Lesbian and Gay Parenting Questions & Answers Column With Arlene Istar LevDear Ari

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Gay Parenting 101

Posted By on September 10, 2010

Question:

My playgroup friends just found out I’m gay and asked my son and I to kindly not come back. I’m in shock – now what?

Answer:

Well, my first thought is why did your playgroup friends not know that you were gay until now? If you have been a member of the group for a while, it would be surprising if it had not come until now, unless of course you were purposely hiding it. Your use of the words “just found out,” leads me to think you have deliberately not revealed your sexual orientation. The problem with hiding things, as you’ve discovered, is that when it is revealed there is no telling how people will cope. They may feel that you’ve been dishonest with them and that may make them distrustful of you.

I’m not sure how anyone can “kindly” ostracize you, but nonetheless, they’ve made it clear that you are not welcome. I don’t think there is much we can do when we are not welcome somewhere, except to find somewhere else to go. If you were close to anyone in particular in the group, you may want to invite them out for coffee and find out how they feel about this. Sometimes a decision is made by one person in the group without other people’s knowledge. I would be curious what their reasons are for uninviting you (i.e., prejudice regarding gay people being around children?) but it may be too painful to put yourself through listening to their reasons.

Whatever your reasons for remaining closeted about being a gay parent, and whatever their reasons for not wanting a gay-headed family in their playgroup, I think the lesson for you in this is to find a group where you will be welcome as you are. I would suggest you seek out another group, and come out from the very beginning. Any group that doesn’t want you because you are gay, doesn’t want YOU at all. For you and your son to thrive as part of a playgroup, you must be fully yourself. There is no better gift you can give your son than modeling pride in yourself and your family. I am truly sorry that you experienced this, but the reality is that a playgroup that rejects you, doesn’t sound like much fun at all.

Question:

I swear my partner and I are the only gay dads in town. Are there ways for us to meet other LGBT folks?

Answer:

Well, I would start by not assuming you are the only gay dads in town (unless, of course, you live in a town of under 100 people and know them all). My assumption is there are a number of other local LGBT families; the task is to find them. This may be easier said then done. Many gay families are busy just being families, and between soccer practice, work responsibilities, and an 8 pm bedtime, there is simply not a lot of time left to find one another and socialize.

So the first order of business it to let others know you exist. I would start by putting an ad in the local paper saying “Gay Dads looking for other LGBT parents.” You can give a cell phone number or a post office box, although parents might be too busy to remember to send something in the mail. Are there other local parenting type groups (playgroups, “mom and baby” groups)? You can let them know that you exist, and ask if you can put a small announcement in their newsletter, or even ask if you are welcome to join them.

You can also put up small notices in the local supermarkets, ice cream stores, or lumber yards. A college campus may have an LGBT group, although students are less likely to be parents. Organizations like Family Equality Council can help you get connected to local support groups. How about using the Internet? You can post an announcement to start a local group, or even better you can join an already established Internet parenting group. Although different from a local face-to-face group, if you are really isolated connecting with other parents via cyberspace may be an important first step – and your new online friends may have more suggestions to help you. Part of what you are trying to do is start a breadcrumb trail, or perhaps a spider web is a better image. You need to let people know that you exist, and then someone will know someone, who will know someone else, and that’s how you will get connected. LGBT parents are everywhere, just like you. My guess, is that some other families are out there, looking just as hard for you as you are looking for them.

Question:

Is it important for straight parents to have gay friends so their kids can understand and accept how other people live?

Answer:

I think it’s important for all people to have a diverse group of friends in their lives in general, not just for their children. I think children grow up best learning to socially move freely in and out of many communities of people. Certainly it’s good to have friends who are both gay and straight, as well as friends from many cultural, racial and religious communities. Children are growing up in a very diverse world these days, and will be living their adult lives in complex social milieus.

The truth is gay people all live very different kinds of lives, just like straight people. My gay friends who own a house on Riverside Drive live very differently than my gay friends who raise goats on a small farm off of a dirt road. I would hope that straight people show their children many different gay people living diverse lifestyles. Our children learn from what is modeled for them, and if diversity is part of the parent’s social world, the children will grow up seeing that as “regular.”

When I first planned to become a parent I worried, like most queer people do, how my children would be accepted with the straight environment of schools and children’s culture. I worried that our being lesbian would impede their social opportunities, or whether the friend’s parents’ would not want them to sleep over our house. I’ve been at this parenting thing for over a decade now, and although there have been a few awkward situations, generally speaking my kids are enormously popular and have regular sleepovers. When I’ve asked my kids what their friends think about them having gay parents they say, “They think it is cool.” The truth is I think their parents also think it is “cool.” I think, and it makes me smile to say this, that being gay in some social circles at this juncture in history is “très cool” – meaning there is no shortage of straight parents seeking gay friends to expand their social networks.

Many years ago my son said to me, “I don’t think my friend Luke’s parents are gay.” Luke, by the way, has a mom and a dad. I concurred that Luke’s parents were probably not gay. “What do you call it,” he asked, “when people of the opposite sex love each other?” I introduced the words heterosexual and straight into his vocabulary, and luxuriated in the idea that for some children growing up in the world today, gay is the “default,” the assumed position. My point here is that it’s not only that we (LGBT or straight) should “understand and accept how other people live,” but that we that it is a two-way street and learning moves in both directions. Although heterosexuality is still the default, the norm, for most people, it may be more of a cultural exchange program for some children growing up in LGBT-parented homes.