Gay Fathers, Their Children, and the Making of Kinship

Gay Fathers, Their Children, and the Making of Kinship

Gay Fathers, Their Children, and the Making of Kinship

Gay Fathers, Their Children, and the Making of Kinship


An important contribution to the anthropology of gay kinship, ten years in the making.

While the topic of gay marriage and families continues to be popular in the media, few scholarly works focus on gay men with children. Based on ten years of fieldwork among gay families living in the rural, suburban, and urban area of the eastern United States, Gay Fathers, Their Children, and the Making of Kinship presents a beautifully written and meticulously argued ethnography of gay men and the families they have formed.

In a culture that places a premium on biology as the founding event of paternity, Aaron Goodfellow poses the question: Can the signing of legal contracts and the public performances of care replace biological birth as the singular event marking the creation of fathers? Beginning with a comprehensive review of the relevant literature in this field, four chapters--each presenting a particular picture of paternity--explore a range of issues, such as interracial adoption, surrogacy, the importance of physical resemblance in familial relationships, single parenthood, delinquency, and the ways in which the state may come to define the norms of health. The author deftly illustrates how fatherhood for gay men draws on established biological, theological, and legal images of the family often thought oppressive to the emergence of queer forms of social life.

Chosen with care and described with great sensitivity, each carefully researched case examines gay fatherhood through life narratives. Painstakingly theorized, Gay Fathers, Their Children, and the Making of Kinship contends that gay families are one of the most important areas to which social scientists might turn in order to understand how law, popular culture, and biology are simultaneously made manifest and interrogated in everyday life. By focusing specifically on gay fathers, Goodfellow produces an anthropological account of how paternity, sexuality, and masculinity are leveraged in relations of care between gay fathers and their children.


From late 1999 to the beginning of 2002, I worked as an ethnographer with men who identify as gay and have formed families with children. I wanted to understand the different ways people build and maintain kinship and conceptualize family relations when the symbolic logic of heterosexual reproduction, the law, and biological notions of descent and affiliation are neither readily available nor immediately applicable to them. As I show in the pages that follow, the families of gay men are among the most important sites we can engage to understand how the law and biology are simultaneously made manifest in everyday relations and questioned in daily life. The families of gay men with children draw into sharp relief the skepticism that accompanies legal and biological regimes that foreground kinship in everyday life and relations.

My research took place in the urban centers, suburbs, small towns, and rural areas of Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont, as well as in Washington, D.C. The arguments I develop in this book are based on the time I spent in the close company of thirty-two families and on the interviews and conversations I held with various professionals and the members of organizations, agencies, and institutions that either provide support for, facilitate, or work against the formation of queer families.

In this book, I explore the institutional and intimate landscapes across which the desire for kinship unfolds and the family lives of gay men with children take form. I understand the multiple sites—family residences, vacation homes, restaurants, cafés, churches, seminar rooms, public “pride” celebrations, private commitment ceremonies, and offices of adoption agencies, lawyers, advocates, state officials, and therapists—to operate as individual points that, together, suggest the features, however incomplete, of the larger assemblages that constitute the conditions of possibility for gay men to build families and live in kinship with children.

The picture of queer family life I present here is the result of my efforts to place the insights and experiences of my interlocutors in conversation . . .

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