RIVKA EDELMAN, BOBBY LOPEZ, DAWN STEFANOWICZ
To be officially published on April 6, 2014
In this edition of La Joie de Vivre, we move to Part Three of the four-part series; here the three adult children of gay parents -- Rivka, Bobby, and Dawn -- build on the topics they discussed in Parts One and Two. In this segment they talk about what it was like when they realized that their family lives were the source of political controversy, and particularly their reaction to the sudden popular attention to "same-sex parenting" after the publication of Heather Has Two Mommies in 1989.
B: …What do you guys feel? What has been your guys’ experience given that this was this really rare, bizarre, obscure thing that we went through, in the 1970s and 1980s, and now it’s all over the news? What do you think?
R: It’s that if AIDS hadn’t happened it was on its way to where it is now. If AIDS hadn’t happened, we would’ve been here in 1983.
B: Okay, that’s a good point.
R: That’s what I think.
B: What do you think, Dawn?
D: Well, my father died of AIDS in 1991. And at that point, I mean, people treated you like you had cooties if you told them that you had a close family member that died of AIDS. Even in the culture of the 70s, 80s, and early 90s, I think there was a lot of ignorance about children growing up in this environment. It was not talked about. I did not grow up seeing children in the subcultures. It was kind of rare that my brothers and I were on a nudist beach at Hamlin’s Point, Toronto Island. Canada. We were the only kids there amongst all these gay males. But there would be a few females that were topless who were female models but they were surrounded by 14 or 16 gay males. So it was a very interesting background that I have. But really the culture at the time, I don’t think was ready. Until very recently. I know there’s been a lot of marketing efforts in the 80s and the 90s. And now the television sitcoms are just full of gay characters. I don’t know if it’s 50% but it seems like almost every program or 2nd program has at least one gay character in it. And so it’s very front and center. But I feel that the right messaging, the truth about how it impacts children, is not being heard in the living rooms in North America or in Western civilization.
B: Well, it seems to me that's what’s happening, because my experience was that even the gay community in the 80s and even to a certain extent in the 90s, was very uncomfortable when I would tell them, you know, my mom was a lesbian. They did not want to deal with that because—
R: Right, exactly, because they don’t want to know from you.
B: Because they didn’t want to hear the truth. I think they suspect in their heart of hearts, they know the kids have a lot of very dark stories to tell. And so their relationship to us is very strained. And it was even more strained back then. Also because they looked upon us as a mark of shame. Because it meant that there were gay people who got involved in heterosexual relationships before they came out as gay. And so there was a mark on me. And so for me it’s been this really difficult thing to have this all of a sudden catapulted to public awareness and to go from having to keep my mother’s sexuality secret to protect her, to now keeping secret the fact that it was so hard for me.
D: I didn’t go public until about 20 years ago. And I didn’t come out with my book Out from Under until 2007. It took me that long because it was such a bold step to even go public to that degree. They were such vulnerable, intimate details of my upbringing. Because I knew that everyday people with their heads in the sand, would have a very hard time understanding what it was like for me to grow up in this environment. And they don’t want to hear that. They wanted to hear the rhetoric, and see the nice fun sitcoms on TV, making everything seem all happy and gay. They didn’t want to know the reality that this was extremely difficult and painful. And traumatizing for me as a child growing up.
B: Rivka, you had something to say too?
R: I think what we’re seeing now—I mean, I grew up with a lot of, I don’t wanna, I don’t know what to call it – gay media? – they thought it was very subversive and humorous. The killing of Sister George or them obsessing about Batman and Robin and seeing gay codes. You know, just like religious fanatics with Bible Codes. They would see gay things coded in every soap opera they watched, little messages just to them. And I did also find that hostility in the gay culture. They didn’t want to know from us. You know we’re not going to be their long-lost children in any way. But I distinctly remember meetings and things in the late 70s, of them saying, “we have buying power; we can put pressure on this company or that company. ” All of that was in the works then. It just sort of came together more recently. The AIDS thing… there was also a little bit, I think the way it’s framed has changed, but the essential nature of it hasn’t changed. The way they present it to the rest of the world has changed, but the essential nature of the whole thing has not changed. If that makes any sense. Back then, who wanted to get married? “Married” was like, “who needs the piece of paper? Why do we have to prove anything to anyone?” It was the counterculture. Marriage was a bad institution. Now they want a tax break. What’s her name? You know, that very rich Jewish* lady who went to the Supreme Court.
