Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is

Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is

by Abigail Garner

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What is it really like to grow up with gay parents?

Abigail Garner was five years old when her mother and father divorced and her dad came out as gay. Growing up immersed in gay culture, she now calls herself a "culturally queer" heterosexual woman. As a child, she often found herself in the middle of the political and moral debates surrounding lesbian, gay,

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What is it really like to grow up with gay parents?

Abigail Garner was five years old when her mother and father divorced and her dad came out as gay. Growing up immersed in gay culture, she now calls herself a "culturally queer" heterosexual woman. As a child, she often found herself in the middle of the political and moral debates surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) parenting. At the age of twenty-two, she began to speak publicly about her family and has since become a nationally recognized advocate for the estimated 10 million children growing up with LGBT parents. The creator of FamiliesLikeMine.com, Garner has written a deeply personal and much-needed book about gay parenting, from the seldom-heard perspective of grown children raised in these families.

Based on eight years of activism, combined with interviews with more than fifty sons and daughters, Families Like Mine debunks the anti-gay myth that these children grow up damaged and confused. At the same time, Garner's book refutes the popular pro-gay sentiment that these children turn out "just like everyone else." In addition to the typical stresses of growing up, the unique pressures these children face are not due to their parents' sexuality, but rather to homophobia and prejudice. Using a rich blend of journalism and memoir, Garner offers empathetic yet unapologetic opinions about the gifts and challenges of being raised in families that are often labeled "controversial."

As more LGBT people are pursuing parenthood and as the visibility of gay parenting is rapidly increasing, many of the questions about these families focus on the "best interests" of their children. Eloquent and sophisticated, Families LikeMine addresses these questions, providing an invaluable insider's perspective for LGBT parents, their families, and their allies.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In the children's book classic Heather Has Two Mommies, Leslea Newman offered kids a chance to read about nontraditional families. Now Garner, who created the site FamiliesLikeMine.com, attempts to do the same for teens, young adults and their families by interweaving her experiences growing up with a gay father and straight mother with those of other children who were raised by lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender parents. She intends "to advocate for our families to be just that: families." Although there is no exact figure for the number of children who have grown up in LGBT families over the past two decades (estimates vary from one million to 16 million), the issues Garner raises about the messages that we pass on to our children-on what a "well-adjusted" child is; on the risks and advantages of coming out (for both parents and children); and on the effects of a "homo-hostile" world-affect increasing numbers of children whose parents are straight or queer. Despite Garner's decision to interview only children in their 20s and 30s, their concerns about finding a way to name family members (e.g., should a lesbian mother's long-term partner be called a "step-mom"? Are that step-mom's children stepsisters or -brothers?) and learning how to maintain nontraditional families in the wake of a parent's death or the breakup of a relationship between parent and partner, will reverberate for young people confronting similar difficulties. Nor does Garner flinch from addressing the complex issues surrounding what it means for children raised in LGBT families, herself included, to be, in the words of advocate Stefan Lynch, "culturally queer, erotically straight." Agent, Joy E. Tutela. (Apr.) Forecast: Many people will find this a helpful book; its all-encompassing approach should draw in not only children of LGBT parents, but also friends and family, teachers, therapists and clergy who work with them. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Abigail Garner's parents divorced when she was five, and she grew up knowing that her father, partnered with Russ, is gay. As a young adult, she went looking for others like herself, grown children of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered parents. She did not find much in the way of organizations or support, so she set out to start her own. In very readable prose, she examines growing up in a queer household from every angle, using her own experiences and those of about fifty other adult children of LGBT parents. From the offhanded cruelty of the Pope's 2003 pronouncement that allowing children to live with their LGBT parents was the same as doing violence to them, to instructions to parents on coming out to children, to the idea of heterosexual privilege, and the effects of AIDS on even those families who are not "positive," Garner does a good job of covering the bases. This book will perform also as a handbook for LGBT parents, and it would function as a support for teens in LGBT families, presenting them with true stories of teens who have been where they are now. The twenty- and thirty-somethings interviewed talk about their childhoods and their current feelings. Perhaps this title is not for every library, but where there is a need, it does an excellent job of addressing the issues of a growing population. The introduction explains the genesis of the book and includes the requisite justification of vocabulary used. The text is followed by a list of support organizations, films, and lists of books for teens, for children, and for adults. VOYA CODES: 4Q 2P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Senior High,defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2004, HarperCollins, 256p.; Index. Biblio., Ages 15 to Adult.
—Timothy Capehart

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.27(w) x 9.27(h) x 0.97(d)

