The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Personal, Political, or Parent?

I’m a wee bit out of sorts today, for various reasons, and wasn’t even sure I’d post much today. But, as we’re waiting to expand our family, I’ve been thinking a lot about the various things that have been said about gay parents, gay couples adopting, etc. And I’ve been blogging a lot about the challenges our families face, particularly related to not-having the rights and protections that other families have. Mary Cheney’s pregnancy was one opportunity to do that.

She’s been pretty quiet since announcing her pregnancy, and setting off a firestorm of controversy. So, when I saw a New York Times article in which Mary Cheney talks about her pregnancy, and the decision she and Heather made to become parents, I had to stop and read it. It’s not often — in fact, it’s downright rare — that I find myself nodding in agreement with Mary Cheney. So, when that happens, I think it’s worth noting.

“When Heather and I decided to have a baby, it was not going to be the most popular decision ever,” Ms. Cheney said, referring to her partner of 15 years, Heather Poe.

She then gestured to her middle — any bulge disguised by a boxy jacket — and asserted: “This is a baby. This is a blessing from God. It is not a political statement. It is not a prop to be used in a debate by people on either side of an issue. It is my child.”

Ms. Cheney, 37, was speaking at Barnard College in Manhattan in a panel discussion sponsored by Glamour magazine. The baby, whose sex she has not revealed publicly, is due this spring and will be the sixth grandchild for the vice president and his wife.

And she commented on James Dobson’s response.

Ms. Cheney agreed the research was distorted. “Every piece of remotely responsible research that has been done in the last 20 years on this issue has shown there is no difference between children who are raised by same-sex parents and children who are raised by opposite-sex parents,” she said. “What matters is that children are being raised in a stable, loving environment.”

I now that by some people’s definition, I am not a parent and neither is Heather Poe, because I don’t have a biological tie to my son and it’s assumed Poe is not biologically related to the child Mary’s carrying. I haven’t heard that Mary and Heather have said much about the circumstances of their IVF arrangement. So, for all I know, a male relative of Heather’s could have been the donor, thus giving her a biological tie. But as a cousin or aunt, and not a parent, as far as some people are concerned.

I am, and Heather will be, “taking care of a child” (which sounds more like a glorified babysitter than a parent). I suppose if you define family strictly as two people raising children who are the biological product of their union, that’s true. But, as I’ve said before, I don’t quite understand the obsession with whittling down the definition of family (and the purpose of marriage, for that matter) purely to procreation. From my perspective, getting the kid here is only part of being a parent. An important part, but not one that requires much more than functioning gonads and genitalia.

To put it somewhat crassly, any teenager who can pee straight can get — or get someone — pregnant. Most of the people in my previous post managed that, but I don’t think anyone would hold them up as exemplary parents. The more longer, more challenging, and arguably more important part comes with the day-to-day reality of loving an raising child through fevers and first steps, teething and tantrums, potty training and playdates, while also guiding him or her through stages of growth; passing on values you hope will enable you child to live in the world later on, in a way that will bring them happiness and also make the world a little bit better for their being in it.

What Mary said, though, that got a nod of recognition from me, was that their decision to become parents was not a political decision. It’s an accusation that gets leveled at gay and lesbian parents all the time, particularly if we’re (a) out, (b) politically outspoken about equality, and (c) visible as families. What puzzles me about that is when that accusation comes from people who have children, and who should know how much parenting — wonderful and rewarding as it may be — is. (If you’re doing it right.) If they’ve been through the same experiences I have as a parent (outside of pregnancy and delivery, in my case), what on earth makes them think anyone would make that depth of commitment for political reasons?

Maybe it’s because they assume that, since we can’t reproduce (there it is again) with same-sex partners, gay people shouldn’t want to have families. Or that we don’t really want to be parents, but are doing so as part of some political strategy. (Honestly, if our aims were totally political, it would be easier to organize a march on Washington or something. And it would take less time an energy.) When we adopted Parker, I found out later that my mom had asked my sister, “What are they thinking?!” To which my sister replied, “Um. That they want to have a family.”

It’s really that simple. We’re just people, after all. And some of us want to be parents just like lots of other people do, and for all the same reasons. (Unless passing on one’s genes is the primary reason for being a parent.) The hubby told me when we met that he’d always wanted a family. When I came out (something like 26 years ago now), I wanted the same thing, but assumed it wouldn’t be possible.

