Every time some new study (like this or this or this) comes out that praises lesbian parents for being the cream of the crop, we look at each other and groan. Inevitably, this study spawns many posts and articles, which then clog up our Facebook walls with self-righteous shares. Don’t get me wrong. Same-gender couples have a reason to want to prove themselves. There’s a lot of hate out there and, especially when it comes to the fight for marriage equality, the issue of same-gender couples not being acceptable or safe parents comes up over and over. The stereotype about predatory LGBTQ pedophiles is still out there, deeply rooted in some parts of the U.S. and world. We have reason to celebrate being declared not only fit to parent, but better at it.
Cue the music:
OK, I get it. But let’s shine a brighter light on those studies. As the researchers themselves will often assert, the study conclusions are more about the lack of difference between same-gender and different-gender parents than anything else. The success of lesbian parents is less about inherently being better people (Of course, we are, but you know…forget that for a second) and more about the kind of lesbian parents who are studied. For the 2010 study that got a lot of attention, the subjects were studied for 25 years. The study originated in 1986. If you were alive back then, think back to 1986. Remember where queer and trans* rights were in 1986. Or, rather, were not. 1986 is the year that the SCOTUS upheld Georgia’s sodomy laws, which banned oral or anal sex between “homosexuals.” It is the year that Surgeon General published the first government publication on AIDS and safer sex practices for gay men. It is the year after Rock Hudson died of AIDS and the year before ACT UP was founded. Yup, that’s 1986.
On top of this, the 2010 study only looked at a sample of parents who used artificial insemination to have kids. OK, now remember all we know about the cost of insemination procedures. Yeah, some of the parents may have used the turkey baster method, but more likely is that they were recruited for the study because they were inseminated by a fertility specialist. And that costs big bucks. It also means the couples were relatively young because they were able to conceive through insemination.
It also didn’t take into account the many same-gender couple who are raising kids from previous relationships, who got pregnant accidentally or on purpose through sex with a partner, or who are single and LGBTQ. Many of the folks I know who are LGBTQ parents have kids from previous relationships or partners–especially those who came out later in life. I only know a handful who conceived through fertility treatment. Those I do know have done so in the last decade or so, as LGBTQ rights have come a long way, as well as reproductive technology.
So who, in 1986, was able to, with their same-gender lesbian partner, have access to artificial insemination? Middle and upper class lesbians, mainly. Most likely, though I haven’t seen this data, they are probably college-educated and mostly white. The author of the study admits that the studied group was not geographically or socially diverse and suggests future studies try to correct this.
Studies like this are important to prove that queer and trans* parents are just as capable of raising kids as heterosexual couples. This info is necessary to combat the stereotype of the superior “traditional family.” However, writing a headline or status update that basically says that same-gender couples are better parents is not really true. Or at least, that hasn’t been proven. It ignores that these studies are looking at a small and very privileged few.
What it may prove may have more implications for reproductive justice than lesbian and gay rights. It may show that families where pregnancies are planned and wanted have more successful parenting outcomes–even more reason we should support and fund the health care people need (contraception, abortion, fertility care, etc) to plan pregnancy. And even more reason we should support parenting options like adoption–especially for same-gender couples who want kids but can’t get pregnant (by choice or by chance). It may prove that talking openly with your kids about self-identity and issues like sexual orientation and gender identity result in better parenthood outcomes. It may prove that relying less on outdated gender stereotypes results in emotionally healthier kids. Of course, we need different studies to prove these things, but if we want to draw sweeping conclusions, these conclusions make more sense than “Hey Conservatives! Gays are better parents than you!”
Even more troubling than making the sweeping conclusion is what it means when you create a higher standard of parenting for LGBTQI parents. Based on a standard set by very privileged LGB couples. The pressure to be perfect LGBTQI people and couples is already out there–the pressure to be normal, to have healthy relationships, to not make us look bad to the public or each other. But the reality is that our communities experience intimate partner violence at about the same rate as heterosexual couples. You can bet that child abuse, unfortunately, does happen in households with one or more LGBTQI parents. Let’s not sugarcoat the truth in the quest to be seen as valid and capable parents. Let’s not forget that there are many LGBTQI parents who live in poverty, who have children from previous relationships or partners, or who are single parents. Let’s not forget that class and race play a part in how we frame same-sex parenting…and how we make invisible members of our own community.