Gay Parenting 101: Don't Children Need Opposite Sex Role Models? - Mo's Journal
Gay Parenting 101: Don't Children Need Opposite Sex Role Models?|
An acquaintance of mine is the proud parent of an adorable baby boy whom she and her wife adopted. They are starting to get people asking them whether they're worried about their son lacking a male role model. There are lots of ways to answer that question.
One can point out that children of lesbians and gay men have been shown in study after study to do just as well psychologically as children of heterosexual parents. A good summary of the research on the topic is available from the American Psychological Association. The 88-page booklet on the topic, "Lesbian and Gay Parenting," can be downloaded at http://www.apa.org/pi/parent.html
The summary of findings says:
"Results of research to date suggest that children of lesbian and
gay parents have positive relationships with peers and that their
relationships with adults of both sexes are also satisfactory.
The picture of lesbian mothers' children that emerges is one of general
engagement in social life with peers, with fathers, with grandparents,
and with mothers' adult friends-both male and female, both heterosexual
and homosexual. Fears about children of lesbians and gay men being
sexually abused by adults, ostracized by peers, or isolated in single-sex
lesbian or gay communities have received no support from the results of
If you want to just look at an annotated bibliography of research studies, it's at http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/publications/lgpannotated.html
A second way to answer the question - and one I find a lot of lesbians go for - is to eschew references to research and just explain that our children know lots of men even though they don't have fathers. Lesbian couples with sons are not generally raising them in a women-only commune and without access to the outside world. Our kids know men because there are men among our relatives and friends and among their teachers and coaches and pediatricians and neighbors. If male role modeling is important, it's not hard to find men to do the modeling.
I tended to answer a third way. If someone asked me if I was worried about my son lacking male role models, I answered honestly that I was not. I don't believe in fostering a male role, so I don't feel a need for male role models. I want to raise my children without the constraints of gender roles. I want them to feel free to model themselves on various people - male and female - and not limit themselves to the expected behavior of one gender. So, male role models were not something I worried about.
I did - and still do - think role modeling is important, though, in a variety of ways unrelated to gender. Two hobbies ago I used to write and publish essays on lesbian and gay parenting. One of them was on the whole role model issue. A lot has changed in my family and in the world since 1994, but I stand by every word I said in the essay behind the cut.Getting by With a Little Help
by Dale Rosenberg
I have always firmly believed that it takes a whole village to raise a child. Villages being in short supply here in New York City, we have come to rely on our friends and family. My partner, Stacy, and I are fortunate that in many ways we have complementary interests and skills. Between us, we are able to share with our children both the interests and pursuits we have in common, and the ones where we differ. Still, we know there is a whole universe of possibilities out there, and we cannot instruct, model, and participate in all of our children's interests and experiences. Some times you need a little help.
In discussions with other lesbian and gay parents, I have found that the focus of getting more adults involved in our children's lives seems to be on opposite sex role models, a subject which leaves me cold. The argument for opposite sex role models usually goes something like this: Two women raising a son, or two men raising a daughter, are lacking the ability to offer that elusive quality of maleness or femaleness that children look for in a parent, and they therefore need to provide someone as a role model, so that their children will grow up comfortable with their adult sex roles. Although I certainly agree that it is important that kids know and love people of both sexes, I feel that that contact is just as important for my daughter as for my son, and that it is part of a general need to expose kids to different kinds of people. I don't think my son needs a male role model, because I do not believe in fostering a male role. Where we look for help is in other areas. Our kids need a dance role model, an acting-goofy-and-playing-silly-games role model, a football role model, some many-different-ways-to-make-a-living role models. Luckily, we have been able to find these and more in our family and friendship circle.
My friend Sarah is a dancer. Well, during the day she is a Bank Examiner, but she has a passion for dance. Trained at the School of American Ballet, and having once seriously considered a career in dance, Sarah now looks on it as her major avocation. She takes several dance classes every week, hobnobs with assorted balletomanes, and has been known to see four Swan Lakes in one week. She is thrilled that my kids have loved to dance since they could barely walk, and has taken as her task fostering and encouraging that love. Sarah and my son, Doran, have developed a special relationship, in part due to this shared interest. When we were looking for pre-school dance classes for Doran, Sarah helped us with setting criteria for our search. We found a class which Doran loves, but also found that the rest of the class consisted of little girls in leotards. "What do we dress him in?" I asked Sarah, and she immediately called up the School of American Ballet to find out what the well-dressed five-year-old male dancer should wear. Last year, she took Doran to see his first ballet - the Nutcracker. They got dressed up for their evening together, and off they went to the ballet. They had a grand time, topped off with ice cream at Rumpelmayer's.
