“I’m gonna getcha,” cried my son who had just arrived home from his first fall at college. It was Christmas and our extended family was gathered to celebrate. He, this newly formed man, was on all fours scrambling after his toddler cousin. Our collective laughter spiraled the room as the new-to-walking little boy mimicked Frankenstein in his efforts to get away. My son scooped his cousin up and razzed the baby’s belly creating fits of giggles for them both.
Later, my son asked, “Mom, do you think I’ll be a good father?”
It’s such a seemingly simply question. A boy wants to emulate his role models, he wants to give love as he has been given, he wants to care and guide and support a child as he has been cared for and guided and supported. But for my son, the answer is not quite so simple. You see, my son is gay.
Wait, before you jump to the wrong conclusion, let me be clear: I don’t doubt for one moment my son’s potential to be a fantastic parent. He is loving and kind and patient and wise. I believe a child could do no better then to have him as a father. I am not worried about him. I struggle with how the rest of the world will respond.
For those of us who came of age when being gay was still widely viewed as a mental illness or a reflection of an overbearing mother or a sin or all of the above, the very idea of gay parents was out the realm of our consciousness. We were warned that the children of homosexuals would be at risk for drug abuse, depression, bullying, and (egads!) might themselves “turn” gay.
Back then, if they wanted children, most homosexuals were forced to deny their true nature. Many chose to remain closeted and entered into traditional marriages. They bore children with a person they may well have loved, but didn’t necessarily desire. Their lives became a complex matrix of denial and love and confusion for themselves and for those around them
Some, like the father of celebrated cartoonist, Alison Bechdel, stayed in the closet. Her powerful graphic memoir, Fun Home, recounts the emotional trauma her father’s hidden homosexuality had on her and her family. Sadly, her story is not unique. She came of age in the generation before homosexuals were “out and proud,” before books like Heather Has Two Mommies gave their children some semblance of normalcy, before gay parenting was a viable option.
Erin Margolin came of age during that same time. But her father, Larry Best, couldn’t stay in the closet. Although he knew he was gay, he deeply wanted a family, and so married and had three children with Erin’s mother. Finally, the need to be true to himself was more powerful than the pressure to conform. When Erin was 15, her parents divorced and her father told the truth about himself.
She will tell you it was one of the most difficult things she has ever experienced. For the sandwich generation, those born at a time before gay parenting was a reality but after publicly being gay was more normalized, the stigma of having a gay parent was a burden they endured alone. She says, “When our parents came out of the closet, many of us, their children, went in.”
Today, Erin is the proud mother of three and the proud daughter of her father and his husband. Her children call them PopPop and NaNa. These grandfathers are beloved regular visitors to the family home in Kansas City. She is sharing her story at the Gay Dad Project, and hopes to make a documentary about her experience and the experience of others like her, the children of once-closeted homosexuals. Their collective story is important for many reasons, not the least of which is it may soon be a thing of the past.
Well, perhaps only the recent past. Despite the mass-mediafication of gay parenting (thank Modern Family, Glee, and the recent movie, The Kids Are All Right), and despite the continued increase of gay parents in our society, there is still deep resistance.
As recently as 2010, an adoption ban in Florida kept gay and lesbian parents who were fostering waiting in the wings. In November 2011, Catholic Charities ceased its adoption services in Illinois after the state refused funding unless the groups agreed not to discriminate against gays and lesbians. And let’s not forget presidential hopeful Rick Santorum who told voters it was better to have a father in jail than to have two loving mommies. All of this animosity is ripe to keep gays and lesbians in the closet, forcing them into traditional marriages in order to have the family life they so urgently desire.
But the tide is changing, and fast. While as recently as 2007 48 percent of Americans reported they believed gay parenting would have a negative effect on children, in just five short years that number has dropped to only 34 percent.
And study after study is debunking the myths around the risks to children with gay parents. In fact, we are coming to learn they fare no differently than children of heterosexuals on measures of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and general socialization. A five-year review of 81 parenting studies published in the 2010 Journal of Marriage and Family found,“No research supports the widely held conviction that the gender of parents matters for child well-being.” Researchers have confirmed what’s true for straight parents is true for gay ones as well: what matters is the quality of the parenting.
When President Obama defended gay marriage, he cited the "same-sex couples who are as committed, as monogamous, as responsible, as loving a group of parents as any heterosexual couple that I know” as one of the key reasons for his support. His leadership on this issue bodes well for gays and lesbians who aspire to be parents and for their children as well.
While there are no statistics on homosexuals who use in vitro fertilization to become parents, of the 1.6 million adopted children in the U.S., 65,000, or 4 percent, are being raised by gays and lesbians. About 14,000 foster children, or 3 percent of all foster children in the U.S., live with LGBT parents many of whom are eager to adopt their foster child.
If the trends continue, gay parenting will be as normal as any modern family. Given the high rates of divorce and the increasingly common rate of single parenting, the rise of cohabiting gay parents might be the best news around for children in need of a nurturing home. Some even argue that having gay parents creates children who are more open-minded, secure, and loving. Now isn’t that something we all hope for in the next generation?
Despite lingering resistance in some sectors, I have confidence that the swift changes happening in our society will only be of benefit to my future grandchildren. I believe they will be raised in a world that doesn’t view their father as less than any other or, worse, as harmful. Unlike Erin and Alison, they will not have to hide or apologize or deny their father (s).
And by the time he is ready, I believe I will be able to say without hesitation, “Yes, my beloved son, you will be an amazing father.”
If you would like to help Erin with the Gay Dad Project Documentary, check out her fundraising efforts at Indiegogo. Her campaign to raise $20,000 ends February 1st. She’s nearly half-way there and would love your help.
Gloria Steinem once said, "The first problem for all of us, women and men, is not to learn but to unlearn." I am working on unlearning each and every day. How about you? Lisen www.prismwork.com
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