Gay Parenting: Out of the Closet and In Again

Filed under: Adoption, Gay Parenting, Opinions

I was delighted when ParentDish asked me to be the mom half of this new column on gay parenting -- reveling at the thought of how mainstream we "alternative" families have become. In fact, the same week I agreed to write the column, I read an article in a national parenting magazine by a gay mom that was all about just how ordinary we are these days -- and she was writing under her real name.

Are we really, finally, completely unremarkable?

Well ... not exactly. The woman who wrote the article lives with her family in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn, New York, which is a kind of Lesbian Central. My partner, Em*, and I used to live there; every time you leave your house, you could easily get the impression that you're no big deal at all.

But elsewhere in the country and the world (elsewhere in New York, even) we remain surprisingly, stubbornly alternative.

When Em and I decided to move out of Park Slope and buy a house -- an actual house, with a yard and a sidewalk and a driveway -- we were more than a little nervous. We picked a neighborhood that seemed mixed enough that we'd mix right in. Our (gay) real estate agent pointed out other homes in the area owned by gay couples.

Still, we wondered: How would the neighbors respond to us? Would we feel like interlopers, oddballs or even targets?

We've been none of those, thankfully, but there's no denying that we had to consider it as a factor in our home buying. Straight home buyers have lots of real estate angst -- school districts, property taxes, commuting times and even their ethnic fit. It felt lousy that we had to add "gay-accepting" to our house hunt.

When we decided to become parents we went through a similar questioning: Was it fair to kids to expose them to possible ridicule or bullying? Would we have the strength to be out all the time, everywhere, every day? Would our kids end up resenting us? What about down the line -- how would we deal with our future in-laws? (Hey, we've seen "La Cage.")

We don't know yet about the in-law problem, since our oldest is in second grade. We don't know yet about what high school will bring, or what will happen in the dreaded middle-school years.

What we know now is that we live in a wonderful neighborhood, with first-class folks living all around us, who welcomed us warmly when we moved in (one actually brought us a Bundt cake) and later welcomed our two little girls, Ann* and Mary*. Our kids haven't been mocked or bullied or ostracized. Rather, they have pals and play dates and parties like all the other kids, and so far they seem completely well adjusted and in no way damaged by being a part of a two-mom family.

So why the asterisks, you might ask, and why the pen name? I live in a gay-friendly neighborhood, my kids go to a gay-friendly school and our lives are completely mainstream. So why not be totally out there and write this column under my real name as well as the real names of my partner and children?

What's the big deal?

Well, here's the big deal: We're not there yet. There are still some people out there who don't approve of me or my family. Not that we need their approval, or care (much) if we don't have it. But in these scary, polarized times, one disapproving nut can ruin your life. What parent would risk that? I could write completely openly as a white parent, an Irish-American parent, an older parent or an adoptive parent, and not worry about someone gunning for me or my family.

But a gay parent? I have a reason to worry. Just look at the news; bullying gay folks seems to be a national pastime.

I have the added fear that comes with our having adopted our girls internationally. The foreign government that approved the proceedings does not allow gay couples to adopt. It's more of a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. However, an unmarried woman could adopt, no questions asked.

So Em checked off the box marked "unmarried" and went through the adoption process without mentioning me. But I realize that, if those overseas bureaucrats had known the truth, our girls would not be ours today, and there's always that little fear in me that the foreign authorities might someday learn the truth.

I dare not fill in the "and then what?" part of that scenario.

I was telling a friend, another adoptive mom, about this new column and my decision to use a pen name, and I told her of my fear.

She looked at me as if I were crazy and asked, "And what, you think they'd take them back? They didn't want them in the first place. There are thousands more just like them and they sure don't want yours back."

I know she's right, of course. But my straight friend doesn't know what the terror of being found out feels like. Because no matter how remote the possibility of "and then what?" coming true, it's a risk I wouldn't dream of taking. I want my kids. Period.

I'm pretty sure I'll never run for office, be nominated for the Supreme Court or otherwise stick my neck out onto the public chopping block, and sadly, that includes writing under my own name as it relates to gay parenting. You'll get to know a lot about me, Em, and the girls in this column, but sadly, not our names. I can only hope that things will be different when they become moms.

*All names have been changed to protect my family's privacy.

Veronica Rhodes and David Valdes Greenwood alternate weeks writing the Family Gaytriarchs. Look for them on ParentDish every Wednesday.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.