Emotional abuse can be as bad as physical abuse. Any young person who’s heard the words, “I wish you were never born,” understands that adults can inflict tremendous damage on their dependents without leaving the slightest bruise. One of the worst parts of abuse is society’s refusal to see the injustice. Emotional abuse is particularly difficult because it is invisible and therefore ripe for denial.
It is worse still to feel “abandoned” by a community that views the cruelty inside a child’s home and does nothing. When told by everyone in the vicinity that what’s happening is normal and no cause to be aggrieved (even worse, a reason to be grateful), the natural instinct of the child is to blame herself for revealing the effects of mistreatment, in addition to the primal trauma of the mistreatment itself. The situation is much worse if outsiders who intervene, such as doctors, school officials, cousins, or legal authorities, side with the guardians.
After having spent the last year involved in the debate about same-sex parenting, I can say the following with great confidence: both sides of the same-sex marriage debate are afraid of naming child abuse by same-sex couples. The issue is so raw and painful that even critics of same-sex parenting are scared to go there.
Pro-SSM people say gays have been unfairly stereotyped as child abusers, so any discussion of gay child abusers is adding to their oppression. Anti-SSM commentators generally don’t want the added fuss of showing up on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of homophobes. So a general pattern emerges: even when you critique same-sex parenting, you must never do so in terms that sound accusatory or equate homosexuality with child abuse.
Let’s be clear: I am not saying that same-sex parents are automatically guilty of any kind of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse to the children they raise. Nor am I saying that LGBT people are less likely to take good care of children.
What I mean is this: Even the most heroic mother in the world can’t father. So to intentionally deprive any child of her mother or father, except in cases like divorce for grave reasons or the death of a parent, is itself a form of abuse. (Though my mother raised me with the help of a lesbian partner, I do not feel I was abused, because I always knew that my mother didn’t intend for my father to divorce her.)
This holds true not only for same-sex parenting, but for any choice to parent a child in a less-than-ideal setting for a less-than-grave reason. It’s abuse, for example, for a single parent to adopt a child when many other equally good two-parent homes are available. It’s abuse for parents to divorce simply for reasons related to their own emotional happiness. It’s abuse for LGBT couples to create children through IVF and then deprive them of a mother or father.
Media Tip-Toeing Around Abuse
Two recent pieces in the Washington Post and the New York Times last month are noteworthy, because both broke the silence on the downsides of same-sex parenting but still carefully avoided the word “abuse.”
After months of presenting a whitewashed portrait of same-sex parenting, the Post finally ran a letter from Tommy Valentine of Alexandra, Virginia, warning the proponents of homosexual adoption that “A child is not a commodity to be coveted, like the car or house,” and “Even with an ‘open adoption’ arrangement with his birth mother, Kyler [the adoptee] is being deprived of the unique, irreplaceable impact of a life with a mother and father.”
Three days later the New York Times ran a self-reflective piece by Frank Litgvoet, a gay man who is raising two adopted children with his male partner, titled “The Misnomer of Motherless Parenting.” Litgvoet deserves tremendous praise for being willing to name the integral flaw in same-sex parenting, despite how promising it looks to gay adults:
Being a “motherless” child in an open adoption is not as simple as it looks, because there is a birth mother, who walks in and walks out of the lives of our children. And when she is not physically there, she is—as we know from many accounts of adult adoptees—still present in dreams, fantasies, longings and worries….
When the mother walks into the lives of our kids it is mostly a wonderful experience. It is harder for them when she walks out, not only because of the sad goodbye of a beloved adult, but also because it triggers the difficult and painful question of why she walked out in the first place.
I was impressed with Litvgoet’s honesty. I do not want to criticize him too much when I am sure that some in the LGBT lobby are going to decry him for handing too much “ammunition” to the critics of same-sex parenting. It takes great courage to admit that there is a lack in his daughter’s world, which cannot be filled with political dogma or crusades against homophobia. Every child has a mother and father, and when that figure is missing, there is a narrative that is experienced as pain, loss, and at times shame.
To appreciate the heroism in Litvgoet’s breaking of silence, we must first step back and take stock of how much silence there is and how much harm it does.
Whereas single parenting and divorce have always been understood as a breakdown of the married mom and dad ideal, same-sex parenting is now being elevated as normal. Were changing views of same-sex parenting based on a natural, organic process of cultural adaptation, that would be fine, but instead views are being coercively changed through a same-sex marriage movement—most recently by Supreme Court judicial fiat.
