As more and more gay men set out to become parents, a new book by University of Iowa Professor Ellen Lewin explores their desire to become parents, the challenges they face along the path to parenthood, and how fatherhood affects their identities as gay men.
“Gay Fatherhood,” an ethnography published by the University of Chicago Press, is the result of interviews with nearly 100 gay men who have or are trying to have children. The book chronicles the men’s lives, investigating how they cope with political attacks from the right and left, including criticism from peers in the gay community who view parenthood as a sign of conformity.
“Many people can understand lesbian’s desire to have a baby because they appreciate the idea of maternal instinct,” said Lewin, professor of anthropology and women’s studies in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “They’re much more suspicious about why gay men would want to be dads, and therefore gay men have to jump through a lot more hoops to be parents.”
Adoption through the foster system is the most affordable way for gay men to become fathers, but Lewin discovered they are typically last in line in the system, meaning they must consider whether they will accept an older child, a child with disabilities, or a child of a different race.
“Straight, middle-class married couples get first pick,” she said. “Heterosexual singles come next, and then gay people of various sorts. Some states prohibit gays from adopting, but a lot of individual social workers realize these guys can be good parents and want to get the kids into homes. There are 100,000 kids in the system, half of which are available for adoption. Most will never get adopted and will remain in the system until age 18, so there’s a sense of urgency.”
Domestic adoption through a private agency can run $20,000, and some mothers will not select gay men to raise their babies. Options for overseas adoptions, which can cost up to $40,000, are limited. Guatemala is one of the few countries with rules flexible enough to allow gay men to adopt, but one partner is invisible during the process – and the fact that the adoptive dad is gay is not advertised. Surrogacy allows a biological connection to one dad but costs upwards of $100,000.
“They have to make choices about what they want versus what they can afford,” Lewin said. “In some cases, gay couples have more financial resources because they’re men, and men make more money. But for a typical middle-class gay couple, some of these options are out of reach.”
Some dads described their urge to become parents as a natural impulse that crept up as they matured. They spoke disparagingly about stereotypical gay life, saying they wanted to do something significant in life – not just look back on fun parties and a well-decorated home.
A desire to pass on values and traditions was motivation for some of the men to become parents. Several expressed a desire to be considered a family, not just a couple.
“The definition of family in American culture is linked to having kids,” Lewin said. “When people ask whether you have a family, they don’t mean, ‘Do you have any relatives?’ or ‘Do you have a spouse or partner?’ They mean ‘Do you have children?’”
In some cases, moral or spiritual beliefs ignited a desire to have children. Men talked about how parenting inspired them to be better people, or about rescuing kids that “no one else wanted.”
One man adopted a homeless, transgender teen who was in trouble for petty theft and drugs and helped her turn her life around. Another man took in a child who was severely disabled by a stroke. The child was unable to walk, talk, make eye contact, speak or eat, and was believed to be deaf. As the dad “moved heaven and earth,” Lewin said, the child improved. He learned to walk and talk, graduated from high school, and now lives semi-independently in a group home.
“I interviewed several guys who adopted kids with disabilities or other challenges and basically gave their lives up for their child,” Lewin said. “But most weren’t out to be heroes or do something revolutionary by becoming gay fathers. Most were ordinary people who live in suburbs, go to Disney World for their vacations, and just want to have children like anyone else.”
When Lewin asked the dads about how parenthood affected their identities as gay men, responses were split. One dad felt “more gay” because he stood out from the straight parents with which he was surrounded; his partner felt “less gay” because they socialized mainly with straight parents from their kids’ school, and friendships with childless gay friends waned.
“Some dads were wistful about aspects of gay life before kids – maybe they missed going to the clubs, or the opera. But one of the findings was that once you’re a parent, you hang out with people you meet at your kid’s play group,” Lewin said. “One couple said, jokingly, ‘We aren’t really gay anymore. We pick our friends based on whose kids have the same nap time.’”
Fatherhood also had an impact on the dads’ relationships with their own families. Homophobia had driven a wedge between some men and their parents, but the grandchild provided a bond.
“I heard stories about gay men who were estranged from their families, but once they had a kid, the grandparents came over all the time,” Lewin said. “Their relatives may not have understood or supported them in the past, but having kids was something their family got and related to.”
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Today we look at the photography and videography of Bruce Weber (born March 29, 1946 in Greensburg, Pennsylvania) an American fashion photographer and occasional filmmaker. He is most widely known for his ad campaigns for Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Pirelli, Abercrombie & Fitch, Revlon, and Gianni Versace, as well as his work for Vogue, GQ, Vanity Fair, Elle, Life, Interview, and Rolling Stone magazines.
After doing photo shoots for and of famous individuals (many of whom were featured in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine), Bruce entered the realm of filmmaking, making short films of teenage boxers (Broken Noses), jazz trumpeter Chet Baker (Let’s Get Lost), his beloved pet dogs, and later, a longer film entitled Chop Suey.
Weber created the fashion label Weberbilt in 2003; his first line, “eat, swim, sex, sleep”, went on sale in boutiques in London and Miami Beach, Florida in 2004.
The Advocate Reports:
While most people would only recognize and attribute the concept of the perfectly proportioned man to Leonardo, the concept of the Vitruvian Man was born about 1500 years before Leonardo’s birth.
Similarly, in the members of a temple there ought to be the greatest harmony in the symmetrical relations of the different parts to the general magnitude of the whole. Then again, in the human body the central point is naturally the navel. For if a man can be placed flat on his back, with his hands and feet extended, and a pair of compasses centered at his navel, the fingers and toes of his two hands and feet will touch the circumference of a circle described therefrom. And just as the human body yields a circular outline, so too a square figure may be found from it. For if we measure the distance from the soles of the feet to the top of the head, and then apply that measure to the outstretched arms, the breadth will be found to be the same as the height, as in the case of plane surfaces which are completely square.
(Marcus Vitruvius, De Architectura, Book III, Chapter 1, p 3)
A little about Photographer Graeme Mitchell:
“Born in Manitoba in 1980. Moved with family to various small towns in the Pacific Northwest. Studied Literature. Raced bicycles and raced and coached alpine skiing. Relocated to NYC in ‘05. Currently focusing on fashion and portrait photography. Enthusiastic about traditional black and white work, challenging his subjects, collaborating with his talented team, and not compromising. Is attracted to photography because of the inherent limitations and at the same time the immense possibilities of the medium. Believes in art, and, incidentally, love.”
In July we celebrate the birthday of Jean Cocteau – a French poet, novelist, dramatist and filmmaker. His circle of friends and lovers included Pablo Picasso, Jean Hugo, Jean Marais, Henri Bernstein, Marlene Dietrich, Coco Chanel, María Félix, Édith Piaf and Raymond Radiguet. Edith Wharton described him as a man “to whom every great line of poetry was a sunrise, every sunset the foundation of the Heavenly City…”
According to Harold Ackton, at the age of 18 Cocteau “took the pulse of each of the nine muses and prescribed the exact regimen she had to follow.
He published his first volume of poems, Aladdin’s Lamp, at nineteen. Soon Cocteau became known in the Bohemian artistic circles as ‘The Frivolous Prince’—the title of a volume he published at twenty-two.
Cocteau’s unconventional approach and enormous output brought him international acclaim. His opium addition – and reputation for seducing Parisian gendarmes with a faked, drunken “privelege du cape” at the legendary Paris pissoirs – make for controversial biographies, such as that by Francis Steegmuller.