Last fall, I watched a reality show on MTV (whose target population is, of course, adolescents) called “Generation Cryo,” in which a lesbian couple’s daughter went on a search for her sperm donor and her biological half-siblings. Not only was I fascinated at learning how this impacted the different children and how a parent could best support them, but I was so moved at the realization that “donor kids” around the country could see themselves, their families, and their experiences reflected on a TV show. And their peers could be exposed to such an alternative family structure and begin to see it as not so abnormal, opening up opportunities for conversation and disclosure.
My wife and I are also watching “The Fosters,” which appeals to me both as a queer woman and as a social worker in foster care. It amazes me that there can be a show on ABC Family, targeting middle school and high school kids, showing a blended family with same-sex parents, not to mention the real complexity of co-parenting with an ex-husband, incorporating teens in foster care into the family unit, and wanting biological parenthood for the partner who has never given birth. The network doesn’t shy away from the real details of this, either. The parents do not act like friends or roommates. There is just as much physical affection, cues that sex is about to happen, and fighting as would be included in any other family TV show. The show even delves into some areas that are specific to queer couples, such as the tendency to stay friends with exes and the jealousy that can create for the current partner. They have it right on.
But this isn’t just about me seeing ourselves reflected on TV (though it’s ridiculously validating, I admit!). It’s about the exposure for people to whom this type of family and life is otherwise foreign.
Sometimes I get scared thinking about raising children in this world as part of a queer family. I think about how now, as just a couple, we are hesitant to be outwardly affectionate toward one another in certain places or situations where we worry about drawing attention or even danger. I wonder how we will deal with that as a family, when we will have to prioritize safety and when we will have to challenge our discomfort in order not to pass down a legacy of shame to our children, making them feel any less valid as individuals or as a family because of other people’s ignorance and fear. Our kids will go to a school where they may be the only Jews and the only students with two mothers; despite being in Long Island, only a block from NYC, we are in a very Catholic neighborhood and I’ve yet to notice other queer families (though that certainly doesn’t mean they don’t exist).
But much of the time, I feel relieved that we are planning to grow our family at exactly this time. Our marriage is legal both in our state and federally. We belong to an affirming suburban synagogue that not only tolerates but supports and celebrates our family constellation, asking us for advice on how to be more LGBT-inclusive.
Mass media is hugely instrumental in exposing and normalizing LGBT families. ”The Fosters” has mirrored our conception journey week for week (well, until recently when the character Lena got pregnant–we’re not there yet!). We chose a donor, and that week the couple was having a conversation about a donor. We began insemination, and that week the couple spoke with their doctor about insemination. It was wild! And it’s nice to know we have friends and coworkers that watch this show, that even if we aren’t talking to them about our process, it’s something they’re being exposed to and informed about so we don’t have to be such a strange phenomenon.
As scary as it can be to embark on a journey where I know we will be a minority with a certain amount of emotional and even physical risk, I am encouraged by where our culture is heading with normalizing and including LGBT families. Fifteen years ago, this was unheard of (remember The Ellen Show fizzling out in 1998 after she came out?), and 15 years from now when my own child is a teenager figuring out his or her own identity…I can’t even imagine where this brave new world will have taken us. I find comfort and reassurance in how far we have come, and I feel optimistic and confident about our future. We are undertaking this adventure at an incredible time in LGBT history.