Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Food for Thought #2

One of the favorite arguments of "marriage defenders" in opposing gay marriage is that they're doing it for the children – that each child needs a mom and a dad. This is a good example of a specious argument.

Specious: 'spee-shus; adjective; 1. Having deceptive attraction or allure. 2. Having a false look of truth or genuineness. (from

What gives this argument its gloss is the very real truth that every child needs positive, emotionally and physically close role models from both primary sexes, male and female.

What makes it specious is the idea that the only way to get them is in the heterosexual family – that only mom and dad can fill these roles.

In my own experience, I learned the role of woman very well from my mom, who is a devout Christian Scientist, who worked hard, had fun, laughed and loved us unconditionally. But even though I lived with my dad (family intact), I had to look elsewhere for positive male role models. I learned the role of man from people like my neighbor Ron Blake, who taught me woodworking in 4-H, and who gave me lessons in life specifically targeted at the holes my dad was leaving by example. And from Connie Hansen, and old rancher who leased us his ranch for a few years.

While statistically, children in broken families fare worse than those in intact families (duh), many exceptions abound on both sides – kids from intact families who are messed up, kids raised by single moms who turn out to be well-adjusted, high-achieving, independent adults. Many others are raised by a step-parent, some well, some not.

Kristin recently attended a lecture by a woman from Senegal. She was raised in a village where the children had free access to all the adults in the community, and all the adults shared in caring for the children regardless of whose child it was. She didn't realize that she had a single mother until she was twelve – and when she guessed who her real mother was, she guessed wrong. Yet this woman turned out to be very well adjusted, and is touring the US talking about parenting and sustainability.

In some cultures, the father has little to do with the child, and the uncle is the primary genetic male contact and role model the child has. And those kids, more or less, turn out all right.

Again and again, everywhere you look, you see extensive examples of two basic facts: the emotional and developmental damage done to children who don't have positive role models from both primary sexes, and people of both primary sexes who are not the parents providing positive, powerful role models for children who, either because of divorce or dysfunctional parents, don't have that role model supplied by their parent.

Which means that, for this argument at least, the real issue is not preventing gays from civil marriage or forcing biological parents to raise children together, but, how do we ensure that every child, regardless of the makeup of her family, has the positive role models she needs.


Tit for Tat said...

I agree that you can obtain these traits other than from a mother and father. But would you not agree that the optimum would be a healthy mother and father and the rest are just second best.

David Carrel said...

I know a really good guidebook for raising children. haha. I wish that I could say everyone who followed it had children that turned out responsible and well behaved. There are so many factors that go into it. I think that a father and mother that provided proper attention to their children would be ideal, but if you look at how many parents actually do that, it is probably minimal.
Very interesting point you make by this post Seda.

Seda said...

How do we decide which persons are worthy of becoming parents, and which are not? Which are worthy of choosing their careers, and which are not?

I think that your question bears within it the seeds of genocide. I don’t mean that to imply that you are racist or anything, because I believe you are not. The question is inherent in the culture in which we live, which assigns people a worth, and judges individuals based on some group criteria outside their own person. Because it is so embedded in our culture, I believe that you ask it without examining the ramifications of it. I think your question is dangerous, and to answer it is equally dangerous, buying into the same erroneous cultural assumptions. It is the kind of question that, in the past, has led leaders to determine who may live and who may not; who may perform this task, who many not; and, I believe, it is the kind of question that led European settlers to commit mass genocide against the native peoples of this land.

In any case, I don’t think it can be answered. How do you rate one parent over another? Some of the best parents I know are lesbians. Would their families be better if they were straight? I doubt it.

The truth is, each family is individual. Each parent and each child is formed by a vast field of variables, both biological and environmental. How do you rate one against another, based on some criteria beyond their individual characteristics? I cannot. I will not attempt it. Each family is what it is; and the question that matters to me is, how do we, as a society, best support the parent of whatever family configuration to raise their children in a positive, safe, stimulating, and supportive environment?

You’re exactly right. So many factors go into parenting, into family makeup, into both healthy and dysfunctional relationships. Who can know them all? “Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: and who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?”

“Moreover I saw under the sun the place of judgment, that wickedness was there; and the place of righteousness, that iniquity was there. I said in mine heart, God shall judge the righteous and the wicked: for there is a time there for every purpose and for every work.”

(Go ahead, put it in context. It’s better that way, anyway.) ;-)

Tit for Tat said...


There is much truth in what you say, the point Im trying to make is that some people are better geared for certain things. Some are better writers, some better at math and some better at science. It is not unreasonable to assume some are better at parenting. Now my thought is this, Is a healthy mother and father that created the baby in the first place a slightly better choice to be raising the child. I would say yes. To think that question has the seeds of Genocide in it is a little hyperbole dont you think?

Seda said...

No, I don't think it's hyperbole. And don't get me wrong, I am not implying that you would ever support anything like genocide, or that you have any intentions beyond what is best for the individuals involved.

The reason I say that is because it is language that ranks individuals according to the group(s) to which they belong. So, I could say that whites are better than blacks at math, or Jews are "better geared" to be bankers. Even if it is true statistically that the total number of members of that group have an advantage over the total number of members of other groups, there will be plentiful exceptions on both sides. Yet by following the logic, it is not too far a stretch to reach the point that I say, "Blacks cannot be math teachers," or "Don't hire O'Malley for that position; give it to Steinberg."

I say the question has the seeds of genocide, but I don't believe that it is necessarily leading there. In this country and this situation, it is falling on dry, rocky ground, and probably won't even germinate. I don't blame or judge you for having it - I am guilty of thought from the same school, more than I'd like. I blame our culture. It is a ruthless and bloody culture, one steeped in domination - domination of one group over another, domination of one individual over another. That domination is born in the assumption that you can rank individuals according to the group(s) to which they belong, and it is everywhere.

I think it is reasonable to assume that some people are better at parenting. But which people? They might not even be parents! I balk at making that assumption based on the group to which the various individuals belong.

anne said...

Hey girl,

I think kids can even model themselves after fictional characters, so I also vote for inspirational role models in fiction (no, not Luke Skywalker--Obi Wan) I was surprised that I did so much modeling on fictional women since I did not like my own mom and was too frightened of her to bond with her.

The nuclear family is such a late development socially--the Senegal method was much more common, even through the Romans and Catholics. The nuclear thing is a late arrival, more of a holdover of the frontier where homesteaders were often only a husband and wife. I don't consider man woman child to be a healthy family. Oh, it can work, certainly, but I favor the more adults the more ages the better model.

But I had good father models in the women in my family, strong women with important careers. I consider myself raised by two fathers since my mom acted in that role and was never comfort or succor. So my "real" mom was a book. Still is, like comfort food.

I do know people whose parents failed and never bonded. I feel for them, not even bonding to books. The important thing is the bonding and the integrity of that bond, not being betrayed by it or abandoned by it.

You've bonded, but not as a father or a mother--as something of both and neither--a new kind of parent?

Maybe we should assign needs met roles, not gender roles.


Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our