“Goodnight Jim Bob.”
“Goodnight Mary Ellen.” “Goodnight John Boy.”
I was 10 years old when I first heard this famous TV sign-off. The television show I’m referring to, “The Waltons,” premiered in 1972 and told the sappy-sweet story of a dirt-poor family in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. I couldn’t help but wonder why my family wasn’t more like theirs. I didn’t have six siblings or live-in grandparents like the Waltons, but that wasn’t it. I had shoes to wear and food to eat when I was hungry, unlike the Waltons, but that wasn’t it.
Oh yeah, there weren’t any gay children on “The Waltons,” or at least none that was out.
While my understanding of my own sexuality was a layered and often painful evolution, my understanding of family was always present for me, even as a confused gay kid. I knew that my family loved me and I knew that it was the one place where I could find solace in a turbulent world. The normal fears of coming to terms with same-sex attraction certainly existed but the trepidation of losing my family’s love somehow didn’t torment me when I was young.
I know… I am the exception to the rule.
Not only have I grown into a “family awareness,” but also my husband Gary and I have helped our families to learn about love through sharing our relationship with them. The culmination was their participation in our wedding last summer in Montreal. Until recently, I thought that was as good as our families’ participation in our lives could get. I was wrong.
About four years ago, Gary started talking to our lesbian friends about helping them create their families through the gift of sperm donation. It wasn’t until we met Alicia and Leslie three years ago that our willingness to make this offer became a reality. After long discussion and really careful consideration, we decided to take the leap of faith. Now, I’m a donor dad and I couldn’t be prouder.
Our daughter Piper is now 10 months old and this past weekend, Alicia, Leslie, Gary, Piper, and I went to West Virginia to introduce Gary’s parents and my whole family to our baby. I was nervous, Xanax-nervous, about the weekend. Seventeen relatives were all converging on my mom’s house to experience something that they had never encountered before, a nontraditional family in every sense of the word.
As each member of our family met Piper, they couldn’t help but fall in love. Children have that uncanny ability to disarm people’s misconceptions or suppositions about a situation. They had all heard about what Alicia, Leslie, Gary, and I had done, but it didn’t mean anything to them until they met Piper. Holding her in their arms and seeing how much her two moms and her two dads loved her changed everything.
The initial questions like, “Who is the real mom?” and “Do you and Gary have any rights?,” turned into, “When are we going to see her again?” and “Can I feed her now?” While Gary’s family and mine have grown to respect our love for one another, they instantly loved Piper, and her moms.
Having children is something that the LGBT community hasn’t always considered an option. Establishing safety for the children and for the parents legally has been a real obstacle. Two decades ago, lesbian mothers seeking reproductive assistance to have families without fathers were forced to undergo psychiatric evaluations. The anti-equality opposition has long used children in their campaign against us, saying that gay people recruit or, worse, are uncontrollable pedophiles. As we prove them wrong, and the world gets to meet our children, those ugly false claims reveal themselves for what they are—desperate attempts to mislead.
Sitting on the porch with my brother-in-law discussing the world, I realized just how important it was to bring Piper home to meet the families. Every parent can relate to the joys, trials, heartaches, and transformations inherent in raising a child. While we will inevitably hear from our detractors that we are exploiting our children for political purposes, I now understood why sharing our families with the world is so important.
When I was 10, I thought that the Waltons were the perfect family. While sitting on my mom’s porch in the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia this past weekend, my concept of perfection changed radically. Whether your family has children or not or whether someone’s partnered or not, if love is present, it’s still family.
Anthony M. Brown served as research assistant to Nan Hunter, founder of the Gay and Lesbian Project at the ACLU and helped prepare the brief for the Lawrence v. Texas sodomy case while interning at Lambda Legal in 2002. Brown heads up Nontraditional Family and Estates Law at the law firm of McKenna, Siracusano & Chianese and is on The Wedding Party’s board. He can be reached at: Brown@msclaw.net.