It’s funny how things come full circle sometimes. About a year ago, I wrote a post titled "Kids in the Queer City" about an article suggesting that San Francisco’s sizable gay population was "driving families from the city," by somehow making it less "kid-friendly" or "family-friendly." Now, just under a year later, I come across another article about parents raising a ruckus about San Francisco and whether it’s safe for kiddy consumption or not. The difference? These parents are gay.
AMERICA’S most famous homosexual community is grappling with a perplexing situation — how to become family-friendly and still retain its legendary spirit of sexual freedom.
The Castro district of San Francisco has been a magnet for homosexuals since the 1967 "Summer of Love", drawing people from across world with its gay pride parades.
But things are changing thanks, in part, to the so-called "gayby boom", the increasing number of same-sex couples becoming parents.
… The shift has resulted in tension between parents who want the more explicit window displays and posters toned down, and those determined to guard against any censorship.
Clashes between parents and shopkeepers include complaints from a lesbian mother of two about a shop with a sado-masochistic window display.
Others have complained about explicit shop displays and posters that feature naked, sexually aroused men.
It’s an interesting article, that raises some interesting questions about how having children changes the lives of gays and lesbians who choose to become parents, and thus changes the community by extension. And as a gay parent myself, I see where both sides are coming from find it hard to completely pick one over the other.
First, I’ve never been to San Francisco, and thus I’ve never been to the Castro either. The hubby and I had a trip to San Francisco planned in 2002, during the week of Thanksgiving. We had the hotel booked, a tour of the wine country planned, and a spa appointment complete with mudbaths. The week before we were supposed to leave, the adoption agency called and — long story short — instead of being up to our necks in mudbaths at Calastoga, were were up to our elbows in diapers and formula. (And happy to be, by the way.)
Still, I live in a city with a pretty sizable gay population and a community in which things can get a bit risque from time to time (our house in D.C. was just a short walk from the hotel where the Mid-Atlantic Leather conference is held annually). And I’ll be the first to admit that when I was single and childless, I was right there in the middle of it and just as "risque" as anybody else.
Then I went and became someone’s dad, and everything changed. Fortunately, during those first few years kids are wonderfully oblivious to so much of their surroundings, and too young to ask any questions about it. Of course, when Parker is old enough to be full of questions (and we’re quickly approaching that point), it’ll be our job as parents to explain to him that it really does take all kinds of people to make a world.
But the article also brings to mind an interesting question that I think a lot of gay parents might be facing. It seems to me that when you’re gay and you become a parent these days, you have some choices to make or balances to achieve; especially if you’ve been pretty comfortably ensconced in the gay community before becoming a parents.
It might even be typical to those of us who grew up in less-than-gay-friendly places and moved as adults to more tolerant (probably urban) locales where we could meet and socialize with others like ourselves, to build communities and families-of-choice together. Those communities provided safe spaces for a lot of us to express parts of ourselves that wouldn’t be welcomed or understood elsewhere, and thus those safe spaces are vigorously guarded and defended, for the simple reason that people need them and want them to remain.
And then some of us become parents, and everything changes. Even though more gays & lesbians are having children, parenting is still nowhere near as common in gay communities as it is in the larger world. So, on the one hand, gay parents can find it difficult to go about their new lives in communities that are still adjusting to the presence of children.
And then there’s the other hand. I don’t know if it’s the case with other gay parents, but very few of our gay friends had kids, so once we had a kid we found ourselves entering a whole new social realm; one that was predominantly straight. We joined a babysitting co-op and started a few other kid oriented activities. Next thing you know, we’re socializing with other parents and our immediate social circle was populated mostly by other parents who were mostly heterosexual couples. There were some other same-sex parents in the mix, and we’ve made it a point to seek out and socialize other families like ours so that Parker will see some families that look like his, but for the most part we were still thrust into a whole new world.
So, it seems like the choices for gay parents in predominantly gay communities are either to stay where they are and try to move the community along in adjusting to having kids around, make the shift into communities that are adjusted to having kids around, or try to reach some sort of balance with a foot planted in each. My guess is that the gay parents in the article want to stay in their community, and are trying to adjust while hoping the community will also meet them halfway.
I think we’re working out the latter, though I’m not sure any one of those choices is the better of the three. So, we’ll probably continue taking the family down to the annual Pride festival, and try to explain some of the sights once the kids are old enough to start asking. Any other gay parents out there want to chime in? How are you dealing with stuff like this?