Family Matters: Lesbian and gay lives through parents, children
May 16, 2012 | 12:00 am
(Updated: February 25, 2013 | 5:29 pm)
For years after Stonewall, LGBT families were defined in the alternative sense: Family meant the lovers and friends we chose to surround ourselves with when others shunned us.
In the 21st century, the LGBT definition of family has embraced a more traditional course: Marriage, civil unions and, increasingly, children.
Complications abound, of course, as they do in the straight community: How will our biological families take the news of our orientation? Do we want our romantic relationships codified legally? What about children? Should we adopt children, or pursue a flesh-of-our-flesh course?
The latest federal Census data shows that the percentage of Colorado’s same-sex couples living together grew by more than 60 percent in the last decade. And almost 25 percent of those couples are raising children.
The latter statistic is particularly notable for a population that not so long ago felt it had to engage in sham straight marriages to procreate. These days, creating a family is about choice, not societal obligation. And there need be no sham involved.
Of course, before you can create a family you must have a sense of belonging to the clan into which you were born. Coming out to one’s family is a rite of gay passage. It can be horrific and it can be liberating.
And sometimes family bonds need to be forged anew when parents learn that a child is gay. So it was with Trish Pachak, who confronted her daughter about her suspicions 13 years ago.
“When she was 17, I asked her,” says interior designer Pachak. “She was in high school and was exclusive with another girl. Her response was ‘I’m not ready to talk to you about that yet.’ At first I was extremely upset, not because she was gay, but because I worried that the world would be cruel to her and non-accepting.
“Over the next couple of years she would say things about me not accepting her because she was gay, and it usually (coincided with) bad behavior she was doing. I said ‘This has nothing to do with you being gay, you’re acting like a brat.’ It was that kind of thing where everything was about her being gay. I said ‘I’d like for you to get to a point where you’re a wonderful person who doesn’t have to just be gay.’ I felt like sexuality was always her leading line and not her complete identification.”
By the time her daughter was in college, Pachak says their relationship was on the mend.
“I think we got to a point where we could openly talk about it. She wasn’t so defensive. I told her ‘I don’t care who you love but that you are loved and loved well.”
Today, Pachak’s daughter is 30 and married to another woman. Much of their extended family has embraced the relationship, but some still struggle as Trish herself did early on.
“When you have a child there’s a part of you that has these unspoken dreams for them and it’s a big adjustment that it’s not going to be the way (marriage, children) you envisioned. I was probably the one who had the hardest time with it. We didn’t tell my extended family for a while. I finally said something to my mom and she said ‘That doesn’t change anything about her.’ I said, ‘You’re absolutely right.’ My dad was and remains very judgmental but my parents did come to her wedding. One (of my) brothers is very Christian. He says, ‘I love her and think God would want me to put that love first.’”
For Holly Chartier, an Aurora homemaker, learning her son was gay came out of the blue.
“It really was more of a surprise to me than anything,” she recalls.“He had dated a girl in high school and I thought he was heterosexual. He hadn’t fallen in love or anything. But he was a boy and boys generally don’t talk to their mother about sex.
“He came out to me (at age 22) as I was driving him home from the airport after he spent eight months in Paris. He basically told us he’d had an affair with a guy in Paris and was gay. He obviously felt comfortable telling me. I basically said, ‘I love you no matter what. If that’s what you are, that’s what you are.’
“I’ve always prided myself on being very liberal and very open minded with my kids. If it’s something I don’t agree with, I’ll tell them, but I don’t try to change their mind. I wasn’t sad, but I had some concerns, namely the dangers some gay men and women face. My biggest concern was AIDS and safe sex. I basically made it clear that he could talk to me about it.”
Her son is now 29 and in a committed relationship of six years. Chartier and her husband consider their son-in-law a part of the family, including him in family photos.
“I couldn’t have been happier with the person he decided to get serious with. His partner is a very nice guy, very stable and a good influence on my son. That’s what matters to me.”
Her advice to parents who discover that their children are gay?
“Just let them talk. Try not to react. If you are disappointed, try to let them know you still accept them as your child and they are still the same person. The love part, the acceptance of who they are as a person, shouldn’t change. It makes it so much easier. I can’t imagine living with that kind of conflict in life: Thinking that your child’s going to hell.”
If parents must learn to accept and embrace their child’s sexuality, sometimes those same children grow up with a longing to create families of their own.
For body shop owner Nadia Lopez, 37, and her partner Monique Box, 32, a desire for children lead to failed artificial insemination and successful in vitro fertilization. Today they have 3-year-old twins, Max and Lilly.
“Definitely the idea of having children has been embraced by a lot of our friends, but friends who don’t have kids will occasionally call and say can you meet us for happy hour. That doesn’t exist in our world,” Lopez says with a laugh. “Our kids definitely understand that they have two mommies while most kids at their daycare have a mommy and a daddy.”
Does she worry about her children being teased about their parents’ sexuality?
