Thursday, March 20, 2014

La Joie de Vivre 2:9 -- Kids of Gay Parents Reflect on Same-Sex Parenting, Part 1 of 4



This installment of La Joie de Vivre is Part 1 of a four-part series. In December 2013, three of the most outspoken adults raised by gay parents -- Rivka Edelman, Robert Oscar "Bobby" Lopez, and Dawn Stefanowicz -- conferred for an hour to talk about same-sex parenting. The recording of their voices will be uploaded with graphics as episodes of Rue des Sages, but for now, English Manif is posting the written transcripts of their conversation for people to peruse.

There are some distinctions among Rivka, Bobby, and Dawn that are important to note at the outset. All three grew up with gay parents in the 1970s. Dawn and Rivka, now in their fifties, experienced some of same-sex parenting in the 1960s, while Bobby, in his early forties, experienced same-sex parenting in the 1980s. All three were raised by gay parents in a time when same-sex parenting was not a political phenomenon, and when the gay community was not particularly interested in the experiences of children raised by gay parents. 

Rivka, Bobby, and Dawn are also more educated than the average child of a same-sex couple. Rivka and Bobby both have doctorates in English from highly ranked universities; they are also both professors. Dawn completed her studies in Canada and received her license as an accountant. Since Dawn published Out from Under in 2007, she has been flown around the world, testifying in places like Paraguay; her writing has been translated into languages ranging from Chinese to Portuguese. Likewise, Rivka and Bobby are both published authors.

Rivka at the Well
 The education of these three individuals could be read one of two ways. Perhaps they are atypical of children raised by gay parents. In the Doug Allen study published in 2013, based on 20% of the Canadian census, children raised by same-sex couples had markedly low academic achievement, graduating high school at only 65% the rate of children raised by a mother and father. The only exception to Allen's finding, however, was that boys raised by gay dads fared exceptionally well, finishing high school at a much higher rate than children raised by a mother and father. 

Dawn was raised by a gay father, while Bobby and Rivka were raised by lesbians. Therefore their conversation does not include the fourth category -- a male raised by gay men -- yet the three of them have above-average educational attainment. 

What follows is the unedited words of their three-way discussion.

Each of the four parts of this series represents fifteen minutes of discussion. 





B: I am here with two great guests. One of which is Dawn Stefanowicz, and the other of which is Rivka Edelman. Among the three of us we are all adults who were raised by adults who were in same-sex relationships. We have a lot of shared experiences to talk about, and also, some differences. So let’s start with the first question, which I’m gonna pose to Dawn and then to Rivka: We’re hearing a lot in the popular media, that there is a consensus, from sociologists and psychologists and also groups like COLAGE which represent children of lesbians and gays, and the consensus is that there’s no difference between growing up with a mom and a dad and growing up with same-sex couple. Dawn, what do you think of that? How does that consensus match your experience?

D: I have to say that we are very rare to have grown up with same-sex couples. Because, if I could just mention, in the US, in the 2010 census, when they were looking at over 650,000 households*, that included two adults of the same gender, they found that only 1 in every 17 children of gay parents actually lived with a same-sex couple based on the stats. Now because of my own background, I never felt that I belonged. So I don’t agree with COLAGE, I don’t agree with the APA saying that there’s no difference for us when we grow up with parents involved in same-sex relationships. We’re impacted long-term. But as children we don’t realize this. It takes us often until the late 20s, early 30s, to realize or start realizing the long term impact. For me, I never felt that I belonged. I felt that there was this prolonged and unresolved grief, sadness, and depression in my life. And I had two brothers as well. And I saw that each one of us was very much affected by the environment that we grew up in. Ours wasn’t just the home environment, it was also that we were taken regularly into the developing GLBT subcultures beginning when my twin brother and I were eight years old. We had quite an extensive background under the GLBT umbrella. Because for us it began in infancy when my father began bringing different men into the home.

B: Okay and what was that like when your father exposed you to gay culture? 

D: It’s something where as a little girl growing up I didn’t feel that my own femininity and womanhood was being affirmed, and valued, and loved, in that kind of environment, in fact, I felt that it was better to be a gay male, or even a transgender male, than it was to be a little girl growing up. I always felt that I really wasn’t lovable because I did not see the men in my life loving women.

B: You know it’s interesting because in the Doug Allen study, where he canvassed 20% of the Canadian census, he found that the worst performing combination is a woman being raised by two gay men. They only graduate at 15% the rate of children being raised by a mom and a dad.

D: There’s a lot of struggle academically and in employment because there’s a lot of insecurities. I honestly felt that my personality was crushed. Now today you would look at me and think, “well, no, I don’t see any difference.” We would have to look at not just the long-term impact but what I’ve done to overcome the challenges in my background. Even though I’ve overcome so much, there will be long-term challenges I will carry with me to the grave. Because I didn’t grow up in a regular heterosexual environment that valued a married mother and father for children.

B: Right. Very good point. How about you, Rivka? What do you say?

Rivka at the Well
R: I’m gonna have to agree with almost everything maybe for slightly different reasons in my experience. I glanced at what COLAGE is. It really honestly looked to me like more of the dog and pony show, the whole training. I could tell you that when my mother was not involved with somebody, she never showed up at the school. She didn’t go to the PTA, she didn’t go to anything. If she was involved with somebody, the second that notice came home, like for a science fair, she’s like “oh, goody, look what we get to go to!” And that’s why they went. It was a show put on for the teachers and the school to see how uncomfortable they could make them. And that obviously would put me in a terrible situation at school. I mean, I was an academic failure, I still am. Can’t do multiplication, can’t do any of those things.

