Authors Gina Daggett and Kathy Belge are the duo behind the long-running “Lipstick and Dipstick” advice column in Curve magazine, in which they offer their butch-femme take on lesbian relationships. Their first book, Lipstick’s and Dipstick’s Essential Guide to Lesbian Relationships, is a compilation of practical and witty advice on everything from dealing with a new girlfriend’s homophobic parents, to setting boundaries when you move in together, to whether you should keep sex toys from a previous relationship. The book is not primarily about parenting, but does explore some parenting topics and their impact on adult relationships. Kathy (who also writes the Lesbian Life column for About.com) was kind enough to send me a copy so I could review the parenting sections.
Although neither Belge nor Daggett is a parent, for the most part their advice is sound. They first tackle the issues that can arise when you are dating someone who has children. “You gotta like kids,” they observe, but note with honesty, “They don’t have to like you.” Learning to share time and space with children is key for those who suddenly find themselves in a household with them. They advise taking things slowly, and not being hasty to move in or take on a parental role towards your new love’s children.
Two parents joining households can be even more complex, they say, as you negotiate parenting styles and the roles each of you will have with the other’s kid(s). They wisely advise, however, “while children do come first, don’t forget to put your relationship second.”
They also look at the decision to start a family in the first place. Give it a lot of discussion, they say, and be realistic about the sacrifices involved. If one partner wants kids and the other doesn’t, start seeing a couple’s therapist early, before you find yourself discussing matters with a cryo tank at the front door.
Their primary focus is, however, on adult relationships. They state they won’t get into the how-to’s of having a baby, or choosing whether to inseminate or adopt. That is understandable, especially with other books that do go into such details. It seems a bit unbalanced, however, that they do touch on the difficulties of infertility without a similar nod to what can be an equally long and frustrating process of adoption. Still, they don’t give a whole lot of space to infertility, either, so this is not a major flaw.
The one bit that made me raise an eyebrow is in their evaluation of the answers to a short “Are you ready to start a family?” quiz. To those who are most ready to be parents, Lipstick says:
Oh, dear dyke, you are going to be the PTA Mother of the Year and your child will be a straight-A student and a stellar concert pianist. You’ll raise her well and she’ll go through life with her head high, fighting for her rights as a straight ally.
She’s exaggerating, and that’s fine, but she also makes some potentially offensive assumptions about the children of LGBT parents by calling the one in her example a “straight ally.” Statistically, some children of LGBT parents will not be straight. We should not ignore or marginalize these “second generation” LGBT individuals for the sake of avoiding the old stereotype that homosexual parents always lead to homosexual children. To use the example of a straight child in parallel with being a top student and skilled pianist implies that the opposite would be to be a poor student, with no musical skills—and gay. I don’t think that was Daggett’s intent, but it comes off that way.
Furthermore, many, if not most, of the straight children of LGBT parents do not view themselves as allies, but rather as members of the LGBT community, as Abigail Garner has shown in Families Like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is, and on her blog. “Ally” implies an outsider, however supportive. People who grew up in LGBT households, learning the lingo and the in-jokes, attending Pride marches and other LGBT events, and sometimes bearing the brunt of anti-LGBT prejudice as much as, if not more so, than their parents, deserve to be members of the community in which they were raised. They are “culturally queer,” as Garner puts it, even if they are straight.
Aside from that one part, the book’s parenting advice, however brief, will set readers in the right direction. Belge and Daggett did not set out to write a parenting guide, but recognize the impact of parenting on our adult relationships. At the same time, more lesbian parents would find themselves on a better footing as parents if they took Lipstick and Dipstick’s wise and funny relationship advice to heart before ever embarking upon the journey towards parenthood.