Rainbow Parenting Is Their Choice
An Insight Into The Much-Disputed Same-Sex Parenting
With a Straight And a Gay Therapist, Dr. Debi Yohn, And Joe Ramirez.
by Angie Ivan
How many times some of us haven’t wondered why a kid deserves to be parented by a gay family and not by a straight one or, on the other side, why they are against it? Same-sex parenting still stirs up indignation in many of the world’s societies where traditional families are set as real-life models in their push of keeping the inborn values alive. The opposing views often generate inflexible attitudes triggering arguments from the United States to Europe and from Australia to Asian countries. Yet, over the past decades, gay or rainbow families have made their way to the legal process of adoption, surrogacy or in-vitro-fertilization in some LGBTQ friendly countries such as Canada, the US, Spain, the Netherlands, France, or the UK. But even so, the assimilation of gay people into straight society is far from being complete.
Most of the studies available to a general audience show that children raised by parents in a same-sex relationship are as healthy and happy as those of straight families. And this, because the well-being of children is unrelated to parental sexual orientation. It is not clear if the researchers observed similar families under all aspects but different just by their sexual orientation that eventually, led to the highlighted conclusion. However, this finding has been challenged by other studies indicating that children raised by LGBTQ families face greater emotional, developmental, and other difficulties than those raised by their stable biological parents. LGBTQ is an acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning people.
But what do gay’s children have to say? Gabriela Herman, a New York-based photographer, and herself a child of an LGBTQ parent, has conducted a long and complex project for about seven years that turned into a book titled “The Kids: The Children of LGBTQ Parents in the USA.” Herman gave a voice to the most studied children of the past decades traveling around America to interview and take photos of people in their 20s or 30s with gay, bisexual or trans moms and dads, and adopted or conceived by artificial insemination.
Capturing more than fifty portraits of the offspring, she discovered that no two child’s experiences are the same. While some experiences were positively attributed in part to kids’ nonchalance in handling their parents’ sexual orientation, for others, including Gabriela, these were from difficult to traumatic. The American-Brazilian photographer also found that accepting environments play a vital role in children’s development.
Do same-sex couples have the right to become parents? Could improvements be achieved in their choices? Can sexual orientation stop someone from feeling as a parent? Does freedom hold the same value to everyone? And how to deal with the ongoing decisions of same-sex parents? There are questions to be asked and two psychotherapists join the discussion to help shed some light on the issues of same-sex parenting.
Dr. Debi Yohn is an American counseling psychologist with a global perspective, the author of five books and an international speaker. The most recent writing, “Losing Your Only”, reveals her journey as a parent that lost an only child in a car accident while he was a college student in the US. Dr. Yohn has a Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Alabama and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She received her PhD. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Sarasota.
Debi Yohn began her career in psychology in the early ’70s helping poor families in the rural south when she greeted from time to time some of the locals with “Please put the gun down…I’m a social worker, not a revenuer.” With a career spanning almost four decades, the experience of living and working in Saudi Arabia, China, Mexico, France and throughout the US has strengthened her area of expertise that includes parenting, expatriate problems, executive support, marital and sex issues, as well as couples therapy. Debi Yohn teaches also specific strategies to bring joy and relaxation to clients’ lives. The American coach mixes professional knowledge with humorous stories that entertain the audience and teach the lesson.
While in Shanghai, she founded LifeLine Shanghai which is a service to help expats in need. Founded in 2004, the non-profit organization is affiliated with Lifeline International. The helpline center serves the English-speaking community with confidential and anonymous emotional support through a free call. On the website www.lifeline-shanghai.com, all prior to the call information can be checked very easily. Dr. Yohn currently travels the world working with her clients, writing and managing her business and charitable actions. Besides her tailored work, she maintains also two private offices in the cities of West Palm Beach in South Florida, USA, and Shanghai, China.
Joe Ramirez is a Canadian with Spanish roots psychotherapist who has been in practice of psychology for over 15 years. He holds a Master’s degree in Counselling Psychology from the Adler University and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of British Columbia. Joe Ramirez was trained for specialized needs that include Latin-Canadian cross-cultural identity and relationships, LGBTQ issues covering sexual identity, parenting, and family, men’s sexual health and masculine identity.