B: But you write really great essays! 

Rivka at the Well
R: I basically think APA is wrong. I don’t know who they asked. I don’t know what they asked. And I don’t know how reliable, you know – you know, what were they judging? I read somewhere, and I can’t remember where, where it said something like, growing up with same-sex parents is positive, because it makes the kids more sexually adventurous and it makes them more open-minded.

B: Yeah, I saw that, I think that was in Boston, it was a group of people who –

R: And, who wants their kid to be sexually adventurous? What does that mean? That’s one. And the other thing, the less bigoted and more open-minded, whatever it said, that was like a red flag to me, because, you know I could tell from that result that the question was manipulated. “What do you think of gay people?” “Oh, they’re great, they’re wonderful.” Well, yeah, the two gay parents are sitting there with dagger eyes on you. You better say that.

B: Damn straight.

R: But ask that same kid, what do you think of fundamentalist Christians? Bigotry only comes into play when it’s someone you don’t want to be bigoted against. Does that make sense? 

B: No, yeah, I think you’re making a great point. I think my response to the question is – you know, I looked really closely at the APA, and the ASA, and the foster care associations, and all of these associations, number one, are under massive pressure from the gay lobby. Any time you come up with any data that runs counter to it, you almost get fired. That’s what happened to Mark Regnerus and Doug Allen and Loren Marks, and the people who published them, and me. So I don’t trust any of the research. Also because I don’t think statistics can capture what it means not to have a dad in your life.

R: Well yeah – you don’t have one biological parent in your life, and you have a whole troupe of people coming in with whatever whim they have in their head that day that you have to play to. And when everything hits the fan, there isn’t plan B. If a kid knows, if everything hits the fan, I can go live with a grandparent. But there isn’t a plan B there. Do you know what I’m saying? 

B: Yeah, for me it was a little bit odd. I’m a little different from you guys because my mother was in the same relationship from the time I was two until the time I was nineteen and my mom died. So my mom’s partner was a very stable presence in our life. They did not live in the same house which I think was the right thing to do. I think my mother made a good choice with that but even so I was very aware that she and her partner were a couple and that they both sort of had this authority and emotional connection to me. For me the problem was being a boy being raised by two lesbians and having a lisp, I struggled so much with a lisp. Partly because I inherited the Caribbean Spanish accent from my mother’s family and partly because I was effeminate. But I just didn’t have a dad there and aside from the problem of not being able to model behavior, for me the biggest problem was I didn’t have a man there. I don’t know if this is a fair reading of what happened to me but I really tried to fill that gap. And I filled that gap sexually. And from the age of 13 on, I was extremely promiscuous and sleeping with a lot of older men. And they would give me gifts and money, and I knew where to find them. You know, you go to the sauna at the YMCA or the parking lot outside the 24-hour supermarket; they were just everywhere. And partly this was because I had a heightened awareness of gay culture because my mom had so many gay friends and partly it was also the problem of not having a dad. So for me all those problems came together. Does that make sense? 

D: Well Bobby, you know, about 30% of us will become 2nd generation which is really high compared to, say 2% in the general population.

B: So 30% of us become gay or bi, right?

D: Right. We become like our gay or lesbian parents, 30% of us. And I have to say that of all the adult children I’ve spoken to and had communication with, via email, almost all of us have had some level of sexuality confusion. Not that we came out and labeled ourselves. But we struggled. A number of us—I don’t know about Rivka, but with myself, there was sexual abuse. There was sexual abuse with other adult children I have spoken to. So it’s a very sexualized environment. Not just within the home but within the subculture that I was exposed to. And so for me it was frustrating because I was trying to find that father love affirmation so I began having boyfriends at age 12. Now I may have appeared to be promiscuous because I had all these boyfriends but really I was trying to fill that deep down need, to be affirmed as a daughter, from my father.

B: But that’s interesting because you had a dad. That’s fascinating to me. 

D: But his attention was always centered on the males in his life. There were three key males in my life growing up but there were also multiple partners that my father had and his partners had, that they were involved with sexually. So in some ways it wasn’t always like a couple, it almost seemed polygamous at times because my father and his partners could be involved with 12 other men at the gay bars downtown.

B: Yeah, you know, this – Rivka, I don’t know if you’ve had any exposure to this – but this matches the feedback I’ve gotten particularly from ex-wives who lost custody of children to gay husbands who came out of the closet. All of them express panic about the open relationships that their ex-husbands have and the fact that there’s this parade of men in the house. One of the scenarios I hear again and again is that they leave their pornography around.

D: Right, my brothers came across that.

B: Do you have any thoughts on that, Rivka?

Rivka at the Well
R: My mother had – There was some pornography, I thought most of it was supposed to be a joke. Because my mother was into gay culture for a time. I mean, in the heyday, the early 1970s, the gay men and the lesbians, everybody got along great. And then when the gay men noticed that the lesbians didn’t have enough money to party it up, there was a switch.

B: Right.

R: And the lesbians were kind of kicked to the curb. You know, “go live in your bad neighborhoods. We’re going dutch on this date.” Right?

B: Yeah, Dawn had the same observations. I was talking to Dawn earlier and one of the things she was saying was that gay male culture was very kind of posh. Whereas I always thought of gay culture, because of my mother’s experience, as being very blue collar.

R: Well, yes, the gay men went to the really nice places for vacation and we went to the rustic bungalow park.

B: The RV park. That’s where I spent all my time.

To be continued....

Jump to Parts 234