Archive | October, 2006

If you inflate it, they will come

Many are familiar with the Syracuse Cultural Workers’ poster “How to Build Community.” [Scroll down a bit to see it; you can click a link to see it enlarged.] I’ve long harbored a scheme to get a bunch of their laminated posters and guerrilla-post them around my neighborhood. I’m just saving up for a bunch of them at $18 a whack.

Here are a few of their tips:

  • Turn off your TV
  • Leave your house
  • Know your neighbors
  • Sit on your stoop
  • Share what you have
  • Dance in the sreet
  • Play together
  • Have pot lucks
  • Turn up the music
  • Barter for your goods
  • Bake extra and share it
  • Organize a block party
  • As it happens, this weekend some of our neighbors did just that: organized a block party. All of the above activities transpired in the street, which was a cinch to block off for the day. We’re all tempted to do it every single Saturday until we find out the city has a limit.

    The biggest hit, for the 12-and-under set: the Jumpie Thingy. I’ve mostly seen them privately installed in back yards, though also in public parks for family reunions and the like. When they’re in a blocked-off street, they function as a neighborhood kid magnet, and the impact is blocks-wide. The Syracuse Cultural Workers might consider adding this to their list of community builders.

    In other list news: To the long There Are Two Kinds of People… list should be added, Those Who Delight in the Jumpie Thingy, and Those Who Find it a Sweltering Bag of Chaos. Alas, while once I may have been in the former camp, I am now in the latter, and could only imagine our darling two-year-old suffering permanent damage from some limb akimbo.

    Fortunately there was a big ole double-dutch game going on nearby, and I could cast my thoughts forward to a time when the lil’ monkey might engage herself that-a-way. Plenty of fun and excersize to be found betwixt those ropes. If you’ve forgotten, just check out Double Dutchess, the madcap SF-based jump rope crew (be boggled/inspired by this three minute video here). I might just take up a neighborhood collection and hire them for our next block party.

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    Ways of seeing

    Dipped by Unca
    Special Uncle facilitates a fresh perspective.

    One wonders whether the frequent realignment of the kiddle point of view, literally, has an impact on their capacity to conceptualize a broad range of possibilities? That, and the tablula rasa brain. Buddhists call it “beginner’s mind,” and revere it. In her lecture on beginner’s mind, Abbess Zenkei Blanche Hartman cites this gem from Suzuki Roshi: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s there are few.”

    Now, just for fun:

  • The Upside Down Map page,
  • a really nifty book from which I’ve gleaned hours of fun and scads of unexpected insights, The Art of Looking Sideways (picked apart & cited here),
  • a bit about “social codes of looking,” from Notes on ‘the Gaze,’ offered up for general edification by a Welsh professor, and
  • this here series of pages on Seeing, accompanying an exhibit of the same name from San Francisco’s Exploratorium. [BTW: the uattributed quotation at the top of their page is from the incomparable Anaïs Nin.]
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    To sire, with love

    Yes, someone–a former hacker & current nightclub owner–did indeed bronze a turkey baster as a gift to lesbian friends who’d just had a baby. Caption: “A Miracle of Modern Science!”

    I have been able to co-parent with my partner as a result of donor insemination (DI), also called alternative insemination (AI). As a result, I have a lot in common with heterosexual men in the same position. Of course we have a lot of differences: I never expected to impregnate my partner, and my inability to do so doesn’t play a complicated role in my understanding of my essential self, or my parenthood. Or perhaps it does.

    I know many lesbian women, including myself, who at one point or another have wished they could have been able to have gotten their sweetie pregnant. This is touchy, complex territory, stuff I recall first encountering waaay back twenty-five years ago when I first came out and began to think of the ramifications of my sexual identity on my parenthood. Back then, the early-to-mid-1980s, I thought I simply couldn’t be a parent. Back then, the only visible model for family was a nuclear, heterosexual one. Then I saw the documentary Choosing Children, and began to realize there were many more ways to make a family than I had thought.

