Review: ‘Knocking Myself Up,’ by Michelle Tea

KNOCKING MYSELF UP: A Memoir of My (In)Fertility, by Michelle Tea

We want things we know will hurt us. We chase happy endings we know are myths. And, sometimes, we look for wholeness in the very institutions and traditions we’ve built our identities in opposition to. Michelle Tea has devoted her career to chronicling the desires, fears and contradictions of contemporary urban American queer life, in genres as wide-ranging as memoir, picture books, the occult and fiction. Situating herself, her friends and her lovers against the dystopian realities of inequality, climate crisis and capitalism’s most interpersonal effects, Tea’s candid examinations of addiction, pleasure and belonging have embodied and nurtured a subculture.

In her new memoir, “Knocking Myself Up: A Memoir of My (In)Fertility,” the nurturing impulse already manifest in Tea’s work is made literal. A “dare to the universe” turns into a dream, peopled with friends and a devoted partner. What does it mean to “conjure a life, and in the process, deeply unsettle my own?” Tea asks. Tea interrogates each element of pregnancy — how to inseminate, with whom to inseminate, how to name a child, how and with whom to parent a child — with studious commitment. These questions underlie the values ​​that have shaped Tea’s life and work for decades: They are the building blocks of a community in which inherited forms, particularly those of romance and kinship, are never taken for granted.

Tea brings her fierce and nuanced class analysis to bear on what she calls the “Labor Industrial Complex,” observing both the humor and difficulty of navigating the artificial insemination industry as an aspiring parent outside the heterosexual economic elite. Despite the skepticism Tea and her partner, Orson, often encounter in the medical establishment (even in the progressive clinic landscape of San Francisco), “artificial” is far from an apt descriptor for what Tea and her community undertake. Their ardent deliberation, consideration and collaboration offers a model for reproduction steeped in intentionality. For readers familiar with contemporary queer and trans politics of collectivity and self-determination, the tender specificity with which Tea approaches baby-making will be a warm homecoming. For those coming to this book from other subcultures, Tea is a guide to the worlds of integrated anticapitalism, trans politics and sex-work-affirming feminism, and offers a playbook for family-building from someone with simultaneous aspirations of familial security and genre-bending communal care. Tea has no difficulty with dissonance: It’s a site of productivity, a place for humor and loving self-acceptance. “How in the world did I,” Tea asks, “ — messy and poor, addict and queer, slutty, weird, unstable — wind up here, in this veritable cottage, one with a white picket fence, with a baby in my arms ?”

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