Gay and lesbian parents are always coming out.
One of the situations a gay parent faces has to do with their own coming out process. A gay man or lesbian who has been out for many years will now have to begin coming out as a gay or lesbian parent. This is a whole new version of coming out which again opens themselves and their family’s life up to exposure and vulnerability and quite possibly rejection and scorn from other family members, friends, and acquaintances.
Not every gay or lesbian parent has a happy ending for themselves and their child. In reality, it may be the opposite. Many gays and lesbians have supportive people around them who accept them because they believe their sexuality is not their choice and since they have not actively chosen to be gay. They are accepted into their familial roles as sons, daughters, aunts, and uncles. Many churches also accept their gay parishioners because they believe it is through no active choice of their own. However, becoming a parent is very much a choice for a gay or lesbian, and therefore many friends and family members who were once accepting may not be as accepting of this new role of mom or dad for these same individuals. In other words, the belief is often: “It is ok for our friend, co-worker or family member to be gay or lesbian, but it is not ok for that person to bring a child into that homosexual lifestyle.” Surprisingly, I have also spoken with many other gays and lesbians who themselves also hold such internalized homophobic beliefs.
Now, a gay man or lesbian is coming out not only in terms of him or herself; he or she will now be coming out on behalf of their role as the parent of their child, a child who has two dads, or two moms, or one gay dad, or a lesbian mom. It is as if a gay parent must do preemptive coming out as a way of paving the road ahead for their child to be able to be honest about his or her family dynamic without facing many of the questions; You have two moms??? Where is your dad??? Is he dead??? You can’t have two moms. You must have a dad somewhere. Which one of your moms is really your mom???
It is important to take into consideration that gay parents are constantly coming out. If you ask a question such as, “Are you out?” he or she is most likely going to answer, “Yes, I have been out for a while, or a long time, or since high school or college.” It is here that others need to realize that this person who is going around town wearing a wedding band will be viewed by most people as a straight man or woman. It is as if the child whose hand they are holding has given them instant mainstream status, and by mainstream status, I mean heterosexual status.
The person who may have once been viewed as an out gay man or an out lesbian due to their manner or disposition, but now this same person is seen as Zack’s mom, or Angela’s dad, will be from now on will automatically be seen as a straight married, single or divorced person. The person will be perceived by other straight parents as one of their own. When it is later revealed that the person is not one of their own, he or she may feel exposed and vulnerable to the type of homophobia that often arises out of fears and ignorance.
Gay and lesbian parents may be grieving the loss of their previous identity.
Many gays and lesbians who socialized openly in gay bars are now at PTA (Parent and Teacher Association) meetings. Instead of partying with other gays and lesbians they are at Target searching for a teething gel that just may get the baby to stop crying. The gay or lesbian parent may be feeling isolated from the accepting gay society that afforded opportunities for open and honest communications. Your client may now be thrust into a mainstream society that they may not be completely comfortable in. It is important for this person to recognize opportunities to be as out as possible in all aspects of their lives while also creating a respite system so that they can once again socialize the way they did before they had a child.
Sometimes an issue for a gay or lesbian parent is not so gay.
Not every dilemma a gay or lesbian parent has to resolve has to do with being gay. It is important to remember that sometimes a parenting issue is simply a parenting issue. No more, no less. When gay parents are at home and they are assuming childcare roles and responsibilities, the challenges they face will be similar to the challenges any parent faces. Friends, family, and therapists should not assume that it is in part due to a gay man’s inability to be maternal or a lesbian’s inability to rough house with her son.
Sometimes an issue for gay and lesbian parents isn’t specific to parenting.
Gay or lesbian parents may feel as though they have lost each other somewhere in the process of becoming and functioning as a parent. One specific concern that I have heard from clients who are parents is; “We need more us time.” Parents need date nights, time for meals together, or time to simply talk, regroup and catch up from the stresses of their many roles. The issue for these parents is about connecting as a couple. It has to do with the emotional intimacy they share and time together, which is a precious commodity.
Recognize your preconceptions of what a “family” looks like.
This may involve the images that you may have been bombarded with from your youth, messages from the prominent adults in your life as you were growing and developing your personhood, the way media portrayed families (dad off to work, mom keeping up the housework, cooking, supporting dad emotionally, etc.) It is important to keep in mind that even in gay families, many traditional gender roles are still played out, maybe in the same gender, or perhaps in a different gender. In other words for gay male parents, one may be the dad who seems to always know just the perfect outfit for his daughter to wear to a special occasion, while the other dad would have no clue at all. Maybe, one dad is the one cheering at all of the sporting events for his son while the other dad will take his son’s temperature and cuddle him while he is sobbing in the middle of the night after waking with an aching ear. What about the lesbian mom who works 60 hours a week while her co-parent is a room mother at their daughters’ school, and also the mom voted most likely to be at every pediatrician appointment.
We should not assume anything about a family headed by same-sex parents. Become familiar with the family.
The Importance of Support for the Family
It is important for all parents, especially gay and lesbian parents to have a network of supportive people in their family’s life. It is through family and friends that parents are given assistance and respite care help, answers to questions, reassurances, etc. With gay parents, this support often comes more from non-family rather than immediate family members depending on the acceptance from their family. Perhaps more than with other straight families, friends will play an important role in the lives of gay and lesbian parents often taking on surnames such as aunt or uncle. Sadly, many of these friends are not parents themselves.
Many questions and reassurances that all parents—including gay and lesbian parents—need may not be available, leaving these parents feeling isolated and without support. Most metropolitan cities have an LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgendered) center that offers social and educational opportunities for these parents. There are also internet groups a gay or lesbian parent can join. There are usually scheduled seasonal activities and various outings for gay and lesbian parents and their children. These social outlets provide support for parents while allowing an opportunity for their children to meet and interact with children from other families that look like theirs.
Websites to check out for more information on non-heteronormative parenting:
- http://www.gayparentmag.com (Subscription options for Gay Parent Magazine)
- http://www.abcnews.go.com/health/reproductivehealth/story?id=8232392&page=1 (Story about post 80’s kids of gay parents and how they are doing)
- http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/07161/793042-51.stm (Story about what happens to kids of gay parents)
- http://myfamilylaw.com/library/children-parenting/same-sexparenting/ (Legal Advice for Gay Parents)
- http://www.hrc.org/issues/parenting.asp (Human Rights Campaign( (HRC)) News for gay parents)
- http://www.mentalhealth.about.com/od/gaylesbian/a/samesex1104.htm (Story about Teenagers of same-sex parents)
- http://www.proudparenting.com (Resources on all topics for gay parents and prospective parents, a gay or lesbian parent can join at whatever stage of the parenting process they are currently in)
- http://www.questia.com/library/sociology-and-anthropology/relationships-and-thefamily/family/gay-parents.jsp (Textbooks and journal articles)
A version of this post was originally published on JoeKort.com and is republished here with the author’s permission.
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