Flight Instructions for the Commitment Impaired

By Nicola Harwood

Categories: Memoir, LGBTQ+
Imprint: Dagger Editions
Paperback : 9781987915143, 240 pages, March 2016


"Wanted: lesbian couple to foster wonderful eleven-year-old African American boy with gender identity issues."

Meet Antwan. Not only has he got gender issues, he's severely emotionally disturbed, severely demanding and, as he puts it, "born to argue."

In the late nineties, Nicola Harwood and her girlfriend moved to San Francisco in order to be at the epicentre of queer culture. Shortly after arriving, they encountered an ad posted in the SF Bay Times looking for lesbian foster parents. Impulsively, they decided to answer the ad and offer to foster Antwan, an eleven-year-old transgender child* who had been living in group homes since the age of six. Suffering from post-traumatic stress, numerous disabilities and behaviour issues, Antwan turns out to be not only a severely challenging child, but also an irrepressibly honest and funny one.

The sex-positive butch/femme couple, new to foster parenting but confident in their skills and experience as queers, start introducing Antwan to their gay world -- including Gay Pride in the Castro, shopping for female clothing among the flash and extravagance of their Latino neighbourhood thrift stores, accompanying him to the queer youth dance club and supporting the emergence of his female identity.

But being queer is only part of who Antwan is, and the couple are soon faced with the reality that his behaviours may be more than they can handle. They become a part of the "system," working with over-burdened social workers, therapists, group home workers, special needs school teachers, psychiatrists and foster care agencies, all trying to help Antwan succeed outside the group home. Antwan, however, is oblivious to the massive amount of funding and attention being paid to him and just wants the couple to buy him more outfits and watch him perform as Britney Spears singing "... Baby, One More Time."

While Antwan is introduced to the gay world of San Francisco, the white couple is introduced to his black world of Oakland. As the relationship develops, members of Antwan's birth family, many of whom he has not seen or heard from in years, begin to emerge. It turns out that Antwan isn't the only big queer in his family. One of his sisters is a baby dyke, and his troubled mother, who shows up when Antwan is thirteen, wears the strut of an old-school butch.

Outrageous, sad and very funny, Flight Instructions for the Commitment Impaired follows the couple as they attempt to build a relationship with Antwan and his world. As the three start to connect across an abyss of trauma and abuse, a relationship develops that challenges each of their notions of race, family and commitment.

*Note about pronouns: Antwan has asked that we use male pronouns when referring to the time before she transitioned at the age of seventeen.


"All lives are fascinating, but few are voiced with the devastating sparkle of Nicola Harwood's Flight Instructions for the Commitment Impaired. This memoir knocked me on my ass, then picked me up, dusted me off, and spun me round again. Harwood's story is a sober testament to how the world isn't fair. And it's a push back, like Harwood can heal the wounds of an unfair life by telling it just so. This memoir is a balm, a sophisticated, heart-mending gift. It's the kind of book you finish and think, Thank you."

—Michael V. Smith, author of My Body Is Yours and Progress

“Interesting, provocative and self-assured, Flight Instructions takes pain, mistakes, pluck, misguidedness and backbone, and transforms them into compelling art.”

The Vancouver Sun

“Harwood’s candid memoir recounts her trials during and after San Francisco, and pays close attention to her own capacity for self-delusion, the impossible entanglements of her faltering (and later dissolved) relationship, and the difficulties of sharing space with Antwan.”

—Brett Grubisic, Daily Xtra

“Nicola Harwood’s memoir is written in the kind of sharp, insightful language that’s usually reserved for good fiction … Harwood’s writing is melodrama-free and provides great comic relief, while blending several styles of writing harmoniously … Even people who don’t generally pick up autobiographies would benefit from investing in this one.”

— Norman Feliks, Broken Pencil