What is it really like to grow up with gay parents?
Abigail Garner was five years old when her mother and father divorced and her dad came out as gay. Growing up immersed in gay culture, she now calls herself a "culturally queer" heterosexual woman. As a child, she often found herself in the middle of the political and moral debates surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) parenting. At the age of twenty-two, she began to speak publicly about her family and has since become a nationally recognized advocate for the estimated 10 million children growing up with LGBT parents. The creator of FamiliesLikeMine.com, Garner has written a deeply personal and much-needed book about gay parenting, from the seldom-heard perspective of grown children raised in these families.
Based on eight years of activism, combined with interviews with more than fifty sons and daughters, Families Like Mine debunks the anti-gay myth that these children grow up damaged and confused. At the same time, Garner's book refutes the popular pro-gay sentiment that these children turn out "just like everyone else." In addition to the typical stresses of growing up, the unique pressures these children face are not due to their parents' sexuality, but rather to homophobia and prejudice. Using a rich blend of journalism and memoir, Garner offers empathetic yet unapologetic opinions about the gifts and challenges of being raised in families that are often labeled "controversial."
As more LGBT people are pursuing parenthood and as the visibility of gay parenting is rapidly increasing, many of the questions about these families focus on the "best interests" of their children. Eloquent and sophisticated, Families LikeMine addresses these questions, providing an invaluable insider's perspective for LGBT parents, their families, and their allies.
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Abigail Garner is the creator of FamiliesLikeMine.com, a well-known website for LGBT families. Her writing has appeared in publications throughout the country, including a commentary in Newsweek that earned her the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. She also presents lectures and workshops on LGBT families for colleges, businesses, and conferences. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and currently lives in Minneapolis.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Prologue Some of My Best Parents Are Gay
"That's clever," the middle-aged stranger told me when he read aloud the slogan on my homemade T-shirt. "'Some of my best friends are gay.' I like it."
"Actually," I said, pulling the front taut so he could read it more closely, "it doesn't say 'friends.' It says 'parents.' Some of my best parents are gay."
"Your parents are gay? How does that work?"
"My father and his partner are gay. My mom is straight. Some of my best parents are gay."
"Man," he said, shaking his head, "things you just don't think about."
This conversation took place in 1998 at the Twin Cities Pride Festival, an annual weekend that brings together over 100,000 people from lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities. Yet even in that crowd, the idea of gay parents -- particularly parents who have adult children -- remained a curious thing.
In my midtwenties, going to pride celebrations had become an increasingly lonely experience. I tried to understand why I was drawn to Pride and began to doubt if I really belonged there. Was I part of the community or not? I knew there had to be other adult children, but where were they? My T-shirt was a signal for them to come up to me and say, "Me, too!" I envisioned creating a group large enough to make us visible at Pride and everywhere else.
It was another two years before I was able to make the necessary connections. I began writing a column about LGBT families in a Minneapolis queer publication. I was confident that sons and daughters of LGBT parents were following the column because like me, they probably had not outgrown their habit of reading queer community publications. Within a matter of months after my debut column, I was delighted to receive "Me, too!" e-mails from teens and adult children who were just as thrilled to find me as I was to find them.
By June 2000, there was enough of a local network to march in the Pride parade. We revived my slogan from the homemade T-shirt, and ordered some that were made professionally. There were twenty-five of us; a mass of periwinkle shirts, carrying signs like i love my gay dad and alternative insemination baby -- all grown up. We giggled at the perplexed expressions on people's faces as they read our banner: children of lesbians and gays everywhere. Most parade watchers are now accustomed to the ever-growing brigade of strollers that LGBT parents push down the street every year, but few people put much thought into what happens to the children after they are potty-trained.
Yet even though we thought we had clearly and unmistakably identified ourselves, some people still didn't understand who we were. One man came up to me, checkbook in hand, ready to buy a T-shirt. "Do you have gay parents?" I asked him.
"Oh, yeah!" he said. "I have a whole bunch!" When I asked about his family, it turned out that by "parents" he did not mean the people who raised him. He was a teacher referring to the parents of students in his classroom. After I explained for whom the T-shirts were intended, he said, "Oh! You have gay parents! You mean it literally!" Yes. I mean it literally.
I was five years old when I found out my dad was gay. Since then the mention of my gay father or his partner, even in small talk, has turned almost every conversation into a lesson on gay families as I answer people's questions: How did you find out? How did your mom react? Are you gay, too?
Some of the questions I am asked are accusatory and doubt the competency of my father as a parent: How could your dad choose his "lifestyle" over his wife? Is it true that gay parents molest their children? Did your father try to make you gay?
Questions like these made me realize that the reality of my family and the common assumptions about families like mine were vastly different. When queer families remain hidden and mysterious, curious people tend to make up answers to their own questions with worst-case scenarios -- scenarios fueled by prejudice and homophobia. I discovered that each time I mentioned the mundane details of my everyday life -- going to the movies with my father and his partner, or washing the dishes together -- I challenged people's stereotypes about gay parents, and gay people in general.
Even though I talked about my family when people asked, much of the time I avoided bringing attention to it in the first place. I "came out" about having a gay dad through a careful and selective process. Each time I feared I would lose a friend or somehow put my family's privacy or safety at risk. As I grew older, I was less apprehensive about the consequences. I stopped trying to avoid the topic when talking to professors, friends' parents, and coworkers.
Shortly after I graduated from college, I volunteered to lead a support group of teenagers with gay parents. I was curious to meet them, but I wondered if I had anything to offer. At that time I had believed that with rapid changes in attitudes toward homosexuality, these teenagers would see little in my life history that would resonate with theirs.
I was wrong. They were facing the same issues that I had faced in junior high and high school. They wanted to learn from one another about how to tell friends, survive in school, and deal with tension between family members. They wanted to understand the ongoing conflict of loving their parents, yet not feeling safe to be fully open about their families. Even though I differed from those teens by several years and in family composition, our common ground was greater than our differences. After meeting that group, I realized that the sharing of my own family experience had just begun.
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