Op-ed: An Answer to Every Homophobic Question Same-Sex Parents Face

Op-ed: An Answer to Every Homophobic Question Same-Sex Parents Face

Several years ago, a close friend asked if I thought he’d be a good father. I said of course. Laurents was (and still is) dedicated, loyal, playful, responsible, loving, funny, caring, bright, successful. But back then, he remained worried.

Laurents worried he’d make mistakes. (As a mother of three, I assured him that yes, he’d certainly make mistakes, that the only “perfect parents” are the folks who have never raised children.) He worried that he was athletic but not at all artistic, and what would he do if his daughter or son turned out to be a young Picasso? (I told him I was in his camp, except I was an abysmal athlete and a worse artist. We all have strengths and limitations.) He worried that he always forgot to get a haircut, that he’d bake inedible birthday cakes, that he never learned to waltz. He worried that he was a worrier.

Finally, I took him by the shoulders. “Laurents, what’s on your mind?” He looked at me with tears in his eyes: “I’m gay. My wife is a husband, except we can’t legally marry. Last night we were at a dinner party and a mom asked why in the world Mark and I thought we could be good parents?”

We sat in my kitchen with two gigantic cups of coffee. First we vented our outrage. Next we had a grand time coming up with responses to the supreme homophobe party animal, answers that slammed her, which she well deserved. Finally, we settled down and began to think it through. This leader of the heterosexual parent brigade was absolutely sincere — obnoxious, for sure, but firm in her beliefs.

So we began to brainstorm the questions same-sex parents are forced to field — the thoughtlessly cruel doubt, the homophobia disguised as concern, the pseudo-helpful suggestions stemming from the assumption that a gay parent is by definition less qualified than a straight parent. From that conversation so many years ago, these are the questions and answers I remember.

Should gay parents be more scared than straight parents?
I’m a straight mom, married to a straight dad, who is the father of my children. One of the most frightening moments in our lives was after the birth of our first child, a healthy baby boy. My doctor examined me, and a pediatrician examined our son. My doctor then smiled at us and said six of the most terrifying words I’ve ever heard: “You can take your baby home.” Suddenly, my husband and I were responsible for a tiny person, a human life. Our eyes locked as we skyrocketed past “worried,” soared beyond “scared,” and landed gracelessly on our butts in the land of petrified. Being scared isn’t about gay/straight; it’s about parenthood.

Can gay or lesbian parents “turn” their kid gay?
There are two issues here. First, nobody can “turn” anyone’s sexuality in any direction. Your child’s sexuality and sexual identity belong to your child, not to you, and you don’t get a vote. Second, there’s an underlying assumption that being straight is better than being gay. That attitude is hurtful, damaging, dangerous — and false.

How can two men talk to a girl about her period?
The same way they talk about anything else — with respect, care, and love. Our culture has an odd attitude toward menstruation; often, the mere mention of a girl’s monthly cycle stops a guy in his tracks. But honestly, that seems rather silly. If a dad doesn’t know how to put in a tampon (and gay or straight, why should he know?) then he can ask a woman for help. My husband and I have turned to our it-takes-a-village friends several times.

For example: We don’t wear makeup, but our daughter does. She learned to apply it from another adult, since neither of her parents had ever so much as put on lipstick. She’s tolerant of our woeful ignorance, and more importantly, shows no signs of being scarred for life. The point here: No parent can be everything for her or his children. It’s not about being gay, bi, or straight; it’s about being human.

With two moms or two dads, will the kid get confused about which parent is which?
Nope. Not an issue.

Will the child feel bad that he/she doesn’t have a mom/dad?
Maybe, as a phase, just like my kids have wished for a more athletic dad or a mom who was a “cool firefighter” like a classmate’s mom. These wishes aren’t about sexual orientation; wishes are a part of healthy development, as children over time let go of the superhero view of their parents and see them more realistically.

Will my kids get teased for having two moms or dads?
Possibly. Or possibly for being short or tall or good at math or bad at math or anything else that kids get teased about. In other words, if you try to set up a situation in which your kids get exempt status from ever being mistreated by another child … well, best of luck with that. Instead, how about helping kids learn how to stand up to bullies? It’s terribly unfair for any child to be forced to deal with homophobia. But it’s absolutely no reason for two fine people to disbar themselves from parenthood. Bigotry is a terrible fact of life. It’s not a gay/straight/parent issue; it’s a cultural/social/playground issue.

How will other parents react at school?
If they’re decent, responsible parents who are hoping to meet other decent, responsible parents, then they’ll smile, put out their hands, and introduce themselves. If they don’t, then they’re probably not the ones you (or I) want in a friendship group.

Your child just fell and skinned his knee! Where’s his mom? A mom would never have let that happen!
Scientific factoid: Only the children of gay parents skin their knees.

Final question: What happened to Laurents and Mark? Did they become parents?
Laurents and Mark adopted twin boys at birth, and they are now in fourth grade. One plays baseball and is proud that he has read the entire Harry Potter series three times. The other plays soccer and has turned their garage into a science lab. They have two cats and two dogs. Their boys dream of Olympic gold medals. Laurents and Mark dream of a five-minute stretch with absolutely nothing to do. It’s not a dream about gay or straight; it’s a dream about parenthood.

Laurents and Mark were married last year. Their sons were their best men.

AMY KAUFMAN BURK is a novelist and blogger. She has written two novels, Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable and Tightwire.

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