It’s 2015. DOMA is history, and the Supreme Court ruled in June that gay marriage is legal. We know that most Americans believe LGBT parents are just as good at raising kids as hetrosexual people, which is encouraging, since the hard data also says children of gay parents are at no disadvantage. We’ve come a long way. However, if you’re an LGBT person with kids, you know that these hard facts in no way prevent members of your personal social circle, various professionals, and the public at large from making idiotic and occasionally hurtful statements to your face.
Since I live in New York City, possibly the second most gay-friendly place on the planet after San Francisco, I didn’t think this would be the case for me. This is the land of Stonewall. There’s Park Slope, a neighborhood apparently inhabited entirely by lesbian moms. (“Because zoning,” columnist and resident Sally Kohn once said.) Outwardly, it would seem that if any family should be insulated against the unwelcome commentary too often heaped upon same-sex parents, it would be mine, safely suspended in our progressive NYC bubble.
I am hear to tell you that none of that makes a bit of difference. My wife’s and my experience of fertility treatment, pregnancy, childbirth, and the joyful but also bureaucracy-laced 10 months of my daughter’s life so far have proven that a) nowhere is safe from people’s lack of filter, manners, or both, and b) just when you think no one can say anything more clueless or inappropriate to you about the fact that you’re a gay person with kids, someone does (looking at you, Person Who Made the Incest Comment).
When I asked other gay parents I know if this was simply a case of our bad luck in acquaintances, they confirmed that we actually are not alone, which made me feel better and worse at the same time. I don’t mean to suggest that everyone in our lives is clueless — my very old-school, solo practice OB, for instance, showed incredible sensitivity and awareness through our whole pregnancy. And I’m sure, over time, straight people will learn what not to say to gay parents. Perhaps (over much more time, I’m sure) the idea that parenting units are not always made up of one man and one woman will become so pervasively internalized that we’ll rarely find occasion to delineate between straight parents and gay parents. Still, to speed that along, here are eight things almost every gay parent has heard and never, ever wants to hear again:
“How Did You Do It?”
What I want to ask every straight person who asks me this is, “How did you do it? Where, when, was the lighting good? Did you do the thing where you hold your legs over your head afterward to make sure it really gets in there? Is that a real thing?”
My wife puts it more succinctly: “I don't ask straight people what boring position they f*cked in to get their kid.” Don’t ask us how we got ours.
“Who Is The Father?”
This is not Maury. No paternity test results are forthcoming, so please behave accordingly. When you put this question to a lesbian couple, you’re being invasive. Whether we used a known donor or an anonymous donor, again, this is none of your business.
When you put this question to a male gay couple, you’re suggesting that the biological father is more their child’s dad than the nonbiological father, which is both untrue and hurtful. Being the nonbiological parent, either out of deference to your spouse or because your fertility made having your own biological kids unwise or impossible, is already loaded for those of us who take on that role. No need to pile on. Regardless of how a couple came to decide whose (if either of their) DNA would live in their kid, there’s almost assuredly a complex, unique, and emotional subterranean mass beneath that choice, and there’s literally no way to know what feelings you’ll trigger by asking about it. It’s offensive and vaguely objectifying to ask someone to access the most personal parts of themselves and hold them aloft to satisfy your curiosity.
Oh, and by asking this question, you suggest that you have decided you are close enough to us that we would share this information with you. Since we didn’t, you’re probably not.
“Did You Use A Sperm Donor?”
Ha, you think if you’re more specific, you’ll get an answer. I see you. Nope.
A journalist at one of the most respected publications in the world asked me this in an on-the-record interview recently. So did a colleague of my wife’s at a gallery opening, and several other people who apparently, upon encountering an LGBT person with kids, lose contact the part of their brain in charge of manners. As previously stated, if you don’t already know the answer to this question, we likely don’t want to tell you. Also, don’t be tacky or else people might start asking some very pointed questions about who parented you.
“But Who’s Really ~The Mom~?”
If this is beginning to feel repetitive, you now know what every social gathering (and especially every major holiday) feels like to gay parents. When you sidle up to the dessert table and casually ask a lesbian or gay couple this question, it is not the same as asking, “Apple or pecan?” What you’re implying with this question is that the couple has—or worse still, hasn’t but should—adopt heterosexual gender roles in their relationship and as parents. You’re also saying that a kid can only have one parent they identify as a nurturer, which means you’re saying that one of the parents has a closer relationship to their kid than the other.
One of the great things about parenting in a homosexual relationship is that roles are much less gendered, and the definition of what it means to be a mom or dad greatly expands to include a wide range of traditionally masculine and feminine tasks and behaviors. Where there’s not an automatic assumption of roles, responsibilities, and relationship definitions based on something as universal and impersonal as gender, we have the freedom to define those things based on the actual strengths and weaknesses of the individuals in our families. Why not embrace that?
“Since Your Donor Was Anonymous, Aren’t You Afraid Your Kid Is Going To Accidentally Have Sex With One Of His/Her Siblings, Thereby Unwittingly Committing Incest?”
Yes, we were actually asked this question. Ah, extended family. I think we can all agree that of all the things one might worry about in raising a kid while gay, this one’s pretty low on the list.
That Space For “Mother” And “Father” On Every School, Adoption, And Medical Form Ever
As a New Yorker, I’ve been stunned by the number of health, legal, insurance, and other professionals who either haven’t worked with LGBT couples before or have but still treat gay parents and prospective parents like unicorns. The other day, we were filling out a form for one of our daughter’s classes. “You be the father this time. I’m always the father,” my wife said. To find a baby book designed for two-mom families, I had to order one from Canada. (Thank god for Mushybooks.) I won’t even go into the forms we had to fill out for my wife to do a second-parent adoption of her biological child.
You know who never batted an eye? Any of the lovely (almost all Catholic) babysitters we interviewed when we were looking for a full-time caregiver for our daughter. They were 100% cool with it, and not just because they wanted the job. Almost all of them had worked for at least one LGBT couple before, because gay people have been having kids for a long time,and their families are as authentic as any other.
“When Are You Having Another One?”
Straight people get this question, too, sometimes before they’ve left the hospital, and it’s annoying and potentially painful for them, too, especially if they had fertility issues. But here’s the thing: Many straight people do want and find it relatively easy to have several kids in a row. You know no gay couple can just hook up and have a baby. It has, in fact, never once happened in the history of the world. (Which, admittedly, is also kind of great when you want to hook up without making a baby.)
So before you even ask about our possible plans for additional kids, you know that, at best, conceiving our first kid involved a probably awkward at-home artificial insemination. At its most challenging and expensive, the baby in our arms took years of visits to a reproductive endocrinologist, possibly involving an egg donor, surrogate, sperm donor, or all three; shelling out the same amount of money before we even had a kid that it will take to send said kid to college in 2036; and the toll all of that undoubtedly took on us individually and as a couple. This is the one way in which we are categorically not like straight families, and it’s really, really hard. Be the sophisticated, empathetic person that you are and do not ask us this question like it’s just a matter of scheduling more date nights.
“You’re Going To Get Into Every School/Parents Group/Exclusive Housing Situation.”
Actually, if we live in a socially conservative community, there’s a strong chance we’ll be excluded from many institutions. If, conversely, we live in an extremely gay-friendly community, being queer gives us no advantage whatsoever. Does anyone even have straight parents anymore???
And for the rest of us in a milieu where we are still uncommon but accepted enough to be seen as upping the diversity and hip edginess of that exclusive preschool or well-connected parents network, you’re completely, totally right. Let’s keep that on the DL, though. Admissions season is around the corner.
Images: NBC; Giphy(8)