Child-free and Happy

I was both intrigued and annoyed by apiece this morning about the supposed pressure gay men are feeling to have children. The premise starts off well, but the piece seems to assume that having children is the be all and end all for everyone, gay and straight.
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I do not want kids. I never wanted kids. Even as a kid.

Don't get me wrong: I'm really happy for my gay and lesbian friends who've always wanted kids and who now have them. I like children; often find them fascinating, cute, and cuddly; and have nieces and nephews I adore. I just wouldn't want to spend a lot of my time raising them, and though each of us could master things we might think we couldn't, I don't think I'm particularly well-suited to it. Why do something just because you might be able to do it?

There have always been blessings and curses to being queer in America. As far as I'm concerned, one of the blessings is that having kids is not only not expected but, for gay men especially, difficult to do. As a result, you can focus much of your life on work you love, and on other creative, intellectual, and political endeavors, and not get caught up in these "having it all" debates. When I first came to realize I was gay in my early teens, one of the things that went through my mind, amid the self-loathing and the fear, was, "Whew! I do not have to have kids."

I know there are many straight people like me, and, sadly, a lot of them have kids anyway. They're loath to admit that they didn't want to have kids, except when you're sitting around with them late at night, having a few drinks. Their kids don't necessarily turn out bad; some turn out to be highly successful and productive people. But what of the parents and their lives? Even as they now love their children and speak of "rewarding" aspects, they really didn't want to spend their lives raising children -- they've told me so -- but they did it just because they felt that they had to do it. It was what was expected.

It's a problem in our culture, and Keli Goff pointed to it a few weeks ago during the debacle over Anne-Marie Slaughter's essay "Why Women Still Can't Have It All": Why does our society undervalue the choice to simply not have children?

That's why I was both intrigued and annoyed by a New York Times piece this morning about the supposed pressure gay men are feeling to have children, now that they are able to get married in some states, with family and others asking the question, "When are you going to have kids?" The premise starts off well, and the reporter interviews men who don't want to have kids. But the piece seems to assume that having children is the be all and end all for everyone, gay and straight:

Many gay men had resigned themselves to the idea that they would never be accepted by society as loving parents and assumed they would never have children. They grieved that loss and moved on, even as other gay men and lesbians fully embraced childless lives. So the questions can unearth bittersweet feelings and cause deep divisions within a couple over whether to have children at all, now that parenting among same-sex couples is becoming more common.

Sure, there's a nod to those who embraced being "childless," but the word itself implies loss. (Why don't we say "child-free," or simply "without children"?) According to the piece, you're either grieving not being able to have children or you've embraced this loss, this missing component, in life, kind of like turning lemons into lemonade.

Well, sorry, but it was lemonade for me from the get-go, and I know it was that way for a great many others, including my partner of 17 years, who has never wanted children, either, from as far back as he can remember. The article assumes that all humans want to raise children, and it perpetuates the ideology that has many straight people having children even though they'd rather not.

I always thought that queer visibility would help liberate straight people in many ways -- and I think that's happened in some areas, such as sexuality and gender norms. But one area where I hope things are not going in the other direction is having kids. Rather than gay and lesbian couples influencing more straight people who don't want kids to be child-free as a choice, it would be sad if marriage equality pressured gay people to have children even when they might not be suited to it or really desire to do so. The last thing the world needs are more unwanted kids and unhappy, resentful parents.

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