Tag Archives: Gay Parents

Myth Busting: the children of gay and lesbian parents will be gay and lesbian themselves

One of the most common arguments I hear trotted out against gay and lesbian parenting, is that the children in those families are likely to grow up to be gay or lesbian themselves.

Let’s have a look at why that’s unlikely, and why even if it is true for the occasional child (statistics, kids), it’s not the massive problem it’s flagged up to be.

1. Gay and lesbian parents know what it’s like to have a minority sexuality

Most LGB adults have grown up in a society where homosexuality isn’t widespread and isn’t assumed or expected. That means they may have had to struggle to come to terms with their own sexuality, they most certainly will have had to expressly ‘out’ themselves to friends and family, and they will have faced prejudice and discrimination, including legally (it was only this year, 2014, that gay marriage was finally allowed), and personally.

Regardless of whether you believe that sexuality is due to nature or nurture, we can agree that for the majority of people it’s not a choice that is made. Instead, it’s something which people cannot control, and which can cause suffering if not accepted by friends, family and society. This is significant for two reasons:

1a)      LGB parents know that the same will be true of their children. No matter what you role model or expect, children’s  sexuality won’t automatically alter in response: it will be as it is. No doubt the parents of many gay adults wanted them to be straight, and all that hope added up to nothing. Why? Because sexuality is not something we can choose at will, and nor is it an isolated product of a person’s home environment. The belief that gay parents will ‘turn’ a child gay is predicated on the assumption that sexuality can be easily controlled – which simply isn’t true. Check out this awesome letter by a Washington Post agony aunt on just that point.

1b)       LGB adults know how painful it is to have one’s sexuality judged and potentially rejected. This means they’re more likely to create a safe and open environment for their children, one which does not insist upon a certain sexuality, but instead welcomes any eventualities. This was definitely true in my own house – I grew up knowing that my parents would be there for me whoever I fell in love with, rather than pressure me into one choice.

There is therefore no reason to expect that LGB parents would naturally raise a higher proportion of LGB children than straight parents. Even if they did (which is contrary to all available stats), I can only imagine that that would be because there are lots of people out there feeling same-sex attraction but choosing not to act upon it, due to their fear of rejection, whereas children in most LGB families will have been given the support they need to explore and accept their sexuality, whatever it happens to be. As J.J. Bigner articulated so well, “If heterosexual parenting is insufficient to ensure that children will also be heterosexual, then there is no reason to conclude that children of homosexuals also will be gay.”

2. Parents are influential, but so is society

I mentioned above that home life is only one influence on a child. This matters even more for children in LGB families, because the society around them remains overwhelmingly heteronormative. The majority of relationships that they’ll see, both in real life and represented in the media, will be straight ones. This means that children in LGB families will never grow up thinking that gay relationships are the norm, or their only viable choice. They’ll be fully informed about the types of relationships open to them, and able to explore heterosexuality quite freely.

And what’s the big deal anyway?

Now that I’ve hopefully convinced you that LGB parents are unlikely to have a disproportionate impact on their children’s sexuality meaning that they grow up to be gay, I’m going to ask why we care so much anyway?

Why are we all so traumatised by the idea of children growing up and defining as LGBT+? Is being LGBT+ that terrible a thing? Something to be protected against at all costs?

Surely our number one concern should always be that any individual is happy. If the child of gay or lesbian parents identifies as LGB, and is satisfied by the relationships in their life, what could possibly be wrong with that? It’s purely their own (and their partner’s) business. As long as an individual is able to be true to their own sexual preferences, and does not feel pressured to suppress their natural feelings, we should celebrate their sexuality, whatever it may be. 

So let’s all raise a cheer, for any adult, of any sexuality, from any type of family, being able to find joy in a consenting relationship that satisfies their personal sexual and romantic preferences. And let’s stop worrying about whether kids will grow up to be straight or gay, and just focus on enabling them to be happy.

Advertisements

Questions not to ask the mixed race daughter of two Jewish lesbians

I don’t have a problem with people asking me questions. If somebody is genuinely curious and interested, desirous to know more about alternative families, I welcome any dialogue. However, there’s a general principle that it’s sometimes best to think before you speak, and to work out how to word your question so as to get an open, honest conversation going. Some questions can be offensive – thinly veiling prejudice and ignorance. Sometimes it’s clear that someone is expecting a certain answer, and they’re not happy when my response challenges their assumptions. Inspired by this, and other recent examples (see I, too, am Oxford), I’ve donned my very own whiteboard and put together my own list of some of the less welcome questions and comments I often encounter, alongside the response that goes through my head at the time.

Image

Sigh.

Image

Never and always. Check out my blog post, here, for a slightly lengthier explanation.

