How Queer was/is My Two Dads?

Curator's Note

Queer theory allows us to view the world from perspectives other than those which are generally validated by dominant society.”

When the TV show, My Two Dads premiered in 1987, I was a six year old whose own lesbian mothers had gotten married in a non-legally binding ceremony the year before. From my young and unique perspective, one thing was clear to me when watching the show; this was as close to an example of our kind of family as TV had. I was always looking for how the main character’s family might mirror my own.

Perhaps, I missed the pilot episode that establishes how these two men come to live together; a woman that they were each involved with, before she passed away, had left behind a daughter. When the matter of the girl’s paternity can’t be resolved, they end up co-parenting her. Sure, they claimed to be straight, but I wasn’t fooled. Either way, the show featured same-sex parenting even if they were (straight, that is).

This was almost twenty years before Modern Family featured gay dads, a decade before Ellen came out. Queerspawn, as an identity, has only recently started to emerge within media culture. When My Two Dads was around there was no representation of our families at all. Nowadays, it would constantly have to be clarified that they weren’t in fact just gay dads. “My Two Dads” as a title would almost presume that to be in the case, in the current landscape. Looking back at the show, I wonder if this sort of thing could get made now. The greater heteronormativity of the time, in which queer families were invisible or absent, allowed My Two Dads to exist. Yet, if part of Queer liberation is the redefinition of family, from a biologically determined group to one defined by love, then My Two Dads supports this idea of chosen family. Although there is the premise that one or the other is her biological father, they both defacto adopt her. My Two Dads, if nothing else offered an expanded notion of family.

 

Comments

Aaron Dickinson Sachs's picture

Me too!

Thanks for starting off the week kellen, and for choosing such a great text to discuss.

Growing up with lesbian moms I had much the same relationship to “My Two Dads.” I’m pretty sure that I knew that they were not romantically a couple in the way my own moms were, but that didn’t stop me from seeing Michael, Joey, and Nicole as a queer family. At a point when there were no depictions of families like mine, “My Two Dads” was enough to help me feel less alone in the world of media (kind of like when I’d stumble onto the very rare reference to Hanuka in the sea of Christmas specials). In this sense, I see “My Two Dads” as a good example of what might be called “gay family window programming,” following the example of Sender (1999) on “gay window advertising,” where the heteronormative assumptions of most audiences mask the queer subtext embedded in an ad or program for viewers “in the know.” Now I have no idea whether My Two Dads was meant to have a gay subtext either, though it probably didn’t, but I agree with you, kellen, that it was still what I would call a queer family. Queerness in the family context extends beyond the sexual or gender identity of the parents to encompass anything that exceeds the rigid definition of a “conventional” cis-gender heterosexual household. That sounds like “My Two Dads” to me.

Now if only the series hadn’t ended with the men splitting up to pursue more conventional heterosexual relationships/families….

kellen kaiser's picture

That ending bummed me out too!

I was also disappointed that the series ended with the dissolution of their family unit. Thanks for giving me the term “gay family window programming,”.that was totally what it was, intended or not.Now I want to come up with other examples of that.

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