While traditionally our society has accepted “woman’s roles” and “men’s roles” in respect to childrearing, LGBT parents tend to navigate their roles much more naturally. Their children also tend to be more aware of issues surrounding the status of all minorities, and often identify as culturally queer. But we must still avoid stereotyping according to geography and class within the gay community.
Author of Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their Children: Research on the Family Life Cycle, Abbie Goldberg is an assistant professor of psychology at Clark University. Her research focuses on how diverse families, including lesbian- and adopted-parent families, transition to parenthood.
The advancements in reproductive technologies raise question about who is a parent, what is a parent, how many parents can there be, how many legal parents can there be, an issue which is being debated right now in California. Is biology necessary to parenting? Can you create your parental roles? Can you be a parent in the absence of legal recognition?
I did a small qualitative study of 22 lesbian and gay parents in Florida where we looked at them sort of right after the gay adoption ban was lifted, at their experiences and perceptions of how their lives had changed, and in most cases it was really significant. Living without legal recognition, parenting children, fostering children whom they could not actually adopt was extremely stressful and very demoralizing, I would say, for these parents, and having your child saying, “Why can’t you adopt me? Why can’t you be my real parent?” Well, it’s the stupid law.
Thinking about geography is really important, not just legal status but rural versus urban. You know, a lot of gay people don’t live in gay meccas, especially those with kids, and so there are all kinds of assumptions about what gay people with parents look like. The solution for people that—people say, well, why don’t they just move? It’s such a classist question, you know, one, people can’t afford to move, they don’t have the resources to move, they have jobs in a certain area, they have family support in a certain area, and also it’s ignorant of the fact that there are a lot of actually positive things about living in, say, a rural area, that people don’t recognize.
Sexual minorities and parenting, they might have the ability to put a spin on parenthood or do things a little differently or help recreate parenting roles. So for example, you know, with two men raising a child, there aren’t this sort of notion of what a female does or what a male does. It’s not relevant or directly applicable because two men have to fulfill, presumably, you know, both parental roles and so it’s unlike what some people might think, they don’t have a conversation and say, “I’m going to be the man and you can be the woman,” but rather it happens much more naturally and fluid the way it does I think in many heterosexual parenting relationships now, where people do what they are most comfortable doing or they draw on their strengths or they divide things based on interest.
This notion that kids with gay parents or queer parents grow up in a community that sensitizes them to issues around, you know, minority status, what it means to be gay, the gay community, and so they sort of become, you know, they may not personally identify as queer, they may identify as straight, but they might see themselves as culturally queer, so having a queer-orientation to things, which could mean a variety of things. It may mean that they want really egalitarian relationships or that they have a lot of gay friends or that they enjoy kind of what would be considered stereotypical activities associated with the gay community, that they feel a sense of pride when they go to a gay pride community. So they feel identified with that community based on who their parents are and maybe who important adults were in their community growing up, not based their own sexual orientation. So it’s a community orientation as opposed to a personal sort of sexual orientation.
Plenty of children are teased for all different kinds of reasons, and we don’t tell certain kinds of parents they can’t have children because their children might be teased, is sort of the way I think about that. We don’t tell racial minority patients, you know, your child may be teased because of their race, we don’t tell poor parents, well, not explicitly, you can’t have children because your child will be teased for not having cool clothes. So it’s very specific that we think that research has to sort of establish that these kids won’t be teased in order for these parents to be allowed to parent. It’s a very strange idea to me. But that being said, you know, if children are teased, that has very little to do with their parents’ sexual orientation. It has to do with society and societal homophobia and that’s what needs to change, right?