When I was pregnant with our son, my wife Sam and I often imagined our lives post-delivery: the unbearable cuteness of bath time, the inevitable onset of exhaustion, the middle of the night blowouts. We knew everything about our relationship was about to change, and that it would be close to impossible to prepare for what was to come.
As same-sex parents, however, we knew we might have to steel ourselves for something else: a shift in how the world sees us. Though it would be years before he would understand that having two moms made him different, we had decisions to make about our son early on: what language we would use to describe our family, how we would answer questions from loved ones and strangers, how we would respond to inquiring minds.
The hospital staff where I delivered had experience with same-sex couples, and they made us feel welcome and celebrated. But in the world we've encountered since, reactions have often felt more complicated. In restaurants and grocery stores, men and women have wanted to stop and ask about our beautiful baby. Often their congratulations landed on whichever one of us was holding him; if anyone was confused when we both responded, they never let on. When people ask, "Who's his mom?" We say, "We both are." Often, when people learn we're same-sex parents, they feel comfortable asking us who carried, whether he's breastfed, how we chose a donor. We're incredibly open when we reply, but I often wonder whether they'd ask the same kinds of questions of a hetero couple.
Those subtle displays of obliviousness are often frustrating (when they're not humorous), and we're far from alone in our experiences. Below, we collected stories from a handful of same-sex parents around the country about reactions they've encountered from the world, and how they've chosen to respond in turn.
Watch "Raised Without Gender":
Dana & Megan
Dana: When they were younger and we went to restaurants with our son and daughter—twins, now 9—the waiter would defer to my wife Megan. The kids weren't old enough to order for themselves at that point, and I guess the wait staff just assumed that the more feminine of us had to be the mom. And it wasn't just once or twice—this literally happened every time we would go out to eat. It wasn't even isolated to that. When we would go to the store together and someone would comment on our kids, they would always look directly at Megan and ask, "How old are they? Are they twins?" I think it's easier for people to associate the more feminine one with motherhood.
The kids sometimes get comments at school from the other kids. They aren't necessarily mean or hateful, just uninformed. Our daughter is the most verbal about having two moms, but both kids are aware that not everyone understands our family, and I think she likes to see their faces when she tells people that she has moms and no dad. The most common response she gets from other kids is, "Well, you can't have two moms or you wouldn't have been born," or "You mean you have a mom and a stepmom. You can't have two moms."
Kids also ask our children if they know who their dad is. These types of conversations are typical in our home, but the kids understand that they cannot be the ones educating the other kids at school. I explained that not everyone agrees with the type of family we have, which, of course, is difficult to tell your kids. Fortunately, we have very bright and loving children and they have each other when they are at school, which is also a very supportive and inclusive environment. We have never had any issues with the teachers or the administration. I feel that we are lucky, considering we live in a midwestern suburb that doesn't have a large gay population.
Mike & Scott
Cranston, Rhode Island
Mike: I had to take my 5-month-old son to a doctor's appointment one day. I checked in at the counter and then sat down in the waiting area. A woman sitting next to me asked, "Are you playing Mr. Mom today?" I simply replied, "I am Mr. Dad, all day every day."
Another time, we were grocery shopping with our son. While in the checkout lane, the cashier said, "Aww, he's so cute. Which one of you is the father?" My husband responded, "We're both his fathers." She looked baffled for a moment and then asked, "Are you gay?" We laughed and my husband answered, "Yes." Still appearing confused, she then asked where we got him. That's when I turned into my sarcastic self and said, "The bread aisle. He was on clearance next to the marbled rye, but he has no barcode. You may need to call for a price check."
Jamie and Emily
Los Angeles, California
Jamie: We're a two-mom, transracial adoptive family, so we're a special little trio. We often encounter double takes and looks of confusion. One situation that particular stung was when we went on a family outing to get ice cream on a Sunday evening.
My wife, Emily, had our 3-month-old son in a baby carrier, and we were playing with his little feet and hands while he was strapped to her chest. When we went to order, the woman behind the counter asked, "Oh, are you babysitting?" There was a long pause. "No, he's our son," I said.
It hurt my heart that she didn't see either one of us as a parent to the precious little boy we had loved and raised since he was born, and that we had to explain that we are his family. In that moment, we also realized that our son would one day understand these questions and have to answer them for himself. And as his parents, we will have to learn how to best prepare him.
Kevin and Jangir
New York, New York
Kevin: You learn quickly that children have no prejudices about your family dynamics, but that it's other parents who can be uncomfortable. One day while leaving school, our 5-year-old boys and I ran into one of their classmates and his mom. The classmate excitedly said, "Look, there's the twins' mom." His mother, embarrassed, said, "No, that's their dad." Then the son, "No, the other one's the dad, this one's the mom." His mother apologized, but I only found humor in the situation.
Photo by Jacqueline Bellerjeau
Tito & Anthony
Tito: My husband and I have been together for seven years and were finally able to adopt. We imagined we'd get some stares while out, but how can you prepare for that? On our first Father's Day our son was almost one month old. We decided to go to the mall and get a bite to eat. While in a store an employee greeted us and said "Aww, you guys got stuck babysitting I see." We didn't know whether to laugh or ask why she assumed we weren't his fathers.
That kind of subtle ignorance is something we've faced all our lives as gay men, but as fathers I no longer know how to deal with the stares and stereotypes that now plague us. The fact that we are constantly asked which of us is the mom or dad, who's the one breastfeeding or "who pushed him out" proves that ignorance—even in our own families—is still very real. People may think it's funny or a joke, but we secretly cringe at those remarks.
Alex & Karen
Alex: Becoming a mom was a lifelong dream of mine. After we got married, my wife and I chose a donor that reflected both of us—in both personality and physical appearance—and created embryos using my eggs, which were then implanted into my wife. Our experiences "expecting" have been quite different.
While out shopping strangers would ask her when she was due, what she was having, if she'd picked a name yet. I would stand by, shifting my weight from one foot to the other, smiling yet feeling uncomfortable. Her growing belly outed her as a mom-to-be, while I raised eyebrows purchasing a crib or a car seat alone.
Survival 101 as a gay person is knowing what situations and parts of town are safe for outing yourself. I live by the policy, "If asked, I will not lie. But if I don't feel safe I will not offer unnecessary personal information."
Last month, on the day our son was born, the nurses, talking amongst themselves, said, "How'd the baby come out looking like the other one?" We had the whole floor baffled. At his first doctor's appointment, we were in a room and my wife was breastfeeding. The nurse tried to make small talk with me and asked, "So are you the auntie?" Several people have asked, "What will he call you both? Won't that be confusing?" Our standard response has been, "When he yells "mom," we'll both come running." Is it that hard to imagine? We're two parents raising a child. Our day-to-day is just as mundane as everyone else's.