"That's ridiculous", I told her. "$6.00 for a scoop of ice cream and he won't even finish it. Come home and we can have ice cream here."
"It's part of the experience", she insisted. Well, the whole evening was a lovely experience, and he was dancing bits from the Nutcracker for weeks afterwards. Sarah's planning what their next ballet should be, talking about getting Doran to go to S.A.B. when he's older, and trying to get us to agree that Kendra, our two-year-old daughter, needs to get into the act.
Then there's my brother Joel. Joel is successfully pursuing his boyhood dream of making a living by writing science fiction novels. He lives far away, but is a figure in my kids' lives through telephone calls, letters and occasional visits. As Doran has become more and more interested in writing, it has been so helpful to him to love and be loved by a real live writer. Last summer, Joel came to New York for a brief visit, and after hellos and hugs, the first thing Doran said to him was, "I've been writing a few books myself, Uncle Joel". A long discussion of technique, inspiration, and publishing ensued. Through knowing Joel, Doran is growing up seeing working as a writer as just as achievable and open an option as any other career.
Our friend Velma comes from Texas. She is a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan. Velma watches football with an intensity that is just this side of mania. She was appalled to realize that our children are being raised in a football-deprived household, and was determined to rectify this major hole in our parenting technique. Our kids now have their own Dallas Cowboys clothing, Doran has learned the names of key players and a lot more than I know about how the game is played, and we have all learned to rejoice when the Cowboys win and mourn at the infrequent times they lose. Velma feels more secure that our children will grow up with the well-being and fortitude that only football provides.
Chuck and David are friends of ours and honorary uncles to our kids. They have both been intimately involved in our children's lives since Doran was born. David and Chuck offer our children a lot: love, a fascination with their growing and developing natures, and a certain child-like sense of humor. No one can make Doran and Kendra laugh like Uncle Chuck and Uncle David. They tell goofy stories, contrive silly and elaborate practical jokes, and consider April Fool's Day a major event of the year. Their ability to appreciate and produce pre-school and toddler humor is a source of wonder to me, and a source of delight to my children. I feel blessed that they are part of our extended family.
The great advantage to having other adults take a major role in our children's lives is that it blesses us all. Children benefit greatly from having a close, loving relationship with an adult not their parent who thinks they are really special. The lives of adults without children are greatly enriched by having a loving and formative bond with a child or children. And as anyone who has been both a parent and an uncle or aunt knows, adults with children gain a different kind of satisfaction from the pride and joy associated with loving a child for whom you have no day-to-day responsibilities. Yes, it takes a whole village to raise a child. And isn't that a wonderful thing for everyone involved?
First published in Kids' Talk, December 1994
What I'd like to know is... are people who are clamouring for your kids to have male role models satisfied by Chuck and David? "Wait! We didn't mean gay male role models!"
Kidding aside, my take on the subject is that human beings look for role models to help us realize things that we already see in ourselves. If we are latent musicians, we will seek out information on the lives of musicians we admire to learn how we might (and might not) rebuild ourselves to be able to make music like that.
In conrast, I think finding roles for something as broad as "maleness" and "femaleness" doesn't really require much effort. Men and women are all around us and we learn from watching all the time. As with everything in life, it helps to be as widely read and travelled and experienced as possible because we then have the largest number of models on which to draw.
If a kid grows up in a very rigid and isolated society where there is a single definition of "male" and "female," it might be helpful to have access to other ways of living that might respond to things in that kid's heart that otherwise might not become fully realized. But in our media and culturally soaked lives, we aren't exactly bereft of variety. Your children certainly aren't.
BTW, I just looked up your brother's books and ordered one from the library.
BTBTW, Chapter 11 is 8734 words so far and I still have a bunch of scenes to finish. I think this might be one of those two parters I didn't count on.
|Date:||April 5th, 2007 07:59 pm (UTC)|| |
"Wait! We didn't mean gay male role models!"
LOL! Yes, I was sometimes tempted to reply that it's no problem, since we know lots of gay men.
Which of Joel's books did you ask for from the library?
I'm looking forward to your Chapter 11, or 11 and 12, if that's how it turns out.
Are you having a nice Pesach? Did you attend or give seders?
