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Childhood With an LGT Parent: Adult Perspectives On Their Growing Up Experiences

Clarke and Demetriou’s recent research in Psychology & Sexuality delves deep into adult accounts of being a child of an LGT parent.

They examine the findings of past research that such children accept diversity, have the advantage of parental openness, pride in facing prejudice and overall a family unit centred on love just like any other family. They give voice to the children’s experiences through adult eyes and ask “Was it a big deal or not a big deal?”

In the 1970s, authorities went so far as removing children from the custody of their lesbian parents. We have now moved on sufficiently to refute prior homophobic assumptions that LGT parents negatively affect their children’s psychological, moral and social well-being. Indeed family ‘process’ over ‘structure’ has taken precedence when concerning child development.

However, there is a notable lack of qualitative research based on the experiences of children in LGT families during their formative years. Clarke and Demetriou hence conducted a survey of 14 adults, 13 of whom were born to a heterosexual relationship in which one partner outed as gay, lesbian or trans. Participants were invited to recount their stories of childhood, and the present, in relation to opening up about their families and the effect on their own adult relationships and sexuality.

The results endorsed previous findings of positive influences in childhood; tolerance, acceptance, honesty, respect and broad mindedness. Many downplayed the importance of parental sexuality in their upbringing and attached more importance to having a parent of each gender (regardless of sexuality), having a strong biological link to parents and in one case stressing the masculinity of his gay father.

Others described the love and security in their family unit as paramount, exactly as any family would wish for; a strong counter to negative claims and parallel to conventional families. Could these adults be striving to make sense of their families in a hetero context? Striving to eliminate stigma and difference? The authors, themselves offspring of gay parents, believe so.

On the other hand, some participants acknowledged challenges they lived through; bullying, strict secrecy (between parent and child in some cases), fear of public disclosure and judgement. These negative experiences did (and in some cases still do) create feelings of difference, shame, sadness and depression. Despite this, participants were protective of their parents and did not blame them but homophobia and the stigma of homosexuality in society.

Clarke and Demetriou have highlighted that many children of LGT parents, though outwardly regarding the issue as “not a big deal,” still have an understandable need to feel “normal,” whilst not judging their loved and valued parents. Participants’ recollections minimised differences between themselves and other families and those who had issues account them to fear of discrimination.

The authors conclude, “Adult children of LGT parents clearly reject the notion that they have been ‘damaged’ by their LGT parents’ sexuality/gender identity and by being a member of a non-normative family… (they) present their families as ‘just like’ other families and…downplay the significance of their parents’ sexuality/gender identity…participants located the source of any difficulties they and their parents had experienced in a heterosexist, homophobic and transphobic social context.”

Author: Victoria Clarkea & Eleni Demetrioua

Routledge

Published by Taylor & Francis

Read the full article online: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19419899.2015.1110195

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