Every once in a while, though, I hear someone make an offhand remark about LGBTQ parents that makes me cringe. And it’s not always the usual culprits. Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemies, and it’s gay people themselves (usually childless ones) who make unfair generalizations about those of us who do have kids.
So, in honor of Mombian’s 9th annual Blogging for LGBTQ Families Day (you can see my post from last year here), I want to address some sentiments I’ve encountered as a gay dad, from both gay and straight people, which I find incredibly wrong-headed and which I’d like to dispel once and for all.
I’ve heard this remark a few times, often from older gay men rolling their eyes in disdain. “Suddenly, everyone’s having kids! It’s like you can’t be seen in Park Slope without one!”
Well, maybe the reason so many gay people are having kids these days isn’t that it’s trendy. It’s that for pretty much the first time ever, we can. As I say in my book, “Mommy Man”, I never thought when I was growing up that I’d be able to have kids at all. So when I realized I could, you’re damn right I made it happen, and clearly, I’m not alone.
It’s only in the last few years that the legal, social, biological and financial barriers keeping LGBTQ people from having kids have begun to come down. At the same time, the legalization of same-sex marriage has made more LGBTQ people comfortable with the thought of having families, because we know our kids will be protected and our families will be recognized for what they are.
So sure, Park Slope might be crawling with gaybies, but if you’re thinking this will blow over and all the gay parents are someday going to trade their kids in for pet rocks or whatever the next hot fad is, you’re missing the point.
MYTH #2: There’s something weird about the way gay people have kids.
As someone whose kids were born through surrogacy, I’m especially used to hearing this misconception, because in vitro fertilization and surrogacy are things many people still don’t quite understand. You’re free to make your own choices as to how you want to have kids, of course, but as for what went into making my kids, all you really need to know is that the #1 ingredient was love.
My husband and I conceived with the help of his sister, who generously donated her eggs for us. It seems like every time I say this, somebody brings up the issue of incest. Weren’t we worried that mixing genetic material from a brother and sister would create some kind of demonic freakbaby?
Well, yes we were worried about that, which is why WE NEVER EVEN CONSIDERED IT. It seems so obvious to me, but I’m starting to wonder whether I should change the title of my book to “We Used My Sperm” just to make sure there’s no confusion on anyone’s part.
What’s really startling about this, though, is that anyone believes for even a moment that we would’ve broken the ultimate genetic taboo just to have kids. As if, because we didn’t do things the “traditional way”, all sense of propriety and safety went out the window.
Sure, LGBTQ people have kids through a variety of methods, but when you break them down, they’re all pretty much the same. Egg, sperm, uterus. It’s just a matter of who those parts belong to that varies. When we have kids, there are no guarantees, and there’s often heartbreak. But nature is pretty consistent and the goal is always the same, that one day a kid will go home with a parent or two who loves them.
MYTH #3: Gay parents treat children as accessories.
I would never believe anyone thought this if I hadn’t heard actual people say it. But I have. There are people who think gays only want kids because they make good “accessories”.
I don’t know what gay parents these people know, but the ones I’ve encountered are every bit as loving, nurturing and dedicated as any other parents. They have to be, or they never would’ve become parents in the first place.
Having a family when you’re LGBTQ is hard. No matter what path you choose – adoption, surrogacy, fostering — it takes an enormous amount of time, expense and every ounce of emotion you have to get to the point where there’s a child in your care. I can’t imagine anyone actually becoming a gay parent if they’re not in it for the right reasons.
The suggestion that this “accessory” mentality exists comes directly from a stereotype – a viciously homophobic one at that – of gay men as shallow and selfish. What’s more offensive than to suggest that LGBTQ people would consider a human child to be on par with a Gucci handbag? (And by the way, next to the cost of parenthood, those handbags are a steal.)
If all you want is an accessory, you’re better off choosing one that won’t throw up on you or scream-sing “Let It Go” at your feet every time you pick up the goddamn phone for five freaking seconds.
As a gay dad, the only accessory I actually have is called a Diaper Dude, and I don’t wear it over my shoulder everywhere I go because I’m expecting to be hounded by paparazzi outside of Gymboree. I carry it because it contains spare underpants in case my kids shit themselves when we’re away from home.
MYTH #4: Surrogacy is inherently narcissistic.
A lot of people look down on the notion of surrogacy as a needlessly complicated and expensive way to have kids, when there are so many kids out there who need good homes. The implication was that people only choose surrogacy because they want to look into their kid’s eyes and see themselves reflected back.
Well, let me make one thing very clear: as a parent, I spend a lot less time gazing lovingly into my children’s eyes than staring disgustedly at their poopy buttholes. And trust me, when I’m wiping up their feces, I’m not looking for any resemblance.
Yes, for my husband and me, having kids who share some of our genes is nice. We get to play that, “Which one of you do they look like?” game, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting that connection with a child. But outside of that comes the other 99.999% of parenting, which is the same no matter where your kids came from.
Genetics isn’t the only reason to choose surrogacy. I’ve written a post on 6 of the others, but the main one is that legally, no path to parenthood gives gay people nearly as many rights as surrogacy does. Adoptions fall through, and foster kids get taken away, but my kids belonged to my husband and me from the moment of conception. They were ours if something tragic happened or if they ended up with special needs or funny-looking noses. We took the same chances every parent does, and ultimately, they resemble themselves a lot more than they do either of us.
As for all those needy kids, it may sound harsh, but not everyone is equipped to take in a special needs kid or to deal with the legal and emotional complications of fostering. Nobody tells straight people that they shouldn’t be having kids of their own, so it’s best not to judge how people had their family. “Your family is beautiful” is a compliment that works for any family, so go with that instead.
MYTH #5: Children of gay parents are forced into an unfair legal limbo.
Let me be very clear: I would never have had children with a surrogate if I thought my legal rights would be in question. Yet the myth still exists that surrogates can for custody if they feel like it. I even encountered this mistaken belief in my radio interview last week.
It’s not true.
California, where my kids were born, is one of the most progressive states in recognizing gay parental rights. Both my partner and I are listed as parents on their birth certificates, and as I said, we had full legal rights to them from the moment of conception. California recognized the legality of our surrogacy contract, and we had no fears that the surrogate would ever be granted any parenting rights. Had that been a legitimate concern, we would never have taken the risk.
Admittedly, this is one myth I can’t wholly dismiss. Gay parents are all over the country, but statutes concerning surrogacy, adoption and foster parenting vary from state to state. As a result, some gay parents are left to take some uncomfortable chances in having children. In some places, same-sex couples are prohibited from adopting altogether, and in others, gay parents have to endure protracted and expensive second parent adoptions, even when they’re legally married.
If that upsets you, don’t hold it against gay parents, who don’t deserve to be discriminated against just because they happen to live in, say, North Carolina. Just realize that the government is behind the times and needs to catch up to the realities of our modern family era.
I just wish I were more optimistic that those changes were coming, when some gay people themselves still hold some very backward ideas about gay parents.
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Want to learn more about the realities of gay parents – and specifically, of my family? Then read my book, “Mommy Man: How I Went From Mild-Mannered Geek to Gay Superdad,” which is now available wherever you like to buy books, and which Publisher’s Weekly calls “Uproarious.”
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If you want to read one really awesome review of “Mommy Man”, check out this one written by Mombian (a/k/a Dana Rudolph) herself.