produced and directed by Concordia alumnus George Karkour, in collaboration with two Montreal-based organizations—the LGBTQ Family Coalition and Le Groupe régional d’intervention sociale de Québec (GRIS)—this half hour-long film tells a story that’s important to share within a rapidly changing social environment, where a person’s gender identity is no longer the be-all, end-all precondition to become a parent.

Karkour brings diverse voices into the picture: same-sex couples—both gay and lesbian—a transsexual mother, and an academic researcher who helps to give a deeper understanding. An interesting point of this documentary is that it is completely bilingual, with French audio and French subtitles seamlessly interchanged, making it unique and very accessible to a wide audience.

But what really stands out here is the human element and, as Karkour explains, accomplishing that was a feat in itself.

“As a documentary filmmaker, I wanted to show [these people] as best as I can,” Karkour says at his home studio, which is a stone’s throw away from Quartier Concordia.

“We live in a day and age where, although LGBT rights have been legalized since 2002 in Quebec and 2005 in Canada, it takes courage for these families to present themselves and their children on camera. You seldom see families that are nontraditional. The media should be the example and should enlighten people and offer a new perspective,” he adds. “But we don’t see that, we stay safe.”

Karkour draws his motivation from a personal experience growing up in his hometown of Damascus, Syria. “I was 14 years old and I saw a British documentary about a gay couple. They were unhappy, they were whining, their house was a mess, and they didn’t relay the best image,” he says. “They were the first role models of gay men [for me]. I was like ‘oh my god’ is that how they’re supposed to be? Are they miserable?’”

Getting people to speak to him for this project, he says, was a journey—especially establishing a sense of trust from the preliminary cold call all the way into the production process. Karkour emphasizes that he had no hidden agenda nor any intention to put an inflammatory spin on things. He simply wanted to present the people in the documentary with tact and respect, as they are. “It was to be as real as possible. I’m very passionate about [doing this film],” he said.

Openly sharing these stories can also be risky, as he admits that he struggled to find LGBTQ parents with teens. The idea of the latter recognizing their parents’ gender and sexual identity would bring tremendous social pressure, so he totally understands the difficulty of finding them for this documentary.

“My door was always open. We tried our best to network, and I interviewed, and the ones that you see in the documentary are the ones that answered,” said Karkour.

Karkour says that working with these folks was a privilege, especially to help get their stories heard. This was especially true when he interviewed transsexual-identified mother Monica. He admits that it was the first conversation he had with a transsexual person.

“In one department of human life, they’ve lived something that straight people haven’t,” said Karkour. “Yes, a lot of people are raised in LGBT environments where their sexuality doesn’t make them stand out. And that’s how it should be. But we don’t live in this world, at least 80 per cent of it isn’t that open-minded. I got to learn about Monica through that. I wish there were more people like her.”

There are moments in To My Children that simply captivate the viewer. For instance, when Andre and Armand—two openly gay parents—and their children, Nour and Ella, express what it’s like to explain their situation to their peers at elementary school. Or when Geneviève and Mélissa—two lesbian parents who raise a child from a sperm donor—confide about both the struggle and support that come along with being nontraditional parents.

There’s also the story of Monica, who explains the experience of raising two supportive children—now young adults—in the midst of not being comfortable with her assigned gender.

“I wanted to offer positive images, and good role models of young LGBTQ parents. I knew I accomplished that with the few families that I’ve met who had to go through a lot of social challenges, but they got stronger, and I happened to film them past that, and they were able to move on with their lives,” he said.

With a potential deal in the works to air the film on a specialty satellite channel across North America, he believes that the media can help set an example of how non-traditional parents should be represented. “Who knew just two years ago that I would make a documentary about LGBT parents [that] would be received so positively. I had no idea, but here I am,” he says.

As Karkour’s work receives praise from families at home and overseas, To My Children may have something different to offer, looking at things from a perspective beyond the metaphorical prism of LGBTQ, queer, and gender issues.

“It’s not the gender, it’s the individual. Who cares about the gender? Male, female, transgender. We’re human beings; it’s easy to say it, but people forget it,” Karkour said.

To My Children is available for streaming for free on YouTube and on the website ToMyChildren.ca

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