study time

Do Gay Parents Feel Pressured Into Raising Gender Normative Kids?

Sure, studies might show two same-sex parents are just as capable of raising healthy children, and that lesbians are just terrific at child rearing. But studies also claim these same parents feel heat — from PTA meetings! from neighbors! from the man! — to show they’re qualified to raise “normal” kids by raising kids that are not like their parents.

I read all studies like these with my eyebrows furrowed in cautionary skepticism, but I still think it’s fascinating to hear what researchers are finding. Like so:

“The underlying assumption of research on LGBTQ families has been premised on the idea that the children of gay and lesbian people will have unique challenges because of their parent’s sexual orientation. LGBTQ people have had to establish that they are good parents by raising children who are heterosexual and gender-normative, i.e., not like them,” said Arlene Istar Lev, a Family Therapist and Social Work professor with the State University of New York at Albany who wrote the article, “How Queer! – The Development of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation in LGBTQ-Headed Families.”

Despite growing awareness that sexuality is largely determined by genetics, not home environment making children “that way,” the family unit is where children learn about gender identity and the roles they are expected to play based on birth gender. Therefore, it is interesting – and upsetting to note – that Freudian ideology creeps into modern psychology, and still stigmatizes gay families whose children may identify as not straight.

Reading from the actual study (you can find a copy here), we see the researchers see both parents and children are feeling pressure to play out gender normative behavior.

Heteronormativity is most significantly decentered when examining how LGBTQ parents “do gender” with their children. How do queer parents transmit societal rules about gender and sexuality and how do they respond to their children’s developing identities? When a child within an LGBTQ family deviates from expected gendered norms, the parents are placed in a unique situation. On one hand, they have intimate knowledge of the experience of difference, and on the other hand, they fear that they will be blamed for their child’s behavior and expression. Gay/lesbian affirmative models of treatment and postmodern theories can guide clinical considerations and help consolidate the overlapping paradigms and conflicting treatment strategies.

[…] It is very common for parents of gender-variant children to be unsure and confused about how to best address their child’s cross-gender expression. For LGBT parents there is the added pressure to raise heterosexual and gender-conforming children, or risk familial and societal condemnation that their “lifestyle” created or encouraged these behaviors. Additionally, they have their own histories of growing up “different,” which potentially evokes both compassion for their children and apprehension for their futures. The nature of homo- and transphobia is that it is difficult for LGBT parents to celebrate having a gay or trans child, although it seems that if “gay pride” has any meaning at all, it should be a natural reaction.

If you’ve got the time the whole study is worth a read, or at least a skim, but here’s the takeaway: Queer parents were once queer children who grew up in a world where they were often outcasts, shunned, or forced to keep secrets, and what good parent wants their child to have to endure that? So, knowing a LGBT kid might face a tougher time in school because of society, instituting gender norms might be the easiest way to go about things.

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    I have no idea where Queerty is finding this batch of writers but they need to run down to the clue store and buy a whole bunch because none of them seem to possess a single one…….

    Memo To Max Simon: Please do not spew some physcobabble crap about “gender normative”. Being Gay is absolutley and perfectley normal and for you to buy into the rightwing vile rhetoric to insinuate that in any way it is not is pure bullshit that has no place on a Gay site……..

  • Chris H

    @PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS: I also thought these studies are fascinating, but I think the writer of this particular article just was unclear about what he was trying to convey.

  • Michael

    The “pressure” is simply teaching your kids the facts of life. It’s better they get it from the parents, and besides, it’s part of the job.

  • Simon

    …just because something isn’t “normative” doesn’t mean you think it’s “abnormal.” those are very different things.

  • reason

    What are yall getting at? What I pulled out of it is that Gay parents feel pressured to raise their kids similar to heterosexuals and enforce normal gender roles (i.e. boys with tonka toys girls with barbies), which would be gender normative. They feel that if their kid deviates from the norm (i.e. boys playing with barbies and girls with b.b. guns), that it will be blamed on the deposition of the gay men or lesbian women instead of the innate behavior of the child.

    The article from what I read here is in no way placing blame or demands on anyone, it is simply stating a finding of how gay men and lesbian women are responding to raising a child. The reason it is relevant is becuase the GBLT parents may even go to greater lengths to make a GBLT child if they had one straight (which would be straight acting since you cant change sexuality). Wouldn’t that be a nightmare to have GBLT parents that were more worried about you being straight (following gender norms) than a straight parent would have. It is sort of a learned effect like an African American child pointing to the African American doll and saying that it is the bad one, those concepts are extremely troubling and apparently the same things is happening to GBLT parents in regards to the “gay kid.” Society has a strong impact on your perception whether you realize it or not, and the reason I brought up that African American study was to show how salient societies impact is that it can strike people as young as four in five as in that study before they really have even gotten started on life and developing a world view.

  • reason

    Just to clarify something in no way am I saying that you have to deviate from gender norms to be gay, there is gay people who natural fit the gender normative, there is also straight people that deviate from gender norms. Gender norms do not in any way define sexuality though it is understood in the wider world that they share a casual relationship or have a positive correlation but is actually believed among many that it is causation (which we know is not true). I was referring to that belief among many when I said “being straight (following gender norms).” Thought I should clarify that as not to offend anybody on accident.