Ramirez started his career with the Vancouver police as a volunteer who joined the dispatch team and provided emotional support to community members. That was the moment when he first became aware of the widespread presence of the sexual abuse of men and boys and the lack of social support across the country. As the young Canadian psychologist felt he had more to offer the non-profit world, he took a job at the British Columbia Society for Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse, then at the Justice Institute of British Columbia. The center is focused on training professionals in the justice, public safety, and social services fields. Canada’s leading public safety educator was the place where he coached frontline community workers and other agencies on how to support men survivors and how to help them and their beloved overcome sexual abuse.
After gaining valuable experience, Joe Ramirez opened a private counseling practice in downtown Vancouver. In addition to the private office, he teaches at the Adler University Vancouver Campus, a graduate university that incorporates social responsibility as part of their graduate programs and volunteers with the Health Initiative for Men Organization.
Ivan: Thank you for taking the time to talk about same-sex parenting that is still seen as morally unacceptable by many people across the globe! I would start by asking about your openness…Has self-censorship affected you for various reasons as psychotherapists?
Debi Yohn: Self-censorship [is] the control of what you say or do in order to avoid annoying or offending others, but without being told officially that such control is necessary. As a therapist, I select my words wisely in order not to offend but my style is direct, honest while being sensitive.
Joe Ramirez: A client wants help with their concerns, not to hear my story. They entrust that I’m qualified and capable, and I believe that shows. My approach is client focused. Whether I disclose any part of myself to a client would only be for their benefit with respect to their own goals, otherwise, I’m just talking about myself in their session – and that doesn’t work.
I’m a sex therapist and couples counselor first. That I’m gay, a man, have a child, or quite boring on the weekends, is rather irrespective to most client concerns. Nevertheless, these other parts of myself help me to see things differently, similar to when someone knows a second language and one can see variations of culture and communication. So, that does help with common concerns, such as how to deal with communication frustration with a partner; how to have self-care and compassion when frustrated and down as a parent; how to redefine one’s self after the loss of a parent, work, or divorce.
Ivan: Sometimes we are quick to point fingers at others thinking we are, somehow, better people due to education, status, power, skin color or sexual orientation, to mention but a few. How to achieve goals in the process of understanding?
Debi Yohn: I acknowledge that I am a straight, Caucasian female, middle class, and I have had the gift of education. I do draw on my life experiences which [make up] a book in its own right…
Ivan: So, the key is to be aware of ourselves – to enjoy our strengths and improve our weaknesses. Mr. Ramirez, what do you think?
Joe Ramirez: We all want to be seen and accepted just the same. We want to realize our potential, not knowing what that is and want others to appreciate and value who we are in the process. Although the focus is on wanting external validation from others, in the end, we find our best intrinsic self while in the service of others.
Heroes in our world were not heroes unto themselves, but for their part in moving society forward in the face of resistance and defiance. So how do we realize the hero within? It begins by looking at society and our community and asking one’s self – How can I help? – Jump in!
Ivan: Be a man of few wants, you say.
Ivan; Now… same-sex parenting is a choice. While joint adoption by same-sex couples is legal in 27 countries, for some parts of the world laws are still under revision. I want to ask you …why does same-sex parenting trigger controversy worldwide regardless of legal status, more than the issue of abused children by their heterosexual parents?
Debi Yohn: Same-sex parenting triggers controversy because it is “not the norm.” In general, people don’t like what they don’t know. Certain religions preach that same-sex relations will guarantee you a trip to hell, no questions asked. “Man” has interpreted religion and the weak follow their interpretation.
Joe Ramirez: People can be judgmental without taking any responsibility for it – and it is easy to judge. To change one’s personal principals may have more consequences than just changing one’s mind on a flavor of ice cream. A country’s laws may be humanistic, but controversy has a lot more to do with conflicting personal politics.
Visibly, we don’t see the heterosexual parents that abuse children in the community. These parents come and go to the child’s school, grocery store, parks, and restaurants, and no one knows. No one is being reminded of children being hurt, so personal politics aren’t being disturbed by anyone. Even if we did know, then one can feel legally validated and morally justified to put down these heterosexual parents without any consequence to one’s self. In contrast, noticing two gay parents taking care of their child at school or any those places, even when legal, individuals are placed in immediate conflict with their own personal politics, inner conscience, and to also be discriminated.
