7 Minutes in Book Heaven with Dr. Gwen Bass and Immaculate Misconception

Welcome to our Summer of Book Love series!

Every Tuesday this summer we will feature new episodes of 7 Minutes in Book Heaven which has your next summer read! New episodes of This Queer Book Saved My Life! drop this September.

Today we meet Dr. Gwen Bass and her new memoir: Immaculate Misconception: A Story of Biology and Belonging.

What’s it about? In the early 1980’s, 95% of all artificial inseminations were performed for married, heterosexual couples. Among the other 5% were people like Gwen’s parents– lesbians navigating a homophobic medical system ready to deny them children. They found a doctor willing to perform the procedure in secret, using sperm from an anonymous donor. Periodically, Gwen wondered if she resembled her donor – what he might look like, how he might walk, what he might say if they met. But there were no records.

She grew up straddling two worlds. In one–rainbow flags waved and love made a family. In the other– she and her family tried to fit in with everyone else. Eventually, Gwen stopped asking questions about her biology. She knew who she was and where she came from. On a whim, she sent in a DNA kit and found ten biological siblings.

Immaculate Misconception isn’t just a window into a sliver of queer history, it raises questions we all grapple with: who we are and the forces that influence us. It’s a reflection on nature, nurture, identity, and belonging.

After earning her BA in Psychology and Education, Gwen became a teacher and school counselor. She then pursued an M.Ed in school counseling and her doctorate in special education while training and mentoring teachers on practical, evidence-based tools to nurture kids’ educational and emotional well-being.

Buy Immaculate Misconception

Visit our Bookshop or buy directly right now: https://bookshop.org/a/82376/9798889269526

Connect with Dr. Gwen Bass

Website: drgwenbass.com
Instagram: @drgwenbass
Facebook: facebook.com/drgwenbass
LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/dr-gwen-bass

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Credits

Host/Founder: J.P. Der Boghossian
Executive Producer: Jim Pounds
Associate Producers: Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Olila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shay, and Sean Smith
Patreon Subscribers: Stephen D., Thomas Michna, and Gary Nygaard.

Transcript

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J.P. Der Boghossian:
Welcome to 7 Minutes in Book Heaven. My name is J.P. Der Boghossian. I’m an essayist, Lambda Literary Fellow, and founder of the Queer Armenian Library. And this is the podcast where I interview LGBTQ authors about the new books they have coming out for us to love and to cuddle up with. This is part of our Summer of Book Love series. Every Tuesday, for the rest of the summer we have your next book to read at the beach, or the pool, or in your bedroom next to the air conditioner. New episodes of This Queer Book Saved My Life! return on September 18! With me today is Gwen Bass to discuss her new book, Immaculate Misconception, a story of biology and belonging. Hello Gwen!

Dr. Gwen Bass:
Hello, thanks for having me!

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Absolutely, I’m so excited to have you here. I’m really interested to know more about your book and that’s how our podcast works. I have seven questions for Dr. Gwen Bass and we’re gonna spend the next seven minutes in this virtual studio talking about Immaculate Misconception, a story of biology and belonging. We’ll also gain to know more about the amazing writer who is Dr. Gwen Bass. So, Gwen, are you ready?

Dr. Gwen Bass:
I’m ready.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Okay, I’m gonna set the timer. And here we are. Question number one, please describe Immaculate Misconception as if you’re sharing it with your celebrity crush and telling us who that special person is, of course.

Dr. Gwen Bass:
All right, so much of the book is sort of like a nostalgic piece for me around like reliving my childhood. And to that end, I went with a celebrity of my childhood. So Sandra Bullock, sort of, The Practical Magic version of Sandra Bullock. So she would have picked up my memoir. I would let her know that it’s a story about my experience growing up, one of the first kids conceived through artificial insemination to lesbian parents. In the book, I talk about my childhood, what it was like to be kind of the first of my kind, the kid version of what I think of as kind of like a medical miracle and a social science experiment.

And I kind of describe in the book how I came to make my own sense of my own gender expression and sexuality with the influence of kind of that clash of 1980s and 1990s queer culture and also in the socio-political context of the time, which was really chaotic. bizarre in a lot of ways. So each of the chapters in the book is organized into a question that I fielded as a kid. Things like what do your parents do, or do you have any siblings, or where are you from, which are questions that most people can answer really easily. But for me, my responses required some level of kind of backstory to explain them.