    Since that time, the confluence of many factors–innovations in alternative insemination initially pioneered for heterosexual couples contending with fertility issues, ongoing evolutions in LGBT civil rights movement, ongoing evolutions in family and kinship networks, and more–have led to the “gayby” boom we’re in the midst of. It’s sonic. It’s super-sonic. And it’s opening up infinite opportunities for connection between LGBT people and others–namely, potential allies whose life paths we (now) share. Alternative or donor insemination is one of those paths.

    On this blog’s homepage, I keep a link to the site DI Dads Speak Out in order to facilitate the exchange of insight and understanding across these two communities. DI Dads Speak Out evolved from a Yahoo! group, and lists a series of links to other DI and donor conception (or DC) sites which I’ve found enlightening. The blog content itself currently consists of an ongoing Q&A. The Qs represent many of the things that we DI or AI lesbian parents think and worry about, with some obvious distinctions (such as, we have no choice but to disclose that the kid was conceived witih a donor’s sperm).

    The areas of contrast themselves make our potential connection richer, more complex. As DI Dads contributor Richard put it in one post, “Society worships fertility and links it inextricably to virility.” That’s an issue I don’t face directly, to be sure. But I do have a stake in dismantling that misbegotten social myth wherein a cartoonish virility is the sign for masculine strength, rather than compassion and vulnerability, which I believe to take far, far more internal strength to muster. I appreciate it, and applaud it, in the DI Dads forum. In answering the question, Why openly discuss DI issues?, Max, said

    How can I give my potential future children a sense of pride in who they are if I as an infertile man, live my life in shame?!…It’s time to break boundaries set by years of secrecy and misinformation and speak out loud. Time to share our stories with the world in order to support those who share our pain and dispel all untrue beliefs via open communication.

    It’s easy to substitute “lesbian,” for “infertile man,” reading that, and find that the statement still rings true. Other statements, such as this from Richard, take no effort at translation: “I will love my kids and I will trust them to love me, despite the fact that they don’t share my genes.” For Richard, I would think the LGBT family slogan “Love makes a family” rings just as true.

    The commonalities between us make for powerful connections. But our distinctions make for equally powerful glue, to my mind; a different kind. Because I think we’ve done something more active, and I think ultimately more powerful, when we forge that connection across a point of contrast. That’s the part of our alliance that feels more voluntary, based on compassion in spite of difference. Maybe we could think of the two bases for connection (commonalities and differences) as a kind of two-part epoxy resin: the both together make for an amazingly strong bond. My family’s social and legal well-being is staked on heterosexual allies doing this same thing for us.

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    This just in: our kids are doing just fine!

    The National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study t-shirt.

    Not that any of us lesbian parents are surprised. But it’s nice to have a good, rigorous psychiataric study or two to cite, when heckled.

    Sunday morning I went to my old friend’s Unitarian Universalist church to hear Dr. Nanette Gartrell talk about her ongoing longitudinal study of lesbian families (one of whom is a member of the church). Alas, the sweet exigencies of kiddle care kept me outside the room more than in it. But I gathered enough to be grateful for her research, very impressed by its scope and results, and eager to discover her future findings.

    The National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study is the nation’s largest and most long-running investigation of lesbian parents and their children conceived by donor insemination. Launched in 1986, it follows over 75 U.S. lesbian-headed families. So far the retention rate of subjects is exceptionally high for such a long-term study, which is no surprise to me, since I for one hunger for the kind of information her research is turning up. I should think that her subjects, having begun their families even earlier in the LGBT “gayby boom,” would feel that desire even more keenly. About the motivation for the study, Gartrell, et al. note:

    The [survey] questions were designed to provide the type of information that participants themselves might like to have had before they embarked on motherhood. In addition, the findings should be useful to professionals in a variety of disciplines-health and mental health, sociology, feminist studies, education, ethics, public policy, law-who are increasingly likely to be consulted by lesbians on matters pertaining to motherhood.

