Real Families: Beyond the 20/20 Sound Byte

Curator's Note

When I was sixteen I was interviewed by Barbara Walters as one of “the children everyone was worried about, those of Gay and Lesbian parents.” Of course this was not the first time we had spoken out, but 20/20 was the first mass tv outlet to “sanction” our voices - and our families – as legitimate… within reason.

Leading up to the taping I grappled with how I would answer the question they were most likely to ask: “Are you gay?”

I knew that I had likely been chosen because I identified as straight. How could I answer authentically and problematize the question’s inherent homophobia without alienating the American and international audiences we were supposed to win over?

I still cringe at the clip – recollecting my frustration that I so quickly claimed “straight” and with the edit that clearly cut off what I had to say next: “But I believe sexuality is a continuum and I am open to falling in love with a woman one day. If you mean to ask me whether I feel empowered to have a healthy love life, then the answer is yes.”

The truth is that I didn’t feel empowered to freely explore a love life or my sexuality. I was acutely aware that, according to pop culture, proving my parents’ legitimacy meant I should date men. Simultaneously, my feminist upbringing challenged me to pursue a dating life that did not emulate 90210 or Melrose Place. Meanwhile, the movement that bore me was all about free love, and revolutionizing the definition of family. We were interested in breaking down white picket fences, not merely expanding them.

Two of my four fathers continue to identify as Bisexual and have been in an open relationship all my life. My family consists of divorced, separated and reunited parents - none are married – and yet we all come together for Thanksgiving. The power of queerspawn is not in our ability to legitimate our parents’ sexuality, but rather to re-envision what relationships and family can mean – and create media that inspires others to do the same.

 

Comments

Aaron Dickinson Sachs's picture

“Tonight for the first time

Tonight for the first time you will hear what it’s like to be raised by gay parents, from the only people who really know, their children…. Today, open and honest, the children speak.”

What a set up Babwa gives you! On the one hand, she acknowledges the power in the voices of people with LGBTQ parents, like you. Then on the other, she puts forward this assertion that you will speak openly and honestly. Not only does this deny the pressure that is put on you, which you discussed above, but it also leaves out any influence that she or her editing staff will have on shaping what you’ve said. And as you write above, they actually edited out some of your own words, altering the meaning of what you so openly and honestly said about your identity as it relates to your parents’.

Thanks for providing us a good example of how, even when we get outside of the fictional representations of people with LGBTQ parents—which as Nick and I have both said seem to be rigorously controlled to be one dimensionally positive most of the time—and into what seems like self-representation of people with LGBTQ parents in the media, we have a similar reduction in the kinds of images that the media are willing to support.

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