Who Is In a Gay Family?

painted hands on a white and...
painted hands on a white and...

It was a Saturday night. I was sans children and out with some of my best (adult) guys at a bar. I had already had a couple of (or four) drinks and was talking about my kids. Yes, I am that annoying person.

"Are you a gay parent?" asked the stranger I was talking to.

Without even a second's thought, I responded, "Yes! My 8-year-old son is gay." I then went on and on telling the poor stranger how incredible my kid is. That's what happens when somebody asks me questions about any of my sons.

It wasn't until later that I realized that that wasn't what he was asking. He was asking whether I am a gay person who has kids. Oh, well, no harm done.

But that experience made me think about another. When our son announced that he is gay, my husband and I went to our local LGBT center to ask about resources for gay kids.

The very nice center worker handed me a brochure. "We have a support group for ages 14 and up," he said.

"My kid is 7," I replied.

No one at the center had ever heard of a kid coming out that young before. I glanced through the other meeting notices. There was a monthly meeting of gay families in the park, for parents and their kids. I picked up the flier.

"What about this?" I asked. "It looks perfect."

"Um, that's for gay and lesbian parents and their children. It might not be the best idea. Those meetups are really about the parents getting together and talking about their family situation. You wouldn't have a lot in common."

As I said before, the person I was talking to was nice and well-informed, but that last statement had an undertone of "not our kind, dear." Not that I really blame him. I am a woman, and my husband is a man. We enjoy complete heterosexual privilege. We have a legal marriage, share legal standing over our children and claim them jointly on our tax return. We simply don't have some of the same issues and concerns as same-sex couples. And I can imagine people not being too keen on having this hetero couple homing in on their safe space.

So I get it, but I wish there were an alternative. Kids are coming out younger and younger. My son is among the youngest, but there are others like him out there. I've talked to parents all over the country who have children who identify as gay before the age of 12. We aren't the biggest group around, but we're growing. One of the most common laments I hear is about the lack of a support place to call home. A lot of us have tried PFLAG but received the blank stares that we've become so familiar with. "A gay kid in grade school?" we're asked. "Really?" (I even got referred to my own blog for support, which, I have to admit, was pretty amusing.) And we've all experienced the disappointment of seeing something advertised as being for gay families only to learn that they didn't mean us.

Despite that, when the media, politicians, or right-wingers start talking about "gay families," I put my family in that group. My husband and I are fierce supporters of equal marriage and equal rights for LGBT people. We are concerned about bullying in schools and passive (and active) homophobia. We don't want to support companies that give money to hate groups. My husband and I did and thought all these things before we ever had kids. But now that we have a son who identifies as gay, we are more immediate and intense about all these issues. That is my son who they are saying does not deserve equal rights under the law. That is my child whom they are calling all those nasty names. And to those who think that my baby boy needs to be fixed: Fuck you. My kid is perfect just they way he is. So, yeah, I definitely consider us a gay family. My son is gay. We are a family. Attack my son and you are attacking me.

And if we are a "gay family," then that means that the percentage of "straight families" just took a really big hit. And I am OK with that. Same-sex parents are only a small percentage of a "gay family" anyway. There are also their moms and dads, their sons and daughters, their aunts and uncles, their nieces and nephews, their cousins, and so on. Oh, and all those gay people who aren't parents? They count too. It makes me wonder if there are really any "straight families" at all. (By the way, a big welcome to the Cheney and Gingrich families! You are one of us!)

Recognizing this would be especially helpful to an always emerging but frequently forgotten group of gay people: the children. During the DOMA trial Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke out about the nearly 40,000 kids in California being raised by same-sex couples and their need for protections under the law. Those kids are important and deserve to be talked about. But the approximately 4.2 million gay kids currently growing up in the U.S. need to be protected too. Unfortunately, for some gay kids, their parents are the people they need to be protected from.

But the parents of gay kids have the opportunity to be their fiercest protectors. We need to take all the fierce mama- and papa-bear energy and turn it toward making a better future for our kids. We need to speak out and let everyone know that we are here. We need to fight with all those former gay kids who are now gay adults. If we do that, then maybe someday soon we won't have to think about what is a "gay family." We will all just be a family. No adjectives needed.