It’s National Coming Out Day, so I thought I’d post a slightly revised version of my “How to Respond When Meeting Lesbian Moms,” which I first posted on NCOD back in 2005.
I expanded on my original post last year with “10 Things TO Say to Lesbian Moms,” a response to the many (and still ongoing) posts that keep appearing on what not to say to lesbian and gay parents. In that post, I wanted to balance the “don’ts” with a number of positive “dos.” I know that sometimes the best way to get my son not to do something is to offer him something better to do instead. Give people too many “not to says” and they might be afraid to say anything. That’s no way to build bridges and create allies.
For this post, I pulled together an updated version that merges my two previous lists. Many of these items may apply to other parents in the LGBTQ spectrum; I focus on lesbian moms because that’s the only group I can speak of with any real authority. Here’s my list of two things to know, three things not to say, and seven things you could say.
- Know that in many ways, we’re the same as other parents. We change diapers. We fix scraped knees. We worry when our teens start to drive. We comfort, we care, we discipline when necessary. We make mistakes like anyone else. We try to learn from them. Above all, we love our children.
- Know that in some ways, we’re different from other parents. We sometimes get strange glances when we’re in public and our child calls the two of us “Mommy” and “Momma” (or “Mama” and “Baba,” or any other variants). Same for when we appear We often meet with each new school and daycare to ensure they will treat our families with respect. Many of u went through a different, costly process to have our children and ensure our legal relationships to them. We face additional legal and financial burdens different-sex couples do not.
- Don’t ask, “Which of you is the real mom?” We both are. Maybe one of us bore the child in her womb. Maybe we both adopted the child. Maybe one of us donated an egg that the other one carried. Maybe we used a surrogate. It doesn’t matter. Both of us are raising the child and committed to her or his well being. That makes us both real parents.
- Don’t ask, “Who’s the father?” Maybe there is a known father whom we wish to acknowledge, and maybe there isn’t. Don’t assume there has to be.
- Don’t ask, “How did you have/make your child?” or (worse) “Where did you get your child?” These are intrusive questions that you probably wouldn’t ask a different-sex couple. (Even different-sex couples who have adopted a child of a different race or ethnicity are likely annoyed with the latter question, too.) Having said that, if you do get to know us beyond a casual conversation or two, I think there’s nothing wrong with inquiring respectfully, “Do you mind if I ask how you started your family?” If the person says “Yes,” drop it. Myself, I’m happy to share our family creation story in the name of education — and I know some other LGBTQ parents who are the same.
- Say the words: Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Transgender. If there’s a need for these terms in conversation, use it. Don’t euphemize with “your type of lifestyle,” “people in your circumstances,” “women like you,” or similar.
- It’s always safe to refer to a same-sex couple (especially one committed enough to have kids) as “partners.” We may prefer another term — spouse, wife, girlfriend, etc., and will likely tell you if we do — but “partners” won’t offend anyone by trivializing the relationship like “friends” would. My sense is that “spouse” is becoming more appropriate these days, too, especially in states with marriage equality, although we should remember that not every same-sex couple chooses to marry. “Wife” is iffier — some two-mom couples use the term proudly; others feel it evokes outdated gender roles.
- Do inquire respectfully about our families. Again, these probably aren’t first-conversation questions, but asking something like, “Do you find people around here are accepting of your family?” indicates you’re comfortable with the topic and want to be an ally, and that’s comforting to us.
- Ask “What does your child call each of you?” but only if needed. Tone and timing are everything here. Asked of strangers, or with an incredulous, “Isn’t your child confused by having two moms?” inflection (“WHAT does your child call each of you?”) it can be offensive. But if you’re in a situation where it’s useful to know how a child refers to each of the parents (say, if you’re a teacher, coach, daycare provider, friend’s parent, etc. who may need to ask things like “Is your Mommy or your Mama picking you up today?” and you ask respectfully, then it conveys that you’re concerned with acknowledging our proper family relationships.
- Do ask: “I’m not sure how to explain lesbian parents to my children. What would you suggest I say?” Make sure this doesn’t come across as “How on Earth could I possibly explain something as outrageous as two moms?” Asked with respect, though, I think most of us would be grateful for your attempt to be a good ally.
- Do ask: “Are there any books you could recommend for my child that shows two-mom families/different types of families?” LGBTQ-inclusive kids’ books aren’t just for LGBTQ families, just as books that show racial diversity shouldn’t just be for families of color. This is another great way to show that you’re an ally.
- When conversation fails you, tell us how cute and clever our kids are. Yeah, we’re suckers for that, too.
As I cautioned in my earlier post, though, remember that no two lesbian families are exactly alike, and we may approach discussing our families in different ways. Readers: Since I may be preaching to the choir for many of you, what else might you add to this list?