  • UMB

    Today at Target (le shock!) I saw two lesbians with their 5-6 year old son who was wearing fairy wings (that he picked up in the Halloween costume section, presumably). I wanted to hug them all!

  • Ogre Magi

    That article linked to is very interesting,I was really shocked when I read about the little boy trying to cut off his penis!

  • Michael

    Define “normative.” Beyond all that, I, for one, think it’s rather immature for the fathers in this story’s picture to be wearing matching outfits, right down to their sunglasses. Kids often get picked on by other kids because of the actions of their parents. You do not have to be the coolest dad on the block, but you should at least refrain from appearing to be nine years old.

  • Chris H

    Normative: Of, pertaining to, or using a norm or standard

    Norm: a standard or model or pattern regarded as typical; “the current middle-class norm of two children per family”

    There aren’t necessarily inherent moral judgments in norms.
    But some things like gender norms only serve to oppress.

    I hope we can all agree on that.


    @Chris H:
    “But some things like gender norms only serve to oppress.” Agreed, because if something falls to fall within “gender norms” reasoning” then all things Gay become “un-normal”, which gives the homophobic haters “reasons” to deny the children of Gay couples a seat in a school or bullies to “right” to harrass kids are Gay………….


    Arrugh! Damm you Queerts for no preview feature!

    #11 ^ ^ ^ something fails to fall within…. ^ ^ ^

  • reason

    @PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS: I don’t think that you understand the article. It is talking about the actual gay parents “paranoia” into making sure their kids fit into gender norms that their boys are masculine and their daughters are feminine. A norm significance typical behavior. I doesn’t even talk about gay kids, it is talking about the GBLT parents making any of their kids straight or gay fit these gender norms. Their are straight kids that deviate from the norms and their saying a gay parent feels more pressured or driven to “correct” that action. With a gay kid they exhibit the same behavior in trying to steer them into gender norms.

    Things don’t become “un-normal” they become atypical.


    @reason: First off thanks for being “reasonable” in your message back instead of the usuall Queerty fire at someone you disagree with nothin but negativity………..

    What I am stewing about simply is the term “gender norm” meaning “typical” masculine boys who play sports and little girls dressed as princesses having their tea parties. Accepting such terms automatically labels any kids who don’t follow those “norms” as “abnormal” and subject to the bullying and harrassment that comes as part of that package…………Kids need to be allowed to be who they are, unfortunately because of adopting such terms and mind sets too many kids are stigmitized and deemed outcasts…….

  • reason

    @PLAYS WELL WITH OTHERS: I try to keep things civil, I think debate is good granted sometimes you learn something sometimes you teach something. Insults just stop the flow of information, sometimes on excellent topics like this one.

    I understand how categorization can be hurtful if one is included or excluded, but when conducting a study it is important to gather information. The psychologist do not create the gender norms they are merely reporting on their investigations, society creates these norms. The study is reporting on a truth that gay parents were found to be more likely or feel more pressured into making their boys “play sports” or girls have “tea parties.” I think that is a interesting and troubling finding. Don’t you think so? I also think it is good that the psychologist brought that to our attention so more gay parents can be aware of what they are doing. The terms that they are using like “gender normative” are just terms used to articulate their findings they are meant to pass judgment or purvey a position. You seem to be denoting it as a negative term when it is actually neutral, merely a descriptor: it is like saying this individual is an illegal immigrant which is merely a term describing someones status it is not making a judgment if that is a good or bad thing.

    One time one of my science professors, straight male, and I were out purchasing a toy for his daughter and he brought up gender norms in describing the toys geared towards boys and those toward females and how that can impact their educational achievement. He asked, is it any surprise that their is a big gap between women attaining doctorate degrees in engineering and physical sciences when all of the toys that are shaping interest in those things are geared towards boys? Sure enough in a physics class the number of women that have engaged in activities like building and firing rockets are minimal so it would be obvious that they would be at a collective disadvantage when trying to understand the conceptual aspects of classical mechanics. As in that cause the term gender norms is just a descriptor that allowed him to articulate his thought, it also had nothing to do with sexuality. The construct, behavior in this instance, is set by the population the term is just used to describe what any person could observe, it is not the reason that people behave that way (bullying and feeling their is something wrong with a boy acting feminine). If the terms did not exists the behaviors would still be their granted the terms were created to describe or explain preexisting behavior.

  • D Smith

    as a side not, im going to have to agree with reason on this one hun… you seem to be forgetting that trans people are also members of the community and that children DO in fact grow up trans… the article was in fact mentioning that LGBT parents feel pressure to raise gender normative children… as to what exactly gender normative means to a trans person… maybe you should educate yourself

  • ewe

    Many gay people are trying to emulate straight people. They got it all wrong. I for one have no desire to pretend to be straight acting in any way. Straight people are not at all on the same wavelength as me and i find their thinking and lifestyles to be a bore. I want to be me. I am perfect the way i am and i do not need to imitate those that are not like me at all. That is the best message of self respect any responsible parent can send.

  • ewe


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