Becoming Parent: Lesbians, Gay Men, and Family
By Damien W Riggs
Becoming Parent is a timely addition to the literature on lesbian and gay parenting that specifically addresses the Australian context, whilst still speaking to an international audience. Becoming Parent brings together academic and political insights with the experiences of a parent to create a unique text that is both educational and enjoyable. Mixing personal narratives with critical commentary this book speaks to parents and non-parents alike, and covers a broad range of topics such as diversity within queer communities, the media, law, narratives of family and much more.
Becoming Parent will provide you with a stimulating, challenging and sophisticated toolkit for taking apart (and putting back together) what it means to parent as a lesbian or a gay man.
Dr Victoria Clarke, University of the West of England
Dr Damien W Riggs is an ARC Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Psychology at the University of Adelaide. His research focuses on the fields of critical race and whiteness studies, lesbian and gay psychology, and family and parenting studies. Damien is also involved in foster carer/lesbian and gay parenting advocacy. Damien regularly speaks on Joy FM on topics relating to parenting and is himself the co-parent of two wonderful boys.
Table of Contents
Foreword: It's all about the trousers... (by Dr Victoria Clarke)
- Introduction: Becoming parent
- What is a parent? Family as a verb
- Being normal: Is that what we want?
- 'Sounds like a conspiracy theory': Rights and laws
- Language and sexuality: Films, storks and passing
- Knowing me, knowing you
Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 6:341-348, 2010
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1550-428X print / 1550-4298 online
Riggs, D. W. (2007). Becoming parent: Lesbians, gay men, and family. Tenneriffe, Australia: Post Pressed.
Queer parenting has come of age, or perhaps it's just that we queer parents are showing our age! Only a few years ago, gay and lesbian parenting was considered an oxymoron; you simply couldn't be gay-or at least not out about it-and maintain legal custody of a child. You had to choose between one or the other, gay or parent, not gay parent. Of course, gay and lesbian people have always parented children; you just couldn't be an out legal queer parent if you were, well, queer. Having or maintaining a relationship with children depended on appearing straight, as heteronormative as possible. Becoming a parent, through birth, adoption, surrogacy, or foster care, simply meant being closeted, invisible, and completely unobtrusive.
Well, that is all changing rapidly, at least within Western, developed countries. Same-sex-headed couples are visible, publicly out about their relationships, and have often become parents after coming out-not as the consequence of a heterosexual marriage. They have become parents through a conscious decision. Indeed, gay and lesbian parenting in the past decades-GLBTQ parenting-has become very, very queer, and is, finally, breaking out of tired, worn-out assumptions about how gay parents are just like straight parents. GLBTQ parenting is moving into a brave new world of recognizing our particular uniqueness as parents, the gifts we give our children because we are queer, not in spite of it. At least that is what is being revealed in some of the newest writings on GLBTQ parenting, representing diverse, international perspectives that include the finest professional research, the deepest theoretic exegesis, as well as colorful and personal parenting narratives from the trenches.
If Epstein's anthology gives depth and breadth to the complex lived lives that Abbie Goldberg's research overviews, it is the third author, Damien Riggs, who brings a theoretical and sociological perspective to this field. Riggs is the author of Becoming Parent: Lesbians, Gay Men, and Family, and is a Lecturer at the School of Social Work, Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. Riggs is the author of 7 books, nearly 30 book chapters, and more than 50 peer-reviewed articles in the past 6 years. His writing is insightful, reflective, and examines diverse topics including post-colonial race studies, gay men's health and sexuality, adoption and foster care, and gay and lesbian parenting. He also works as a therapist, informed by narrative and family therapies with an emphasis upon the effects of power in relationship. Riggs' work is steeped in queer theory and is a multifaceted deconstruction of heteronormativity.
In a recent article in the American Family Therapy Academy Monograph Series, Hudak and Giammattei (2010) say that heteronormativity "is an organizing principle that shapes and constrains family therapy theory, practice, research, and training" (p. 50). This thread-the examination and interrogation of heteronormativity-which is woven throughout all these texts, becomes the fabric in the work of Riggs. This book is narrative in the sense that it uses a first-person pronoun and encompasses Riggs' personal journey to "become parent," at the same time that it offers a scholarly critique of the ways that queer parenting has been conceptualized. Basing his work on the work of Suzy Stiles, Riggs sees the act of parenting and family building as verbs, not something we "are," but rather something we "do." He says that "the ways in which we 'become parent' are configured through particular social and cultural lenses that shape who will be recognized as a parent . . . [and locates us] within a particular relationship to language, and [encourages us] to adopt certain postures that are considered indicative of 'a parent"' (p. 5).
Riggs examines gay parenting, particularly gay foster parenting, through a particular Australian lens-one that is similar to yet different from other Downloaded By: [Lev, Arlene Istar] At: 12:25 13 August 2010 Media Reviews 347
Western countries. For example, foster parents cannot easily become adoptive parents in Australia, and, therefore, have a more tenuous legal connection to their children than they do in the United States, which he says is "unsettling," but also challenges "notions of ownership and property" (p. 31). Riggs' work is part of a larger project, whereby he challenges notions of privilege as it relates to race, class, and parental status. He deconstructs and examines some of the myths about gay parenting (gays and lesbians are radicals; children of gays and lesbians will suffer discrimination), as well as about the role of biology in forming families and how gay people may reify biological connections to their children as a way to make their families more real (than foster or adoptive families).