I read his wiki entry and decided D'Shai would appeal to me most. The Toronto library has many of his titles.
What do you recommend?
|Date:||April 5th, 2007 08:27 pm (UTC)|| |
I love D'Shai. After you read it, I have a fun story to tell about it, but I don't want to spoil it.
we'll chat after I read it. Gosh, at this rate, I'll never get to HP and the Goblet of Fire!
Currently reading Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Salvedurai who I used to know back in a gay youth group when I was a gay youth.
It's important for kids to have good role models in general, not necessarily male or female.
I did have a question for your essay list that I meant to pose & have been too busy (lazy, heh) to do. How do you recommend for gay and lesbian parents to handle the sex education issue? Any good reference books, any "speeches" you plan to use, etc; and also, what issues do you think both parents and children might face? Such as explaining the parents to the child's friends; that it's all right if the child is heterosexual *or* homosexual; any health related issues (std's being a *major* one for anybody)-things like that.
I hope I'm being clear. I'm rushing 'cause I'm at work, whoops...!
|Date:||April 5th, 2007 08:12 pm (UTC)|| |
Sex education is an interesting area. I find that a lot of heterosexual parents bring it up in connection with reproduction - the whole "where do babies come from?" bit. Of course, for our kids, where babies come from is not related to sex, so I think we need to talk to our kids about sex in different contexts. But I actually think it's better for *all* parents to do that, rather than set kids up to believe that sex is for the purpose of getting pregnant. After all, of all the thousands of times people - even heterosexual people :-) - have sex, very few of them are for the purpose of procreation. Sex has lots of functions in our lives and I think we can explain that in age appropriate ways at a variety of ages.
In terms of explaining who the parents are, we always talked in terms of family structure, not sexuality, because it's more meaningful to little kids and because it's more relevant to parenting. So we said to our kids from when they were very, very small that there are all kinds of families. And we'd say things like "Some kids have two mommies. Who do you know who has two mommies?" ("Me! and Ned and Timmy and...") "Some kids have two daddies. Who do you know who has two daddies?" and so on (yes, acknowledging that some kids have one of each :-), some have one parent, some live with grandparents, etc. It helps to have a social circle that reflects family diversity, but books can help, too. We had a number of them that showed alternative families of varying kinds and others that didn't specify (e.g. showed a father with a child, and no mention of who else is in the family) so we could fill in the blanks.
Those same explanations worked with the kids' friends, and with educating educators. One of the things I used to say in my public speaking days is that I want teachers to be just as comfortable answering "Why doesn't Susie have a daddy?" as they are answering "Why doesn't Susie have a little sister?" The answer is the same in both cases (families come in different sizes and shapes and have different people in them) and the question is really the same, too: "Why isn't Susie's family just like mine?"
Does that answer your question, or part of it? I'm not sure what you want to know about sexual orientation and/or STDs. I advocate - for both heterosexual and queer parents - not buying into compulsory heterosexuality and challenging statements that assume it ("Oh your baby boy is so adorable. He'll be quite the ladykiller soon." "Your daughter and my son are so cute together. She's his little girlfriend!" etc). And I think all children should be educated about health issues, including STDs but I also think that the scare tactics used to promote abstinence are really wrongheaded.
I wasn't asking for myself. I was putting up a topic for your essay list-the last time I read an entry, you'd asked for suggestions to write about next. I just didn't have time to page back through your lj to find it.
I was curious as to how other parents might handle the issue. I learned from the kids at school long before my mom thought it necessary to tell me about sex. I'm still not sure my dad realizes I'm old enough for it, heh. I've learned more about sexuality in a year through lj than I did growing up. It wasn't a deliberate effort to stifle the subject, but they were very uncomfortable talking about it, in part due to my mom's having been abused.
|Date:||April 6th, 2007 03:46 pm (UTC)|| |
wasn't asking for myself. I was putting up a topic for your essay list-the last time I read an entry, you'd asked for suggestions to write about next.
LOL! Silly me. And here I practically wrote an essay in response :-).
Funny about learning about sexuality on lj. What have you learned?
Sorry to take so long, I've been working an awful schedule & didn't have time to answer before.
The on-line community in general, and specifically lj, has definitely opened my eyes to just how many different ways of *being* there are, and of being sexual. I've read a lot, and am fairly unflappable when confronted with fiction that details something outside of my experience; but it's different when you're talking to a real person who lives a certain way, or does these things. It's harder to judge the act itself as being bad, when you know your friend X does it-and you like that person.
