It may not quite be an Internet meme, but several writers in the past month have offered their thoughts on what not to say to lesbian moms. Judy Gold at HuffPo gives a personal story about "The Question You Should Never Ask a Lesbian Mom"; Jeanne Sager at The Stir lists "5 Things Never to Say to Lesbian Moms"; Te-Erika Patterson at Mom.me writes of "What Not to Say to LGBT Parents"; and L. A. Pintea at Parents.com relates "10 Things You Shouldn't Ask a Lesbian Mom." It's enough to make people think they should never approach us. I'd like to turn things around here, and suggest several things you should say to lesbian moms.
I'm drawing a bit here from my post several years ago, "How to Respond to Lesbian Moms." In that, I, too, suggested a number of things not to ask us, but tried also to offer a few positive ideas. Here's a revised version of some those, plus a few more.
- "Hello." Start with the basics. Be friendly. We're your neighbors and colleagues, too.
- "How old is he/she/your children?" Yep. We love the usual general questions about our kids, just like anyone else.
- "Your kid is so cute." Ditto. Note that that's a good, inoffensive phrasing if you can't tell the child's gender. (Not that all of our kids are gender variant or gender neutral; it's just hard to tell with kids sometimes, regardless, and one shouldn't assume.)
- "Is she/he both of yours?" Don't ask simply out of idle curiosity—but if there's a reason you need to know the relationships among us, that's a better way to inquire than "Whose is she/he?"
- "What does your child call each of you?" Tone is everything here, though. Asked with an incredulous, "Isn't your child confused by having two moms?" inflection ("WHAT does your child call each of you?") it can be offensive. But if you're in a situation where it's useful to know this information (say, if you're a teacher, coach, daycare provider, child's friend's parent, etc.), and you ask respectfully, then it conveys that you're concerned with acknowledging our proper family relationships.
- "Partner." It’s always safe to refer to a lesbian couple (especially one committed enough to have kids) as “partners.” They may prefer another term–spouses, wives, lovers, etc., and will likely tell you if they do–but “partners” won’t offend anyone by trivializing the relationship like "friends" would.
- "I voted in support of [LGBT-friendly measure or politician]" or "I voted against [anti-LGBT measure or politician]" Only say this if it's true, of course. If it's not, perhaps you'll reconsider after reflecting on why the lesbian family you've met doesn't have the same protections and benefits under the law as families with opposite-sex parents.
- "I'm not sure how to explain same-sex parents to my children. What would you suggest I say?" This probably isn't a question you'd lead with upon meeting someone for the first time, but if you have some rapport with them (say, if you've chatted a few times while watching your kids play soccer together), and you ask in a respectful way that implies you're genuinely interested in learning, I think most of us would be grateful for your attempt to be a good ally.
- "Is there a book you could recommend for my child that shows all types of families?" LGBT-inclusive kids' books aren't just for LGBT families, just as books that show racial diversity shouldn't just be for families of color. Again, this may not be a first-meeting question, but it's a good way to be an ally once you get to know someone.
- "It's so nice to see different types of families in our community." Because it is.
As I cautioned in my earlier post, though, remember that no two lesbian families are exactly alike, and we may approach discussing our families in different ways.
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