Read an Excerpt

Families Like Mine

Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is
By Garner, Abigail

HarperCollins Publishers

ISBN: 0060527579

Chapter One

Children of LGBT Parents:
Growing Up Under Scrutiny

It's hard to grow up under a microscope. As kids, we are expected to talk about very adult issues –– sex, civil rights, legal and political issues. What other situations are there where people talk to kids and then legislate from there?
-- Jesse Gilbert, 30

Many times throughout my life people have been shocked when they find out my father is gay. "I had no idea," they say. "You'd never know just by looking at you." They make me feel like a rare species as their eyes scan me for any abnormalities they missed that could have tipped them off. Ladies and Gentleman, step right up! Look closely at the child of a gay dad. No horns! No tail! In fact, she could pass for anybody's child.

What do people think kids of LGBT parents "look" like? If they don't know any personally, they might believe the anti-gay rhetoric about why children shouldn't be raised by gay parents: it's abnormal, it's deviant; the children will grow up confused, lacking values and morals; the children will be recruited into homosexuality. This rhetoric is what stands in the way of LGBT parents gaining parental rights equal to those of straight parents.

Every time religious leaders, conservative politicians, or even radio talk-show hosts express their homo-hostile opinions, children in these families cannot help but notice. In 2003, the Vatican released a document opposing gay marriage which stated: "allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children." This cruel allegation completely ignored the fact that there are children who are already in these families. These children were being told by a major world religion that being raised by their parents was "not conducive to their full human development."

This Vatican statement is a recent and highly visible example of the homo-hostile rhetoric to which children of LGBT parents are subjected every day. When I was a child, I did not know other people who had gay parents, so when I consistently overheard homo-hostile opinions about gay people's kids being really messed up, even I wondered if it was true. I considered my brother and me to be fortunate for beating the odds and being raised by a normal gay dad, not like all those other gay parents who are detrimental to their children's well-being.

Pervasive homo-hostile views are effectively countered by the increased visibility of LGBT families who are gradually shifting social attitudes about gay rights, same-sex marriage, and gay parenting. In March 2002, Rosie O'Donnell officially declared that she is gay in a television interview with Diane Sawyer on Primetime Thursday. Rosie's interview called attention to a law in Florida that bans gay people from adopting children. "I don't think America knows what a gay parent looks like," O'Donnell said. "I am the gay parent." The program, which also featured interviews with children adopted and fostered by gay parents, reached 14.4 million households. 4 Hardworking LGBT nonprofit organizations can only dream about having that kind of far-reaching impact in one night.

Bringing LGBT parents and their children into the public eye is necessary for there to be mainstream awareness of LGBT families. These real families show the public that concerns about children raised in LGBT families are based on prejudice and homophobia. Florida's gay-parent adoption ban passed in 1977, but before the Primetime special aired, most people who attended my lectures were shocked to learn the law existed. Now when I refer to the law, more people in the audiences nod in recognition; introducing the personal impact of a public issue is what has made the difference.

With conservative voices adamantly arguing that children are damaged by having parents who are gay, it is not surprising that more reasonable voices in the gay-parenting debate strive to demonstrate how "normal" these families are. At the same time, however, children with LGBT parents who see how they are represented publicly begin to internalize a paradox: to be accepted for being different, they first have to prove that they are "just like" everyone else. LGBT parents need to consider how this public discourse -- both positive and negative -- affects their children. Inevitably their children consume the same media, which in turn shapes how these kids think and feel about their own families.

In the past few years several professional organizations have released statements of support for the rights of gay parents and their children. Among these organizations are the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Bar Association. Each statement makes a positive step toward acceptance for LGBT family rights, but they also reinforce to children how vulnerable their families currently are. The right for LGBT families to exist is the subject of debate, and children begin to figure out that the outcome of this debate rests on how they "turn out."

One teen remembers being approached by a local TV station that wanted to interview her about "what it was like to grow up in a lesbian household." She laughed at the notion of her life being presented like an exposé. She ate cereal in the morning, went to school, studied music, did homework, and hung out with friends. "What is it," she wondered out loud, "that they think they will find in a lesbian household?"

Even a well-meaning reporter who asks an eight-year-old, "What is it like having two moms?" suggests to the child that she should have a formed opinion about her family -- something that other kids her age are not expected to do. When so many people are determined to find out what it is like to grow up in these families, a major part of the growing-up experience is the realization that how you turn out matters to more than just your own parents.


Excerpted from Families Like Mine by Garner, Abigail Excerpted by permission.
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