Listening to the Children of Gay Parents


Out from Under: The Impact of Homosexual Parenting
Dawn Stefanowicz, Annotation Press, 245 pages, $14.95

As a clinical law professor in 1986, I represented six-year-old Tiffany in a proceeding to terminate her mother’s parental rights. It was a heart-breaking and difficult case because the mother-daughter bond was strong — and hugely inappropriate. My little client’s mother, it seemed, had not let her beloved daughter out of sight, even when turning the tricks of her trade as a prostitute. This otherwise normal-appearing child had acquired shockingly explicit language and sexual behaviors sitting on the edge of mommy’s bed; Tiffany could not function in school because of her aggressive sexual advances toward other children.
Back then, broad consensus existed that early sexualizing of children constituted grave harm, even abuse, warranting state intervention to protect the best interests of the child. That, of course, was back then — and in the context of heterosexuality and well-developed notions of sexual perversion. Now, everything’s different: The Culture of Adult Desire has filled and overflowed mainstream pursuits, pushing aside even simple safeguards for children, such as protecting them from explicitly sexual environments.
The classic consensus that young children should never, under any circumstances, consume sexually explicit material or witness sex acts or demonstrations has open challengers, such as the well-advertised attendance of children at the “world’s largest leather event,” the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco (featuring nudity, sadomasochistic and fetish dress, and public masturbation), the access to pornography in public libraries, and the mandatory education in some public schools on homosexuality as early as kindergarten. What is “appropriate” sexual development for a child has, not surprisingly, come under debate as communities that identify themselves primarily by their gender orientation and sexual practices seek to raise children in their often sexually charged environments.
Dawn Stefanowicz’s Out from Under takes on gay parenting from one child’s perspective. It is her candid account of life growing up “under” an exploitative father whose same-sex attraction blasted his life and the life of his wife and three children like a hurricane. Stefanowicz’s early, explicit, and continuous exposure to sex-obsessed gay subculture generated the subtitle of her chronicle, “The Impact of Homosexual Parenting.”
With an amazing, faith-driven charity, Stefanowicz offers explanation, even understanding, for the lifestyle her father imposed on the family:
In many ways, he seemed as stubbornly wedged in the confusion of early adolescence as I was. He was never content with himself and was constantly trying to improve his appearance. He was often narcissistic, self-absorbed, and very needy for male affirmation and affection. His ideal sexual partner was someone who would be very subordinate to his demands without being effeminate. He used power in these relationships, often with men ten years his junior. . . . He carried a lot of unresolved anger . . . and had numerous and anonymous sexual partners . . . involved in many different kinds of sexual behavior, including group sex. So, of course, there would be jealousy and hurt feelings from time to time . . . there was that legion of spurned ex-partners who would no longer come around.
Various partners, we learn, lived with, visited, and traveled with the family, with no significant resistance from the author’s mother, a woman who was “primarily a reactor and hadn’t been the ultimate source of our family’s misery,” a woman who “lacked the strength of character” to risk her husband’s rejection, anger, and violence. In her teen years, her father increasingly included her in his evenings of cruising, encouraged her to experiment sexually, and emphasized his own economic success as a model for her to follow.
Only after his death from AIDS, and with the help of intensive therapy, did Stefanowicz come to accept that satisfying her life-long yearning for his unconditional love and nonsexual affection was never possible, and to heal the confused sexual identity that her father imposed upon her: “What makes it so hard for a girl to grow up with a gay father is that she never gets to see him loving, honoring, or protecting the women in his life . . . [and] being a woman was part of who I am.” That part, her authentic feminine identity, was rejected and oppressed in service to her father’s sports-like approach toward sexual activity, with its breathtaking disregard for the emotional and physical impact of the pursuit.
The author’s traumatic experience with gay parenting fairly raises the challenge to discuss — as openly and charitably as the author does herself — whether children can be raised healthily within subcultures that promote, support, and celebrate same-sex sexual behavior as the primary source of adult identity. Will such subcultures inevitably expose children to levels of sexuality long considered immoral and deleterious to the development of children, and certainly proven to be so by experiences reported in Out from Under?
Some gay parenting advocates will claim that their family environments need be no different than a functional heterosexual family. They might well point to the developing body of children’s books that present families with same-sex parents as loving, stable, and supportive. My Daddy’s Roommate, published in 1991 as a picture-book for two- to five-year-olds, opens with one father’s divorce and his toddler’s narrative “Now there’s somebody new at Daddy’s house,” his roommate Frank. Daddy and Frank, we learn from the child, do all the same things together that mommies and daddies do. So far so good, but is such a portrayal of the “two Daddy” household more wish or reality?
More honestly, gay parenting offers a challenge to the classic paradigm that protects children from adult sexuality and left my little client Tiffany without a mother, in the care of the state. In Tiffany’s case, the judge easily ruled that Tiffany’s viewing of her mother having sexual intercourse with men constituted adequate grounds for terminating her mother’s parental rights. Similar rulings, no doubt, still occur across the United States — bolstered by a strong, Supreme Court-approved federal anti-child pornography law (U.S. v. Williams, May 19, 2008).
But the consensus has clearly collapsed — as the nation witnessed and winked at photos of two-year-old, bottle-sipping, dog-collared twins Zola and Veronica with the bare-bottomed, leathered, fetish revelers at the Folsom Street Fair last year. The girls’ two daddies told reporters, “Every parent has to decide for themselves what is right for them. And we decided that this is right for our children.”
Gender radicals and free-speech enthusiasts like Judith Levine (Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex)and Marjorie Heins (Not in Front of the Children: Indecency, Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth)offer a growing body of literature to support these dads’ exposure of young children to adult sexuality. And the strong trend within the gay male community to redefine marriage as a non-monogamous living arrangement further portends mixing of adult sexual behavior into the lives of young children, like that chronicled by Stefanowicz.
All of which underscores the importance of Stefanowicz’s brave and balanced voice. Zola and Veronica cannot — and may never be able to — speak for themselves and describe to legislators, politicians, and social experimentalists the horror of being collared and dragged to watch men masturbate in public. But Stefanowicz has done so, without bitterness and with that endearing love girls so often hold for their fathers, no matter how dysfunctional and selfish their parenting. The question remains, will anyone listen?

Marjorie Campbell

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Marjorie Campbell is an attorney and speaker on social issues from a Catholic perspective. She lives in San Francisco with her family and writes a regular column, "On the Way to the Kingdom," for Catholic Womanhood at CNA.

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