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.