I've definitely learned a lot of new sex acts, too! *laughs* Frottage, rimming, fisting...I was all wide-eyed when I first started stumbling across the more graphic fics a few years ago. Now, I read more for plot-though of course nice sex is a pleasant bonus. *coughs* But after I've read about this position and that position for the umpteenth time, it doesn't mean as much to me as *why* they're doing it, *how* it affects their lives/friends/family, and *what* happens next.
I realized that's why I don't like most actual romance novels-I want more from the plot than cute meet/squabbling disguised as sex/falling into bed. If I demand it of my rl novels, why not my fanfic? Huh.
Mostly, I think I've learned from being involved in various fandoms and in dealing with certain friends I've met there, to discuss sexual and other matters with less embarassment. Removing the shame and guilt from sex is a major factor in getting people to handle it responsibly.
Pwp=porn with purpose! *laughs*
|Date:||April 22nd, 2007 01:44 pm (UTC)|| |
This was all really interesting to read! I'm fascinated by how reading/writing fanfic interacts with our day-to-day lives in all areas. Sex is a particularly interesting one :-). Taking advantage of lj anonymity and frankness: has it affected your sexual behavior at all? Do you find yourself not only learning about new sex acts but trying them as well?
An area where I find fanfic has really changed my life is in reading. I never wrote fiction before fanfic, and I find that I *read* fiction differently now that I write slash. I think more about how the book is structured, about plotting and character development and foreshadowing. It's not like I didn't think about those things before - I've certainly taken plenty of literature classes and I think I've always had a fairly sophisticated approach to reading and understanding literature. But I feel it differently now that I do it - I identify with the author making those decisions in ways I never did before. It really enhances the experience for me.
Oh, and speaking of reading, I've started an online book club. [Bad username: ]kestrelsparhawk] thought you might be interested. We read a book a month, taking turns choosing it, and then discuss it in email. I got the idea because a number of my friends on my working mothers list were lamenting not having time to go to a real book club. Would you like to know more? Send me an email, if so, and I'll send you the charter.
Regarding my sexual experimentation, I'd have to say that involvement in fandom has affected me a little. I was going to say not at all, but I *have* since purchased a vibrator, and that's a direct result of discussion with my on-line friend jennagc; she's a former mod at my HP groups and a good mentor-sisterly influence on me. She's very good at the frank sex talk without making me feel embarassed about either my ignorance or my curiosity. That's a real gift. But otherwise, no...I'm a virgin and inclined to stay that way. Yeah, it's by choice, which is hard for some people to accept.
The book club sounds fun. I'm interested, but I can't say that I'd be able to participate very much. I work 2 jobs and between my fandom activities and my reading for 50bookchallenge, I don't know if I can pack another book a month in there. Hmm. Unless I count it towards the 50...*smacks forehead*
Yes, go ahead and send me the info, please. I'd like to look at it. That's great that you started one for yourselves-really shows you one of the best uses of lj and the on-line community. Not just for porn, hard as it is to believe! *is amazed*
I'm going to be visiting Kestrelsparhawk for about a week. We're going to Wiscon together, with some of her friends. I'll be leaving tomorrow and it's so funny-we send each other emails all day, simultaneously freaking out about housecleaning and grocery shopping and reassuring each other that it'll be all right *sobs*
I'm very nervous, about the flight and everything. *bites nails* We've been talking about this trip for a good 6 months or so, it's hard to believe it's finally here!
My email address is email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org . I don't know how soon I'll be able to get back to you on this but I will.
|Date:||May 22nd, 2007 06:54 pm (UTC)|| |
How cool that you and kestrelsparhawk
are going to Wiscon together! I know she had fun at it last year.
I just saw her Saturday night, but it was a big dinner table and we didn't get much chance to talk.
I'll email you about the book club.
|Date:||April 5th, 2007 07:10 pm (UTC)|| |
::jumps up and down and cheers:: Yes, exactly! I want all my adult friends to be involved in my daughter's life, so she learns about being an editor and a writer and an accountant and a stay-at-home mom and a carpenter and a professor and a warehouse manager and a programmer and a rabbi and a nurse and a doctor and...
I don't care about providing her a "female" role model, I just hope that I can provide her a *good* role model for being a parent and a grownup and a person and an American. I want her to learn to be polite and that it's okay to be smart and...well, yeah, you know what I mean.