Image

There’s a thing called google. It might be appropriate to try using it before asking me. There are lots of options, and I’d be happy to discuss them further with you, but I’m not sure that you ask other people if their existence is the direct result of sex between their parents, or IVF, or another method, so why ask me? The important thing is knowing that different ways of conceiving exist, not knowing how I personally was created.

Image

The concept that one of my parents need mother me, and the other father me, buys into pretty damaging gender stereotypes. If I did have a mum and a dad, I don’t imagine that their roles would be limited by their genetalia. Sure, one of my mums is a big football fan. She’s also a good cook. And a good gardener. And a good cyclist. And a good lecturer. Let’s just call her a good human being. And yes, my other mum also cooks. They’ve never separated parental activities along gender lines.

Image

We’ve probably been talking for all of five minutes and this has come up. Maybe wait until you know me better, if you want an answer any more detailed than ‘no’. It’s also worth trying to use my own language – referring to my sperm donor as my ‘dad’ will only make me inwardly prickle. And try not to be visibly disappointed with my response – I’m sorry I won’t be providing a storyline worthy of a primetime soap for you, but I’m very happy with the family around me.

Image

The answer is still London. Unless you’re asking where my parents are from. In which case the answer gets a bit more complex, although I’m not sure that’s what you want to know either. It probably doesn’t interest you that one of my mothers grew up in Sri Lanka, moved to Scotland when she was nine, and then to England when she was seventeen, given that I have no Sri Lankan or Scottish blood in me. I think what you’re trying to get at, is where the exact shading of my skin hails from. In which case, just ask that. Or maybe don’t, seeing as we barely know each other.

Image

Jews come in all shapes, sizes and colours. My Hebrew name might be a bit of a give away. Or the fact that we’ve just spent ten minutes discussing Judaism, but some people can’t see past colour, or their own limited experience. If you can’t stop yourself making assumptions, at least try not to sound so surprised next time.

Image

I think I look quite a bit like my birth mother, Leah. I think lots of people don’t, or won’t, or can’t see that. The fact that my skin is darker than hers, doesn’t mean we don’t share features, or facial expressions. Maybe focus a bit more on what you can see, if you try, than on what you’ll never see, but would like to imagine because it’s so much easier to focus on colour than what’s underneath it.

NotReal-2

I don’t claim a biological connection; I do claim a familial one. Yep, pretty sure the woman who has raised me is my mum, the brother I’ve grown up alongside is just that, and pretty sure it’s me who gets to define that.

Image

And finally… questions are good. Curiosity is good. Keep wondering, thinking, learning. I’d love to answer those questions of yours that are thoughtful, but please leave any preconceptions at the door.

Family2

Coming out as a member of an LGBT+ family

One of the things that people often forget, is that coming out never happens just once. You don’t decide to take the plunge, and bang, that’s that (well some people try to get the whole thing over in one facebook post, but Grandma may not be on facebook, and certainly the new colleagues at work twelve months down the line may need to learn afresh). Instead, coming out is a regular experience, repeated frequently in all sorts of situations and to all sorts of people.

There are lots of reasons why it may not always be necessary to come out in every situation. It really is down to the person and context. You can’t gauge the reaction you’re going to meet with – and when the threat of violence or discrimination exists, it is perfectly within a person’s rights not to reveal their sexuality. Much as I think it’s important to have proud, out LGBT+ role models, not everyone is in a safe position to be out, and it’s understandable that people may not want to risk their income, that chance of promotion, or their safety.

I’m in the position where I sometimes need to out my family’s status. It can be a funny balance. I don’t necessarily want to be shouting it from the rooftops the first time I meet someone (firstly, because it seems a little arrogant – that person may not care less), but equally, it feels weird that I can be close to people and they may not know, because it’s not every day that a relevant conversation starter comes up and so I may not have had a chance to break the news.

Image

When I was little, the problem was handily solved by the fact that everyone at school knew. My parents would always explain the family set up to any new school, and my class teachers were fully on board. I guess that when I was five I also assumed that there was nothing particularly abnormal about my family, and the questions I in turn faced weren’t so lengthy, so ‘outing’ my family was a relatively quick and painless process that didn’t lead to debates over the Sochi Winter Olympics or gender roles in modern families.

By the time I was at secondary school, deciding who to discuss my family with was more of a complicated choice. The first time one friend came round to my house, I deliberately sought her out to explain my family structure, so that she wouldn’t be surprised on arrival. I remember having to do a presentation in German on ‘Meine Familie’, complete with a photo. I pulled a friend aside to ask what I should do about grammar. She suggested I describe one of my mums as my au pair. Hell no. I was ready to go to battle with my German teacher, should he fault my ‘Ich habe zwei Mütter’ as a simple mistake.

