For Megan McKnight, the natural first step after registering for classes at DePaul University in Chicago was to align herself with the school's queer community. McKnight was raised by a lesbian mother in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She grew up immersed in queer culture, participated in LGBTQ activism, and continually maneuvered institutions that weren't built to accommodate families like hers. But when she first attended a meeting of a DePaul LGBTQ organization, she was labeled an "ally."
"And that just felt gross to me," she said. "It never encapsulated my connection to the community or my involvement, the way I've been so deeply impacted by homophobia throughout my life. I didn't have the language to articulate that I identified differently than an ally."
As the daughter of gay fathers, I can understand how McKnight feels, and increasingly, people like us are coming into our own as "queerspawn." Having been raised by queer parents, we share a unique outlook on the world. Whether we're straight, gay, or in between, our upbringings have led many of us to intimately identify with the LGBTQ community and share in their struggle for acceptance, even if we ourselves are not queer. And we face some struggles of our own, having learned to navigate society, adolescence, and our own sexuality outside of hetero norms.
Among other organizations, we are discovering our identity through COLAGE, a nonprofit that provides education and support to both children and adults with lesbian, gay, transgender, and queer parents. (I lead the Los Angeles chapter.) COLAGE grew out of a need for a kids-only space, separate from parent-run LGBTQ support groups. Because of the critical fight for gay rights in this country, many queerspawn have felt a burden to be "poster children;" COLAGE provides a space where kids can discuss their families without judgment. It also gives them the opportunity to meet others in similarly unique family structures, like AJ Costa.
Costa has two moms, who are both white and Christian. His biological father is Pakistani and Muslim. Though he is straight, he was mentored by a group of gay men in his community on how to "shave, shop, and brunch," as he put it. His identity, like many queerspawn, defies easy categorization.
Costa didn't realize how "easy" he had it growing up in Houston until he went to a small, private Christian university in Seguin, Texas. Before that, except for a few fights, Costa didn't feel much discrimination. He struggled more with feeling as if his life was whitewashed, he told me, because he was a person of color and felt disconnected from his father's side of the family.
In high school, Costa could be "out" about his family, but in college, where hearing gay slurs was an everyday occurrence, he felt hesitant.
"It was like I was living two lives," he said. "And I'm not even gay! I finally decided I don't want to sugar coat anything for anybody any longer and worry about how my life impacts other people's feelings."
For some, leaving home is liberating. Natalie Perry grew up with two dads in Boise, Idaho. In high school, she was a part of the Gay Straight Alliance, but her family told her that she wasn't allowed to talk about her dads. Her family wasn't publicly gay in Boise because her biological father was a prominent judge. When she left home to attend Hofstra University in Long Island, it was a relief to finally say without consequence that her family is queer.
"It was also, for me, a bit of a withdrawal, not being around the gay community anymore," Perry said.
Perry's parents didn't attend pride and other events, but they did have an intimate group of queer friends that were like family. Often, that's something queerspawn don't realize until they officially leave home—that even if they're not LGBTQ, they are culturally queer.
As a teenager, I lived with my father and his partner in Dallas, Texas. We spent afternoons playing pool at lesbian bars and eating in Oak Lawn, Dallas's gay neighborhood. Every Christmas we went to see The Turtle Creek Chorale, an all gay men's choir, perform a Christmas variety show. I grew up in the 90s, while the AIDS epidemic was still raging, and together we mourned the loss of so many in the community who passed from it. In my 20s, I moved to Houston, where I worked in a conservative legal office. I did not feel comfortable discussing my family and was completely disconnected from the life I used to know. When I first heard the term queerspawn three or so years ago, I thought it was perfect, because it described what I felt all those years. Despite being a cisgender straight women, I was "queer" in comparison to the heteronormative world I had to navigate alone.
When queerspawn identify as LGBTQ, many still grapple with an identity separate from those with straight parents. Kira Findling, a child of queer parents from Sebastopol, California, identifies as queer herself—what some refer to as "second generation."
"Having gay parents has made me more open minded about myself, but I don't think I'm queer because they're gay, Findling said. "I think that's a common misconception that people have."
For that reason, Findling said it's easier to come out about her parents than her own sexuality. She currently has a boyfriend, so at times she is straight-passing. She attends Oberlin, a liberal university in Ohio.
"I kept wanting to go to all these queer events, but didn't want to face people who might say, 'You're not queer just because your parents are queer,'" she said. "So I'm having to figure out, what is my space? How do I relate to this community?"
As children, many queerspawn participate in LGBTQ activism, fighting for their parents' legal and cultural acceptance; as adults, many (including myself) are motivated to continue that work and maintain a connection to the gay community. I'm not alone—Costa works at the Montrose Grace Place, a center for homeless LGBTQ youth. Perry works with Family Equality Council. And McKnight works at Callen-Lorde, an LGBTQ health center in New York.
"Sometimes I feel like we're not really recognized in the community," said Perry. "Last year at pride, they had all these speakers talking about gay people and their brothers and sisters and their parents, and not one person mentioned their children."
The LGBTQ community often lauds celebrity allies, yet some of their greatest support over the years has come from their children. We have lived through the last few decades of legal, emotional, familial, cultural, and media-induced homophobia alongside our families and communities. And now we're coming together as a community, and coming into our own.