B: Oh, Edie Windsor?
R: Yes! Yes, I mean, she’s a nice old Jewish lady. I wish her well, but that was about taxes.
B: Yeah, it was $3.5 million and that wasn’t enough. She wanted $360,000 more.
R: That’s the thing. I do remember, about the marriage thing. I do remember, while it was much more fluid and changing partners, I do remember they wanted their relationships respected and treated the same as heterosexual relationships. I mean, you’re never going to find a lesbian who goes any place by herself. No, no, that does not happen. They have to go to the supermarket? They’re going together. And make sure everybody knows about it. And so, I think, it has been marketed in a way that tries to make it look all “same-y”, you know, “we’re just like you,” but it isn’t the same. I mean, that kid – what was his name? The Boy Scout.
B: Oh, Zach Wahls.
R: Yeah, I mean, that he was a Boy Scout. That just tells me – He’s another one, exactly like my brother was. Exactly. What does it take to be a Boy Scout and good at it? Conformity.
B: Right, yeah, well that’s the opposite end of the difficult experiences for kids of same-sex couples. Now, and this kind of leads to my last question. Which is, whether kids of same-sex couples have it better now. I actually think that they have it a lot harder.
R: I think so too.
B: Because it’s so politicized. I mean, when I was growing up, I had the option of going into my cubby, and not dealing with this at all. But the kids of same-sex couples now, they just don’t. Their parents send Christmas cards to the governor with their pictures on it, they bring them to the Easter egg hunt, and they throw them in the middle of all these political battles. And they just don’t stop. I mean, and they’re so pushy with their kids. And I just think it’s a lot harder for them. I don’t know what you guys think. But –
D: I think they’ve been used as guinea pigs to present a particular political agenda. You know if you talk about gay marriage; Canada has already – that’s an old hat now. It’s been legalized in Canada. And yet the majority in the gay community, if you read the gay magazines here in Canada, the truth is, the majority never wanted marriage. Never wanted anything that would have ever been close to heterosexual monogamy. In fact, they like the freedom of being involved with whomever they want, whenever they want. That was more the reality –
B: So Dawn, you were talking about how you feel like a lot of these kids are being used now. Like guinea pigs.
D: Yes, I don’t feel that we are allowed to be honest. We have to hold a lot of secrets inside for a very long time, which creates a lot of stress for us. We have to pretend that this is okay to have. A gay parent and his or her partners in our home, and be involved in the subcultures. We have to smile and be happy and say this is all okay. We’re still dependents. But when we’re no longer dependents, and we have developed a sense of independence and distance from our family of origin, and have some strength ourselves, to be able to speak, we can now be honest and say this is going to be very difficult for us, not only to tell you what the actual reality is, for us to grow up in this kind of situation, but it’s also going to impact us for the rest of our lives and as we come together with other adult children who have also grown up in a same-sex couple’s relationship – now, when I say a couple, I want to use that loosely, because often, especially in my father’s situation and I noticed among gay males, they often have open relationships, with multiple sexual partners, -- “couple” makes it almost sound like it’s monogamous, when it was absolutely not. I really feel that we need a voice to express to the public, to – you know, whether that be through the media or an academic environment, we need to let our politicians know that there are adult children like us, who are no longer dependent. We’re not worried about whether our college or university education will be sponsored by some GLBT group . We’re independent, we’re grown up. We have a voice and we’re saying, this has negative outcomes for us long-term.
R: One thing that scares me now is, you know, nobody said anything or did anything for years and years. We could’ve been starving but – finally, something happened and somebody dropped a dime and called Children’s Social Services, off to foster care, and there we went… Now, I’m afraid, I know for a fact, nobody in the gay community is going to turn anybody in.
B: Nobody. I totally agree with you. I’ve seen that. Not only that but even people who are gay-friendly, who have gay friends, they will see horrible things going on between the gay parents and the children and they won’t say –
R: And that’s what scares me. Even the heterosexual community is so cowed right now that they will not do it either.
TO BE CONTINUED...
*When Rivka refers to Edith Windsor as a "Jewish" lady, she does not do so disparagingly. Rivka is herself Jewish.