“Normalization” demands a kind of silence from multiple parties in a child’s life. The child’s lost biological parent(s) must keep a distance or disappear to allow two gay adults to play the role of parent. Extended family must avoid asking intrusive questions and shouldn’t show any disapproval through facial expressions or gestures. Schools and community associations have to downplay their celebrations of fatherhood or motherhood (even canceling Father’s Day and Mother’s Day in favor of “Parenting Day”). The media have to engage in a massive propaganda campaign, complete with Disney productions featuring lesbian moms, to stifle any objections or worries. Nobody must challenge the gay parents’ claim that all is being done for love.
Does the silence of so many surrounding parties reverse the sense of loss? No. The child still feels the loss, but learns to remain silent about it because her loss has become a taboo, a site of repression, rather than a site for healing and reconstruction. The abuse comes full circle.
The fact that a gay father in the New York Times is willing to drop the façade and admit that there is something amiss is cause for hope. But Litvgoet’s piece in the Times backtracks by the end and encases his realization within the standard euphemisms that have made same-sex parenting advocates so frustrating over the years:
Gay parents, trained to deal with those forces, should be aware of the effect on their children. What these questions do touches on a vulnerability in the children’s identity, the identity of the motherless child. The outside world says time and again—not in a negative way, but matter-of-factly—you are not like us. We have to give our kids the chance to give voice to that vulnerability, and to acknowledge the sad and complicated feelings of being different. (And show the pride in that as well.)
On the one hand it is good to allow children the chance to “give voice” to such feelings of pain and loss, and I am proud of Litvgoet for not immediately blaming everything on prejudice. But he still cannot process his own responsibility for what is, in essence, child abuse. Like all the saccharine, smiling liberals who have driven me crazy since I was a two-year-old raised by a lesbian mom, he acknowledges the child’s pain just enough to occasion a later disappointment when he and his allies will likely refuse to rectify it. He concedes a few points about “feelings” while still asserting an unquestionable ownership: “our kids,” with a parenthetical about “pride in that.” Kids can read between the lines. They’ll know that what’s in the parenthesis is the part that the guardian is insisting on—in other words, you must be proud of what’s been done to you, even when it hurts.
Problems with Same-Sex Parenting Testimonials
In a recent heart-to-heart talk with Dawn Stefanowicz, a Canadian woman who was raised by her gay father, she and I lamented that many children of same-sex couples will never speak openly about how unfair it was to be denied a mother or father.
Dawn’s experience resembles mine: most kids of gay parents we know are struggling with sexual identity issues, recovering from emotional abuse, fighting drug addictions, or are so wounded by their childhood that they lack the stability to go public and face the onslaught from an increasingly totalitarian gay lobby, which refuses to admit that there’s anything wrong.
Mark Regnerus’s study, published a year ago, brought brief attention to adults who were coping with the aftereffects of vexed childhoods under gay parents. In the months following Regnerus’s study, Dawn and I barely had time to have a public conversation about our struggles, because the LGBT lobby immediately wanted to redirect attention to the debates that mattered to them: their “right” to marry, the fact that they were capable of “loving” children, and their sense that they were being “bullied” by Regnerus. For many kids of same-sex couples, this was a familiar experience: we only count when we make gay people look good.
Otherwise, we must shut up.
Same-sex parenting advocates have the advantage of handpicking their success stories, who are sure to receive fulsome accolades for expressing their joy at having gay parents. Those who interrogate same-sex parenting have a corresponding disadvantage. Same-sex parenting has been efficient at traumatizing the inhabitants of its dark side, rendering them frightened and mute, so nobody will ever know about it.
The existence of a venomous LGBT lobby capable of all-out emotional warfare against anybody who doubts same-sex parenting is of course a great help to the cause.
When I was in France, a pediatric psychiatrist with decades of experience told me that he has been working with a severely traumatized woman who was raised by two homosexuals. He wanted her to go public alongside me at the March 24 rally in Paris, but he dared not test her fortitude: “She is still too weak,” he told me. He could not, as her physician, permit her the risks of being a public figure.
Dawn and I are left with a dilemma: it seems we are the only two children of LGBT parents who are old enough to articulate what is wrong with same-sex parenting, independent enough to view our upbringing critically, and strong enough to deal with the LGBT lobby’s vitriol.
Cut the Charades
Like divorce and single parenting, same-sex parenting isn’t merely controversial or untested; we know that children have poorer life outcomes when they are raised outside a married biological-parent household. The data we have, thanks to the work of scholars like Regnerus, make it all the more clear that it’s abusive to force children to live without a mother or father simply to satisfy adult desires.
Moreover, anyone who supports same-sex parenting in spite of these data is complicit in child abuse. This is true, for example, of pediatricians, sociologists, and psychologists who justify same-sex parenting by pointing to vague metrics like “emotional well-being” or “willingness to communicate.”
