By Ari Lev
I find that every time I answer a research questionnaire on gay parenting I am asked how I deal with the homophobia my kids face. There is a not-so-subtle assumption that my children will experience homophobia and I would like to not-so-subtly challenge that assumption.
I mean, of course my children will experience some homophobia. The world is, after all, full of homophobia, or, more to the point, heterosexism. Images of men and women marrying and having babies and living in marital war zones is the stuff that media, in all its forms, is built on. Young children growing in LGBT-headed homes still pretend that Barbie and G.I. Joe marry each other. Heterosexism is ubiquitous, inhaled with each breath, a societal osmosis, that is difficult to combat without a massive cultural paradigm shift (item number one of the official Gay Agenda).
If gay people can’t legally marry, then it is to be expected that some kid on the playground will say to my kid, in a snide, whiney voice, “Your parents can’t marry because they are queer.” Except that has never happened. Not once.
Dealing with blatant homophobia has simply not been such a big deal in our daily lives. We’ve had no cross burnings. We’ve had no hostile reactions from school administrators or neighbors. We have a long list of invites to school parties, and our backyard barbecues are the social event of the summer, where queers and hets mingle and discuss politics and lawn care, while hordes of children run circles around us.
Maybe you are thinking that we are lucky, and surely I live in a more liberal area than some, although, to be honest, I live in a small conservative upstate city, hardly a bastion of radical family diversity. I acknowledge that some queer parents have suffered terribly due to homophobia. So luck is a part of it, but I also think the hostile homophobia directed at our children is one of those great big bogeymen, meant to terrify us into complicity, rather than a realistic looming danger threatening our families.
In ten years of parenting, here are a few homophobic situations we’ve faced. We are asked questions like, “Are these your kids?” “How come you have two mommies?” “Are you adopted?” “Where’s your husband/daddy?” I model honest and direct answers for my children: “Yes, these are my kids.” “Our family has two mommies and two children.” “No, we don’t have a husband/daddy in this family.” “Yes, I’m adopted, and these are my moms.”
Sometimes the responses to the answers are amusing: “Oh, I saw something about that on television.” “I didn’t know you could have two mommies.”
Sometimes they are thoughtful. “Are you sad you don’t have a daddy?” “What’s it like to be adopted?” “I wish I had two mommies, wow!” Although these questions and responses are embedded in heterosexism and homophobia, I mostly see them as ignorance, and use these opportunities to educate.
One child said in an angry hostile voice, “You can’t have two white moms, that’s against the Bible.” I was not there to defend my son, and didn’t hear about for almost two weeks, when he blurted out painfully, “What’s wrong with having two moms?” After a long talk, my son got a painful dose of information about homophobia and bigotry, and some snappy comebacks to address it in the future. He was seven. Yes, that is challenging, but is it any more challenging that helping a child deal with someone making fun of their new eyeglasses, or their red hair? It seems to me that it’s just a part of life, dealing with stupidity and prejudice, certainly not particular to having gay parents. All children need compassionate parents, and a few good tools, to combat life’s injustices.
Sometimes you aren’t even sure if it is homophobia. My younger son has a friend in school who he really likes. Despite numerous invites, their child has never come to our house. The family is friendly enough at school and have had our kid to their house. Are they homophobic or just (over)protective? Is this homophobia, or am I assuming homophobia when it might be differing cultural values or parenting styles?
Perhaps I’m wrong about this, but I don’t think that black parents who are thinking of having children are asked, “How do you plan on dealing with racism?” I am sure that no one suggests that they shouldn’t have children due to the intensity of racism their children will face. As a Jew, I know that no one has ever asked me how we address anti-Semitism.
Why do we assume that kids being reared in LGBT-headed families will have such a heavy burden to carry? Our fear keeps us small, worrying about dangers that will likely not happen, and thinking we somehow deserve them, or should expect them as part of the price of being queer. Maybe we need to fear the internalized homophobia and heterosexism that lives within us, more than the bogeyman (trying to keep us) in the closet?