"What about female role models?" our social worker asked during our home study when we were applying to adopt. Because we were being evaluated, we wanted to be positive, eager and compliant. We gamely answered that our mothers would be involved, my sister, my partner’s sister-in-law. And lots of friends. C'mon, I felt like saying, we're gay men whose best friends are women. There is absolutely no need to worry about whether our children will be surrounded by fabulous women.
Our daughter learns all kinds of things that don’t involve her Daddy and her Papa. She puts a bag on her arm and calls it her purse like all the girls in her class. She points out the glamorous high heels our neighbour always wears. She puts her hands on her hips and talks with an upswing in her voice, just like her kindergarten teacher.
She took the opportunity in a public washroom to ask my sister about vaginas. She asks pregnant women about babies. The other day she talked to our babysitter about breasts and asked when it might be time for her to get her first bra. The girl, I’d say, knows what she’s doing.
But the real meaning of the question, which bothered us from the start, was how two dads would be able to cope without a nurturing woman. On a personal level, we wouldn’t be seeking to start a family if we weren’t nurturing. And on a political level, why are we still dividing attributes by a binary equation of gender?
Growing up, I didn’t feel like I fit the expected traits filed under “masculine,” and I was made very aware of this by the teasing I received from kids at school. I thought society had come much further than expecting people to fit into an either/or category. Adults and children are much more fluid and the role of nurturer and caregiver doesn’t fall into one stereotypical gender.
A few years after we completed our second adoption, I was asked by our adoption agency to speak on a panel about gay and lesbian parents. Partway through the discussion the moderator asked the 'role model' question. I jumped on that one before anyone else could get a chance to answer. I voiced my opinion that the question was ridiculous and went on to explain why. A friend who happened to be in the room, a friend who did consulting work with the agency along these various lines, shared that the question is not to be asked anymore. A social worker in the room confirmed the same thing. And it made me think back to our second adoption – we weren’t asked.
The agency had learned and updated its practise. But the out-of-date moderator hadn’t got the memo. Still, attacking a moderator is not good form, and I’ve never been invited back to speak again. But it was a point worth making and I don’t regret speaking up.
Of course, my joke from the start has been, “Female role models? Pffft. Who are their male role models going to be?!”