Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

Pictures of Lesbian and Gay Parenthood in Italian Sociology. A Critical Analysis of 30 Years of Research

Academic journal article Italian Sociological Review

Pictures of Lesbian and Gay Parenthood in Italian Sociology. A Critical Analysis of 30 Years of Research

Article excerpt

1.Introduction

At international level, sociologists involved in different fields of research - such as family, gender and sexuality - have been investigating lesbian and gay parenthood since the end of the Seventies. Because of the unequal degree of their social visibility, lesbian mothers and gay fathers attracted the researchers' attention in different ways. Lesbian motherhood was initially studied as a new conflictual arena around the female body, the one of wives who, having come out as lesbians and divorced from their husbands, had to fight for custody of the children they had while they were married (Beck, 1983; DiLapi, 1989; Calhoun, 2000). In the same historical period, gay fatherhood was considered appealing in terms of role conflicts and moral careers referred to married men who succeeded or failed in integrating two identities - as fathers and as gay men - that were socially judged to be in opposition (Miller, 1978; Bozett, 1981). In both cases, then, homosexual parenting was studied it its relationship with heterosexual households.

As a consequence of their different social, political and scientific appeal, these two areas of investigation have achieved incomparable levels of development. In 2008, on the topic of lesbian motherhood there was already a 'sizeable literature across a range of fields such as psychology, sociology, law, social policy, education and nursing' (Clarke, 2008: 118). On the contrary, in the same years some authors complained that the whole phenomenon of gay fatherhood was still 'relatively neglected' (Ryan-Flood, 2009: 183). Nevertheless, family formats consisting of openly lesbian and gay people with children, the meanings they attribute to family and parenthood, how they became parents, and the results of their parenting now firmly occupy a place in books and major journals on family studies.

One of the consequences of the increasing number of studies available is the emergence of a remarkable, and somewhat unexpected, variety of social forms of homosexual parenthood. Researchers have typically analysed this variety through the idea of a 'generational shift' of the parental figures involved. According to this interpretation, homosexual parenthood has evolved from lesbian women and gay men who became mothers and fathers within a heterosexual marriage to parenthood undertaken within a lesbian or gay couple through assisted reproduction techniques and 'reproductive relations'1. However, against the 'countless variations of lesbian and gay families' (Allen and Demo, 1995: 113) researchers have only begun to arise the issues on which types of family to include and discuss in their studies, and the effects of their preferences (see Butler, 2002; Gabb, 2004; Bernstein and Reimann, 2001). As a result, their choice to focus on the apparently more innovative and socially debated experiences of homosexual parenthood (Stacey and Biblarz, 2001) - the ones of lesbians and gays who plan to become parents outside any commitment with the 'heterosexual family' - is basically taken for granted.

We provided elsewhere a critical analysis of the American and British sociological literature from the end of the Seventies to the present day in order to shed light on the simplification adopted by researchers in selecting specific typologies of lesbian and gay parents for their studies (Trappolin, 2016)2. What we found was that the focalisation of the analysis on forms of parenthood planned within same-sex couples and managed separately from heterosexual contexts overshadows other forms - however included in the research samples - in which parenting roles and practices are not conditioned by the parents' sexual orientation. We concluded that this analytical 'reduction of complexity' reproduces the idea of a quasi-ethnic distinction (Murray, 1979) between individuals and collectivities based on the polarisation of sexual orientations, the one that is used to support a cohesive homosexual identity in the political strategies to counteract the exclusion suffered by lesbian and gay persons. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.