Friday, April 24, 2009

Highlighting the Positive Realities of Living in Lesbian Households

Society stigmatizes lesbian families and stereotypes them to “risk social ostracism, institutionalization...” (Freedman 260). This is supported by F. van Balen's study, Lesbian Families and Family Functioning: an Overview, which concludes that children of non-single lesbian mothers tend to worry about the reactions of their peers in regards to their living situation. In society today, a tendency has developed in which same-sex couples and their families are alienated from the “normal” nuclear, heterosexual families. Even though society places these views upon the families of lesbian mothers, a key issue is that these taboos are not accurate and that lesbian families are still able to exist in a healthy functioning way, with mutual respect and love between the members (Del Rey). Also, in reality, there are more similarities than differences between heterosexual and homosexual couples. This same study by Balen concludes that there is no difference between children in lesbian families and those in heterosexual families in regards to gender identity, gender role behavior, emotional functioning, self-concept, and sexual orientation. Feminism is defined as a “belief that women and men are inherently of equal worth” (Freedman 7). This being the case, although stereotypes may not hold this reality to be true, a man is not necessary for a loving, supportive, nurturing, and productive family. Two women can form a stable home to raise children, just as a man and woman can. 

We are conducting this research in an attempt to understand how lesbian families overcome the stereotypes placed on them by society and to disband the social stigma that exists in society towards lesbian couples with children and families. We intend to explore how having two parents of the same gender may affect interactions between the individuals of the family and interactions with those outside of the family. The first individual that we interviewed was Kacy Welsh. She is a doctor in psychology at The University of Georgia. Dr. Welsh has a son from a previous heterosexual marriage, but is currently in a lesbian relationship. We interviewed Dr. Welsh in order to gain first-hand testimony as to what it is like raising a child in a lesbian household. The second individual that we interviewed is Patricia Del Rey. She currently has a partner and two adopted daughters with a former partner. We interviewed her in order to better understand the relations between mothers and daughters in lesbian households. The third individual that we interviewed is Rocio Brandau. Rocio is a high school senior and an adopted daughter of Patricia. We interviewed her in order to have the ability to view the issue from multiple perspectives.

We initiated our interview with Dr. Welsh by learning about her relationship with her partner, her separation from her previous husband, and the familial roles that particular individuals take on within the household. She stated that her partner embodies the role of the stereotypical father figure, while she takes more of a maternal role -- she thinks this may have to do with the fact that she is the biological mother of their son. Other topics discussed included extended family and their influence on the son's upbringing. Dr. Welsh stated that her own parents are supportive, her partner's parents are not very much involved, and her former husband's family is still very involved. However, a negative aspect of their involvement in her son's life is their incessant indication of Dr. Welsh's sexual orientation being "different" or not "normal". This topic created an opening to discuss Dr. Welsh's son's experiences at school and in the community. Dr. Welsh stated that he has not experienced any difficulties or issues in school or from his peers regarding him coming from a lesbian household. She also stated that this fact that her son has never experienced any conflict may have something to do with the family's lack of involvement in the lesbian community in that her son's peers and friends may often not be aware of his background. All in all, Dr. Welsh reiterated constantly how "lucky" she thinks her family is and how fortunate their experiences have been. 

We initiated the interview with Patricia Del Rey by learning about how she believes to be viewed by the public and how the members of her family interact with one another. Patricia feels that she in particular is viewed as a threat to the typical “gender roles” and that her family is viewed as a threat to the “normal”, heterosexual family. Within her family, all of the members are open with each other. Patricia does not feel that there is a traditional mother or father role that she or her partner occupies. We asked her how her daughters interacted with friends and those outside of their household. Patricia stated that her daughters did not have questions concerning the differences between their parents and their friend's parents. When asked if her daughters had any difficulties or confusion being raised in a lesbian household, Patricia stated that they were not affected in any negative way by the environment of their upbringing. In terms of her children's sociability being affected by living in a lesbian household, Patricia feels as if her children are more open to experiences and points of view that differ from the cultural “norm.” When asked if living in a lesbian household has strengthened Patricia's familial bonds, she stated that the honest, uncensored and straightforward environment that her family interacts within has certainly allowed for all members to share deep and intimate bonds. In terms of how living in a lesbian household may have affected her daughters' sociability in any other fashion, Patricia believes that the lack of a male presence in her home contributed to both of her daughters having particular interests and curiosities about males, which is seen in that both of them have much more male friends than female friends. Patricia emphasized that the lesbian community of Atlanta has definitely helped make having an alternative family easier, as her children can interact with heterosexual couples and lesbian couples to enhance education and sociability.

Patricia's adopted daughter, Rocio Brandau, also participated in our project-interviews. The 18 year-old feels that she is lucky because the public has not judged her harshly for living in a lesbian household, confirming that other residents in lesbian households might encounter animosity. Additionally, Rocio defines a “normal” family as one that consists two parents, regardless of gender, who provide support to their child(ren). Personally, Rocio feels that living in a lesbian household has made her more open to different perspectives regarding various issues such as gay marriage, abortion, etc. She also stated that her parents do not place themselves in the maternal or paternal roles within their family. Lastly, Rocio explained that her parents' sexualities do not affect her own, but that living in a lesbian home does makes her more receptive to the possibility of becoming a lesbian than she may have been otherwise. She also described her curiosity of the male gender during her early childhood, but insists that she would not feel comfortable with a male figure in the house. Furthermore, Rocio stated that her relationships with men will never be as strong as those with her mothers.  

Overall, the interviewees showed that the lesbian household is very nurturing and functional. These households which consist of two mothers, rather than a mother and a father, are sometimes more open in relationships with their children. We found that having two parents was beneficial, but the sex of the parents did not make a difference. A male presence is not entirely necessary, but it is helpful and sometimes sought after.  The dynamic created by having two parents is more important than the sex of the parents when providing a stable household in which to raise children. When interacting within the community, the families have not been faced with animosity. This has helped make their experience growing up and raising children, respectively, easier than many would assume about their situation. It is possible to live in a lesbian household without facing judgment. When this is the case, the family which is formed is strong and tight-knit so that as children grow, the family grows as well.

In sum, this project was most enlightening. We learned about the many characteristic and familial benefits that stem from living in a lesbian household through our research and interviews. When we initially discussed doing this project, our group was very interested about learning more about the family structures within lesbian households. Through the interview process our interest began to greaten into a better understanding of what it is like to be a part of a lesbian household.  Some of the things that we learned through the interviews were that being in a lesbian household does not necessarily mean that you will face constant, overbearing struggles with society. Not that these problems do not exist but what surprised our interviewers the most was that these families did not express that society issues and standards made for many struggles in their everyday lives. Also, through the interviews we observed that gender roles were not specifically concrete in these families. The parental roles were implemented in an unbiased manner that did not depend on which parent enforced them. It was interesting when Rocio stated she saw a family structure as being two parents in a household, but the sex of the parents within did not matter, as far as she was concerned. When we looked back on the interviews we saw that these things were most surprising to us. We had a specific outlook on this project going into it, but as we progressed in our project, that outlook was altered in a very insightful way. Looking back we also learned about each other and our individual views on lesbian households. These views also fathered our knowledge about ourselves and our group members in a positive way. We have now experienced firsthand that even if someone appears different from oneself, it is important to be open-minded, you never know what you may learn from them.

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