Above all, Riggs interrogates the heterosexist norms that surround the nuclear family and examines how heteronormativity impacts gay and lesbian parents when being "the same as," or "just like," or "normal" is the entrance card to being a parent within the established legal systems. Although Becoming Parent is a small book, it is chock-full of big ideas that impact our values and thoughts about GLBTQ family building.
Arlene Istar Lev, LCSW-R, CASAC
Choices Counseling and Consulting and the University at Albany, School of Social Welfare Albany, New York, United States
Cooper, L., & Cates, P. (2006). Too high a price: The case against restricting gay parenting. Gay and Lesbian Rights Project. New York: American Civil Liberties Union.
Hicks, S. (2006). Maternal men-perverts and deviants? Making sense of gay men as foster carers and adopters. Journal of GLBT Family Studies, 2(1), 93-114.
Hudak, J., & Giammattei, S. V. (2010). Doing family: Decentering heteronormativity in "marriage" and "family" therapy. In J. Ariel, P. Hernandez-Wolfe, & S. Stearns (Eds.), AFTA Monograph Series: Expanding our social justice practices: Advances in theory and training (pp. 49-58). Washington, DC: American Family Therapy Academy.
Lev, A. I. (2004). The complete gay and lesbian parenting guide. New York: Penguin Press.
Stacey, J., & Biblarz, T. J. (2001). (How) does the sexual orientation of parents matter? American Sociological Review, 66, 159-183.
Gay & Lesbian Issues and Psychology Review, Vol. 6, No. 3, 2010 ISSN 1833-4512 © 2010 Australian Psychological Society
Riggs, Damien W. (2007). Becoming parent: Lesbians, gay men and family. Teneriffe: Post Pressed, ISBN 978192 1214172
Becoming Parent is an enticing read about what it means to be a lesbian or gay parent in Western society. This book highlights how the very category of 'parent' is used as a tool of oppression. For lesbian and gay parents their experience of parenting is influenced and shaped by a complex intersection of disadvantage and privilege depend on their particular circumstances.
One of the strengths of the book is that Riggs avoids homogenising the experience of all gay and lesbian parents, rather he draws out differing experiences based around gender, race and other factors. Most of the claims that lesbian and gay parents are, or can be, 'good' parents are made by, and for, white middle class couples at the detriment of non-white, working class and single parents regardless of their sexuality.
Drawing on his knowledge of psychology and using his experience as a gay foster parent Riggs is able to deconstruct the process in which we 'become parent' in relation to the children which we care for.
The main premise of the book is that by using parent as a verb rather than a noun, and exploring the ways in which we 'become parent', we can circumnavigate the privileging of biological bonds and the traditional construction of the family though heterosexual relations. In this way society is able to recognise more diverse family structures.
Riggs takes the reader on a challenging journey questioning what is a parent and do lesbian and gay parents want to be 'normal'? He explores the experience of mundane heterosexism in everyday life, the legal issues surrounding lesbian and gay parenting, the language and discourses used in the media, children's literature and everyday conversation.
Riggs pays particular attention to the language surrounding lesbian and gay parenting. Most arguments in support of lesbian and gay parenting employ the idea that they are 'just like' heterosexual parents. This is understandable considering the hegemonic discourse that a child's best interested is served by a heterosexual couple.
But Riggs describes how the 'just like' arguments serve to further reinforce the idea that lesbians and gay men are inherently unfit parents due to their sexuality. He further critiques the research used to support lesbian and gay parenting which comes from the position that it is the parents sexuality which is problematic, not the society which discriminates.
Riggs offers us a new language to support diverse forms of parenting without continuing to privilege the heterosexual norm. He explores new ways of myth busting which do not reinforce negative stereotypes. Focussing on 'becoming parent' as something that parents are constantly and actively engaged in allows for recognition of diverse family forms.
I personally found this book both engaging and challenging. Coming from a nonnormative family myself, I have experienced, and still experience at times, the desire to claim normality through existing discourses. I also use the argument that 'love makes us a family' to validate my family form. But Riggs critiques this argument in Becoming Parent and forces myself and others to question what language and arguments we use to justify our families. Riggs summarises the persistent tension arising when your family status is subject to the recognition of others when he say "I feel like I am both always and never a parent"
It would have been an interesting extension of the work in Becoming Parent to explore the experiences of children with lesbian or gay parents (as the author does elsewhere). This would further disrupt the assumptions of parental ownership over children and also fully acknowledge children's active role in creating and shaping the families they form part of.
Becoming Parent addresses an important gap in the literature on lesbian and gay parenting which up until now has largely ignored both the experience of lesbian and gay foster parents and parenting in the specific Australian context.
While making an important contribution to the academic field, Riggs employs a writing style that is accessible to those outside of academia. Riggs describes his work as "part autobiographical, part pedagogical, part political" which makes for an interesting and engaging read. His work is refreshingly honest, revealing the conflicting emotions of pain, loss, joy and love, which accompany the parenting process.
Gipsy Hosking is a recent graduate of the University of Adelaide. She has same-sex parents and has recently been doing research into the experiences of children with lesbian or gay parents. She can be contacted at ghosking@ internode.on.net
Related special issue from Health Sociology Review
“Community, family, citizenship and the health of LGBTIQ people”
Editors: Jane Edwards University of South Australia Damien W Riggs University of Adelaide, SA Lesbians, gay men, and bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) individuals continue to experience exclusion from social institutions. In the face of this, these groups of people continue to...Visit Website