Hillary Clinton's email scandal has now spread to, and tainted her relations with, the LGBT community. We have now learned that she privately voiced her profound dismay at and disagreement with the State Department's decision to change the references to "mother" and "father" on the passport application to the gender-neutral "parent one" and "parent two." Clinton said she could live with "letting people in nontraditional families choose another descriptor so long as we retained the presumption of mother and father."
What Clinton does not seem to get is that we still live in an overwhelmingly heteronormative world and are always already surrounded by the presumption of mother and father. As a gay dad, I get a unique experience of this world by not just being part of a family headed by a same-sex couple but also by breaking the stereotype that only women are nurturing enough to raise children.
Yes, it really is frustrating to constantly have to cross out "mother" and "father" on the forms that you fill out. My daughter recently started kindergarten, and I stopped counting the number of times that I had to "correct" the endless forms that I had to complete in order to ensure that the school understood that my daughter has two dads. I have an obviously gendered name but my husband does not, which has resulted in his being referred to as "Ms." on countless pieces of mail addressed to the both of us. I did not want that or other misunderstandings to occur at my daughter's school.
But even letting school or daycare administrators know about that upfront in no way stops the questions from other parents about "my wife" or the very direct questions that other kids have posed to my daughter about where her mother is. When I dropped my daughter off on the playground at daycare one day, a 4-year-old from another class actually asked my daughter if her mother was dead because she never came to do pick-ups or drop-offs. Mortified, and not about to engage a 4-year-old in a discussion about her having been steeped in a heteronormative perspective of parenting, I promptly whisked my daughter off to her teachers.
And à propos of the passport application issue, traveling is an entirely different experience as a gay dad, especially when I travel alone with my daughter to visit family or to meet my husband somewhere. We constantly get questions from security, strangers and even customs -- directly to my very young daughter, no less -- asking where her mother is. On one trip, we experienced these questions three separate times within a single 24-hour period. In the beginning, I had been answering the questions. But, finally, my 5-year-old daughter was the one that turned to the customs agent (who was the last in this string of questions) and said to her, very politely but very plainly, that she did not have a mom but had two dads instead. I seriously doubt that women traveling alone with their children receive similar questions about where their children's father is. Imagine the reaction.
So, simply put, the State Department does not need to tell straight parents that they are the norm because, trust me, everyone else does a good job of that already.
What Clinton really missed when she expressed her disagreement and dismay in that email is that on the rare occasion when an individual, or here a government agency, makes your life a little easier by not assuming that you are part of the hetero norm just because you have a child, it feels like just a little bit of weight has been lifted off of your shoulders. There is one fewer person that you need to come out to and whose reaction you need to worry about, especially if your child is present when the interaction is taking place. Having grown up gay, I can handle the hostility or discomfort that others sometimes direct my way. But my daughter should not have to experience that, and I am thankful and appreciative when others, like the State Department, signal upfront that I need not be concerned.