I was really upset to read Kellie Maloney’s comments, reported in GayStarNews, where she stated that she didn’t believe same-sex couples can or should raise children.
This is an issue that is very close to my heart, having been raised by my mum and her partner, and my dad and his wife. So I wanted to respond to Maloney’s comments, and to those who agree with her that there is something wrong with the way I was raised.
I find it utterly confounding that today people still believe the gender of a parent determines their ability to parent: that a family of a mum and dad is inevitably better than a family of a mum and a mum, or a dad and a dad.
That in spite of everything we hear about abuse, neglect and violence within heterosexual marriage, people still believe that a husband and wife are innately better parents because one has an XX chromosome and one has an XY.
Children don’t need a mum and a dad to flourish and be happy. They don’t need a mum and a mum, or a dad and a dad, either. What children need is love. They need love, and care, and support, and to know they are safe. They need to know they are listened to, that they have parent/s or carers they can depend upon. They need boundaries and affection and cuddles. They need love.
A husband and wife are not immediately better at providing these things than two women parents, or two men parents. In fact, studies show that children raised in gay families are doing just as well, if not better, than their straight-raised peers. Anne Goldberg, quoted in the article, says that this could be because gay parents tend to be more committed and motivated than their straight counterparts.
Now, as it happens I don’t pay much mind to these studies, although it does provide a smug sense of satisfaction that so much research proves the bigots wrong over and over again. But anyway! I don’t think creating a hierarchy of parenting is helpful. Why? Well, for all the reasons above. I don’t believe sexuality creates good or bad parents. I believe that good parents are ones who love and care for their child, regardless of who they choose to have sex with.
If you believe that straight people are always better parents than gay people because they are straight then I am sorry to disappoint you, but you are homophobic. And if there is one thing that causes pain and distress to the children of gay parents, it’s not their parents’ sexuality: it’s the homophobia of other people.
I grew up in a loving and stable home with parents who loved me. Of course, like any family, we had our ups and downs, our rows and our spats. But fundamentally, I was loved. I lived in a home that was full of love – mum and her partner’s love for me and my brother, and for each other. And when I stayed at my dad’s, it was the same – a home of love. That’s what matters to children. Being loved.
Sadly, I have friend who didn’t have that care and stability. I have friends who grew up in very unhappy and violent homes. And guess what? Their parents were straight. And happily, I have friends who grew up in loving and supportive homes. And their parents were straight too: because sexuality isn’t an indicator of your ability to parent.
You can be straight and an abusive bully. You can be gay and an abusive bully. You can be straight and a kind and loving parent. And you can be gay and a kind and loving parent.
The only thing I found difficult growing up around having gay parents was other people’s homophobia. And that was not a problem caused by my mum’s sexuality, but by the bigotry and cruelty of others. I cannot emphasise this enough. The problem that children of gay people face is other people’s homophobia. And that was not a problem caused by my parents. It is a problem that homophobic bigots cause, and it is a problem that is solved by tackling homophobia – not by condemning gay parents.
I don’t understand homophobia. I don’t understand how someone can be so cruel as to sit in judgement of my family, and tell me that the way I was raised was wrong, with no consideration of how that might make me feel.
Why would anyone want to make a child feel that their family is second-rate? Why would anyone want to go on TV or stand in a pulpit or in the House of Commons and tell a child that they have been raised wrong, simply because of who their parents fell in love with? Why would anyone care so little about children that they would happily and deliberately make a child feel unhappiness and anxiety that there is something wrong with their family?
So I’ll say it again. If you believe that straight parents are innately better simply because they are straight then you are homophobic.
All people like me are asking for is for people to stop telling us our families are inherently worse, simply because of the sexuality of our (in my case one set of) parents. To let us live our lives, free from bigotry and judgement. Which – as it happens – is what Maloney is asking for, in coming out as a trans woman. It has been heartening to see the overwhelmingly positive response she has received – a real wonderful signifier of changing attitudes.
In 2014, it really shouldn’t be much to ask, should it?
Sian Norris is a writer and feminist activist. She is the founder and director of the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival and runs the successful feminist blog sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com. Her first novel, Greta and Boris: A Daring Rescue was published in 2013 by Our Street Books.