Of course, I'm also pleased to see my former employers providing so much useful information :)
|Date:||April 5th, 2007 08:13 pm (UTC)|| |
Oh did you work for the APA? Their resources on this topic are very good, and well presented.
|Date:||April 5th, 2007 09:43 pm (UTC)|| |
Yup, I worked in the Public Affairs office for over 4 years :)
Wait, you're *JOEL ROSENBERG*'s sister? D'shai is on my short list of "books of wisdom that let me survive high school". In fact my copy is so worn out that I haven't re-read it lately mostly because I'm afraid for the binding.
//completely off-topic, but wow, it's a small world.
|Date:||April 5th, 2007 09:11 pm (UTC)|| |
Wait, you're *JOEL ROSENBERG*'s sister?
Yup. The sci-fi and fantasy Joel Rosenberg, not the evangelical Christian right wing apocalyptic political thriller one.
D'shai is on my short list of "books of wisdom that let me survive high school". In fact my copy is so worn out that I haven't re-read it lately mostly because I'm afraid for the binding.
That's great. Hey, Joel! You reading?
Well, yeah, actually. :) And enjoying. I won't spoil your D'Shai story . . .
|Date:||April 6th, 2007 03:01 am (UTC)|| |
This is very interesting. I don't have children, or as you know, a partner, but I do think a fair bit about childrearing and role-modeling.
Thank you for sharing this, you're always making me think and that's a great thing from my end.
|Date:||April 6th, 2007 03:47 pm (UTC)|| |
Well, you're fairly involved in childrearing, particularly for a childless person. Anyway, glad it made you think :-).
Your commentaries are always very interesting to read.
|Date:||April 6th, 2007 03:47 pm (UTC)|| |
that's a damn fine essay. assigned gender roles are a major peeve of mine, nowhere more annoyingly exemplified than by the term 'metrosexual' (seriously, wtf?). and parents who in this day and age give their sons more room to express themselves than they do their daughters, because girls need to be 'ladylike', ought to be shot. (also, do you get the impression that the "needs a male role model" crowd have the unspoken subtext "otherwise he might grow up gay" in their minds?)
oh, and i'm a big joel rosenberg fan, so i'm a wee bit starstruck to learn that you're his sister :)
|Date:||April 12th, 2007 01:31 am (UTC)|| |
Yes, I do think part of the "needs a male role model" thing is a fear that homosexual parents raise homosexual children. I also think we've handled that one badly in a lot of ways.
I did a fair amount of interviews and public speaking with Q&A on gay parenting back in the day and we always got asked "But what if they grow up to be gay?" Most of my compatriots answered with statistics showing that our children aren't any more likely to be gay than those with heterosexual parents. I feel like that kind of response completely buys into heterosexist assumptions, as if it's a proof that we're good parents that our kids aren't gay! I always answered "But what if they grow up to be gay?" with "Wouldn't that be wonderful! At least some gay kids who wouldn't be terrified to come out to their parents."
I'm glad you like Joel's books! FWIW, I like to name drop that "Martin from Minstrels" is on my lj friendslist, so we all have our own definitions of "starstruck."
oh, and i'm a big joel rosenberg fan, so i'm a wee bit starstruck to learn that you're his sister :)
It was sometime in the mid-to-late eighties. I was out at an SF convention in San Diego, chatting with a friend, Tom Galloway, by the pool, and a fan came up to say hi, and he was, well, clearly starstruck to be in the presence of, well, me.
We talked for a few minutes before he took his leave, and Tom was amused. After the fan was out of earshot I started to pontificate -- always a bad idea -- about how flattering but strange that was, and that nobody should feel that intimidated by --
At that moment, I quite literally bumped in Poul Anderson, whose work I had admired for, oh, about twenty years, but who I hadn't ever met.
"P-p-please to meet you, Mr. Anderson," I stuttered out. "You're my biggest fan -- I mean . . . "
Tom, I think, physically injured himself laughing.
that's a great story, thanks for sharing it :) i was very afraid i'd babble the time i met pratchett, but it turns out my instinct is to go very quiet instead, and have to make a conscious effort to say anything.
eagerly awaiting the third d'shai book, by the way - d'shai is one of the books i buy several copies of to give away to people (keeping company with the likes of windhaven and katherine blake's "the interior life")
|Date:||August 25th, 2007 07:16 am (UTC)|| |
Such is life.