Academic journal article Family Relations

Reminders of Heteronormativity: Gay Adoptive Fathers Navigating Uninvited Social Interactions

Academic journal article Family Relations

Reminders of Heteronormativity: Gay Adoptive Fathers Navigating Uninvited Social Interactions

Article excerpt

Adoptive families headed by gay men are part of an ongoing evolution and expansion of family forms (Tasker & Patterson, 2007). Adoption is becoming a more common route to parenting, particularly for younger gay men (Goldberg, Downing, & Moyer, 2012). Approximately 65,500 children in the United States have been adopted by lesbian and gay parents (Gates, 2010). According to estimates based on national survey data, the proportion of gay male couples raising children increased from 1 out of 20 in 1990 to 1 out of 5 in 2000 (Gates, Lee Badgett, Macomber, & Chambers, 2007). More than two million gay and lesbian individuals report that they are interested in adopting children (Gates et. al., 2007). Despite pronounced shifts in family compositions in the United States, the picture of the standard North American family of two heterosexually married persons parenting their biologically produced children dominates social and political life (Ryan & Berkowitz, 2009). Gay men in the United States who choose to adopt may face unique pressures stemming from the beliefs that all children need a mother, that gay men cannot and should not be parents, and that homosexuality is morally wrong (Ryan & Berkowitz, 2009). These pressures show the power of heteronormativity, "a vast matrix of cultural beliefs, rules, rewards, privileges, and sanctions that impel people to reproduce heterosexuality and to marginalize those who do not" (Oswald, Blume, & Marks, 2005, p. 144).

Previous studies have highlighted challenges gay adoptive fathers encounter in the adoption process (Goldberg, 2012; Mallon, 2004), in school settings (Brown, Smalling, Groza, & Ryan, 2009), and in everyday social encounters (Goldberg, 2012; Lewin, 2009; Mallon, 2004; Tornello, Farr, & Patterson, 2011). Using the results of phenomenological interviews conducted with fathers from 20 families, this article adds to this body of research by analyzing the emotional impact experiences of heteronormativity have on gay adoptive fathers. While in many ways living fulfilling lives as parents, a number of fathers faced uninvited social interactions in their communities that reminded them of their place in a heterosexual order. Gay fathers have reported that such social interactions can be challenging because of others' curiosity, scrutiny, and hostility (Gianino, 2008; Mallon, 2004). This article illustrates the use of a social constructionist lens to understand the emotional burdens gay adoptive fathers carry navigating these interactions in public settings. This article shows how narrowing the focus on such encounters can broaden our perspective on the social fabric of heteronormativity while deepening our understanding of the emotional lives of gay fathers. This study elicited the voices of gay adoptive fathers to answer the following research questions:

1. How do gay adoptive fathers experience daily life in their families and in their communities?

2. What challenges, opportunities, and rewards do gay adoptive fathers experience as parents in a family constellation that does not conform to dominant norms?

Literature Review

Research about adoptive families headed by gay and lesbian parents has been growing considerably in recent years (Erich, Leung, & Kindle, 2005; Farr, Forssell, & Patterson, 2010; Goldberg, 2012; Goldberg, Downing, & Sauck, 2007; Mallon, 2004; Tornello et al., 2011). Gay adoptive fathers lie at the nexus of social identities that deviate from the heterosexual nuclear family norm (Goldberg, 2012; Heiden Rootes, 2013). They are gay men who have chosen to parent children outside the context of biological relationships without a primary female parent. Because of this, they are likely to face unique pressures that may be different from lesbian mothers and heterosexual fathers. As a result, this review will focus primarily on studies conducted with gay fathers.

Challenges Faced by Gay Fathers. Many gay men have reported numerous challenges throughout the adoption process as a result of negative attitudes toward gay male parenting (Downing, Richardson, Kinkler, & Goldberg, 2009; Gianino, 2008; Goldberg, 2012; Kaye & Kuvalanka, 2006; Mallon, 2004). …

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