Over the past five days, excerpts of Who’s Your Daddy? And Other Writings on Queer Parenting have appeared to celebrate Family Day. The purpose of this has been to maintain an inclusive idea of family, and to celebrate those families who represent the ongoing discussion on how families can exist in so many different constructions. Today, “A Queer Spawn Manifesto” by Jamie K. Evans, has been reprinted in its entirety to give an idea of where the discussion will continue into the next generation LGBTQ families. For more from this wonderful anthology, check out our posts over the last few days with excerpts from Syrus Marcus Ware, Emma Donaghue, Elizabeth Ruth and N. Gitanjali Lena. And if you are in the Toronto area and wish to participate in the discussion about queering our bookshelves, check out our post on today’s event with LGBTQ Parenting Network at the Sherbourne Health Centre. Happy Family Day! Now without further ado:
A Queer Spawn Manifesto: Empowerment and Recognition
Jamie K. Evans
With new reproductive technologies and the somewhat friendlier attitude towards LGBTQ people, it is increasingly possible for LGBTQ couples and single people to form families. These families are queer families, and children with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer parents are queer spawn or gaybies. Queer spawn hold a very particular, peculiar, and special place in the queer community and in the straight world’s conception of what family is. Rampant heterosexism and homophobia, as well as ageism, have led queer spawn to be ignored, to be made invisible, and to feel alienated from their own existence. I, as a white female-identified daughter of queer mothers, am ready to push for representation and validation. I am ready to stand for a voice that has been lost, suppressed, and ignored on many different levels.
Representation in the Media
We live in a culture that is constantly bombarded by the media. Be it in the form of TV shows, movies, advertisements, or the radio, our culture is deeply embedded with media messages. Where is my family represented in the media? Where am I validated and acknowledged as existing and being legitimate? Recently, on its True Life series, MTV featured a show on teens who have gay parents. The show followed a teenage daughter of a lesbian couple who was competing to be her high school drum major, a college-aged son of a lesbian couple who was attempting to make contact with his sperm donor father, and a daughter of a gay couple who was going to an overnight event for students accepted at Wesleyan College in Middletown, Connecticut. The first two queer spawn featured more prominently in the program because, like any good story, they were experiencing a conflict. For the teen daughter competing to be a drum major in her conservative town, becoming the drum major (or the leader of the marching band) was a sought-after and highly regarded position. She was afraid that her advocacy for gay people would affect her possibility of winning the title. The college-aged son was shown finding his donor dad and finally having the chance to speak to the man who contributed to his being; it was tense and emotional. And the third queer spawn? Well, she wasn’t featured that much because she didn’t have a major conflict. She was boring because her story was so normal. She had no struggles to overcome to prove that her gay dads were good fathers or that she turned out okay. The show didn’t delve into her experience as the biracial daughter of two gay dads or show her transition from living with her parents to going to college.
When queer families are represented in the media, they are represented as having a problem or an issue to overcome. They fear they won’t be accepted by their peers because of their family, they wonder who their sperm donor is, and so on. The first two queer spawn featured in the show were successfully portrayed as seeming like any other family. The girl proved that her moms were loving and supportive just like “normal” parents when she was going through her anxiety and feeling nervous over the drum major competition. When the boy searched out and made contact with his sperm donor, his moms were emotional and supportive like “normal” parents. And the third queer spawn had no real conflict, no dilemma to overcome to prove that she was “normal,” so she wasn’t represented as much as the other two. Throughout the show, I wondered how families like mine would be represented. They would never pick my family for that show … my family of five moms and a straight dad, where do we fit in? Queer families are not neat cookie-cutter gay versions of heterosexual families.
The framework in which queer families are expected to exist is one that shows how normal they are despite their obvious differences. Because so much attention is given to these families to see whether the children will somehow turn out “normal,” gay, or straight, there is no room for the children to air grievances they may have with their parents. Being queer does not mean being super human. Queer families experience abuse and pain just like any other family. Queer spawn need to be able to speak about the not-so-fabulous aspects of their upbringing, if there are any. Queer spawn cannot carry the burden of heterosexual society’s desire for model children. I say this with caution because as soon it is aired that a child with two moms has been abused, the abuse will be blamed on the mothers’ “lesbianism” and their being unfit parents. When queer spawn can openly claim the abuse and pain in their families and when such grievances are seen as a product of parenting and not of the parents’ sexual orientation, then we will know that queer spawn and queer families are free from stigma. Even with other challenges, such as struggling with academics or being bullied, children of LGBTQ parents often confront the issue that all of their problems are somehow linked to their family even though they are simply the regular challenges of adolescence.
Who can claim a queer spawn identity, and why is it important to do
that? The ability to self-identify as queer spawn fosters empowerment and has the potential to build communities. I do not care if your parents were married for ten years before your dad came out as being trans, you have the right and the option to claim the title of queer spawn and to be a member of the queer community. It does not matter if you were born through donor insemination to your lesbian moms, or your mom just came out, you can call yourself queer spawn regardless of the years, months, days, or moments of “experience” you’ve had with queer families and parents. The realities of queer families cannot be painted as a neat and tidy picture. Queer people have been oppressed, and thus their ability to be safe, content, and supported in themselves may take some time. Our stories of how we came to be are what make us so powerful — we need to share them.
Our families are formed in a myriad of ways outside the white husband and wife paradigm. For this reason, there are many interracial queer families with white parents and children of colour. What does this mean for queer spawn? Well, in a society where their basic family structure is already not represented, it means it is doubly confusing and frustrating to be the kid of colour in a family of white people.