You know, and while my story is about having queer parents before that was really a thing, and my experience kind of. code switching between LGBTQ plus chosen family and the outside world. My hope is really that the insights I share about what it’s like to feel other will be really relatable for folks with all kinds of unique identities.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Wow. And did I hear that you were one of the first?

Dr. Gwen Bass:
Yeah, to my knowledge, there are very few people, like maybe over the years I’ve met two or three, who were conceived to lesbian parents at that time. And when my parents did it,

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Wow.

Dr. Gwen Bass:
they basically found a doctor who just did it on the DL and was like, just let me some cash, I know a guy,

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Wow.

Dr. Gwen Bass:
there’s no record of this if you ever wanna come back to it. So I grew up my whole life believing that I would have no access to my paternal lineage. And that changed as I got older, which is what sort of inspired me to write the book.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Absolutely. Oof, I cannot wait to read this. Wow. Okay, question number two. What is a sentence from a novel, an essay, a poem or other book that every time you read it, it gives you all the feels?

Dr. Gwen Bass:
This one is from Rupi Kaur, which feels really a little cliche, but it’s, “I came all this way to give you all these things, but you aren’t even looking.”

And this poem is from a collection about relationships, but to me it really speaks to something deeper. And when I think about this book, and maybe it’s because of my childhood, sort of being born into this role, which was ultimately like as an unwitting spokesperson for the queer family movement,

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Yeah.

Dr. Gwen Bass:
there was a lot of pressure for me to step into the role of being a trailblazer or an advocate. And I think a lot about the, that is sort of a mixed blessing and my own internal negotiation to see my conception as an opportunity and not just a burden. And that’s something that I write about. a lot in the book, but it’s something I’ve obviously thought about in the process of writing the memoir. Like, you know, I was a very young kid speaking on panels to queer parents being like, you can do this, it’s okay, look at me.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Wow.

Dr. Gwen Bass:
And, you know, or being in college classes talking to sociology majors about like the influence of society on development. And simultaneously, you know, like I didn’t choose any of that as a kid. And so for me, the book has really been about stepping back into that part of my identity and negotiating, you know, what we’re given and how to the opportunity that’s available to us to kind of have a broader impact on the world or a positive one.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
That’s a lot to carry at such a young age. And I can see why that line would be so resonant with you. Absolutely.

Dr. Gwen Bass:
Yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Okay, question number three. What do you feel is the best sentence you’ve ever written?

Dr. Gwen Bass:
So, one of my chapters is titled, Are You a Boy or a Girl? And I write about how my name is sort of symbolic of my gender. My given name is Gwendolyn, but I go pretty much exclusively by Gwen. And so, I’m gonna break the rules and read you two sentences because I think otherwise it wouldn’t make sense.

So in this scene, I’m sort of, there was some medical history that we discovered about my donor that required me to go get these medical tests. And in this scene, I’ve been met by the receptionist at the doctor’s office and I sort of talk about my experience of interacting with that person around my name as some, as, you know, in ways that I often have to, where people sort of look at me and they go like, you can’t possibly be Gwendolyn. You have to be Gwen. That can’t possibly be. Gwen must be the way that you are referred to.

So it is, “All those ‘Gwendolyns’ had been sitting in their imagination since childhood, the picture-perfect incarnation of femininity. We ‘Gwens’ are the more practical and unique type, my uncommon name, the perfect complement to my atypical upbringing and unconventional appearance.”

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Wow. I really can’t wait to read your book. This is just, thank you. Thank you for writing it and sharing it with us. Seriously.

Dr. Gwen Bass:
Absolutely.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Okay, question number four. What a segue.

Dr. Gwen Bass:
Hey!

J.P. Der Boghossian:
What’s the best romantic scene you’ve ever read?

Dr. Gwen Bass:
So this is like really hard for me because I’m a total nerd and I mostly read nonfiction. So I’ll go with the book that I recently read at the recommendation of my daughter after we had watched The Heartstopper series on Netflix.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Ooooh.

Dr. Gwen Bass:
My daughter and I watched it together. She was like, you have to go back and read the book. I was like, okay. But there’s this scene where they like finally kiss and Charlie has to stand on his toes to kind of like reach Nick. And there’s just something so universally vulnerable and awkward and earnest about that whole scene, which I think is so relatable across identities. And mostly I’m just really obsessed with how many amazing books and stories there are for kids to read now that encourage

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Right?

