this cross-post by our friend Terrance at the Republic
T. Pay special attention to
the “interview with Slovenian television” link – you’ll see clips
of Family Equality Council Executive Director Jennifer Chrisler
with her family!
It’s a question posed to some parents, and especially — in one
form or another — gay parents. I was asked this question during
an interview with
Slovenian television (of all things). The question got cut from
our segment of the interview, which instead included a short clip
of me talking about gender roles (or the lack thereof) in our
household. But when I saw that Details magazine has
tackled the question, it seemed like a good time to address
Of course, Details didn’t ask this question of gay
parents, but focused instead on heterosexual men. And not just any
heterosexual men, but heterosexual men who have gay friends and are
“okay” with gay people. To a point.
Jerry (not his real name) is an unapologetic Hollywood
liberal. He drives a Prius and supports Barack Obama. He’s as
open-minded about homosexuality as a fortyish heterosexual Little
League dad can be. In fact, as someone who’s responsible for the
day-to-day operations of some of TV’s biggest comedies, Jerry
might as well be the mayor of Gayberry. “If I’m on a set and
there are no gay people, I actually get worried,” he says.
Geoff (not his real name) is the same way. A history professor and
author in New York City, he is surrounded by a veritable gay
army–his editor, his literary agent, his closest confidants
(”Gay, gay, way gay,” he says)–and that’s the way the
happily married 42-year-old father, whose idea of heaven is
courtside Knicks seats, likes it.
But while Jerry, Geoff, and other progressive dads of their
generation are more than happy to down margaritas and watch Project
Runway with gay friends, they’re not so comfortable with the idea
of their own offspring going the way of Dumbledore. And only on the
condition of anonymity will they elaborate on why, exactly.
“That,” Geoff says after a pained sigh, “would be tricky.”
He explains that it was worrisome enough when his 6-year-old son
watched the Hannah Montana movie recently “with a little too much
glee.” Jerry too has reckoned with the issue. When his son, now
8, was 3, “he made us buy him a princess costume for Halloween. I
thought, Oh, shit. Here we go. But then we went to his friend
Joshy’s house, and Joshy said, ‘You can’t dress up as a
girl.’ At which point my kid threw Joshy to the ground. I
thought, Okay, we’re gonna be fine.”
I wonder what answers they might have gotten if they’d asked gay
dads. We get that question all the time, except it’s asked a
little differently, in a different context: Are you worried your
child might turn out to be gay?
That’s usually our cue to start quoting the research saying that
most kids with gay parents turnout to be heterosexual. We’re
supposed to cite that research to allay some heterosexuals’
anxieties which stem from another statistic: that children with gay
parents maybe slightly more likely
to “experiment” with same-sex relationships, or — more to
the point — more fluid in their definition of gender roles and
more tolerant in their attitudes towards non-heterosexual behavior.
(Maybe it’s because they don’t learn
homophobia at such an early age.)
So, when people ask me that question — “Do you think your kids
will be more likely to turn out gay?” — I have a very simple
I don’t care.
It’s immaterial to me whether my kids turn out to be gay,
bisexual, heterosexual or transgender. What’s important to me is
that they turn out to good, responsible, compassionate people. They
can be all of those things regardless of their sexual orientation
or gender identity. As a parent, it’s not my job to push them in
one direction or the other. (As if I could even if I
I guess my approach is similar to what my first therapist said to
me. Coming out at 12 years old led to a lot of bullying, which left
me depressed, angry, and suicidal — all of which landed me in
therapy. At my first appointment, I sat down and said to my
therapist, “There are two things you need to know if we’re
going to work with each other. One is that I’m gay, and the other
is that I’m not here to change that.” Once he stopped being
stunned at hearing this from a kid my age, he said to me probably
the best thing anyone could have said to me at that time.
“Let’s just work on the whole person, and let that part fall
into place where it will.”
And that’s what I intend to do as a parent. Hell, that’s my
job as a parent.
But as a gay parent, I’m “supposed” to reassure people by
saying something like “There’s a 90% chance that my kid, and
any other kid with gay parents, will grow up to be heterosexual.”
Because, the implication is, there’s something wrong
with being gay.
In other words, I’m supposed to think — somewhat like the dads
in the Details article, who are alright with their gay
friends — that being gay is OK for me but not
for my kids. Oddly enough, unlike the dads in the
Details article, I’m not supposed to want my
kid to be like me.
This is where I think that the site where
I found the link to the Details article got it wrong.
(Though, given that it’s written by the same guy who advocated
biological warfare on queer fetuses , there’s really no other
way for him approach the subject.)
The men interviewed in this article also reveal the
power of common grace — a lingering shadow of moral conscience.
The hesitation concerning their sons and homosexuality — almost a
panic — is a subtle sign that they possess a moral knowledge that
complicates their moral reasoning. They want to be okay with their
sons and homosexuality — they just can’t.
Christian parents and Christian churches had better think ahead to
this question — What would you say if your son (or daughter) came
out to you on the sin of homosexuality?