In addition, a child or family member who comes out gay has no choice and will deal with discrimination. However, people forget that the parents, family members, or friends who stand with them are also suddenly shunned and discriminated. To stand by these same-sex parents, or even allowing one’s child to be friendly with their child, can mean receiving the hate or discrimination by neighbors, long-time friends, to be kicked out of their own church community and even feel hated by strangers.
So, while we can ignore, deny, and hide the reality of heterosexual parents who abuse and who walk amongst us, we cannot ignore same-sex parents and their child. Socially, one is openly put on the spot to answer this one social question become open to experience its social consequences: Do you support these same-sex parents and put yourself at social risk, or not?
Ivan: A baby is conceived by a man and a woman feeling a connection to each other within a biological process, referred to as the normal conditions of giving birth to a child. Now, what should we understand happens when a gay or lesbian couple uses surrogacy and in-vitro fertilization procedure to become parents?
Debi Yohn: This is a complex question that cannot be answered briefly. Conception and how a child is conceived are a very small piece of the human cycle.
Joe Ramirez: That this is a wanted baby.
Ivan: What does a child’s best interest mean?
Debi Yohn: A child’s best interest would include being loved, safe, and protected.
Joe Ramirez: In the best interest of the child, is the rule to abide by when making decisions on behalf of the child’s health, safety, security, and mental-emotional well-being.
It just so happens that I adopted my child. It was an open adoption where the mother chose his parents. After she had reviewed several potential parent profiles, she chose us. Specifically for the reason that she wanted her child to be raised in a home without discrimination. Choosing his parents and the kind of parents were decisions made of her “in the best interest” of the child.
Ivan: Most of the studies reveal no difference in kids with same-sex, opposite-sex parents, but there are children, some grown-ups, who disagree with the outcomes as well as specialists accusing the research methods of poor performance. How do you see the findings?
Debi Yohn: You can interpret outcomes usually in many ways unless you are answering a math question.
Joe Ramirez: I am not sure what is meant by ‘no difference’ because kids do have a different social experience depending on the kind of family’s atmosphere and household tone they grow up in. A family that encourages and values education, career, and independence, may grow up differently compared to a family environment that doesn’t believe in a child’s potential. Both of those situations can be in either same-sex parent and opposite-sex parent households. In that sense, there is no difference.
Ivan: There are public testimonies before US Courts of some young people that have accused their gay or lesbian parents of wanting toys, not children because they said they were treated as objects. Teenagers complained about their parents who demanded more for their benefit and weren’t able to give too much unconditional love by pushing things to happen, as a gay or lesbian can’t conceive a baby; probably they were born following surrogacy or IVF procedure. Do you think they are right that LGBTQ parents are selfish?
Joe Ramirez: All parents can be selfish. Many people have kids for selfish reasons, and some of those reasons include: presenting the kids as trophies under pressure by their grandparents, parents, sibling rivalry, church officials, etc. Some children feel objectified when they valued more or less because they’re a boy or a girl. The purpose of having kids can be selfish for many reasons.
What I’m understanding from the situation you presented is that the teenagers have complained that they haven’t felt much unconditional love. I believe many teenagers from either LGBTQ parents or heterosexual parents can have this same complaint about wanting to feel unconditional love. Just because one is a parent, the knowing how to respect, nurture, and love your child doesn’t come automatically. People can create babies, that doesn’t make them an automatic great parent. In fact, I believe that the world as a whole would be so much better if all parents went through a parenting education program on how to raise your baby, your child, and your teen.
Ivan: What would you tell an LGBTQ couple willing to adopt a child and eventually the kid who is already of school age after the adoption?
Joe Ramirez: A very common concern when adopting a child is raising a child that is not like one’s self due to differences in color of skin, ancestry, sexual identity, or capabilities. The age of the child is another challenge as well. These concerns are usually addressed in the adoption process before qualifying to enter into the pool of being a potential parent. The main question for the parent is, to be honest about what they [are] willing to work with. The child himself may also come out as LGBTQ.
Debi Yohn: I would tell them to love and care for the child as all parents should do.
Ivan: There are fewer common cases such as a child raised from birth by two gay dads, born with the sperm of one of her dads and the egg of the other dad’s relative. Where does a such couple’s freedom end and where does a doctor’s begin? Does the latter have the right to refuse it to them without being accused of discrimination?
