Queer parents: Just like everyone else

Susan Goldberg believes writing about parenthood from a queer perspective must avoid an "us versus them" mentality.

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Thunder Bay, Ont., writer Susan Goldberg is a transplanted Torontonian and one of two mothers to two boys. Follow along as she shares her family’s experiences.

Every so often, I get asked to write something from the perspective of “the lesbian mom.” Maybe a magazine editor wants 500 words on what Mother’s Day is like in a house with two moms. Or a fellow blogger requests a guest post on “six things not to say to your gay mom friends.” Or I’ll be put on a conference panel on how to market to queer parents.

Read more: Why I am the “Other Mother” >

Generally, I say yes to these requests. After all, I am—for want of a better description—a lesbian mom. I’m also a parenting writer (or, at least, I write a lot about parenting). So I guess I have some kind of expertise, or at the very least some kind of experience, to share on what it’s like to be a “lesbian mom.” Plus, it’s nice to be asked (not to mention paid) for expressing my views on the subject. And I’m happy that queer parents are being represented in more mainstream media and conferences.

At the same time, though, these kinds of requests leave me somewhat conflicted. Even as I participate, it can feel a bit as though I’m a deer caught in the headlights: ask me to write from the perspective of my entire “lesbian mom” cohort, and I’m liable to freeze up. It took me two full days to write that post on “what not to say” (and that was a volunteer gig, by the way). Every time I tried to figure out what to write, I felt like a fraud.

Of course, I can tell a presumably heterosexual audience that they shouldn’t ask “who the man is” in a relationship, or that they shouldn’t pry about issues like which one of you got pregnant and just how you acquired sperm. But—especially as my kids get older—so many of these issues feel stale or increasingly irrelevant to my life. In some cases, they never were relevant: for the record, nobody has ever asked me who the man was in my relationship. Writing about these kinds of things for a mainstream audience can perpetuate myths and stereotypes that may not actually be as pervasive as we make them out to be. Given that the whole point of such articles is, presumably, to open up dialogue, those kinds of posts feel counterproductive.

Writing from a “dyke mom” perspective also felt uncomfortable because it seems to presume that there is a “dyke mom” perspective. And while I’m sure that as a whole, queer parents may well share some common ground that hetero parents don’t, the fact of the matter is that there isn’t any monolithic “queer family” perspective. The two-mom or two-dad or other queerly-parented families I know are all pretty distinct from each other. I feel commonality with some households, and like an alien in others—just like I do with at the homes of my straight friends. Sexual orientation alone tells me little about whether I’ll have much in the way of shared perspectives with other parents. Things like class, cultural and religious background, education levels, interests, political leanings and individual personalities are likely to take a much more active role.

Read more: Real life portraits of the modern family >

Writing about parenthood from any kind of “specialized” perspective requires real nuance and honesty in order to avoid creating or entrenching an “us versus them” mentality. All of us need to treat each other with openness and respect, and to go beyond the easy soundbites that make for great Buzzfeed articles. Queer parents, like any other parents coming at this job from a unique perspective (which is to say, pretty much everyone), must constantly straddle the boundaries between being seen as “just like everybody else” and “totally unique.” Because all of us are both, and neither.

A version of this blog post originally appeared on Village Q with the headline “Just like everybody else and totally unique”, March 6, 2014.

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