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Who's the 'real' mom? Did you adopt? Queer parents on the questions they're constantly getting.

Same-sex parents are often subjected to invasive questions and assumptions about their families. (Image: Getty; illustrated by Caroline Brooks)
Same-sex parents are often subjected to invasive questions and assumptions about their families. (Image: Getty; illustrated by Caroline Brooks)

My wife Sam and I are raising two young boys as same-sex parents, and we feel fortunate to have a few friends in our lives who are doing the same. Sometimes I can’t believe my boys will get to grow up in a community where having two moms feels totally normal to them. It’s not a reality I expected, and I don’t take it for granted, even if I want my kids to.

Of these queer parents I feel so privileged to have in my life, all of us created our families differently. Not only did we achieve parenthood in our own unique ways, but we're not always open to discussing the details, especially not with strangers. Imagine regularly asking hetero couples how many times they tried, if they had trouble conceiving and oh, did they lose any pregnancies? Now add additional invasive questions: Who’s the real mom? Whose embryos did you use? Why did you adopt? Why didn’t you adopt? How much did it all cost? That’s an inconceivable conversation to initiate with someone you met at the playground or a birthday party, but these kinds of questions are something queer parents are asked regularly.

Andrew Taylor and his husband Jay adopted their infant son using a local agency in central Ohio. Their son was born six weeks early and had to stay in the NICU for a time. While Taylor says they had a generally positive experience, “we had to explain our family and who we were multiple times until the paper trail caught up to us.” When it comes to random questions from strangers, he says that he and Jay get a lot of questions about the adoption process, and that they are happy to speak openly about their experience.

Brynne West, who lives in Texas with her wife and their two children, is used to navigating invasive questions from friends, family and even strangers. “While we've been grateful not to deal with anything too off the wall or downright rude, we definitely get asked about the specifics of our baby-making ways more than I'd imagine the average straight couple does,” she says. Like me, West knows that these questions are often harmless, but explains that she and her wife are “always on guard about comments we may get in earshot of our children.”

Brynne West (pictured with her wife, Rachel, and their two kids) says she's fielded questions from strangers about the specifics of her parenting journey. (Photo: Jessica Cernat)
Brynne West (pictured with her wife, Rachel, and their two kids) says she's fielded questions from strangers about the specifics of her parenting journey. (Photo: Jessica Cernat)

There seems to be this idea that queer parents owe an explanation about the make-up of our families to anyone who asks. Not only that, but for most queer parents, every interaction with a stranger involves coming out again and again.

Taylor says he’s the only dad in his child’s library story time, so people are frequently asking him about his wife. “I don’t pretend to be straight for convenience, but I also don’t make it a huge teaching moment,” he says. Taylor says he hasn’t been closeted for 20 years, “but now that we have a baby it’s part of almost every conversation about him.”

I can think of many situations when I would have felt more comfortable nodding along to a stranger as they refer to my husband, but I would never want to erase my family like that, especially not in front of my kids. So even when I don’t feel particularly comfortable with it, I’m frequently outing myself when talking about my family. And let’s be honest: Anyone with kids is used to talking about them regularly.

Recently, I was dragging my 6-year-old son, Quinn, through the grocery store when an older male employee started chatting with him. First he asked his name, then if he was named after his dad. Quinn looked up at me with a questioning look. “You can tell him,” I nodded, even though my comfort level had plummeted. “I have two moms,” Quinn replied, and we kept walking. “Oh,” the guy shouted behind him, “so you’re adopted.” I’m not certain Quinn heard him, or even registered what he was saying, but my entire body was on high-alert for the duration of the interaction. I pulled Quinn aside at the checkout to tell him that he should never feel obligated to talk to an adult or reveal anything about himself if he didn’t want to.

It wasn’t that the interaction was bad, or that it should have been particularly memorable, but what upset me was that it felt like a foreshadow. In spite of my son thinking that two-mom families are totally normal, as he gets older he’s going to have to contend with an outside world that doesn’t feel the same. And many of them are going to be vocal about it, right to my beautiful boy’s face.

West explains that it takes more preparation for queer couples to readily have answers to tough questions, especially as her kids get older. “I never want them to overhear us sounding confused, ashamed or embarrassed about our family when people are curious or nosy, because nothing could be further from the truth," she says.

My wife Sam and I have always been open about our lives together, our fertility process and what it’s like raising kids with same-sex parents. Still, there are questions that we’re not comfortable answering in front of our little ones, and that’s something we wish people would remember when speaking to us. An example? When people ask about the boys’ “father,” which is inaccurate. Our kids have a donor, and we are not obligated to share information about him to anyone but our boys. No two families are alike, and that goes for queer families as well. It’s okay to be curious, but it’s never okay to vocalize assumptions, especially to someone you don’t even know. LGBTQ+ parents don’t owe their stories to anyone.

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