Debi Yohn: This question is too deep. My preference… I believe there are so many children who need adoption [that] we should use adoption. Doctors have their own codes. They have to live by both professional and spiritual [paths], so I cannot speak for them.
Ivan: Can we talk about a form of acting against human nature?
Joe Ramirez: You have different questions here. A sperm and an egg are required to create a baby, so I don’t see how that is against human nature. In terms of rights, that is about the country’s laws.
Ivan: So, LGBTQ couples can give birth to a baby via in-vitro fertilization but they aren’t really bonding with the baby like straight parents. Do you think they need to have explained to them the attachment that normally develops between the unborn baby, mother, and father?
Debi Yohn: Attachment is automatic in a healthy scenario. If the attachment does not happen, then professional help should be sought.
Ivan: Do you talk with them regarding the attachment that would normally develop between the mother, father and unborn baby but in their cases, it cannot be possible?
Joe Ramirez: Attachment is an ongoing process. There are many children born to women while their husbands were unavailable during the pregnancy, but the fathers then became available after the child was born. I wouldn’t suggest that these children are less healthy, or less attached, to parents who were present during the entire term of the pregnancy. In fact, there are many healthy and successful children who did great things and were raised in single-parent homes.
Ivan: How important is this bond, particularly for the child?
Debi Yohn: Extremely important.
Joe Ramirez: Everyone wants to be loved.
Ivan: To an LGBTQ couple that used surrogacy or IVF procedure to become parents, the third, named donor, was a stranger or a relative and that didn’t imply emotional intimacy and bonding with the baby. And children born unwanted by heterosexual parents are stripped of the emotional part of both biological parents. Would a constant gender missing presence of someone close compensate for an unfeeling parent in these children’s lives?
Joe Ramirez: The idea that a man and woman’s presence during pregnancy is better than surrogacy or adoption, or even better than a single parent, or a same-sex parent’s experience, doesn’t hold true. This does not account for the presence of domestic violence, abusive behavior, addictions, postpartum [also called postnatal] depression, or other health and safety concerns. It’s a lot about the quality, care, kindness, and low stress during the pregnancy and afterward. Bonding is impacted by belonging and support and care of relationships, family, and community support, which decreases stress and increases bonding.
Ivan: Some gay men express their gender through feminine gestures, posture, ways of walking. Can this conduct affect children’s behavior?
Debi Yohn: No. And some women are more masculine.
Joe Ramirez: I hope so in terms of being respectful and accepting, and appreciating people’s differences and creativity. If you are asking if a child who is heterosexual would become homosexual because of their parent, I would then say: No. LGBTQ individuals are generally born by heterosexual identified parents, and changing sexual identity from gay-to-straight, or straight-to-gay would be like changing the color of someone’s eyes from brown to blue.
Ivan: How much affection including intimate touches is appropriate for an LGBTQ couple to display in front of the children? Is it different from heterosexual couples?
Debi Yohn: All couple’s behavior that is exposed to children needs to be age appropriate and respectful.
Joe Ramirez: Public displays of affection are appropriate and encouraged for a loving relationship. The amount is the same regardless of sexual identity, gender, or race. It comes down to the comfort level and mutual respect of the couple.
Ivan: What is the best way for same-sex parents to introduce themselves to a child?
Debi Yohn: By their name. If it is [about] their child, they can decide how they want to be addressed. No different from heterosexual couples.
Joe Ramirez: [It ] depends on the child, but I would start with Hello.
Ivan: A lesbian couple that has become parents of a boy using IVF with the help of a close male friend faces a dilemma. As the kid got older, his biological father wanted to have more contact with him, contrary to the women’s wish, seeing the boy’s bond with his dad a bit threatening. Who is wrong, and what is the root of their worry?
Joe Ramirez: The only person that is wrong is the person who broke the contract of agreement between the donor and the parents – so there needs to be a contract. That said, often the fear of the parent is about losing the child’s love, but that doesn’t take into account the child wanting their own answers as to who they are. The child knowing who their biological parents are does not mean that they will love their adoptive parents any less.
This is similar to the benefits and challenges of open adoption – where all parents and children know who each other are, and adoptive parents are able to access to the medical history of the biological parents for the sake of the child’s health.
Ivan: Do you think a contract can stop a person from feeling as a parent?