If parents adopt a kid internationally or interracially, it is the parents’ responsibility to educate themselves so they can offer to their child the gifts that her/his culture has to offer (be it language, food, religion, etc.) as well as help their kid prepare to be a youth and an adult of colour in a racist society. Race can be a tricky subject to talk about because it brings up issues of power, privilege, and oppression. It also may bring up issues of not fitting in or not belonging in the family or in the community. Queer spawn of colour may feel angry that they have white parents; they may feel angry that they didn’t get to grow up in a family that looks like them. This anger, frustration, and confusion are important. If a white parent adopts a child of colour they need to understand the consequences this may have. They need to be prepared to deal with their child’s anger, frustration, and hurt if that comes up for them. Parents should be ready to talk to their child about these issues, to create safe spaces for him/her, and to acknowledge the identity confusion the child may experience. Ultimately, most queer families are formed out of love instead of blood, and that is a beautiful thing to be celebrated and acknowledged!
Queer spawn fit into a unique and sometimes very confusing role in the queer community. We can fit in two distinct ways: as erotically queer or as culturally queer. For example, consider Little Johnny who was brought up by his dyke moms and most likely was exposed to a lot of queer culture. However, say Johnny grows up (and now wants to be called John) and realizes that he is straight. This makes John erotically straight but culturally queer. Where is he accepted and valued in the queer community? The fact that he has seventeen Pride Parades under his belt and grew up with drag queens for aunties is ignored in the face of the fact that he dates heterosexually. He is an ally because queer is his cultural reference. This is a delicate subject, one that I often find myself struggling with. It took me a long time to understand that I could identify as queer without failing the expectation I felt was put on me by the heterosexist world, that is, that I needed to be straight in order for my parents to be good parents. I felt deeply protective of my parents, that somehow for them to succeed at being queer parents they also needed to only have straight kids. Over time I have learned that this isn’t true. What gets tricky is when someone who is straight and takes up a lot of space with their straight or male privilege asks to be included in queer communities. While they are a part of the queer community because of their family, when one has those kinds of privileges they must be hyper self-aware and be accountable for the kind of space they take up in a queer space. Identities are complex and layered, there is never a simple answer, but there needs to be space for queer spawn in the queer community. Queer spawn are living proof that queer people exist — we must be included in queer studies and the queer movement! Queer spawn need to be represented and validated in psychology books, case studies, health classes, sex education classes, and so on. Dr. Freud, what is my Oedipal complex?
Where are the queer spawn from working-class and poor families? Class comes with many other privileges besides the obvious one of easy access to money. Working-class LGBTQ families experience a range of economic challenges that are complicated by their inability, in many places, to use traditional means such as marriage to recognize their families and access healthcare, benefits, and other economic privileges. For example, my biological mom had to move to a town in Central California in order to find affordable housing. However, this town was also extremely heterosexist and overtly anti-gay. This meant that due to her economic situation she was forced to live in a place where she could not be open about herself. As a butch lesbian, she had to be aware of where she was safe and where she was not. She could not be open about her life or her family unless she knew she could trust the person; in fear of her safety, she had to be closeted. A struggle is not a struggle unless all are included. There must be some sort of outreach and connection made to those queer families who need to remain closeted for economic or safety reasons. It is not cowardly or a disservice to other queer people to remain closeted. Not all of us live in communities that are supportive. We need to respect and understand why some people cannot come out. However, for those of us who can be out and open about our families, we need to let families who may be living in fear know that they do not stand alone and that other queer families exist.
Community and Voice
The summer after my first year in college I took an internship with an organization called COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere). COLAGE is the only organization by and for people with queer families. We had an event that summer where we showed a documentary a few queer spawn had made about their experiences. I brought three of my moms and my three younger siblings to the event. One of my moms was utterly shocked when she saw how moved I was to finally find, after twenty years of being a queer spawn, other people my age that were also queer spawn. I was annoyed and I was surprised! My mom had always sought out a community of lesbians and queers. In them she finds comfort, support, and the best thing of all — not having to explain or justify her existence or who she loves. Just as queers need to seek out other queer friends and communities, so do queer spawn. I did not realize how many of us there are until I was at this event. I was sitting in a room of 200 of us in the Mission District of San Francisco, and I couldn’t stop crying, which was odd because I never had any struggles with my queer parents and I was never teased or ridiculed. The thing I realized at that moment was that I had never been represented, I had never been validated, and my family had never been validated. I remember my mom telling me that she watched the look on my twelve-year-old brother’s face that day. She said he couldn’t stop smiling because he seemed in awe to be around his people, to be around kids like him. That night I felt like I had found a home. I had found something that I didn’t know I so desperately needed: community and voice.
I cannot stress how important this sense of having and belonging to a queer spawn community is to queer spawn. It was not until that day in San Francisco that I realized my place and my validity in the queer world. Queer spawn need to have their own community and to be the authority of their experiences. Sure, their parents are the queer parents, but the children are the ones who are of and from those queer parents. That is why the queer struggle is intimately connected to queer spawn’s empowerment and representation. Queer spawn hold a unique identity, it is one that is complex, multi-layered, and ever-changing. I call for queer spawn to have the power to identify themselves as queer spawn, to build a community of queer spawn, and to explore the fluid nature of the identity as they grow and learn. Queer spawn can do great things as they are often at the cusp of many identities. I hope in the future we will be celebrated as we find our communities and voice.