    The families are spread between San Francisco, Boston, and Washington D.C.; most include both a birthmother and a co-mother, though a good handful are headed by single mothers; most were in their mid-thirties when the study began; their donors are evenly divided between known and unknown; nearly all of the participants are “out” to their families and to one degree or another in their work and public lives; most are white and middle-class. In the first of their published findings, “The National Lesbian Family Study: Interviews With Prospective Mothers,” Gartrell et al. discuss the factors influencing the relative ethnic and economic homogeneity of this cohort. It’s available online, along with reports from interviews with the mothers and kids at regular intervals: when the kids were toddlers, five-year-olds, and ten-year-olds. The most recent report is “Interviews with the Mothers of 10-year-old Children,” published in the May 2006 issue of Feminism and Psychology.

    I will try to resist the temptation to convey absolutely everything verbatim, since you can read for yourselves. But I will excerpt some highlights from the “Interviews with the Ten-Year-Old Children,” as a teaser. (In an attempt at a modicum of brevity, I nixed the references to other studies, but they are legion, and can be found in the original.)

  • The prevalence of childhood sexual abuse among NLFS girls (5%) [by “older, unrelated men”] and boys (0%) contrasts strikingly with national rates: Thirty-eight percent of U.S. women and 5%-10% of U.S. men report that they were sexually abused as children. None of the NLFS children had been physically abused…. [T]hese data suggest that the absence of adult heterosexual men in households may be protective against abuse and its devastating psychological sequelae. [here–I had to Google sequelae, too]
  • In social and psychological development, the NLFS children were comparable to children raised in heterosexual families. The NLFS girls demonstrated fewer behavioral problems than age-matched peers. These findings are consistent with other studies demonstrating a high degree of emotional well-being in children of lesbian families. It is noteworthy that there was no difference in psychological functioning in NLFS children with known donors versus those with unknown donors. Although the children with known donors benefited from having a father, most who had not yet met or would never meet their donor were unconcerned about not having a father.
  • At 10 years old, more than half of the NLFS children were completely out, and nearly half had already experienced homophobia. The children who reported homophobic encounters demonstrated more psychological distress than those who had not been harassed. Many NLFS mothers have been vigilant about helping their children to avoid homophobia, have taught their children healthy responses to harassment, and have been sensitive to their children’s concerns about being out at school.
  • The NLFS children displayed a sophisticated understanding of diversity and tolerance. They were saddened when schools or classmates were discriminatory. Even though their mothers tried to provide LGBT-affirmative educational environments, finding schools that are judgment free is challenging for any parent. Most NLFS children attended multicultural schools with children from other lesbian families. Having LGBT faculty and curricula was additionally helpful for many index children.
  • Overall, the T4 investigation [that is, the study at age 10] confirms that the children of lesbian mothers are resilient and thriving. As anticipated, the NLFS children are experiencing homophobia. However, the NLFS mothers are educating their children about diversity and preemptively preparing them to confront discrimination.
  • Dr. Gartrell, in “The kids are all right,” an American Psychological Association article discussing research on LGBT Families, noted: “The kids I’ve interviewed are enormously thoughtful–they are not only sensitive to discrimination to their groups but other groups as well. This is something LGBT families have to offer the world.” Here, here!

    The next installment in the study will be with–fasten your seatbelts–teenagers. I would expect this to be a really interesting chapter in the whole study, since her findings have shown–as many folks’ own experience may corroborate–that adolescent kids begin to exercise more discretion about disclosing their parents’ lesbian identity. Though in the UU church talk, Dr. Gartrell reminded the assembled that “any teenager wants to put their parent in some closet of some sort.” Many folks, clearly old enough to know from raising teenagers, snickered that more than a few teenagers might want to even throw away the key. One lesbian parent in the audience shared a nice anecdote: their son had a school field trip, the orientation to which required both parents to attend. It was his first opportunity to compare his two lesbian parents to those of all his peers, en masse. After it was over, he told her: “You don’t look any worse than they did!” Yahooie! Again, I find myself thanking the heavens I’ll have a dozen more years to prepare.

    Though the study has been funded, over the years, by a number of different foundations, Dr. Gartrell has dug into her pockets to keep it going in lean times. She deserves a huge amount of gratitude from all of us. I don’t know what kind of support it provides her study, but I figure the least I can do is GET THE NLLFS T-SHIRT!

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