Friday, February 19, 2010

Describing diversity

I have been trying, for a few days now, to create some way of neatly describing the diversity of Work, Love, Play participants’ families. There is a cautionary tale in this I am sure (about not trying to put people in neatly labelled boxes) because it is doing my head in. Yesterday, I went through each of the 445 participants in the study case by case and wrote down how each of their children had been conceived, when they were conceived in terms of their parents’ relationship and how people described their family structure. Individual stories looked a bit like this:

Family One: Child one aged 5 born via IVF with known donor when mother was single: child 2 aged 3 born via home insemination with known donor (different donor to child number 1) while mother was in relationship with current same-sex partner. Both children see their donor infrequently, but both know them as ‘Daddy’.

Family Two: Three children born to Mother One during a previous heterosexual relationship. Two children born to Mother Two in a previous heterosexual relationship. Mother One meets Mother Two and they form a relationship and so now have five children living with them. Mother Two co-parents with her ex-husband and Mother One. Mother One’s children no longer have contact with her father.

Family Three: Child one born to Father One in a previous heterosexual relationship. Father One now lives alone but co-parents Child One with his ex-heterosexual partner, his ex-heterosexual partner’s new heterosexual partner, and Father One’s new same-sex partner who is thinking of moving in with Father One sometime soon.

Family Four: Child One born to the sister of Mother One but now lives full time with Mother One and Mother One’s same-sex partner, who we shall call Mother Two. Mother One, Mother Two and Mother One’s sister all co-parent Child One. Child Two was carried by Mother Two and conceived during Mother One and Mother Two’s relationship via artificial insemination with an unknown donor.

Family Five: Child One and Two both conceived via commercial surrogacy in the USA while Father One and Two were in a relationship. Both fathers co-parent equally and Child One and Child Two see their grandparents, who live close by, every second day.

I realise there is something vaguely offensive about reducing the complexity of family lives to a short paragraph, let alone trying to put these paragraphs into neat categories. But the effort of trying to do this certainly brings home the point that same-sex parented families are a diverse lot. Although the majority of families in the Work, Love, Play study could fit into a nuclear-ish mould (two primary parents caring for children conceived within the relationship), there are many variations within this: families where one partner is the biological parent of all the children, families where both partner’s have carried or conceived a child, families where one mother has carried the children using her partner’s eggs, families where the children have a known donor/father involved with in lives (and those who don’t and those who have different donor/fathers for each child), families who have one child and families who have five.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Perfect the next...

Just further to yesterday’s post, the Queensland Government has passed the Bill allowing gay couples and single parents to have children through surrogacy in the state of Queensland.

Two Labor MPs, Margaret Keech and Michael Choi, crossed the floor citing a clash between their personal conscience and values that would allow a child to be separated from their birth mother to be raised by two parents of the same gender. Nevertheless, the Bill passed with 48 votes to 40.

Parliamentary rules prevented the Liberal/National Party’s alternative Bill to be voted on because it was too similar to the Government's. The opposition instead moved amendments to the Government's Bill (to exclude gay couples and single parents) but these were also defeated.

Go Queensland!!

Golly, all this talk about Bills has left me with the theme song to Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men in my head …

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Beautiful one day...

For those who have missed it in the news, Queensland politicians are at it again. There are two bills before the QLD state Parliament at present. The first, put forward by Premier Anna Bligh, would legalise altruistic surrogacy in QLD (which is currently punishable by a $10,000 fine or three years imprisonment). The second, put forward by the opposition Liberal/National Party, would ensure surrogacy rights apply only to infertile heterosexual couples, not single people or same-sex couples.

Not surprisingly, Parliamentary and public debate on the bills has become tangled up in the old 'it's not natural for gay people to have children' rhetoric. The Christian Right has raised its head, with Family Council of Queensland president Alan Baker calling the Bill a 'trojan horse' for the 'normalisation' of same-sex parenting. There have been a few other memorable moments in the discussion, led the way by this outpouring from Liberal/National MP Ray Hopper

"Just look at the first five years of a child's life when you've got two mothers. How do you take them to a public toilet when you go on a so-called family outing? They'll have to go to the ladies' toilet won't they? You're not going to let a little boy go in the male toilet – you haven't even thought of it." (Mr Ray Hopper, 2010)

Seriously? This is the caliber of person entrusted to make a conscience vote on behalf of the good people of Queensland?
I wonder if the QLD Government would consider five years paid paternity leave for fathers of male children?This would avoid the unfortunate situation of their heterosexual mother being alone with them in the shopping mall should that child need to do a wee.

John Birmingham wrote an apt response in today's Sydney Morning Herald and National Times:

Now, before we all hop into Ray, he does have a few very valid concerns. What would happen, he asks, if two lesbian mummies had to take their little boy to the toilets at the shopping mall? They couldn't go into his toilet. He couldn't come into theirs. OMFG! It's the end of civilisation as we know it, dogs and cats openly sleeping together, a rain of horny toads, donkeys and horses eating puppies. Chaos and madness, people. Chaos and madness.

Check out Stephen Page's Australian Gay and Lesbian Law Blog for more of the legal ins and outs of the bills.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What changed with our family?

The fourth conference of the Victorian Rainbow Families Council will be held in Melbourne on 13th February. We will be presenting a paper from the Work, Love, Play study at this conference that looks at how people’s relationships with their families changed when they became parents.

This is quite a fascinating topic, not least because we managed to get enough information to fill a whole presentation from one simple question asked in our online survey (conducted in 2008):
In what way did your relationship with your family and your partner’s family change when you became a parent?

The question was open ended, so people just typed whatever they wanted into the response box. And type they did! We received amazingly rich and detailed answers to this little question.

There were 231 valid responses to this question from people who conceived at least one of their children while they were in their current or previous same-sex relationship. (There were also several hundred responses from single parents and people who had children in previous heterosexual relationships, which we will look at in more detail in the future.)

There were two main 'themes' in response to this question that really stood out. Firstly, a lot of people found that becoming a parent brought them closer to their families (parents, siblings, aunts, uncles) and secondly, a lot of people felt that becoming a parent validated their relationship in the eyes of their families – having children meant they become ‘parents’, ‘a committed couple’, a ‘family’ rather than just the gay or lesbian child of the family.

On the negative side, there were a number of people who lost relationships with their families when they had a child. Some people spoke of choosing to cease contact with their parents rather than expose their own children to their family’s rejection or homophobia. Others spoke of being disowned by their families.

I thought I’d share a selection of people’s responses as they are incredibly engaging: