I saw Bishop Gene Robinson on The Daily Show this past week explaining how loving gay and lesbian families are, just like heterosexual families. Bishop Robinson is a brave person and I respect him as a faith leader , but his argument is both inaccurate and dangerous. It is one I hear all the time from those supporting the gay marriage movement: “our families are just like yours.” Sometimes people even point to me and my family as evidence that loving lesbian moms are just like a “regular” family.
IT IS NOT SO.
My family is *NOT* like a straight family. We are not trying to resemble one and in so far as we do it is accidental. Yes, we own a home, work, participate in the life of a community, support charity, have a child and watch our diet. That is human behavior, not heterosexual behavior. But our family functions in a way entirely separate from the heteronormative status quo in ways I will enumerate in a moment. First, let us consider what heteronormativity requires.
Heteronormativity over the centuries has treated the wife and children as chattel (Ever read a divorce settlement agreement? The children are part of the PROPERTY settlement). The household in the heteronormative world is run by a male breadwinner and served by a female responsible for child rearing and domestic tasks. Wives are traditionally subservient and bear little or no physical, financial or personal autonomy in the heteronormative world.
I am not describing a world we left behind in the 1950’s or even the 1880’s. This version of the “family” is the idealized version presented to us by a culture founded on a patriarchal system of domination. It is alive and well, inflicted on us, to the detriment of women (and their children), at every turn. That is the detriment of ALL women and children, not just lesbians. Fox News keeps demanding a return to heteronormativity, as if we ever left.
Need convincing that heteronormativity is alive and well despite the fact that people insist women have been liberated and are on the rise in society (Hanna Rosin, I love you, but your book The End of Men isn’t helping!)? Let me provide some examples.
- Forced vaginal ultrasounds to shame women into keeping unwanted pregnancies by making them look at the fetus
- In a 2011 case a NJ man acted as a sperm donor for a female friend in a private transaction in which both of them signed a self-constructed agreement that the man would not have any parental rights when the child was born. They submitted their notarized document to the court after the child was born, but the court refused to honor it. The court ruled the man could not voluntarily relinquish his “parental” rights. In the court’s view, the state cannot leave a child an orphan, the child must have two parents if at all possible, and if there is to be any termination of rights, only the court can allow it and only through the court’s process of having the child put up for adoption so the court can seek to find it TWO parents. That’s how badly NJ wants to keep the heteronormative family structure alive.
And now many gays are trying to convince everyone that they are just as wholesome and heteronormative as Fox would want, that the only differences are anatomical. That’s just bullshit.
Here are 9 ways my family is different from a straight family:
- We regularly have to defend our choice of clothing or explain our gender presentation (I have been told by pre-schoolers that I am not allowed to wear a tie; I have been told by teachers that “Pride” doesn’t count as a holiday; I have been told that other parents were not comfortable with the teachers saying some children have two mommies)
- Our daughter has had to explain (if not justify) her family construction to classmates, strangers in the park, even family members
- We participate fully in a community and culture that is still considered, by many, to be deviant and is stigmatized.
- People constantly try to force us into gendered norms that they can cope with (“Which one of you is really the ‘man’ of the family?”)
- We are seen as being backward or suspect for our child-rearing practices that include being friends with drag queens, encouraging her to be autonomous wherever possible, and generally eschewing the title of “mother” in favor of “parent.” Lots of liberals do these things, but because we are lesbians, the scrutiny on these choices is much greater.
- We have to be careful about where we choose to vacation, since plenty of places are so homophobic that we could be making ourselves or our child more susceptible to a hate crime if we were to visit them.
- In the workplace we are often described as being too “pushy” or “assertive.” This is the term used when people think it can get back to us (when they don’t think we’ll find out, they use less polite terms). Our points, however legitimate, are often dismissed until a less threatening person presents them.
- We are treated as political entities even on days when all we are doing is drinking coffee and reading the newspaper; but we are also criticized for “making everything political all the time.”
- We can’t marry in most states, and even when we can, the tax code is set up to penalize us for our sexual orientation. I put this one at the bottom of the list, since it’s the one we probably think about least (although, with tax season around the corner it does smart a little).