Books: Kootenay same-sex family’s ‘small courage’ forges a rich life

Books: Kootenay same-sex family’s ‘small courage’ forges a rich life

Nelson writer Jane Byers’ story is one of survival, resilience and also the joys of mutual love and care

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Small Courage: A Queer Memoir of Finding Love and Conceiving Family

Jane Byers | Caitlin Press Dagger Editions (Halfmoon Bay, B.C., 2021)

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$24.95 | 192pp


Remember when the phrase “family values” was first invoked by right-wing extremists and homophobes? Although it seems to be less used currently, it remains a powerful dog whistle announcing new attacks on queer communities, suggesting that the only family of any value is made up of a heterosexual couple and their progeny.

Small Courage tells the story of one family that by its very existence defies and refutes this mind-dead, bigoted attack. The author, award-winning poet Jane Byers and her wife, filmmaker Amy Bohigian, have made a life for themselves with their two adopted, mixed-race children in Nelson in southeastern B.C.

Byers, the author of two books of poetry, a chapbook and scripts for two documentary films, Only in Nelson and Conceiving Family, brings a poet’s sensitivity to language and a script writer’s keen eye for visual effects to bear on her story. The result is an honest, elegantly written book about family life in the Kootenays and about the courage it takes to face off against misogyny and homophobia.

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It is also a richly detailed celebration of the joys to be found in art, sports, family life and mountain hiking.

As the author notes, “It takes many acts of small courage to follow your own wisdom, to make small changes that disrupt and then open your life.” The first time this resonant phrase appears in her memoir, it refers to Byers’ immigrant mother, but it soon becomes clear that “small courage” is a core theme in her account of her own chosen family and the acts of quotidian daring required to maintain that family in a world that is not always welcoming to same-sex parents and their kids, especially if their kids are brown.

So this is a story of survival and resilience. It is also, in many ways, a braid of love stories. It details and celebrates Byers’ love for her spouse Amy and for her twin children, Franny and Theo. It also celebrates communities of mutual care and regard that queer people have to create in an often-hostile environment, and the resilience and pride that are engendered in those communities.

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And it is a tribute to the town of Nelson and to the gorgeous mountains and valleys that surround it.

This book, with its tender heart and lapidary prose, will be a pleasure for discerning readers everywhere. Highly recommended.

Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at tos65@telus.net.

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