That they hide their complicity behind their PhDs makes complicity even less excusable.
Doug Mainwaring and I have been working on ways to distinguish between gay parents and same-sex parenting. A gay parent in a male-female marriage or a single gay parent is better, in our view, than a same-sex couple raising a child, because the elements of abuse are missing in the first two scenarios.
In the first scenario, the child has a mom and a dad even if one of them is gay. In the second scenario, there is no charade of replacement, no pretenses that one or two unrelated homosexual parents are to receive the equivalent love and respect that a child would show to his mom and dad. The coercion involved in “same-sex parenting,” and the silencing of any recognition that a loss has occurred, is elemental in making same-sex parenting homes abusive.
Worst of all is a same-sex parenting home that arose because two homosexuals contrived the situation knowingly, in order to experience parenting. These are cases in which divorce was initiated by a gay spouse, with the explicit goal of setting up a new gay parenting household, and then custody was transferred (often in an ugly family court process). Or where lesbians went to a sperm bank. Or where two homosexuals began a lifelong relationship with the intent of adopting and then sought adoption on-demand. Or worst of all, two gay men engaged in a surrogacy contract with a woman who sold them her baby.
Many gay parenting advocates say these are more noble scenarios since they “wanted” the child, but they are wrong. They imposed their vision ruthlessly on a helpless being and then extorted gratitude. The false equivalency used in order to make the child “love” a second parent of the same sex is coerced and injurious.
In the household irreversibly alienated from constitutive rituals like Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, it is abusive to tell the child it was all for her own good and she shouldn’t listen to her own feelings, nor her peers, neighbors, or any moral authorities on TV who praise motherhood or fatherhood.
It is abusive to tell a child, “We are your moms” or “we are your dads,” and then expect the child never to feel the loss of such important icons, in addition to the injury of having been severed from at least one, and possibly both, biological parents—not because it was necessary, but because the two adults insisted on the arrangement. The lessons children learn from this undermine selfhood: might makes right, little people are subject to the whims of self-serving parents, and powerful people can impose “love” on weaker beings with money or political influence over adoption agencies, family courts, sperm banks, and surrogate mothers.
None of these problems would arise if we lived in a world where gay people saw children not as a commodity for purchase but rather as an obligation requiring sacrifices (i.e., you give up your gay partner instead of making your kid give up a parent of the opposite sex, because you’re the adult.)
When the child begins to ask, “why don’t I have a mom?” or “why don’t I have a dad?” the abuse grows, for the gay “parents” will likely respond with an answer that protects them from criticism but disallows the child’s recognition of hurt feelings.
Consider what Rob Watson wrote in the Huffington Post in an open letter to Justice Anthony Kennedy:
If you come, you will meet my 10-year-old sons, who will likely impress you, given how personable, articulate, polite and bright they are. You might ask, as many people we meet do, if they are twins. The answer will be, “They are ‘almost-twins’: Their birthdays are four months apart.” That will bring a “huh, come again?” look, and I will explain how I adopted them as babies from different drug-addicted birth mothers through foster care.
If Watson’s standard routine in explaining his situation to strangers is to highlight the fact that his two ten-year-olds came from “drug-addicted birth mothers,” it is possible that he has been explaining it this way to his own sons for years. He wouldn’t be the first gay dad I’ve heard say to an adoptee, “you don’t have a mom because your moms were drug addicts and I was the only one who wanted you.” That’s emotional abuse at its worst.
Watson’s glib narrative is reflective of the larger genre of same-sex parenting manifestoes. For a movement like the LGBT lobby, which grew out of a desire for openness, the silences imposed on children of same-sex couples are criminally hypocritical. Kids have a clear, specific script to follow when outsiders ask where they come from—don’t mention the sperm bank, don’t mention the woman who sold you, don’t talk about the ugly divorce from five years ago, don’t…. Just don’t talk. Just shut up and smile. Say you like this. Otherwise, bad things will happen. You’ll go back to being an unloved being with nobody willing to put up with you any more.
After a year of being in this game, I have grown wary of strategy. I don’t have a silver bullet tactic for suddenly making low-information Americans aware that all the same-sex parenting propaganda—and more broadly our growing acceptance of non-traditional parenting—is really a cover for systematic abuse. My hunch, however, is that it might be time simply to drop all the masks, put away our strategies, and just state the uncensored truth.
If you think child abuse is wrong, then say so.
Editor’s note: This essay first appeared July 8, 2013 on Public Discourse, the online journal of the Witherspoon Institute and is reprinted with permission.