Well, it is possible now. And the reality is that, though I don’t think it’s a choice any of us makes for political reasons, that very personal choice is made political by the society we’re living in (and raising our children in). It shouldn’t be, as one of the audience members noted, but it is.

Even if there were political differences with Ms. Cheney, several of them said after the panel that they found her sympathetic. Leslie Lipton, 20, said she thought Ms. Cheney should be able to have a baby if she wanted one and was raising the child in a loving home.

“I think people will take it as a political statement because she is so much in the public eye,” Ms. Lipton said. “But in an ideal world, it wouldn’t be political.”

And maybe becoming parents makes us more political as a necessity, because caring about our children makes it necessary to become advocates for our families, and engaged in our communities. Even that’s not so much political as it is part and parcel of commitment to family.

The irony is that by by forming committed relationships and building families, we are standing against the “cultural and moral” forces that Wallis says are “ripping families apart.” In the choice between cynicism and hope that Wallis spend spends the last chapter of the book talking about, we are in a very real way coming down on the side of the latter, and at the same time investing in the ideal of community Wallis extolls as part of the solution to the problems he spends the rest of the book discussing.

It came home to me in a very real way a few weeks ago, and helped me give voice to an understanding I don’t think I had before entering a committed relationship and becoming a parent. Like Wallis’ experience watching the finale of Survivor, I had my epiphany while watching television. The hubby and I were watching Noah’s Arc, and one of the characters (Ricky) who was struggling with his first real relationship mused that “When you fall in love with someone that way, you’re supposed to be shutting out a world of trouble.” (Or something close to that.) Without even thinking about it or intending to speak, I heard myself saying “That’s not true!”

It took me a minute more to articulate what I meant, but it comes down to this. Making a commitment to another person, as a partner or a parent, is the furthest thing from “shutting out a world of trouble,” because it means making yourself even more vulnerable to an already troubled world; something that really comes home to you when you’re loved one’s walk out the door to go to work, school, etc., and you realize how vulnerable they are, how much can happen “out there,” and how little you can do to protect them. It means, or it can mean, committing to making the world you and your loved ones journey through each day a little less troubled if you can. By extension that means, or can mean, doing the same for and alongside the families in your community.

So, it’s personal. And, yes, it’s made political. But it’s really just parenting.

6 Comments

  1. I hadn’t heard about this! Mazel tov to Heather and Mary, may they and their child have many years!

  2. Pingback: Mombian: Sustenance for Lesbian Moms » Blog Archive » Mary Cheney Speaks Up

  3. Hmmm… in 2004, Mary supported all that which she is going through by campaigning with (the) Dick. So, no sympathy here and I hope it will be brought up more. She has no reasonable expectation, like any other gay couple raising child, for privacy. Again, this is what she campaigned for and now now she got it.

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  5. “The persoal is political.” As a lesbian daughter of a vice-president who represents a party whose base is virulently anti-gay and I don’t understand why she always seems surprised when her actions become cause for public discussion.

    As long as she remains any kind of public figure her child, her relationship, her parents, in short: Her life, will be “a political prop” for both sides.

    If she wants to raise her child away from the public eye, away from the harsh politics of being a gay parent, she need only step out of the limelight and become one of the many gay parents who go about their daily lives.

  6. Before my son was born, my entire interest in politics, was contrary. If it was said by a politician, of course it’s b.s. As far as getting involved, my complaining sufficed.

    Then I held that beautiful, tiny sprog for the first time. So helpless, so absolutely dependent on his momma and papa. I realized that I had a profound responsibility to not only raise him well, but to do everything I can to make the world that I forced him into, a better place for him to live and grow in.

    I think it is common (though not nearly common enough), for people to become political when they have kids. It really pisses me off that for families like your’s, the “political” fight, is for the security that other families have, almost by default. I was never married to my son’s mom, yet never have had any problems exerting my right as his dad. This in spite of not being on his birth certificate for the first six months of his life (his mom was still technicaly married, her ex dissapeared to Tibet for three years). Even though I had to sue for my place on his birth certificate, I have always had the security of having the inherent rights of a parent.

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