Those who believe (or say they believe) that homosexuality is not a
sin can only respond with some form of what the world calls
acceptance. But, as this article reveals, this is often a false
Christians know that homosexuality is a sin — that it is not the
Creator’s purpose for our sexuality. The Christian parent’s
response to the “coming out” of a child is surely shock and
grief, but also an opportunity for grace and witness. At that point
the child needs those Christian parents to be deeply Christian. We
are indebted to Details for reminding us of that
I think they’re leaving out something incredibly important and
influential: our cultural concept of masculinity; and,
the economy of masculinity that leads all the way from the
playground to the boardroom and the battlefield (and points in
between). Every father in that Details article knows his
exact standing in that economy. He knows not only where he
stands, but he knows where he wants other men to think he
It’s something John Stoltenberg distilled in his essay “Why I
Stopped Trying to Be a Real Man.”
So I got to thinking: If everyone trying to be
a “real man” thinks there’s someone else out there who has
more manhood, then either some guy has more manhood than
anybody-and he’s got so much manhood he never has to prove it and
it’s never ever in doubt-or else manhood doesn’t
exist. It’s just a sham and a delusion.
As I watched guys trying to prove their fantasy of manhood-by doing
dirt to women, making fun of queers, putting down people of other
religions and races-I realized they were doing something really
negative to me too, because their fear and hatred of
everything “nonmanly” was killing off something in me that I
I think these men, and probably many men with sons, see or want to
see their masculinity — or their ideal of masculinity —
reflected in their sons. There’s either a sense of anxiety that
their sons won’t be or relief when their sons turn out to be
As his path of devastation moved into the kitchen, a
young father leaned toward me with a flush of admiration in his
voice and said, “He’s all boy” He’s all boy. I’ve heard
that phrase a lot since then, and it always strikes me as a strange
thing to say.
…What “he’s all boy” really means is: Whew! This
kid’s not going to be one of those fragile pussy-willows who
takes two hours to shave. Maybe everyone else is going soft, but
our boyo’s still got that Y chromosome roaring like a steam
My guess is that in some part of themselves, the fathers in the
Details article see their sons reflecting upon their own
masculinity. And, for better or worse, homosexuality is seen as
“nonmanly,” to borrow a phrase from Stoltenberg. Each of them,
to some degree, have lived their own
personal memoir of masculinity. Consciously or not, their
son’s represent the next chapter, which is based — of course
— on the first.
I’m guilty of it myself in a way, except that I mused about
raising a “little gay boy” who’d have been a lot like me, up
to and including playing with Barbie dolls. But this weekend, I
watched Parker doing something I’d never have done as a
boy: running joyfully up and down the court, playing basketball. I even
went out on the court with him at first, and kicked a soccer ball
around with him until he joined the other kids.
Sure, I had a brief flashback to my childhood, and the torment I
experienced in phys. ed. (I caught myself wincing over my lack of
athletic prowess, and hoping the other dad’s weren’t watching.)
But, for the sake of being there for my son, I got over it. It
wasn’t until later that I remembered a scene from my own
I played with dolls. My sister’s dolls; both baby
dolls and Barbie dolls. It wasn’t like I didn’t have toys of my
own, but I just preferred the dolls. My playing with dolls was the
catalyst for the first time I remember getting the message
(somewhat indirectly) that I wasn’t measuring up in the
I was sitting in the middle of the family room playing with one of
my sister’s dolls, combing and styling its hair. My mom was a few
yards away in the kitchen, and my dad was sitting behind me, on the
couch, watching the television. He was also watching me, because
from behind I heard him ask my mom “Should he be doing that?”;
playing with a doll, that is.
The conversation continued as though I weren’t in the room. My
mom rationalized that I might have a daughter some day and that
I’d have to know how to do her hair. So it was okay. Now that it
was safely wrapped in a frame of presumed heterosexuality, I could
continue playing with dolls. But the question had been posed, and
the seed planted. Normal boys (who grow up to be real men) didn’t
play with dolls, as I enjoyed doing. Shortly after that, I was
given a Ken doll and a G.I. Joe. I promptly stripped off their
clothes was very disappointed with what I found or — more
precisely — didn’t find.
That’s who I was. That’s who I am. But
my son is who he is. As a parent, it’s my job to nurture that.
It’s my job to protect that. It’s my job to help him become
his best self, not to
determine for him what that self should be.
I know all too well the hostility directed at kids who don’t
conform with gender norms or compulsory heterosexuality. If either
of my sons turned out to be LGBT, I’d want the to know about
that, and to know that I will stand by them and stand up for them
without reservation or hesitation. When Parker was just shy of a
year old, his birth mother wrote and told us why she chose us as
his adoptive parents. She said thought because we were gay and an
interracial couple that we had “overcome prejudice and
discrimination” (her words, not mine) and that we were best
equipped to help him do the same. Whatever he grows up to be,
whomever he happens to lo love, that’s exactly what I will do.
The same goes for Dylan, our four-month-old.
What I want is, as clichéd as it sounds, for them to be happy. I
want them to be healthy, and live their lives in a way that harms
neither themselves or others. I want them to be able to stand on
their own two feet. I want them to be able to take care of
themselves, to care for others, and to try and leave the
world a little better than they found it.
There’s nothing in all of that requiring them to be anything
other than who they are. Which is just what they ought to be.