Reimagining the Family

Lesbian Mothering in Contemporary French Literature

by Robert Payne (Author)
©2021 Monographs VIII, 214 Pages


Reimagining the Family is the first book-length study of representations of lesbian mothering in French literature. Focusing on female-authored texts published between 1970 and 2013, the book explores how literature reflects, engages with and even anticipates the recent, highly charged debates on the rights of same-sex couples and parents in France. Centred around the notion of «reimagining», the book examines how literature interrogates the normative definition of the family as a heterosexual, biological unit. It discusses a range of themes, including the difficulty of reconciling lesbianism with mothering, the role of the father, the identity of the co-mother and issues of difference and equality. The corpus includes both well-known and previously unstudied authors, and covers a range of genres, from autobiography to popular fiction. Collectively, the texts offer privileged insights into the increasingly relevant experiences of lesbian mothers and illustrate the changing face of the family in twenty-first-century France.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction Contextualizing Lesbian Mothering
  • Chapter 1 Theorizing Lesbian Mothering
  • Chapter 2 From Lesbianism or Mothering to Lesbian Mothering
  • Chapter 3 Between Tradition and Transgression
  • Chapter 4 Planned Lesbian Families
  • Chapter 5 Difference, Sameness and Equality
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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Contextualizing Lesbian Mothering

In France, the creation of civil partnerships in 1999 and the legalization of same-sex marriage and adoption in 2013 have turned same-sex families into a subject of highly charged public debate. This has coincided with the emergence of a small but significant number of literary texts that offer privileged insights into the often marginalized but increasingly relevant experiences of same-sex parents. Reimagining the Family: Lesbian Mothering in Contemporary French Literature engages with this body of literature, focusing on ten texts that, taken together, illustrate the range of genres – from mass-market fiction to autobiographical writing – and narratives used by writers to talk about this phenomenon.

Published between 1970 and 2013, these texts appeared at a time when family life was changing considerably. Since the 1970s, the nuclear family has been contested by the decline of marriage and rise in divorce, the increase in alternative family groupings such as single- and step-parent families, and the widespread availability of abortion and contraception. Five of the texts studied in this volume engage with these changes by portraying lesbian mothers who have children in a heterosexual relationship that breaks down. These texts are Jocelyne François’s Les Bonheurs [Happinesses] (1970); Hélène de Monferrand’s Les Amies d’Héloïse [Héloïse’s Friends] (1990) and Les Enfants d’Héloïse [Héloïse’s Children] (1997); Axelle Mallet’s Le Choix de la reine [The Queen’s Choice] (2009); and Paula Dumont’s La Vie dure: Éducation sentimentale d’une lesbienne [The Hard Life: A Lesbian’s Sentimental Education] (2010). The other five texts revolve around the more recent emergence of planned same-sex families – that is, when a same-sex couple decide to have children together, usually by way of adoption or fertility treatment. These texts include Éliane Girard’s Mais qui va garder le chat? [But Who’s Going to Look After the Cat?] (2005); Laurence ←1 | 2→Cinq-Fraix’s Family Pride (2006); Brigitte Célier’s Maman, Mamour, ses deux mamans: Grandir dans une famille homoparentale [Maman, Mamour – Her Two Mums: Growing Up in a Same-Sex Family] (2008); Myriam Blanc’s Elles eurent beaucoup d’enfants … et se marièrent: Histoire d’une famille homoparentale [The Women Had Lots of Children … and Got Married: The Story of a Same-Sex Family] (2012); and Claire Bénard’s Prince Charmante: Que fait-on quand on tombe amoureuse d’une femme? [Princess Charming: What Do You Do When You Fall in Love with a Woman?] (2013). The period covered by the ten texts was crucial not only for family life but also for the status of sexual minorities. The earliest texts were published at a time when LGBT+ people were beginning to fight for rights, while the later texts were published in the years between the creation of civil partnerships and legalization of same-sex marriage. This book argues that the texts not only reflect these changes but also contribute to the debates on same-sex families and to what is meant by motherhood and the family in twenty-first-century France.

