A recent study published in the journal Child Development found that, in terms of psychosocial health, school behavior, and romantic relationships, teens with two mothers develop as well as those raised by heterosexual parents. As a high school teacher and the daughter of same-sex parents, my academic assessment of this finding is a resounding “Duh!” What the study doesn’t mention is the advantage children of same-sex parents have in their romantic relationships.
Like thousands of people across the country, I grew up with two mothers and emerged from their home at age eighteen, not as a raging bull-dyke intent on decimating the male population, but as a well-adjusted, healthy feminist. I don’t mind if a man holds the door open for me as long as I have equal opportunity to use the power tools. I belong to several organizations of adult kids with gay/lesbian parents. Lately, we’ve been chatting about how our parents have helped us to get dates and sex and even marriage. In e-mails with the subject heading “Gay Parents Equal Social Currency,” we twenty- and thirty-somethings debate the merits of amorous conquest preceded by the aphrodisiacal statement, “I’ve got two daddies.”
As teens, some of us tried tentatively to play the gay-parent card, then cringed with guilt for capitalizing on the queerness of our kinfolk. Others flaunted the fact of our dual dads or moms. Like the brawny single man who walks his golden retriever puppy at my local dog park every evening, we tugged our same-sex parents along behind us, hoping to impress the objects of our affection.
Author and speaker Abigail Garner grew up with two fathers. In her book Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is, she notes that when it comes to attracting love interests, straight sons of same-sex parents have an edge over straight daughters of same-sex parents. “Women find it fascinating to find a ‘different’ kind of man,” she says. “They perceive men with gay or lesbian parents to be more sensitive, interesting, or at least mysterious.” The intrigue of a partner with same-sex parents has been magnified in this era of TV’s Queer as Folk, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and the media’s celebration of metrosexuals (read “men who moisturize”).
Metrosexuals were exactly the type of males I sought to attract in high school—sensitive boys who found me fascinating, if for no other reason than the fact of my two mothers. If the majority of my dates turned out to be gay, no matter; we remained friends, spending Friday evenings analyzing Victor/Victoria and Paul Bartel’s Lust in the Dust until we both found new boyfriends.
Abigail Garner writes that “daughters find that being open about their families is an efficient filter for finding men of good character. If a man is scared off by a woman coming from a gay family, she’d rather know right away so she is free to find a man worth her while.” In college, I used my mothers as a sort of litmus test to eliminate conservatives and homophobes from the dating pool. The moment a man offered to buy me a drink, I’d ask with calculated casualness, “By the way, my mothers are lesbians.” If my potential suitor recoiled, I beat an immediate retreat. But if he said, “Hey, that’s cool,” he found a warm spot in my heart and in my bed.
Looking back a decade later, I’m embarrassed to recount my mate-attracting tactics. The parents of my various boyfriends held little interest for me, so why should the fact that I have two mothers make any difference to my partner? The truth is, it made a difference to me. Having same-sex parents set me apart, elevating me to the level of hip and eccentric in a way that my fishnet stockings and Smiths’ albums never could. An online acquaintance of mine agrees. She found out about her father’s homosexuality during a vacation from college. At his summer cottage, she met his boyfriend—an HIV-positive professional clown.
“I’m not above using this fact of my exotic past to woo boys (and girls), to get sympathy, to get attention,” she admits. “I have played the AIDS card. And felt a little ashamed about it. The Clown With AIDS card. The nothing-sadder-than-a-cowboy-clown-with-AIDS-dressed-in-his-sheepskin-chaps-for-the-hospice-Halloween-party card. It’s kind of a gatekeeper: anyone who can deal with this image with humor, sensitivity and the proper amount of irreverence has a much higher chance of seeing me naked.”
I suspect this recent study may be the first of many to explore the lives of people who grew up with same-sex parents. We’re a unique demographic—one on-line acquaintance suggests that many of us are “culturally queer, erotically straight.” Most of us are open-minded, just, and acutely aware of any threat to civil rights. In fact, many of us are more politically active than our same-sex parents.
At 31, I laid down all my cards the afternoon I met the man who would become my life partner. We stood in our local dog park and threw tennis balls for our mutts as we talked. “I have two mommies,” I said. “Great,” he replied. “We like to watch Victor/Victoria on Thanksgiving and go to drag shows.” “Excellent.” “I’m marching with pflag in the Fourth of July Parade. Want to join me?” “Absolutely.” We’ve just celebrated our fourth anniversary.
Melissa Hart is the author of The Assault of Laughter: A Daughter’s Journey Back to her Lesbian Mother (Windstorm 2005).