Dr. Gwen Bass:
them to explore their genders and their sexualities, stuff I never could have imagined as a kid. So for me, that was like, it’s like, I’m also at an age where my kids are entering adolescence and pre-adolescence, so I’m like, oh my God, you get to have your own. romantic experiences, you know? It’s like

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Right?

Dr. Gwen Bass:
really sweet to think about.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Yeah, YA lit right now is, in my opinion, the most revolutionary

Dr. Gwen Bass:
Yeah.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
work that’s happening. It’s just, it blows my mind. And I am slightly jealous about

Dr. Gwen Bass:
Right?

J.P. Der Boghossian:
it. And I’m kinda like, wait, what, what? Anyway, not about me today. So question number five, what are your favorite smells to write about?

Dr. Gwen Bass:
So I’ve come into this process of creative writing really recently just through writing this memoir, which I didn’t even set out to write as a memoir. Originally I thought I was gonna write a different book entirely and I just sort of turned into this. But I’ll say that one of my goals in the book was really to step into my own childhood shoes and try to speak from that perspective of a kid in the 80s and 90s. And so maybe the most fun aspect for me of writing this book was reliving in a way those decades through childlike eyes.

And because of that I think I’d say that like things like that I talk about in the book like the smell of a new cabbage patch doll or like rainbow stripe gum or Mr. Sketch markers or like you know those toys you get in your Happy Meals like before we knew that plasticizers were like a bad thing you know they used to be so symbolic of like something like really new and fresh and to think about them as like vintage now is just really is really funny for me so that would probably be the most fun kinds of stuff.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
You’re reminding me of so many smells of my childhood. Those, the Happy Meals, the Cabbage Patch dolls, which I had to get like on the DL because they weren’t for boys, quote unquote.

Dr. Gwen Bass:
Right.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Oh God, now you got me thinking. Oh, I want a Happy Meal now. Okay, so question

Dr. Gwen Bass:
Hahaha.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
number six. What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever got?

Dr. Gwen Bass:
So I come from a really academic background, like I did a lot of school. And The writing in academia is super filled with jargon and big words and it’s like totally inaccessible which is one of the reasons that I spent my career really working to kind of bridge theory and practice and like translate things in ways that people could actually understand. So I guess one of the worst pieces of advice in the context of writing a memoir that I’ve ever received that I had to kind of undo in this process was not to use the word I. And it made the process of, you know, like when you write like academically you don’t use the word I.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Right.

Dr. Gwen Bass:
in the third person. And so for me, the process of writing a memoir, which is already a little cringy because you’re like writing about yourself from a from a from like a literature perspective or a grammar perspective, I was constantly being like, can I talk? Can I say this many things about me?

Like, is that okay? Like, I feel like this is bad writing. So rather than like kind of commenting or like having, you know, having had the book be like a commentary on my own development or experiences, it was an exercise. Like it was, it was a piece of writing advice that I really had to undo to kind of focus more on. Like what was it actually, what was actually happening and thinking about it more as like a storytelling perspective.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
That is a tricky transition to make because

Dr. Gwen Bass:
Yep.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
academic writing, is its own style for sure.

Dr. Gwen Bass:
Totally different.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Okay, question number seven, promote yourself. How do we order your book? How do we follow you on social?

Dr. Gwen Bass:
Yep. So my book is available on Amazon in ebook and paperback form. You can also get it from most independent booksellers. You can follow me on social media at D R Gwen Bass. I’m on Instagram and Facebook and LinkedIn and all of those things. And there’s been some book news. And I also talk about some of the other work that I do with queer families. And I work a lot with foster and adoptive families. So that’s where you can find me.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Perfect. Well that’s all the time that we have today. Thank you so much Gwen for being here.

Dr. Gwen Bass:
Thanks so much for having me.

J.P. Der Boghossian:
Well, thanks everyone for listening today. This podcast is Executive Produced by Jim Pounds. Our Associate Producers are Archie Arnold, Natalie Cruz, Paul Kaefer, Nicole Ollila, Joe Perazzo, Bill Shea, and Sean Smith.

Visit our Bookshop to buy the books featured on our podcasts as well as to browse new collections specifically curated by me.
thisqueerbook.com/bookshop

We’re @thisqueerbook on Facebook and Instagram. I’m also @jp_derboghossian on TikTok where I tok about LGBTQ books!

Be here next Tuesday for the next in our Summer of Book Love series. Until then, see you queers and allies in the bookstores.

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