Same-Sex Parenting in France

The recent emergence of same-sex parenting as a social and political issue is part of the gradual deconstruction of norms of gender, sexuality and the family that has been taking place since at least the nineteenth century. Although conservative in many respects, the nineteenth century saw the birth of feminism as an organized political movement and the beginnings of tolerance of homosexuality. The fact that aversion to homosexuality primarily concerned gay men afforded some women, especially wealthier women, licence to engage in ‘romantic friendships’ with other women, albeit while married to a man.1 The nineteenth century thus laid the foundations of the sexual revolution and the women’s and ←2 | 3→LGBT+ rights movements formed in the twentieth century, notably the Mouvement de libération des femmes [Women’s Liberation Movement] (1968), the Front Homosexuel d’Action Révolutionnaire [Homosexual Front for Revolutionary Action] (1971) and the Gouines Rouges [Red Dykes] (1971). Unlike in Britain, where Margaret Thatcher’s conservative administration banned the ‘promotion of homosexuality’, in France the socialist government under François Mitterrand passed pro-LGBT+ legislation. In 1982, it made the age of consent for homosexual acts the same as that for heterosexual acts (15 years old), thus ending an inequality (the age of consent for homosexual acts had been set at 21 by the Vichy government; it was lowered to 18 in 1974 under Valéry Giscard d’Estaing). Sexual orientation was also included in the protected characteristics of a 1985 anti-discrimination law.

While these measures helped homosexuals as individuals, the AIDS crisis of the 1980s highlighted the need to protect homosexual couples. In the twenty-first century, this need has extended to homosexual families. The creation of the Pacte Civil de Solidarité (PACS), or civil partnerships, in 1999 was a vital first step. Open to opposite- and same-sex couples, the PACS grants many of the rights of marriage but, crucially, not adoption or citizenship rights. In 2013, France legalized same-sex marriage and adoption, and in 2019, fertility treatment, which had been restricted to heterosexual couples since 1994, was made available to all women, irrespective of sexuality or relationship status. The legal recognition and rights of same-sex couples and families are, then, assured, yet the twenty-year gap between the PACS and PMA pour toutes [fertility treatment for all women] gives some indication of how contentious these issues are in France. It is in this very particular context that this volume and the texts studied in it were written.

Unlike in the US, where opposition to same-sex marriage is a defence of the institution of marriage itself, in France opposition to same-sex marriage usually stems from a reluctance to recognize same-sex families. Thus, opponents of the PACS, although the bill did not propose to allow same-sex couples to adopt, often expressed the fear that if same-sex couples were given recognition, same-sex families would be too: if same-sex couples were granted some of the rights of married, heterosexual couples, on what ←3 | 4→grounds could they continue to be refused equal access to adoption and fertility treatment?

The reason for this shift in focus lies in the somewhat peculiar types of arguments heard in the debates on same-sex marriage and families in France. Unlike in the US, where arguments against same-sex marriage are usually religious, in secular France religious arguments officially have no political weight. As Camille Robcis has shown, opponents of the PACS, even those who were catholic, therefore resorted to fields as diverse as anthropology, psychoanalysis, law and sociology, and, in particular, to the works of Claude Lévi-Strauss and Jacques Lacan.2 They drew on some of the most complex concepts in these fields, such as the symbolic order, the Oedipus complex, the anthropological invariables of society, castration, psychosis, the Name-of-the-Father and the incest prohibition, to argue for the universality of the heterosexual family and, by extension, the indefensibility of the PACS.

The other pillar of the PACS debate was republicanism, understood as a universalist conception of citizenship and rights.3 Positions on the PACS were not party-specific but, rather, structured around the extent to which it was compatible with republican values. Proponents claimed that the PACS epitomized universalism since, because it was open to all couples, it granted equal rights to all citizens. For opponents, the PACS ‘represented another American-inspired attempt to cater to the demands of specific groups (homosexuals) and a move towards “communitarianism”’ – the French term for identity politics, which is strongly associated with the US.4 Arguably, opponents of the PACS were justified in seeing it as communautariste; but this communautariste measure exists precisely because of a general unwillingness to universalize the right of marriage and treat homosexuals as ordinary citizens.


VIII, 214
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2021 (October)
The family lesbian mothering twentieth- and twenty-first-century French literature Reimagining the Family Robert Payne
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. VIII, 214 pp.

Biographical notes

Robert Payne (Author)

Robert Payne works for Lex Academic, a company that specializes in providing impeccable proofreading and copy-editing to academics worldwide. Before joining Lex, he studied for a PhD in French Studies at the University of Leicester (2013–17) and taught English at the Université de Haute-Alsace (Mulhouse) in France (2017–19). He then became Lecturer in French at the University of Hertfordshire (2019–21). His primary research interests are in gender studies and contemporary French literature. Reimagining the Family is his first book.


Title: Reimagining the Family