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“Becoming a Dad was the most radical thing I’ve ever done”
Published: March 9, 2017
In this special blog for LGBT Adoption & Fostering Week, Rupert Smith reflects on changing attitudes and new opportunities for gay parents.
I was at an adoption event recently, talking to a young man who wanted to be a father but also wanted to carry on going out to clubs, having lovely foreign holidays and eating at posh restaurants because, he said, that was the ‘gay lifestyle’. I looked down at my yoghurt-stained jeans, scratched my unkempt, greying hair (what’s left of it) and suggested that, perhaps, he was in for a bit of a culture shock.
A lot of gay people, myself included, grew up thinking that parenthood was never an option. We may have wanted kids, but it was unlikely that we would be able to form families. Our expectations were different: we faced legal and social inequality, but at least we could embrace hedonism as a kind of compensation. Then, in 2005, everything changed. The Adoption and Children Act came into effect, allowing unmarried couples – including same-sex couples – to adopt. Suddenly, we were faced with the very real option of becoming parents, of forming families. People started to do it. Gay parents, once a rarity, became almost commonplace. A whole new way of being gay was opening up to us, one that didn’t involve staying out till four in the morning and swanning off to Sitges at the drop of a hat. It’s taken a bit of getting used to, but in the last twelve years same-sex parents have proved that they can do just as good a job as their straight counterparts. Numbers are increasing. Adoption agencies see us as a valuable resource.
Much to my amazement, I still hear the old complaint that gay people who marry and have children are aping heteronormative structures, that we’re being ‘assimilated’ by straight society. Well, let me tell you, being a gay parent means that you’re confronting prejudice and ignorance every second of every day. You’re coming out over and over and over again – at the school gates, at the park, in restaurants, wherever you go. You’re standing up and showing people that we are strong, responsible members of society who can look after children just as well as they can. It’s harder than staying in a hedonistic bubble. Gay parenting is more politically and socially challenging than living a separate ‘lifestyle’. If we show that we can raise children, we’re basically dynamiting all the foundations of homophobia. We’re responsible, we’re in permanent relationships and we’re not a ‘danger’ to kids. I think the Adoption and Children Act was a far more radical piece of legislation than civil partnership and marriage equality.
Being a parent is an incredibly rewarding experience. It is fun, it is exhausting, it makes you re-evaulate your own childhood and upbringing, and it changes your relationship with society in a fundamental way. Most importantly, it’s helping to create a generation of kids for whom same-sex relationships are normal and unremarkable. Our children and their friends see that LGBT families are just as nurturing, stable and committed as any other. We’re creating a world where homophobia doesn’t make sense to young people, because they’ve seen the evidence to the contrary. Being a gay parent isn’t a bed of roses: I’ve encountered hostility and rudeness from people, and I sometimes get sick of having to explain myself over and over again in that special, patient voice I’ve developed. But for all that, for all the exhaustion and yoghurt stains and Lego injuries, it’s the most worthwhile and, I would say, radical thing that I have ever done.