The LGBT family is a new post-modern phenomenon demonstrating the accomplishments of marginal groups seeking acceptance within mainstream society. The article is based on a qualitative phenomenological study conducted in Israel during 2012, providing a first-of-its-kind theoretical model combining a vast number of LGBT parenting options ranging from surrogacy, sperm donation, adoption and co-parenting. The research was comprised of fifty personal interviews that concentrated on the family experiences of couples of gay men and lesbian woman who opted to bring a child into their families. Analysis of the data points to a process of empowerment where societal norms in respect to gender, parenting and family are de-constructed and then re-constructed. The theoretical model conceptualizes three parenting challenges that highlight the respondent’s family experience: `Otherness,’ belonging and self-actualization. Research shows that every period of family life addresses a different segment, where one of the three challenges becomes the dominant experience.
The last three decades have provided fertile ground for the formation of birthing and parenting channels such as sperm donation, surrogacy and adoption and new family structures: single parents, divorced parents, combined and single-sex parents. Changes taking place over the last few years have given LGBT members a legitimate cause for parenting, as reported in numerous articles discussing ‘planned’ parenting within the LGBT community (Gates, 2013; Stacey & Biblarz, 2001). The ‘planned’ LGBT family developed using two different models. The same-sex family model, which takes place autonomically by either men or women, and the co-parenting model, based on the connection between a man and a woman for conception and parenting. In this model two family units are developed – the father’s and the mother’s.
Studies conducted in recent decades describe the struggle for parenting recognition by the LGBT family. In the last decade, the research focused on family empowerment and self-awareness when construction the family (Biblarz & Stacey, 2010; Hayman & Wilkes, 2017; Van Ewyk & Kruger, 2017).
It is difficult to find a qualitative research that addresses the LGBT family experience in various parenting models as research has traditionally been focused on one parenting model or another, or on a singular aspect of the family-construction process. Until recently, most research has focused on the mother’s perspective (Biblarz & Stacey, 2010). Research that examined the decision-making process in parenting (Chabot & Ames, 2004; Donovan & Wilson, 2008; Farr & Tornello, 2016), indicated that choices in the autonomous parenting channel such as sperm donation, came from a desire to provide children a shelter for growth in the absence of a father figure. Additionally, when the identity of the donor was known, mothers took measures to decrease their presence in family life (Dempsey, 2012).
Studies that examined the process of LGBT family construction, have addressed the transition to parenting as a period where ’cracks’ in equality between the couple developed, parenting status gaps were discovered and the balance between the couple was disturbed (e.g., Ben-Ari & Livni, 2006; Dunne, 2000). The biological mother took on a central role both inside and outside the home and marginalized the `other‘ mother (Goldberg, Kinkler, Moyer, & Weber, 2014). Over time, they established an internal and societal legitimacy for being a family (Hayman & Wilkes, 2017). Some articles describe coping mechanisms women use to overcome the gap created between the couple (e.g., Bergen, Suter, & Daas, 2006).
As most research has concentrated on the female perspective, discussion about the effects on men is lacking and has not received proper attention. This includes addressing the issues facing divorced men with children, as well as men who adopt and foster parents (Norton, Hudson & Culley, 2013). Over the last six years, research of male families has doubled and in the waning months of 2016, 66 separate papers have addressed this topic (Carneiro, Tasker, Salinas-Quiroz, Leal & Costa, 2017). The motivation to become parents, choices of parenting channels, the parenting experience, the role of gender in parenting and the ties to traditional societal norms are all questions in need of answers. Men move towards parenting in the shadow of a societal concept where the mother plays a `soft,’ nurturing and comforting role that envelops her newborn child, leaving the father with the duties of taking care of everything outside the home. Donovan (2000) says that paradoxically, the strength of the lesbian family forms a sense of insecurity within men who encounter a well-functioning family in their absence. In the path towards parenting, men are forced to overcome such dichotomic concepts (Tsfati & Ben-Ari, 2018). Oren-Patishi (2007), who considered the parenting experience of men who adopt, stipulates that resiliency and a paternal sense of empowerment overshadows the need to show their ability to perform a ’motherly‘ role. Research points to the positive influxes of parenting on matters such as self-worth, acceptance of sexual preferences, stability and strengthening the bond with the original family (Tornello, Sonnenberg & Patterson, 2015).
