Robert Oscar Lopez: “Growing Up With Two Moms: The Untold Children’s View”
Robert Oscar Lopez writes of the internal confusion he dealt with being raised by his lesbian mother and her partner.
Quite simply, growing up with gay parents was very difficult, and not because of prejudice from neighbors….When your home life is so drastically different from everyone around you, in a fundamental way striking at basic physical relations, you grow up weird….My peers learned all the unwritten rules of decorum and body language in their homes; they understood what was appropriate to say in certain settings and what wasn’t; they learned both traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine social mechanisms.
Even if my peers’ parents were divorced, and many of them were, they still grew up seeing male and female social models. They learned, typically, how to be bold and unflinching from male figures and how to write thank-you cards and be sensitive from female figures. These are stereotypes, of course, but stereotypes come in handy when you inevitably leave the safety of your lesbian mom’s trailer and have to work and survive in a world where everybody thinks in stereotypical terms, even gays….Gay people who grew up in straight parents’ households may have struggled with their sexual orientation; but when it came to the vast social universe of adaptations not dealing with sexuality—how to act, how to speak, how to behave—they had the advantage of learning at home. Many gays don’t realize what a blessing it was to be reared in a traditional home.
On their own, singular testimonials don’t prove any sort of rule, no matter how handy and predisposition-proving they are. However, Lopez wrote this piece as a personal confirmation of a study done by Dr. Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas that shows that there are indeed some differences to be found in children raised by gay or lesbian families and those raised in traditional families. (Another study by Loren Marks shows that previous surveys of LGBT households–which mostly conclude there is either no difference or the kids of gay parents actually fare better than those raised in traditional households–were much narrower in scope than is characteristic of similar, less polarizing sociological studies. For example, most surveys focused on upper-income families or relied on self-reporters who, unsurprisingly, tended to reflect positively on their family outcomes). Understandably, Regnerus’ study has been vociferously challenged. For instance, Darren E. Sherkat, a professor of sociology at Southern Illinois University, gave his opininion on Regnerus’ study:
Among the problems Sherkat identified is the paper’s definition of “lesbian mothers” and “gay fathers”—an aspect that has been the focus of much of the public criticism. A woman could be identified as a “lesbian mother” in the study if she had had a relationship with another woman at any point after having a child, regardless of the brevity of that relationship and whether or not the two women raised the child as a couple.
Lopez, informed by his own experience, thinks that Sherkat and others are completely wrong. (For a more even-handed critique of Regnerus, I encourage everyone to read Slate’s Will Saletan who concludes, correctly I think, that “Stability, not orientation, is the story” of Regnerus’ study.)
The problem with Sherkat’s disqualification of Regnerus’s work is a manifold chicken-and-egg conundrum. Though Sherkat uses the term “LGBT” in the same interview…he privileges that L and G and discriminates severely against the B, bisexuals.
Where do children of LGBT parents come from? If the parents are 100-percent gay or lesbian, then the chances are that the children were conceived through surrogacy or insemination, or else adopted. Those cases are such a tiny percentage of LGBT parents, however, that it would be virtually impossible to find more than a half-dozen in a random sampling of tens of thousands of adults.
Most LGBT parents are, like me, and technically like my mother, “bisexual”—the forgotten B. We conceived our children because we engaged in heterosexual intercourse. Social complications naturally arise if you conceive a child with the opposite sex but still have attractions to the same sex. Sherkat calls these complications disqualifiable, as they are corrupting the purity of a homosexual model of parenting….
The other chicken-and-egg problem of Sherkat’s dismissal deals with conservative ideology. Many have dismissed my story with four simple words: “But you are conservative.” Yes, I am. How did I get that way? I moved to the right wing because I lived in precisely the kind of anti-normative, marginalized, and oppressed identity environment that the left celebrates: I am a bisexual Latino intellectual, raised by a lesbian, who experienced poverty in the Bronx as a young adult. I’m perceptive enough to notice that liberal social policies don’t actually help people in those conditions. Especially damning is the liberal attitude that we shouldn’t be judgmental about sex. In the Bronx gay world, I cleaned out enough apartments of men who’d died of AIDS to understand that resistance to sexual temptation is central to any kind of humane society. Sex can be hurtful not only because of infectious diseases but also because it leaves us vulnerable and more likely to cling to people who don’t love us, mourn those who leave us, and not know how to escape those who need us but whom we don’t love. The left understands none of that. That’s why I am conservative.
He goes on to further explain how, in his experience, the “B”s (bisexuals) in the LGBT community get short shrift not only from both their gay peers but, importantly, from social scientists. He concludes:
Having lived for forty-one years as a strange man, I see it as tragically fitting that the first instinct of experts and gay activists is to exclude my life profile as unfit for any “data sample,” or as Dr. Sherkat calls it, “bullshit.” So the game has gone for at least twenty-five years. For all the talk about LGBT alliances, bisexuality falls by the wayside, thanks to scholars such as Sherkat. For all the chatter about a “queer” movement, queer activists are just as likely to restrict their social circles to professionalized, normal people who know how to throw charming parties, make small talk, and blend in with the Art Deco furniture.
I thank Mark Regnerus. Far from being “bullshit,” his work is affirming to me, because it acknowledges what the gay activist movement has sought laboriously to erase, or at least ignore. Whether homosexuality is chosen or inbred, whether gay marriage gets legalized or not, being strange is hard; it takes a mental toll, makes it harder to find friends, interferes with professional growth, and sometimes leads one down a sodden path to self-medication in the form of alcoholism, drugs, gambling, antisocial behavior, and irresponsible sex. The children of same-sex couples have a tough road ahead of them—I know, because I have been there. The last thing we should do is make them feel guilty if the strain gets to them and they feel strange. We owe them, at the least, a dose of honesty. Thank you, Mark Regnerus, for taking the time to listen.