Gay Men: Negotiating Procreative, Father, and Family Identities

By Berkowitz, Dana; Marsiglio, William | Journal of Marriage and Family, May 2007 | Go to article overview

Gay Men: Negotiating Procreative, Father, and Family Identities


Berkowitz, Dana, Marsiglio, William, Journal of Marriage and Family


Our qualitative study examines the social psychology of gay men's experiences with their procreative, father, and family identities. Indepth interviews were conducted with 19 childless gay men and 20 gay men in the United States who have fathered using diverse means excluding heterosexual intercourse. By focusing on men aged 19-55 residing primarily in Florida and New York, our novel analysis illuminates how emerging structural opportunities and shifting constraints shape gay men's procreative consciousness. Findings reveal that gay men's procreative consciousness evolves throughout men's life course, and is profoundly shaped by institutions and ruling relations, such as adoption and fertility agencies, assumptions about gay men, and negotiations with birth mothers, partners, and others.

Key Words: father identity, gay fathers, procreative consciousness, reproductive decision making.

Understanding gay men's motivation and approach to creating family bonds through fatherhood draws attention to gay men's experiences with the procreative realm. We examine how gay men develop and express a procreative consciousness over time in Ae context of a socially constructed world that privileges heterosexual parenting.

Our study builds on Marsiglio and Hutchinson's (2002) qualitative study exploring how young heterosexual men perceive and express aspects of their procreative consciousness-their awareness of their ability to create human life. Their analysis highlights how heterosexual men experience the procreative arena through their sexual and romantic relations while anticipating and experiencing incidents of miscarriage, abortion, pregnancy, contraception, and birth. Heterosexual men's procreative consciousness is heightened, at least temporarily, by encountering various objects, people, and situations that are a part of the heterosexually defined procreative realm. Yet what happens in the absence of heterosexual intercourse and intimate experience with fertility-related events such as miscarriage, abortion, and pregnancy? Absent an imaginary or real partner capable of giving birth, does a gay man's procreative consciousness emerge and develop? If it does, what are its distinguishing features and relationship to a gay man's desire to become a father?

Issues of gay marriage and gay parenting continue to evoke controversy in our society. Significant segments of society devalue same-gender relationships, waging battles in the popular press, legislative forums, and courts in order to prevent gay men and lesbians from having the legal right to marry. Despite these obstacles, gay men and lesbians have created families through adoption and other artificial means, and the definition of "the family" has changed dramatically over the past few decades to include such family forms (Dunne, 2000; Mallon, 2000). Yet there is little understanding of how gay men experience the procreative realm in terms of fatherhood motivations and decision making. In fact, no research to date has examined how gay men experience the transition to fatherhood (Mallon, 2004). Our analysis fosters a deeper understanding of how gay men conceptualize and negotiate their sense of self as procreative beings or fathers, or both.

This research strives to answer two important and related questions:

1. How do gay men become aware of and express their procreative consciousness and father/family identities over time?

2. Within a socially constructed world privileging heterosexual parenting, how do gay men negotiate, with themselves and others, their dual experience of being gay and having desires to become a father?

Our study advances the literature on the sociology of gender, sexualities, and reproduction. Informed by symbolic interactionism, the procreative identity framework, and feminist sociology, we present a novel lens throughwhich to view gay men's perceptions and decision making about having children. Using in-depth interviews with childless gay men and gay fathers who constructed their families through nonheterosexual intercourse, we generate new insights about how gay men perceive themselves as both potential and active fathers. …

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