Research of men also suggests that a structural gap exists, highlighting status differences and a deepening of the understanding found in studies of women regarding the existence of `other‘ forms of parenting alongside formal or biological parenting. The `other‘ parent is showcased as an interesting rising phenomenon in various paths of research (e.g. Donovan & Wilson, 2008; Goldhaber, 2007; Hayman & Wilkes, 2017). Its status and position are not taken for granted and is received with resistance. It deals with both the lack of judicial and societal acceptance. The ’other‘ parent exemplifies a new form of parenting whose legitimacy is based on the premise of what is happening within the family unit and not on blood bonds or legal validity. This new meaning was formed under the banner of Social Parenting as an alternative to Biological Parenting.
Since the discussion revolves around the structure of a same-sex family, it supports a platform for research that deals with the meaning of gender and its roles (e.g. Dunne, 2000; Tornello, Sonnenberg, & Patterson, 2015). These studies highlight an expansion of the classic singular gender role. Hicks (2008) suggests that discussing gender-essence can no longer advocate for the sign of the times. Research enforces the argument that LGBT family research provides an important starting point for gender study.
By examining various studies, it is evident that the main challenge is that of the ‘other‘ family structure. This structure breaks through the monolithic bonds that define the classic family as “a man and his wife jointly raising their joint biological child (Fogiel-Bijaoui, 2002).” The current research tries to examine the family construction process in the LGBT family and how respondents form and strengthen a new definition of ’family,’ with new rules, bonds and a parenting framework of partnership, marriage, blood bonds, and joint households.
This, first-of-its-kind qualitative research seeks to examine the legitimacy of all models and parenting channels within the LGBT family. Legitimacy may assist both future research and different therapy fields, in understanding the challenges facing the family, possible directions, power enablers and weaknesses that are faced. Researchers will be able to understand the normative and universal side of the phenomena and how it communicates with the ’other‘ family in the post-modern era and its conclusions regarding other family structures.
The research question at the heart of this paper is how gay men and lesbian women experience the concept of family, how they plan a same-sex family unit as a couple with children, and what meaning do they provide? The formation of the experience will be addressed in the research from personal, partnership, familial and social aspects.
Discussion: The Family Experience Coming into Being over Time
The research showcases the process of family construction, characterized by a dialectical of splitting and integration over three main periods: “Pre-Parenting,” “Family at its Infancy,” and “Establishing the Family.” At the center of these periods a separate social challenge exists, offering a different dominant experience. While “Towards Parenthood” questions the ’otherness‘ as the base of the experience, the second period discusses the sense of belonging, which then gives way to questions of self-actualization. The discussion focuses on three main experiences: Otherness; Belonging and Self-Actualization. These highlight partial challenges facing the LGBT family process. These challenges may trigger an experience of cerebral and emotional division providing a platform for renewed balance. The themes previously described serve as axis on which the various emotional experiences travel. The reciprocal relationships between them and the manner which they relate to LGBT research will be discussed.
The Dominance of the Otherness Component in the Pre-Parenting Period
‘Otherness’ represents a feeling of perceived difference, separated and defined by those who situate themselves on the margins of society, as opposed to those who identify as being part of the mainstream.
In accordance with the Queer Theory, prevailing conservative opinions assign a gay definition that is different and out of the ordinary, creating a social `otherness,’ that is outside the boundaries of the norm (Kosofsky, 1993; Watson, 2005). `Otherness‘ was a basic component described by respondents, and it starts with their decision to ’come out.’ It seems that most began the parenting process after overcoming the sense that their homosexuality was setting them apart, being able to draw strength from their uniqueness while transitioning to parenthood.
The possibility for LGBT parenting is measured by the ability to provide a family experience that is part of the social mainstream. Findings coincide with the current literature that discusses the evolution of social `otherness.’ A primary survival concern about the ability to function as a parent, gives way to a more advanced optimal model conveying family strength and healthy child development. Respondents are less occupied with social stigmas and more focused on structural and gender ’otherness.’ A change is seen in questioning internal family issues, differences between the biological and non-biological parent, empowerment and resiliency. While women were able to latch on to the mother `myth,’ putting them at the top of the parental hierarchal order, men had to deal with negative opinions where the father is absent from the family framework (Martin & Colbert, 1997). It appears that younger men were able to use male family models and reach strengths equal to those found in women.
