(Originally posted here.)
When I first saw this picture being shared on my Facebook feed, I immediately reposted it my wall. Not just because I was raised by a lesbian couple and this is one of those rare instances where the existence of families like mine was acknowledged, but because I agree with it. Our society abandons worrisome numbers of children in our foster system, often leaving them with little hope of a permanent family and frequently with little assistance or support after becoming legal adults. For those children, the sexual orientation of a potential parent or guardian seems so peripheral to their need for security, stability, and basic care.
But after posting it I realized it was a little too easy to agree with. It presents a family with two fathers as better than total isolation, which I hope is obvious to anyone concerned for the welfare of foster children and orphans. The comparison is between a socially contentious option (same-sex parenting) and an almost unthinkable horror. With that implicit choice, between social abandonment and same-sex parents, this supposed advocacy for same-sex parenting seems to work with the assumption that being raised by a same-sex couple is substandard rather than challenge that belief.
I’m rather familiar with that debate, previously sparked by Robert Oscar Lopez’s personal story of how damaging he felt his lesbian mother’s parenting to be. I respect his right to judge his upbringing, but know that I was in no way damaged by being raised by a lesbian couple. Prior to that, we had Zach Wahls’ famous disagreement with that, based on how he was no different from the straightspawn. Just as with Robert Oscar Lopez’s argument, his statement seems utterly detached from my experiences growing up in a family like his. Sometimes it’s with fascination and sometimes it’s with confusion, but I frequently interact with others who cannot stop balking at how different I seem to be.
So I’ll put forth a third option: I am a better and stronger person than I would be had I been raised by a male-female couple. This is not meant to disagree with Robert Oscar Lopez’s and Zach Wahls’ life experiences or proclaim people like me to be superior – it’s a statement that only applies to me. And I can’t help but feel it ring true.
Allow me to explain. I can be painfully headstrong, and I belong to many socially powerful groups. I am White. I am male. I am cisgendered. I belong to a family at least somewhat comfortably entrenched in the middle class. I am a native-born citizen of the United States. I belong to so many overlapping groups of people who are told, seemingly almost from birth (at least in the United States) that we are the world’s normal people, the cream of the crop, and absolutely always right about everything. Regardless of who my parents’ happened to be, I would be exposed to those beliefs constantly, simply because they’re everywhere. I am already quite insufferable about all sorts of things, and it’s clearly something that could only get worse because of social pressures that would (quite unfairly) tell me that I am absolutely and totally in the right.
But I think the unique experiences that I have gone through as a person raised by a lesbian couple have given me some basis on which to relate to people who haven’t been as privileged as I have been. There’s of course some hubris in comparing my experiences to others, but I think it’s helped me learn a valuable lesson in empathy. When my Latin@ friends have talked about how dehumanizing it is to be accused of being rather than a person an “illegal”, I could think of how infuriating it is for people to ask me which of my mothers was my “real” one. When my trans* friends have talked about how the secret of who they really are (by, it unfortunately has to be pointed out, no fault of their own) must be carefully disclosed because of the terrifying violence they could face, I could think of how dangerous it felt whenever a stranger in public would badger my mothers over what exactly their relationship was. When my Black and Muslim friends have talked about how even their cautious and courteous attempts to discuss racism or religious bigotry are often seen a “pushy” or “aggressive,” I could think of how by openly existing I am contesting some people’s political beliefs.
I don’t know if Zach Wahls, Robert Oscar Lopez, or if any one raised by a same-sex couple feels anything remotely akin to this, but I know that I, as a person, am better at understanding people who’s lived experiences are at times radically different from mine because of the unusual components of my own life. I view this as an enormous asset and strength of mine, and I wouldn’t deny it or trade it for anything in the world. I am different as a result of being raised by a lesbian couple, and I appreciate it.