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

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

New (Lesbian) Family

Posted By on August 27, 2010

Dear Ari:

My 33 year old partner of ten-plus years and I (I’m 51 years old) are considering starting a family.  I have two children, a 25 year old son and a 21 year old daughter. My daughter has been extremely supportive of my relationship and gets along well with my partner, however, for my son, it’s a different story.
Could you tell me the types of concerns children of lesbians experience on a day to day basis? I work in a school so I am aware of the pressures placed on today’s children. To add to the mix, I am only ‘out’ to a handful of people and I work in the school system, but not school, which our child/ren would attend. What kinds of advice, books, chatroom, groups, etc. are available to guide us with our decision? 

Hello Lyn:

Well, it sounds like you and your partner know a lot about parenting, having raised two children for the past decade. I’m curious to know more about how you dealt with coming out to them, and why one child is more supportive than the other. I’m sure you learned much from raising the first two, that will help you in parenting the next brood.

The lives of children of LGBT people is changing on a daily basis, so there is a good chance that whatever advice I give you today, will become useless by the time you have a school age children and are able to utilize it (unless you are adopting older children, of course). LGBT parenting is moving with the speed of light in terms of how many of us are having children, and how quickly we are establishing an international community embedded in the wider communities in which we live. It is a very exciting time. In the small independent school our children attend, we were the first lesbian parents, and just five years later, there are now six families. Recently a friend placed her child in a local public school, and told the school that her daughter had lesbian parents. The teacher shrugged and said, “So do four other kids in the class.”

This tells me that we are fast becoming “just another” minority group that school systems have to address, and of course, our work (and this may put some pressure on you) is to make sure that our families are being treated kindly, and included appropriately within the school curriculum.

You ask what the concerns are that LGBT families face on a day-to-day basis. Well, some of it depends on the community in which you live, rural or urban, conservative or liberal, religious or secular. Some of it also depends on whether you are breaking new ground, i.e., the first family in a small town, the first family in your school. Another issue is how much your family will stand out. Two parents of the same sex will stand out more in a small church than the local playground. Same sex parents stand out less when they present is socially acceptable ways, than when they are gender-benders, or tattooed and pierced. I’m not judging anyone’s style or appearance, but it is a reality that butch-femme couples often raise more eyebrows than two traditionally feminine appearing moms. We have found that our children have more questions about the fact that neither my partner nor I are, let us say, thin, or that my partner is masculine-looking, then they have about us being gay.

On a day-to-day basis, LGBT issues take a back seat. Daily life, for most queer families, looks a lot like the daily life of most heterosexual families. It involves getting kids to school and music lesions and soccer practice. It involves a lot of hand-washing, clothes washing, and dishwashing. It involves summer drives for ice cream, winter snow ball fights, and cuddling in bed reading the entire Lemony Snickett series, and then starting all over again. Being an LGBT family does not impact daily life very much at all, in my experience.

Some of the ways that our lives are different from heterosexual friends, is the sense of how important it is to be around other queer families, to give our children a sense of “normalcy.” For instance, we stretch our finances to the point of explosion to spend a few days in Provincetown for Family Week this year, and taking our annual trek to the Gay Pride Parade in NYC, although we might (as aging near-50 year olds) choose to spend a quieter weekend at home. But for my children seeing tens of thousands of out and proud homosexuals, of all colors and ages, and lifestyles, is foundational to their sense of belonging and psychological integrity.

I find a significant amount of my support comes from attending these events, as well as finding Internet support. Below are some email lists you might find helpful:

Gay Adoption  http://www.cyberhiway.com/aparent/faq.html

Transgender Parents http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TSParenting/

Prospective Queer Parents pqp-subscribe@groups.queernet.org (email)

Lesbian Moms moms-subscribe@groups.queernet.org (email)

Stay at home Lesbian Moms moms-at-home-subscribe@groups.queernet.org (email)

Gay Dads majordomo@vector.casti.com (email)

Queer Step-Parents qsteps-subscribe@groups.queernet.org (email)

GLBT Parents glbt-parents-subscribe@groups.queernet.org (email)

Below is bibliography of some books you may find helpful. I have a much more complete reference list in my book, The Complete Lesbian and Gay Parenting Book (Arlene Istar Lev, 2004, NY: Berkley/Penguin Press.)

Casper, V., and Schultz, S.B. (1999). Gay Parents/Straight Schools, NY: Teachers College Press.

Clunis, D.M, and Green, D. (1995) The lesbian parenting book: A guide to creating families and raising children. Seattle: Seal Press.

Drucker, J.L. and Schulweis, H. (2001).  Lesbian and gay families speak out: Understanding the Joys and Challenges of Diverse Family Life. Cambridge: Perseus.

Garner, A. (2004) Families like mine. Harpur/Collins.

Galluccio, J. and Galluccio, M., (2001). An American Family. NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Glazer, D.F., and Drescher, J. (2001.). Gay and lesbian Parenting. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Medical Press.

Howey, N. & Samuels, E. (2000) Out of the ordinary: Essays on growing up with gay, lesbian, and transgender parents. St. Martin’s Press.

Johnson, S.M, and O’Conner, E. (2001). For lesbian parents. NY: Guildford Press.

Martin, A. (1993). The lesbian and gay parenting handbook. New York: Harper Collins.

McGarry, K. (2003.) Fatherhood for Gay Men. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press.

Savage, D. (2000). The kid: What happened when my boyfriend and I decided  to get pregnant: An adoption story.

Strah, D. (2003). Gay Dads: A celebration of fatherhood. NY: Jeremy     Tarcher/Penguin.

Wells, J. (Ed ) (2000)  HOMEFRONTS:  Controversies in  Nontraditional Parenting LA: Alyson Publications

Weston, K. (1991). Families we choose: Lesbians, gays, kinship. New York: Columbia University.