`Otherness‘ is seen as a primary element in the experience, it nests itself and then bursts out in times of crisis. Even in people whose decision to become a parent came from a position of strength and maturity, the dominant factor for becoming a parent created a structural gap between the two. It seems that a lack of family balance serves as grounds for regressive dealings with `otherness,’ which helps to gain strength and formulate an integrative free position unrestricted by the shackles of society.
The Dominance of the Belonging Component in the Family at its Infancy Period
Belonging is described as the way each family member views attraction, closeness and commitment to the other family members. The power of belonging by each family member establishes family cohesion, resiliency, mutual responsivity and a motivation to preserve and foster the family unit. The System Theory emphasizes the need of the human system to find equilibrium and reinforces the manner in which the belonging experience between family members in a reciprocal relationship, determines its strength (Nichols, 2013).
In its first year, many changes take place in the family unit, as new dimensions are added, and the experience changes along with the content. Amalgamation of various studies suggest that this period is characterized by divisions that occur due to the gaps between the partners when it comes to parental status, in both the parent-child experience and the biological component (e.g., Ben-Ari & Livni, 2006; Goldberg & Sayer, 2006). The current research emphasizes the meaning of transitioning to parenting through the concept of inclusion. The immediate gap that develops between the couple creates a cerebral difference and a sense that there is only one central way to belong to the family. In these moments, the known parental status of `mother‘ and `father‘ are manifested as exclusive with a single dimension. The person holding a strong internal position receives a sense of status – parental status – that is anchored through centuries of history. The other, viewed as weak and detached, finds it hard to break free of the social norms of parenting and family and tries, to no avail, to arrive at such through the tried and tested classical tools. As such, the inclusive component faces dealing with concepts of ’otherness,’ the rigid classical family that bind the child-parent bond to biology, one home or legal status. The division process emphasizes a feeling of helplessness and reduces the authentic revelation needed to base the `other‘ family bond.
To create a shelter, they set the limits of family boundaries to form a metaphorical bridge between the central parent and the `other’ parent. Inter-family focus provides the ability to deconstruct and reconstruct the undisputable ties of parenting, partnership, household, gender and family connections. To ensure cohesiveness, strategies for coping and parental practices bring new meaning that validate the connection between the parent and child.
Dominance of the Self-Actualization Component in the Establishing the Family Period
Self-actualization is the feeling a person has about the way they maximize the potential within. It develops dynamically starting with the decision to remain true to one’s sexual orientation, through maintaining the right to become a parent. It focuses on the question of freedom and its context within the roles of gender in parenting and family. The question of freedom, which manifests itself in the tension that exists between those who guard tradition to those who seek to reform it, general convictions that define “Mommy” as female and “Daddy” as male, which is reflected in the family structure and challenges the self-determination of the individual, couple and family.
The dichotomous concept of categorical role division of parent-mother and parent-father changes, and gender types of mother-father become multi-faceted. Respondents enforce the distinction between practical and emotional functioning. The dichotomy of parental roles is modified according to the possibility that the typical emotional role of the father or mother, is not always in line with the person who holds that position.
The parent-child bonding experience interacts with a child’s needs and the presence of the second parent that provides a wide-range of emotional and functional parental capabilities. Parenting an additional child introduces new elements, as it brings balance and allows for new bonds, different parental expressions, and lessens the rigidness of gender roles and functions. Many respondents do not identify with the classical roles of father or mother in their family and describe a unique matrix for each family and gender makeup. Experiencing various situations, exposed new capabilities and enforced self-Actualization, ability, freedom and personal strength, with a partner and as part of the family. Through the perspective of time, while considering many variables, it is possible to adopt an argument that changes the meanings of gender as it relates to relationships, dynamics and situations. All these have reciprocal relationships and exist in a never-ending dynamic.
The Family Experience and its Components over Time – A Concluding Schematic Model
Findings can be drawn as an integrative model that contains three components of the family experience: `Otherness,’ Belonging and Self-Actualization. Family construction is described as a process that flows through all three periods. Each period contains a dominant element that travels on an axis that is exposed using the thematic examination of data analysis. The effect of the dominant component on each of the periods is evident in the other functions that travel on the same timeline.
The Centrality of Self-Actualization in the Family Experience
The centrality of self-actualization throughout the experience is a major finding which points to far-reaching social changes taking place in the family experience within gay and lesbian homes. While dealing with the ’otherness‘ component that showcased the centrality of conservative norms in self-actualization and experience, the importance of self-determination reflects concepts of liberalism and ingenuity. It is possible to witness an emphasis of the `normative‘ aspect of the family experience, as a unifying factor with other families. At the same time, it is possible to view the experience with strength and resiliency and what was once considered as marginal reflects the values of inner strength to self-determination that is based on inner-family validation.