Image

First day of term

What always felt weird, was not knowing who did know, and who didn’t know, precisely what. At a post-party sleepover, aged sixteen, with a girl in my year group whom I’d never been particularly close to, I was surprised to find out that she didn’t know about my family. She said the only thing she knew about my family was that we scraped the butter rather than dug at it (really? Is that gossip worthy?). Somehow I’d imagined that my situation was prime gossip, and that the news got around (I’m not sure I can be blamed for thinking so considering that when I was younger kids I didn’t know would sometimes shout to me about my family from across the street or in the park).

That my family wasn’t prime gossip, could be put down to a number of reasons. Perhaps my friends didn’t find it that new or exciting – it simply wasn’t worth talking about. Perhaps they didn’t know how to talk about it, or they were a little embarrassed even. Maybe some of them hadn’t fully grasped the concept, it was so alien, and they had assumed that one of the women in my life was an au-pair or aunt.

Certainly there were lots of times when people only saw what they wanted to see. When I was sixteen I was invited along to my own parents’ evening for the first time, and I decided to take both of my mums. We were sitting in front of my History teacher who was discussing my performance that year. She looked up, “Who’s mum?”. Instantaneously, my parents answered “We both are”. She blinked a few times and continued, stuttering a little (this same teacher apparently told my brother she thought I was Native American…so…).

When I went to Germany on my German exchange (and after my exchange partner, Lise, had stayed for a week at my house in England), Lise’s mother picked up a photo of my family and pointed to everyone asking who was who. When I repeated ‘mutti’ twice, she couldn’t accept it. My German wasn’t advanced enough to push back much when she authoritatively declared ‘Tante’. She had insisted on identifying the carrier of both my brother and I; to this day I don’t know what she fully made of the family.

During my twenty-five years, there have been times when I’ve been fierce in describing and, when need be, justifying my family. There have also been times when strangers enquire about my ethnic background (quick hint: don’t do this to the person sitting next to you on the bus – she will think bitter thoughts), a conversation which will end up ‘So is your mother or father Indian?” to which I will mutter ‘father’ through clenched teeth: it’s not always easy or appropriate to explain the particulars of your family to someone you’ll never meet again.

Similarly, when a colleague asks about my weekend plans, I might say that I went to an exhibition with my ‘cousin’ or ‘friend’, as shorthand for describing my half-brother’s brother, Conor. The reason why? If every time I mentioned him I described our exact familial link, that’s what the conversation would become about. Sometimes I’m alright with that, and happy to explain our connection. Sometimes though, I just want to discuss the exhibition, or the cocktail bar, or the birthday party, without necessarily being sidetracked into a more complex conversation with someone I don’t know that well, and in that case, it’s easier to describe my relationship with Conor using a term that does justice to the strength of our relationship and that is understood by my colleague but need not be further questioned. On a little side point, Conor’s term for me, his half-half sister, is one I find adorable!

I often try to use language in a way that will signify my non-traditional family to those who are more aware of the particular significance of my chosen words. An example is my avoidance of the word ‘dad’, substituting for ‘parents’ when necessary. For instance, I frequently find myself in group situations when people will discuss what their parents do, naming jobs, before asking me what my mum and dad do. I’ll answer “Well one of my parents does X, and the other does Y”. This is my attempt at challenging the assumption that I have a father, without having to outrightly announce that I have two mothers. This is in much the same vein that many lesbian and gay people will respond to a question about their husband or wife by responding with the gender-neutral “partner” – it’s a subtle hint for those who will be (positively) receptive, and enables the conversation to continue without fully sidetracking it, while allowing room for someone who is more curious to ask for more information should they so wish. In a way, it’s leaving the ball in the other person’s court.

My family are mine and I could not be more proud of them. That not everyone I ever meet and converse with knows of my lesbian mothers, does not mean I am any less proud (heck, I’ve decided to become an online ad for LGBT+ families). It simply means that some stories require a little time, or a little intimacy, to be fully appreciated, and when I discuss my family with someone, I always want to be able to do their wonderfulness justice.

Five reasons why having lesbian mothers can suck

  1. When you yell “mum!” two people answer back from opposite ends of the house
  2. Menstrual cycles within the household are in-sync, so for 7 days out of every 28, nobody will take you swimming
  3. Mother’s Day cards inspire anxiety: it’s hard to find one without the competitive superlative ‘best’ or ‘no. 1’
  4. When cold callers ask for your mummy, you shock them by asking “which one?”
  5. When friends ask if your parents are divorced, you have to explain they’re merely separated…because they were never allowed to get married in the first place

Image