Various partners, we learn, lived with, visited, and traveled with the family, with no significant resistance from the author's mother, a woman who was "primarily a reactor and hadn't been the ultimate source of our family's misery," a woman who "lacked the strength of character" to risk her husband's rejection, anger, and violence. In her teen years, her father increasingly included her in his evenings of cruising, encouraged her to experiment sexually, and emphasized his own economic success as a model for her to follow.
Only after his death from AIDS, and with the help of intensive therapy, did Stefanowicz come to accept that satisfying her life-long yearning for his unconditional love and nonsexual affection was never possible, and to heal the confused sexual identity that her father imposed upon her: "What makes it so hard for a girl to grow up with a gay father is that she never gets to see him loving, honoring, or protecting the women in his life . . . [and] being a woman was part of who I am." That part, her authentic feminine identity, was rejected and oppressed in service to her father's sports-like approach toward sexual activity, with its breathtaking disregard for the emotional and physical impact of the pursuit.
The author's traumatic experience with gay parenting fairly raises the challenge to discuss -- as openly and charitably as the author does herself -- whether children can be raised healthily within subcultures that promote, support, and celebrate same-sex sexual behavior as the primary source of adult identity. Will such subcultures inevitably expose children to levels of sexuality long considered immoral and deleterious to the development of children, and certainly proven to be so by experiences reported in Out from Under?
Some gay parenting advocates will claim that their family environments need be no different than a functional heterosexual family. They might well point to the developing body of children's books that present families with same-sex parents as loving, stable, and supportive. My Daddy's Roommate, published in 1991 as a picture-book for two- to five-year-olds, opens with one father's divorce and his toddler's narrative "Now there's somebody new at Daddy's house," his roommate Frank. Daddy and Frank, we learn from the child, do all the same things together that mommies and daddies do. So far so good, but is such a portrayal of the "two Daddy" household more wish or reality?
More honestly, gay parenting offers a challenge to the classic paradigm that protects children from adult sexuality and left my little client Tiffany without a mother, in the care of the state. In Tiffany's case, the judge easily ruled that Tiffany's viewing of her mother having sexual intercourse with men constituted adequate grounds for terminating her mother's parental rights. Similar rulings, no doubt, still occur across the United States -- bolstered by a strong, Supreme Court-approved federal anti-child pornography law (U.S. v. Williams, May 19, 2008).
(Column continues below)
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But the consensus has clearly collapsed -- as the nation witnessed and winked at photos of two-year-old, bottle-sipping, dog-collared twins Zola and Veronica with the bare-bottomed, leathered, fetish revelers at the Folsom Street Fair last year. The girls' two daddies told reporters, "Every parent has to decide for themselves what is right for them. And we decided that this is right for our children."
Gender radicals and free-speech enthusiasts like Judith Levine (Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex) and Marjorie Heins (Not in Front of the Children: Indecency, Censorship, and the Innocence of Youth)offer a growing body of literature to support these dads' exposure of young children to adult sexuality. And the strong trend within the gay male community to redefine marriage as a non-monogamous living arrangement further portends mixing of adult sexual behavior into the lives of young children, like that chronicled by Stefanowicz.
All of which underscores the importance of Stefanowicz's brave and balanced voice. Zola and Veronica cannot -- and may never be able to -- speak for themselves and describe to legislators, politicians, and social experimentalists the horror of being collared and dragged to watch men masturbate in public. But Stefanowicz has done so, without bitterness and with that endearing love girls so often hold for their fathers, no matter how dysfunctional and selfish their parenting. The question remains, will anyone listen?