Lesbian Mothers Making Men

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

They learn early how to negotiate the outside environment, gauge other people's motives, and assess how open they dare to be in specific situations. Yet stigmatization may matter less than how children react to it. I saw how, with enough support from their families, these boys were developing skills at thinking independently and standing up for what they believed. This distinguishes them from many boys with straight parents.

Perhaps as a by-product of the discrimination they face, sons of lesbians tend to be more sensitive to others and more sensitive to the good and bad feelings in themselves, as psychologist Charlotte Patterson found as early as 1996. The boys in my study also tended to be more thoughtful and measured in how they exert themselves in the world. When Henry told me the story of David and Goliath, he concluded by saying, "Well, I like David's strategy. I mean, Goliath is one of those guys that just goes out there and hits. David thinks about it, uses his mind and brute force." Henry applied David's approach to the politics of his own playground. He won't shoot from the hip, but he won't wimp out, either.

illustration: Yuko Shimizu

So will they grow up to be gay? That question pierces the dark heart of cultural anxiety around LGBT parenting. Its very supposition is problematic. Certainly, sons of lesbians ponder sexual orientation, including their own, at an early age. I heard a few worry that because their mothers were gay they would have to be, too. But others were more matter-of-fact. "I'm too young to think about that," Kenny said to me. "I'll know if I'm gay or straight when I'm older." Based on the evidence offered by their boyhoods, most sons of lesbians will ultimately grow up to be straight, if only because most boys grow up to be straight. If we believe that homosexuality is neither a choice nor an unlucky orientation, then we can relax and trust that these young men will find out what possibility comes naturally to them. Unquestionably, they will have to establish the terms of their sexuality with more self-consciousness than most other young adults. I did find that they related to other females (myself included) with great respect and openness, which augurs well for romantic relations as adults.

The sons of lesbians I studied promise to offer us the best characteristics of men, as well as the ones we most value in women. Growing up without ingrained, preordained ideas of gender roles, they look for and find traditionally masculine and feminine attributes in their mothers. When they pitch in with cooking, cooking becomes a masculine activity. Nothing is forbidden to them—including the prospect of exploring their sexuality, no matter where it ultimately leads them, with generosity and creativity. Their innate maleness ratified by their mothers, these boys are learning a language of emotional literacy never before documented in our sons. Metaphorically and literally, they will move into manhood willing to ask for directions.

As part of the research protocol, names and identifying details have been changed.

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