Joe Ramirez: We can’t tell anyone how they can or cannot feel. That is their reality. Having a contract does not make a person controlling. The point of a contract ahead of time is to clarify any misunderstandings and also set expectations of future involvement.
Ivan: I would like to elaborate on the matter. For example, these couples pay a woman, and she accepts to be paid in order to give birth to a child for someone else, in the case of surrogacy. What do you think is the level of awareness of most of the couples when they first come to your office?
Joe Ramirez: The level of awareness varies. However, I would say to always have a contract so there are clear understandings of expectations on everyone’s part.
Ivan: But after they completed the booked sessions of therapy or counseling?
Joe Ramirez: It depends on the adoption agency that is used, and the counseling provided in the agreement process. This wouldn’t be part of general counseling.
Ivan: Being paid for some engagements proved to trigger emotional distress at some point, as it happened to some surrogate mothers that expressed their regrets for giving birth to a child for LGBTQ couples and the only experience of this type. But how do you think these couples explain the arrangement to themselves and what others need to know about it?
Debi Yohn: Why is it important what others think?
Ivan: If there are other ways to offer love than adopting, surrogacy or IVF procedure for LGBTQ couples, can you name a few?
Debi Yohn: Becoming involved with children who are homeless, disabled, Big Sister and Big Brother Programs, Tutoring, Fostering.
Joe Ramirez: A child can feel love if they can believe that someone will show up when they need them – informally like a neighbor, family friend, or another family member, or formally as a coach or a big brother agency. Be willing to share your time is the bottom line.
We all have a need to belong, especially during the holidays. We have a family that we were born into, and even as we get older we have a chosen family that we invite into our homes for dinner. We all need to belong, and that matters to our well-being.
Ivan: Is same-sex parenting an encouraging problem-solving for the abandoned kids?
Debi Yohn: All children need a loving home. Healthy, willing parents, no matter what their sexual orientation is, will begin solving the need for these homes.
Joe Ramirez: The problem for abandoned kids is being abandoned. Ask one.
Ivan: Do you think the children raised in this family structure receive exactly the same parenting as those from heterosexual balanced families or the kids of same-sex parents just adapt to the offerings?
Debi Yohn: Parenting is different in every home no matter what the sex of the parents [is]. Old, young, quiet, loud, critical, soft, indulgent, harsh. We cannot look at any couple from a distance and say, this is a good parent, this is a bad parent. This is a longitudinal study.
Joe Ramirez: No child receives the same parenting, even children from the same parents. The eldest, a middle child, the youngest child, and only child will have different experiences of parenting by the same parent. In addition, I haven’t yet met a “balanced” family, and I would be concerned if anyone self-identified as one.
Ivan: Why do some of us say community, for example, LGBTQ community? Does it sound out of society? Which way would be more appropriate to express ourselves in an interhuman relationship –My gay friend John or, My friend John is a member of the LGBTQ community?
Debi Yohn: Ask your friend, John, how he would like to be introduced.
Ivan: I will ask him. J
Joe Ramirez: Community, for some people, is an expression of pride and self-acceptance, such as the LGBTQ community, queer community, the black community, the Mexican community, the Catholic community, the school community.
It would be important to describe people as people with descriptions but not labels. Everyone is too complex to be under a single label. In terms of sexual identity, you would need to ask John how he prefers to be presented. If it is as a gay man, then an example would be: My friend, John, who is blond, blue eyes, plays the drums, doesn’t like spinach, is gay and single or not single, and speaks Spanish. Alternatively: This is John and then he can share about himself as he wants.
Ivan: And the last question… how can we put peace into practice over the two mainstream beliefs: I fully support LGBTQ parenting, versus I am not against their will of becoming parents just we are humans that don’t quite work like a machine?
Debi Yohn: Peace comes when we look at what belongs to us and what belongs to others. If it belongs to you, then do the best you can by using your experiences and history, asking for help when you need it. If it belongs to someone else, unless there is physical or emotional abuse involved, then let it belong to them unless they ask for help. Lead by example!
Joe Ramirez: By putting the best interest of the child first. That does not include our personal politics.
Ivan: Thank you for the interview!
About the interviewer:
Angie Ivan is a freelance journalist who has worked for Romanian TV channels and publications for some years. She is a graduate of Law School and Diplomacy and enjoys people, animals, and nature. You can read more of her articles here: https://rgnn.org/author/angie-ivan/