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Families First: GLBT Family Issues and Resources (February 2015): Practical Guides

By Ellen Bosman

Practical Guides

Two types of parenting guides predominate: those aimed at heterosexual parents of GLBT children, and those directed to GLBT parents. The guides are typically designed to provide direction on how to be a good parent. The former type dates back to the 1970s and persists to the present. These guides share several tropes: the child’s coming out process, the parents’ reactions to coming out, dealing with internalized and external homophobia, how to respond to dating, and lists of resources. Recent guides include Coming Around by Anne Dohrenwend and Straight Parents/Gay Children by Robert Bernstein. Other more recently published books fill a gap by addressing gender-variant children. One such guidebook, The Transgender Child, by Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper, helps parents understand their gender-variant child, pointing out possible challenges related to health, schooling, dating, and cross-dressing; and giving advice on how to handle curious teachers, family, friends, and neighbors. Arlene Lev, a nationally syndicated columnist devoted to GLBT families, offers a broad view of parenting directed to general readers in The Complete Lesbian & Gay Parenting Guide. She begins with the decision to have a child and progresses to the realities of parenting and the effect of parenting on relationships. Jess Wells’s narrowly focused anthology Lesbians Raising Sons is a multicultural reader on every conceivable parenting subject. Distinctive topics include the need, or lack thereof, for male role models; legalities and custody matters; theories and evidence regarding children in same-sex parented families; and raising a son to be a feminist. Interestingly, no guide aimed at gay fathers raising daughters has been published.

On a more personal level, GLBT parents and children of GLBT parents have created a canon of powerful, persuasive personal narratives to illustrate the challenges of becoming and being parents. Lesbians lead the way in producing materials directed toward GLBT parents, as exemplified by Sandra Pollack and Jeanne Vaughn’s edited Politics of the Heart, a groundbreaking anthology noted for its depth of coverage and racial and ethnic inclusiveness. A Choice review by M. A. Fingrutd (CH, Apr’88: 1280), in proclaiming the usefulness of the book, notes the absence of homophobia and the “brutally honest” exploration of every aspect of parenting. The process of becoming parents differs for gay men and lesbians. Gay men must seek parenthood via surrogacy or adoption. One of the earliest memoirs of gay fatherhood was penned by syndicated sexual advice column Dan Savage. Savage took a humorous approach to the adoption of his child in The Kid. This approach is also evident in Does This Baby Make Me Look Straight? by screenwriter Dan Bucatinsky, a two-time father via surrogacy. A more serious attitude is found in Michael Menichiello’s A Gay Couple’s Journey through Surrogacy, which chronicles one couple’s emotional rollercoaster ride to parenthood while providing an honest look at the things that can go terribly wrong during the process.

Lori Duron’s Raising My Rainbow, which won the Stonewall Book Award, chronicles one family’s journey toward understanding and supporting their young son, who prefers the toys and clothes associated with girls. The sheer effort these parents make in the face of unaccepting school systems and bullies is a testament of love. Transgender parents face some unique family challenges, which Jennifer Finney Boylan addresses in Stuck in the Middle with You. Boylan writes about parenting while transitioning from male to female. In addition to her own story, she includes interviews from other parents to create a compelling but somewhat uneven chronicle. Given the shortage of trans-parenting memoirs, some libraries may want to add this book to their collections.

Books recounting children’s experience of growing up in families headed by GLBT parents are a more recent development. Edited by Noelle Howey and Ellen Samuels, Out of the Ordinary, which won a Lambda Literary Award, is a pictorial anthology featuring twenty children of GLBT parents writing about their lives. It demonstrates that GLBT family life is much the same as heterosexual family life. Another Lambda award-winning book, which is also a Stonewall Award Honor Book, is Howey’s Dress Codes of Three Girlhoods—My Mother’s, My Father’s, and Mine, in which the author reveals her father’s secret desire to become a woman. Characterized by angst, reluctance, and acceptance, this volume recounts each woman’s life as Noelle lives, her mother relives, and her father begins to live their respective girlhoods. The trend to interweave an author’s personal and communal story into the larger fabric of the parent’s story continues with the widely reviewed Fairyland. Author Alysia Abbott draws on her father’s poetry and papers to describe their lives, and paints a portrait of a gay community in the 1970s and 1980s.

Works Cited