The Path towards the Mainstream
The current research sees the LGBT family as a social phenomenon that although it exists in a social climate that is generally heteronormative, is characterized by struggles with new and preserving forces. Possibilities of starting a family deemed impossible because of social norms began to find answers through social spheres of influence, changes within Israeli society, and the LGBT community serving as a chosen alternative group. This family could not form without proactive action by its forbearers. This action was mainly characterized by a fluctuation of experience in a dialectic of splitting and integration. While only at the starting gate, the power base is external and identifies the dominant weight of experienced conservatism, while at the end, innovation is the legitimate tool used to reach objectives in the social field, while receiving social and legal awareness.
A strong need to build a family allowed respondents to identify every loophole in the norm. A process of empowerment in the LGBT community has renewed traditional terminology. Family structures and berthing channels were deemed heteronormative in the traditional family, because foundations for well-defined family structures within the LGBT community represented freedom, equality and hope. This process began with the challenging of social prohibitions about the idea of family development, and continued until the exclusivity and centrality of `normative‘ society has lost its validity. In a process where the community sought to start a family due to the success of their peers, who refined models, ideas and directions to form a cohesive, coherent statement, a gay or lesbian family became a family that embodies values of freedom, equality and self-worth. This statement crosses the age range and gender within all respondents, and all parenting channels. All these offer this study the necessary insight and depth that examines the change that has occurred in the gay and lesbian family, until it has become what it is today – a legitimate and rewarding solution for its members. It appears that the transition from a preferred choice in the joint family model to the direction of the single-sex family has identified a gradual sense of liberation from social norms with regards to parenting and family. Advancements in technology, alongside mental maturity, have empowered the ability of respondents to cope with edicts of the heteronormative society that define the dependent relationship between the partners.
The Path to Family Cohesiveness
The dominance of the belonging component that builds with the transition to parenting signifies the difficulty of respondents to break free from normative social edicts that define the connections between family conventions. The inner-struggle taking place between biological-formal parenting to society tries to find a bridge between traditional family conventions and post-modern ideas. Status gaps between parents looking for a solution to these threaten family unity. Partners strengthen family boundaries in order to moderate the weight of the preserving forces. By looking inwards, they de-construct and re-construct basic family principals, social ideas that redefine the meaning of parenting, gender and family. The external validity of the family that coalesces family with biology, gender, household and law, is challenged by finding internal family validity. This study shows that daily experience in the family practice, through a renewed language, influences the overall experience. Parallel to the undermining of convictions with regards to gender and its roles, and the clear undermining of boundaries between mainstream and social margins offer a new range of definitions and parental statuses created to bring to light a new context for the experience across various roles within the family. At the same time, the validity of the biological and formal component is weakened. With the new definition of family, the power of connections between its members is not defined by the normative definition but by the experience, its connection and daily practice. As a result, the sense of belonging to the family turns its focus inward, formed in accordance with the needs and desires of the gay and lesbian family members. Integration between components of the experience, allows them to experience both themselves and their family members as powerful and as a source of admiration and mirroring for others in the heteronormative and LGBT society as one.
Family as a Vehicle for Self-Actualization
The LGBT family is one that provides an inspirational framework, a safe place for self-determination, free of gender or social edicts that place clear roles for both men and women, offering freedom of expression, choice and realizing personal potential. At the same time, due to the dynamic between members of the family, restrictions to these freedoms do exist, and as such there is inner-tension in regard to freedom and equality. Development began with the question of gender freedom signaling the path taken by the gay-lesbian family as a total social phenomenon, but also as partners embarked on a path of self-actualization the current study exposed the feeling that respondents were able to traverse freely between traditional roles. It discovered a link between the development of a person as parent and a family member and the relationship with their partner. It raised questions with regards to the gender role of each partner, and the meaning of absence on the one hand, and the presence of a same-sex partner, on the other hand. In the process of researching the LGBT family, it is possible to see how this dependence is weakened between partners, with no connection to the chosen parenting model, and to increasingly witness the sense of self-determination that is not dependent on the relationship and role of gender in parenting and family.
המאמר פורסם בGLBT FAMILY. לקריאת המאמר ניתן ללחוץ על הכפתור המופיע מטה
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