Family / Family-building

Wanted: A Few Good Queer Stepparents

Katie3[Today we are sharing a piece from Katie L. Acosta, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Tulane University in New Orleans. Her teaching and research is focused on gender, sexuality and the family.  Katie originally contacted me because she was looking for participants for a study she is doing on same-sex stepparent families.  I suggested she might consider writing a guest post for us, to put her study in some context.  I am really glad that I did— hearing the life experiences that led her to her current research is extremely interesting.  Hope you enjoy it too!  If you feel so inclined, contact Katie directly to participate in or learn more about her current research. -Clare]

I once heard someone say that from every failed relationship stems something useful: a lesson learned, an experience added, or an alliance built. We add these useful pieces of our past to our reservoir of resources and move forward toward whatever awaits us in this crazy thing we call life. By the time I met my partner Hilary, I had had my share of failed relationships and brought all sorts of useful “somethings” on the journey of my life. I had married and divorced a man, become a mother to my son Josiah, and taken the time to get to know myself intimately and honestly. After all this, I found myself a college professor whose research focused on lesbian, bisexual and queer women and how they negotiate family. I had already spent years researching the kinds of relationships lesbian, bisexual and queer women have with the families that raised them and those they create for themselves as adults. Still, being in a relationship with Hilary presented me with all sorts of new challenges in how to do family: challenges which I had not yet considered in my personal or professional life. Ours is a stepparent household in a world that does not have the words to describe the kind of family we’ve created. Even the term stepparent seems ill fit to describe or define the family structure in our home. After all, though we are legally married, our marriage is not recognized in the state where we live.

Katie2We have taught Josiah that families are created and that everyone has the right to build a family for him/her self that includes the people who love, support and protect them. We’ve taught him that family is not determined by biology, or legal ties but rather by our devotion to each other. While we believe this to be true, we also know that not all others define family this way. We spend a lot of time finding ways to make our family fit into ignorantly written and outdated homework assignments that presume a two parent, heterosexual family model, or filling out camp registration forms that only include one line for mother and another for father. Whenever our family reaches these stumbling blocks in the road, we must decide which two of Josiah’s three parents to include and who to erase. Despite raising our son to understand that there is room in his family for everyone who loves him, we consistently confront a world that asks him to choose between his parents. We believe our son’s life is enriched by his three parents, but we often feel the frustration that stems from living in a world that believes otherwise. Still, we get up every day and resist the limitations placed on us by the narrow-minded individuals who do not understand our family (noting thankfully that there are also many loving individuals who do understand or who try their best to do so). We do this in the hopes that tomorrow Josiah will grow to be confident in himself and proud of the family in which he was raised.

Katie1

My experiences managing our unique family structure have informed my interest in my latest research project. Same sex stepparent families may be just as common as same sex families which include adopted children or children conceived through assisted reproductive technologies. Still we know very little about the needs and experiences of these families. The lesbian stepparent study is designed to create greater understanding about a family structure which is often overlooked within policy debates and activist reform. How do these families divide parenting roles? How do they protect their children? How do they navigate legal structures in the United States? The lesbian stepparent study seeks to approach answers for these and many other questions through the collection of confidential in depth interviews with women who are step or biological parents to children being raised in stepparent households. Participation involves one phone interview which will last approximately 90 minutes and can be scheduled for a convenient day and time. Those willing to be interviewed for the study should contact me directly at lesbianstepparentstudy [at] gmail [dot] com. I sincerely look forward to conversing with interested participants and to learning more about your families.

LesbianStepparentStudy

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