Lesbian Mothers Making Men

The Lesbian Baby Boom Is Also a Baby Boy Boom. How Are These Lads Being Raised?

You see them everywhere in New York City and increasingly in the suburbs, in a family tableau that is at once new and age-old: two mothers and the child they share. Rosie O'Donnell's crusade for homosexual adoption may have dominated the news, but lesbians and gay men have always had children in all sorts of family configurations—whether through adoption, previous heterosexual relationships, or (increasingly) by choosing to have biological offspring as out men and women. Only in the last decade, however, have they shouldered themselves front and center into the group photo of the American family.

It is hard to say precisely how much company Rosie has, or how large the playgroup of children being raised by LGBT parents is. No demographic studies have been performed to determine anything close to an exact population, and numbers extrapolated from academic studies vary wildly. Lisa Bennett, deputy director of the FamilyNet project at the Human Rights Campaign, cites an analysis of past research by the American Academy of Pediatrics and sociologists Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz that estimates there are between 1 million and 9 million American children under age 18 living with gay parents. As for how many parents these kids have, Stacey and Biblarz project there are somewhere between 800,000 and 7 million lesbian, gay or bisexual parents. The very notion of a reliable count of LGBT parents is incendiary, because neither the government nor any research institution has dared to fund a conclusive study.

No matter their numbers, these parents are setting legal precedents and causing persistent, low-grade social outrage. In February, when the Alabama Supreme Court denied a lesbian mother custody of her children by her marriage to her ex-husband, Judge Roy Moore achieved new heights of homophobic rhetoric with his claim that the mother's lesbian relationship made her an unfit parent prima facie and that homosexuality is "destructive to a basic building block of society—the family."

illustration: Yuko Shimizu

Earlier this year, in a public decision that might not move Judge Moore but could help out Rosie and the myriad lesbian mothers of Park Slope, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared that "children who are born to or adopted by one member of a same-sex couple deserve the security of two legally recognized parents." Said the academy in a statement: "A large body of professional literature provides evidence that children with parents who are homosexual can have the same advantages for health, adjustment and development as can children whose parents are heterosexual."

The AAP is sanctioning the inevitable. Children from so-called "alternative families" are busting out all over. Last fall the New York Post's Page Six threw a little baby shower of its own: a news item about several high-profile women who are unattached to men but are intimately attached to other mothers. Rosie's partner, Kelli Carpenter, is said to be pregnant. Not to mention Lindsay and Melanie on Queer as Folk, whose son, Gus, is fathered by the show's sulky protagonist, Brian. Among lesbian moms, we've even encountered that unfortunate fact of human relationships, de facto divorce: Rocker Melissa Etheridge shares custody of her kids with her ex, Julie Cypher; David Crosby is the father.

The greatest cultural change may stem not just from the sexual orientation of those two moms but from the sex of their child. According to the latest information from Xytex and California Cryo, the two largest sperm banks in the United States, the anecdotal conviction that lesbians who get pregnant via donor insemination are more likely to give birth to boys rather than girls is not true. But all women who choose to undergo donor insemination have at least a 50 percent chance of bearing sons.

That two women could raise a boy to a man without warping his manhood is an idea that challenges the preconceptions of politicians, psychologists, pediatricians, priests, and patriarchs. And what is even more revolutionary, lesbian mothers may be raising better boys.

As a research psychologist in San Francisco, I've long been fascinated with the sons of lesbians. Since 1996, I've studied the lives and characters of 16 pre-adolescent boys, all of them the sons from birth of lesbian couples. I compared them with 16 boys in heterosexual families. I've talked for countless hours with the sons of lesbians, and watched them play and interact with their siblings, their friends, and their mothers. I've interviewed their mothers, too—strong, professional, middle-class women in intact relationships. (Some are the biological mothers of their sons; others are what I call social mothers.) None of the boys had dads in the house, and only a few had a Queer-as-Brian sperm donor down the street, but all of them had men in their lives: coaches, uncles, neighbors, admirable figures from sports or history.

How does a boy figure out to be a boy without a full-time man around to show him? That question is perhaps the central family issue that Americans debate today. Thanks to the teenage terrorists at Columbine, the high divorce rate, and the rising proportion of males being reared in fatherless homes, our society has been in a froth about the condition of America's young males, who (no matter their parenting) seem prey to confusion, resentment, and destructiveness. If only fathers were more fatherly, we are told, boys would learn to be good men. Sons of lesbians would seem to offer a perfect test for the apparent culture-wide trauma of the delinquent father.

Next Page »