“Kids find a reason to tease whether you have two mommies or big ears. Hopefully we teach them to be strong. I think it’s something we will be prepared for. It’s not as uncommon for kids to be aware of gay and lesbian couples these days and those couples having children. With TV today, kids are more aware and accepting.”
Lopez says the decision to have children was not made lightly.
“I couldn’t imagine my life without children. I’ve wanted kids since I was 6 or 7 years old. It was a no-brainer for both of us. It’s a lot more common now; when I was 14 or 15 I used to hang around older lesbians. I still don’t know of one lesbian couple in Pueblo that has conceived children as a couple. I used to always wonder how it was going to happen because none of my friends had children. We did IVF (which succeeded) after a year of trying. We were hoping for one (child) and pleasantly surprised when we had two.”
Because Monique actually carried the children to term, Nadia was faced with the lengthy chore of having to adopt the babies she helped usher into life.
“I think it’s crazy that I had to legally adopt my own kids: Having to have a psychological evaluation; having someone come to your house to decide if it was a safe space; even going before a judge and having him ask if you’re sure you want to accept not just legal but financial responsibilities. I found the whole process insulting. We spend enough money creating these beautiful babies, obviously we want them. I had no legal rights until they were legally adopted. I would say from start to finish the whole process took about four months.”
Nadia became a legal guardian when Max and Lily were 2.
For Denver physician Todd Kline, 39, and his partner Javier, 37, the road to parenthood was equally laborious – and expensive. The couple turned to an egg donor and two surrogates, each of whom carried an egg to term fertilized by each man.
The result was a boy and a girl – half-siblings since they share the same egg donor – now seven months old.
The babies were sired and born – at a cost of more than $75,000 – in California, a state chosen for the relative ease of establishing parenthood.
“We did this in California because the laws are much better in terms of doing surrogacy as a gay couple,” says Kline. “A doctor recommended some agencies in California that link people with profiles to surrogates and egg donors. So we spent quite a long time looking at possibilities.”
They also spent a lot of time considering what it means to be parents.
“We had both always wanted to have a family and have our own genetic kids, just like anyone else. It’s definitely a dream come true, but of course it’s the hardest thing, too. I think (surrogacy) is a growing section of the population. It’s probably much more common for lesbian couples to do it. I know of maybe five other gay male couples, friends, who have done it. But, of course, it’s expensive.”
Kline and has little worry about how he and his partner will explain the circumstances of their children’s birth.
“We’re going to tell them the exact truth, that your daddy and poppa always dreamed of having a family and wanted to share their loving feelings by bringing a family into the world. We created a little book for them about how they came to be. This is the story of their creation, and we hope that they will really be proud of it.
“We call the egg donor the Donor Momma and the surrogates the Oven Mommas. Both surrogates and the egg donor have agreed that they would meet the kids. It depends on when the kids want to. There shouldn’t be any mistake that Javier and I are their two parents. The good thing about the California law is that both of our names are on each of their birth certificates.”
But when children grow older, another set of questions will inevitably emerge. Denver realtor Carl McNew, 57, and his partner Steve, 35, have a 17-year-old son and a 15-year-old daughter. They sired the children with a lesbian couple – so the kids have four gay parents.
McNew says the children were largely raised in the liberal environs of Boulder so they’ve experienced little bullying. All four extended families have been supportive of the teenagers, and propagandist arguments that gays can only sire gays have proven off the mark.
“My son is on his third girlfriend and he wants to be a welder,” says McNew. “We sort of laugh about gay parents who worry about having gay children, when we’re gay parents. My son is in a band that’s going to be playing during Boulder Gay Pride. My daughter is involved with some PFLAG type group at school. They’ve always had that awareness.”
As children get older they ask a lot of questions, and McNew says one key to a successful family of any type is honesty.
“They’re pretty strong kids. The have strong identities. They can talk to us anytime. I’ve checked in and asked if anyone has given them troubles. I think the main thing is that early on we were honest about who we were going into it. I know gay parents who will make up stories saying this is my sister or my uncle. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Just be honest. Our children have learned to be honest because we were honest.”
For Denver businessman Steven Alix, who owns X Bar with his partner Jorge, 27, the road to parenthood was long but eventually fruitful.
“We haven’t seen anything different (about gay parenting),” says Alix, “except that (daughter Lexi) calls the nanny Mommy. I had been trying to adopt for a long time and had several failed attempts (Ukraine, San Diego). Finally my step niece was pregnant and wanted me to have the baby. All my life I knew I was going to be a great parent. I was 40 (when Lexi was born). At birth, I cut her cord.”
With supportive friends and family nearby, Alix believes Lexi will enjoy a less hostile environment than she might have endured a decade ago.
“The gay part is obvious; there’s two of us in the house. She understands the difference between the family she’s involved with and others. I feel like we’re lucky; her life will be much easier than it would have been 10 years ago because of the Internet and TV shows.”
They key to parenting is relatively simple, he notes. “Patience for sure and determination. It’s a wonderful thing becoming a gay parent. You have to be completely dedicated to make this work.”
Is there any downside?
“Not as far as gay versus straight,” Alix laughs. “But sleep would be nice.”