Monday, March 6, 2017

Hundreds of Cousins Appear From Nowhere

I’m reporting for jury duty tomorrow, which is probably a good thing, because I tend to get emo on March 7th, for personal reasons, and spending most of it lounging around a jury room reading books on my phone until the nice lawyers kick me out of voir dire sounds like a comparatively low impact day. And just in case they don’t think my decades of litigation-related experience merit kicking me out of their pool, I just spawned over two hundred new cousins, many of which have introduced me to apps that seem capable of tracking seven or eight generations of relatedness with random strangers, so maybe I can get out on the basis of being related to one of the witnesses or lawyers or victims or even the perp themselves.

Now I may have mentioned before that I’m an adoptee, and I have personally met a grand total of one biological relative face to face. I have some internet-buddy cousins that I found on 23andMe, and some of them are into the hardcore geneology stuff, like, but I’ve never gone that far.  I just keep a light burning in an upstairs window, so to speak, so that people can find me. For instance, it would be cool if I ran into my Polynesian and Japanese half-siblings.

Well, just recently the light attracted a cousin of mine in Arizona, who rounded up a whole bunch of us into a Facebook group for what she’s calling an online family reunion. These are all my cousins, typically in the fourth-to-fifth cousin range. The originator of the group is a fifth or sixth, but she bears a strong resemblance to me, which feels weird considering that I’ve gone through much of my life without ever seeing a genetic resemblance, and now I’m bombarded with it -- men, and kids, and young girls, and mature ladies, all with features kind of like mine. I repeat, it feels weird.

This, incidentally, is one of the reasons I’m self-published. There is a strong prohibition in many literary spheres against genetic behaviorism, due to a belief that associating genes with anything other than superficial qualities can lead to genocide and bigotry, and a corresponding belief that if writers avoid talking about concepts they’ll cease to exist.

I was over thirty when I first made contact with blood kin. I prepared through it by spending about a year attending support groups and getting therapy and educating myself and preparing myself for whatever eventuality happened. Kids these days can just click the interwebs a few times, sheesh. I grew up with the same liberal faith in remaking society into utopia as those literary sphere buddies, but then I was also witnessing and hearing about adoption-reunion stories, in bulk. The first time you hear about blood relatives who haven’t met sharing a profession or a sport or a musical taste, you think “oh wow, what a coincidence!” The hundred and fiftieth time, you come to expect it.

And yet, having had this very unusual experience, I can’t not write about it. For instance, my current series revolves around a nation comprised solely of clones They even have the same upbringing, with virtual mothers who assure each one that s/he’s the favorite. While they’re alike in many ways there are also differences subtle and large – in character, in fields of interest, from the experiences they’ve had pursuing their interests.

I already wrote one long blog post about discovering a 23andMe cousin with the same name – and skin tone – as a character I was writing about. Well, coincidentally – or maybe not – I encountered my 200+ cousins right while I’m writing the part where my narrator finds himself surrounded by clones. I really couldn’t ask for better writing conditions.

My bloodkin like music, and science, and good food. We have warm smiles. While some of us are conservative, quite a lot of us lean the opposite way, which was a breath of fresh air considering that I grew up around mean-spirited ignorance-worshipping religious-right silliness (it didn’t take). 

Speaking of things that don’t take, coerced cross-fostering was something that happens a lot in a colonialism-type sense. That’s another book I’d like to write someday, in the spirit of Rabbit-Proof Fence, about kids raised on one planet meeting their interplanetary bloodkin.

Cross-fostering was also something that happened a lot in “high fantasy” cultures. King Arthur was fostered elsewhere, possibly contributing to his not thinking of Morgan Le Fay in a sibling-like way. In Game of Thrones, Theon Greyjoy was fostered with the Stark household as a sign of a political bond – “I trust you so much I’ll let you raise one of my kids.”  That’s yet another story I’d like to write, one where a fostered noble comes back to rule the kingdom surrounded by unfamiliar bloodkin.

As to whether all this genetic interest has to do with racism, my answer is that it tears apart racism. There are a lot of black people involved in genetic ancestry groups because their family trees were forcibly disrupted, and now that we have this technology we can fill in the gaps. There are a lot of people out there learning about their ancestors’ races. There were times in history when it was a lot easier to misrepresent yourself but these days you can spit in a cup and find out if your great-granny really was cheating. I have to say that after finding my black cousin I’ve taken a greater interest in black history – because now I have stakes. The more knowledge we share about the cold hard facts of our interconnectedness, the harder it is to distance our blood relatives as other. 

But anyway, yeah, all this is why I’m self-pubbed. I’ve been in some big arguments over it. Some people really want the needle to be all the way on the nurture side -- I tried to be one of them once, but it didn't take. Other people have 200+ spontaneously-appearing cousins. Either we all get to tell our stories or there’s no point in storytelling at all.

I’m diving back in, finishing up that last chapter of Retrograde Horizon, where Sonny’s life depends on being able to tell the honest, loyal clones who totally have his back from the other kind. Maybe my cousins will plan a big party while I’m immersed. If there is one and I go to it, I’ll report back. 

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