Thursday, January 20, 2011

Child-Rearing by Gay Couples More Common in the South?

I'm not surprised by the recent finding that same-sex couples in the South tend to raise children more than same-sex couples do in other sections of the country.  To use the old phrase of the Scottish Enlightenment, this finding "stands to reason" for me, for all kinds of reasons:

1. Many gay people in the South come to terms with their true natures slowly, because of the constant oppressive weight on our lives of right-wing religious traditions and religious communities.  We are more likely than gay folks raised in areas where that weight is less intense to try to "cure" ourselves by doing the right thing, the expected thing, and marrying.  And so we are more likely to have children by the time we find out that faith-based talk about homosexuality as a disease to be cured is counter-factual, destructive, and downright evil, and we finally launch into living our real lives.  Often with children in tow.

2. Family and family obligations also weigh exceptionally heavily on the lives of gay folks in the South--on all lives in the South.  In my experience, even when extended families in my region have faith-based reservations about the sexual orientation of other family members, they are often not quick to repudiate or exclude gay family members--and that includes the children of those family members.  In a family-structured society, exclusion from family is the worst punishment possible.  It is exclusion from life itself.  And because this is a serious step for a family to take (and the worst cases I've seen of this involve families with means hiding their gay sons by buying apartments for them in places like New York, and then exiling them), extended families often offer networks of support for their gay family members, as those family members raise children.

3. Most of us in the South who live outside our rare large urban centers do not have access to anything resembling "a gay community" or "gay culture."  We just live our lives, because that's the only option we have.  And so to the extent that "gay culture" as it has developed in the large urban centers of the world sometimes overlooks the option of raising children or promotes choices that exclude the rearing of children, many gay couples in the South never receive the signal from a gay culture that they ought to be doing something else.

To my mind, the findings of this particular study point to the need for more intensive regional studies of gay life in the U.S.  Both in the media at large and within gay communities themselves, the understanding of what it means to be gay in the U.S. at present is dominated by the presuppositions of gay people living in large urban centers on the two coasts.

But the rest of the country is not the trackless waste that sophisticates on the coasts often imagine it to be.  However wild and however wooly, it's nonetheless inhabited.  And, as with any other place in the world, the inhabitants of that wild and wooly half-wasteland are likely to include gay and lesbian human beings.

Who carry on living our lives without the benefit of the bright lights and scintillating insights of our coastal centers of high culture.  And who may have something of value to offer those coastal centers, if the inhabitants of the important places in the world would ever choose to stop and listen to us for a tiny bit.

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