Talking About the 'Gayby Boom'
This week sees the publication of ''Pride and Joy: A Guide for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Parents' by Sarah and Rachel Hagger-Holt, who are lesbian parents to 2 young children.
I was at school with Sarah since primary school, and she was always scholarly, a complete individual and one who stood up for others. In fact one of my regrets was that I declined the chance to join her debating team due to my shyness at public speaking. Sarah was generous enough to be interviewed and here are her considered replies to my questions:
Can you please summarise the main ways a gay person/ couple can become parents?
There are many different ways in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people start families. Every family has their own unique story. For some individuals or couples, this involves adoption or fostering. Others have children in opposite-sex relationships, as bi or trans people, or before coming out. Others will use a known sperm donor, a sperm bank or a surrogacy arrangement to conceive children. Some gay men and lesbians may also set up co-parenting arrangements, where parenting is shared between them. The first section of 'Pride and Joy' explores each of these in more detail, including top tips from people who have used each route to starting a family.
Why do you think there is a ‘gayby boom’, or rise in LGBT having children?
In the last 20 years, there have been enormous social, legal and technological changes, all of which have made it much easier for LGBT people to become parents and to live proud and open family lives. It's been hard to keep up! There have always been LGBT parents, but they have not always felt safe to come out and so have been largely invisible to wider society. The more people are able to come out, and the more role models there are, the easier it is for others to realise that being LGBT is no barrier to becoming a parent. Same-sex couples now have the right to marry or enter a civil partnership, non-biological parents can be named on the birth certificates of their children and gain legal responsibility for them, same-sex couples can adopt jointly, and lesbian women can access fertility treatment - all these changes, and more, have taken place in less than a generation! While homophobia and transphobia still exist, attitudes towards LGBT people are much more accepting than in previous decades. When we interviewed people who are now in their 70s or 80s for 'Pride and Joy', and when we interviewed adult children of LGBT parents, we realised just how much has changed.
What are the main challenges facing gay parents-to-be?
So much has improved in recent years, but I think there are still few role models. Most LGBT families are likely to be the only ones in their school, or one of a very few that they know. It is tiring always having to explain your family structure, and sometimes facing intrusive questions about the decisions you have made. Few of the LGBT parents we interviewed experienced extreme prejudice, although some did, but almost all experienced anxiety about being considered 'different' or struggled to define their roles as parents. Some found hostility from their families and were even disowned by them, but many more found love and acceptance - the arrival of a new grandchild, however it came to be, was usually considered a cause for celebration!
Do you have any stories of being accepted/ left out as gay parents?
'Pride and Joy' is packed full of anecdotes and experiences, many of which will be instantly familiar to LGBT parents. One of the experiences that most interested me, was of bi parents in opposite-sex relationships, who felt they didn't fit in anywhere: they didn't feel like they would be accepted among gay parents because they were in 'straight' relationships, yet felt out-of-place in predominantly straight settings.
Do you have any thoughts on gender bias eg finding out the sex before birth or raising boys or girls to traditional gender views?
We devoted a whole chapter to gender in 'Pride and Joy' because we found the different attitudes and experiences were so fascinating, so I'd want to urge everyone to read the whole chapter! Being an LGBT family gives an opportunity for parents to challenge traditional gender roles or stereotypes, both in their own parenting styles and in how they bring up their children to express their gender identity. All the adult children of LGBT parents who we interviewed cited one of the main benefits of their upbringing as allowing them to express and understand their gender identity without having to behave in stereotypical ways. They said this was something they wanted to pass onto their own children too.
What does good parenting mean to you?
Love and acceptance. Academic studies into LGBT and other non-traditional families have consistently shown that love, stability and care more than any particular type of family structure increase positive outcomes for children. One of my favourite quotes in 'Pride and Joy' comes right at the end, when one parent reflects on all the things that make her and her family different. She's a single parent, lesbian, disabled and Greek - but concludes that she doesn't want her family, and her daughter to be beige and boring, instead she wants her daughter to shine brightly, reflect luminous and not to be afraid to be whoever she wants to be. You can't get better than that.
I imagine that raising children in a less traditional family structure requires more openness. How did you learn this skill? Does it have any drawbacks?
Many of the families we interviewed said how important honesty and openness was in how they brought up their children, whether it was preparing them for comments friends might make at school, helping them understand about their birth parents in the case of adoption, or in understanding the role of a donor in how they were conceived. In a chapter called ' Not in front of the children', one contributor tells how she has gradually explained to her children about their family as they've grown older, in response to their questions and in age-appropriate language, but she freely admits to them that she won't always get it right, telling them 'I've never been a parent before, so we have to work this out together'.
Is there anything else you would like to comment on?
We hope that 'Pride and Joy' will be of interest not just to LGBT parents or prospective parents, but also to teachers, health professionals and others who would like to better understand the LGBT families who they are working with. It includes the voices of more than 70 interviewees of different ages, backgrounds and genders. We tried very hard to make this a book which encompassed and affirmed many different paths to parenthood, and focused not just on the practicalities of starting an LGBT family, but explored how these families relate within the whole of society.
Thank you Sarah and Rachel for bringing out this book at a time where we need even more tolerance, communication and heart.
If you'd like to find out more, go to www.prideandjoybook.wordpress.com or tweet @LGBTparentbook .