The World According to Gwendolyn

Each month, Gwendolyn answers your questions on LGBTQ parenting. Write to her with your question here.

GLBTQ Parenting Expert So, you’re having a child. You’ve made the initial decisions: biological reproduction – low tech versus high tech reproductive strategies, known versus unknown donor, one partner’s biological contribution or both, or adoption — open versus closed adoption, domestic versus international, couple versus single. Perhaps you’re having a child as a single parent, which simplifies initial decisions but can create other issues.

But now, here you are, a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person or couple (or triad or more) joining the Gayby Boom. Okay, I hate that term, too, but it does serve to point out that what not so long ago was considered impossible is now becoming more and more common. Welcome to the Wonderful World of Queer Parenting!

As time goes on, it may seem like every time you turn around, there is a whole new set of questions. Some questions are specific to queer parenting; some questions are inflected by the sexual orientation or gender identity of the parents, and some questions are common to parents across the board.

One thing that’s clear – parenting seems to communicate to a certain group of people that you are desperately in need of advice and that you yearn to discuss your personal business with total strangers. Pregnancy sets it off; some people think that a pregnant abdomen is public property to be patted and discussed by all comers. As a parent-to-be, you might be asked how far along you are or how much weight you’ve gained, only to be told you’ve gained too much weight or too little. You may be asked the gender of your unborn child and which gender you would prefer; You may be asked what prenatal tests are planned only to be told that you’re irresponsibly over-testing or under-testing. Or you may be told that only home birth is healthy and responsible, only to be told by the next person that unmedicated childbirth is impossible. As a pregnant lesbian, it will probably be assumed you have a husband.

Since all of this helpfulness only increases when a baby is actually present, it is wise to consider beforehand how you might respond. Parents are widely divided on this (as on pretty much every other topic under the sun) – some very social types appreciate the interaction and the occasional opportunity to educate, others resent the intrusion and excess familiarity.)

Now that we’ve set the stage for the journey you are about to undertake (or the journey you may be undertaking right this moment if you’ve recently had kids), write in and I will respond from my opinions and perspectives (of which I am very fond), research, and the experiences and perspectives of many, many queer parents.

Write to Gwendolyn with your parenting questions at Gwendolyn reserves the right to edit letters for length and clarity, exclaim at will, and generally be as opinionated as possible.

Gwendolyn Alden Dean is a bisexual advocate/advisor/activist/educator/scholar for and of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer communities and people. While studying LGBT theories and issues at Emory University, she romped and pranced and changed the world with the Lesbian Avengers-Atlanta and Queer Nation, and then served as the Director of the LGBT Resource Center at Cornell University for ten years. Now studying psychology and counseling, the next chapter of her career will focus on counseling LGBT and questioning people and families. Gwendolyn is the extremely blessed parent of a wonderful child, recently graduated from college, and has taught kindergarten through twelfth grade, as well as college-level courses. She has also been privileged to participate in a fabulous online community of Mom-identified queer folks since 1993. All wisdom present in her columns can be attributed to them. All mistakes and exceedingly ridiculous thoughts belong solely to her.

For more information about this community see:
“Dykes and Tykes: A Virtual Lesbian Parenting Community,” Arlene Lev, G. Dean, L. De Filippis, K. Evernham, L. McLaughlin, & C. Phillips, in The Journal of Lesbian Studies: Lesbian Communities, Summer 2005.


  1. Dale Rosenberg says:

    What a great idea! And no one better to do it than our Gwendolyn.

  2. Debbie Orr says:

    Love Gwendolyn’s pithy perspective!

  3. Mimi Luther says:

    So so fun…only wish you could write EVERY SINGLE DAY! If we could just pay you to stay home and do nothing but offer your wisdom to the planet, life would be so much more wonderful.

  4. femme says:

    What about people born with transsexualism? I ask because you only list gay/lesbian/bisexual and transgender. Though something tells me you think of transgender and transsexual as one and the same where transgender can also include gay/lesbian/bisexual and so many others including transsexual or intersex, however it doesn’t exclusively refer to one’s gender identity.
    Language can be power and used against people so it’s important, though never easy, to remember to not force labels while including those within the greater queer, lbtttigqqa communities

    Just saying is all.

    • Gwendolyn says:

      Dear JSIA Femme,
      You are absolutely correct – language is powerful and can be used to both oppress and empower. The valiant histories of marginalized groups include numerous changes in nomenclature in order to claim titles of pride and inclusion rather than the labels imposed by oppressors and bigots.

      However, what is also true is that, within marginalized groups, opinions have varied widely as to which terms most perfectly express the intended message. I am not at all sure what the “something” is that tells you I believe that transgender and transsexual are one and the same, but it is an incorrect something.

      I use transgender as an umbrella term to include the spectrum of gender-variant identities and expressions. Transsexual is one of these possibilities and refers specifically to those individuals who, from birth, experience the sex of their physical anatomy as oppositional to the gender identity of their minds. As it is often colloquially expressed, transsexual people are women in men’s bodies and men in women’s bodies. So, transsexual people are one possible type of transgender people but not all transgender people are transsexual.

      I am not quite sure what you mean by “transgender can also include gay/lesbian/bisexual and… doesn’t exclusively refer to one’s gender identity.” In every source I have read and every discussion I have had on the subject, transgender does refer specifically to gender identity and does not include sexual orientation or being intersex. A transgender individual may also have a same-sex orientation but the term transgender refers to gender identity.
      This usage of transgender as a broader category that includes but is not limited to transsexual is quite widespread. Some people limit the use of transsexual to describe those who desire sex reassignment surgery (SRS) but I use it to describe the particular experience of gender identity. Substantial disagreement does exist. Some people dislike the term transsexual, either for its emphasis on sexual organs or its history of pathologization and prefer to use transgender, others reject transgender as including too many other experiences and wish to be called transsexual. Some people that I would think fit into the category transsexual are very offended if referred to that way.

      I am committed to calling individuals by their preferred names and descriptors. As one of my friends once said, “YOU may be ‘Queer,’ Gwendolyn, but I am NOT.” Absolutely.
      However, given the glorious diversity of opinions in our beloved communities, it is not possible, even using all my powers, to find community descriptors that please every individual. I, therefore, use the vocabulary that both has the most current agreement and seems the least problematic at this moment in time. I gather that we disagree on that issue but I am neither excluding transsexual people nor confusing my terms. When it seems to me that a change will make my language more inclusive, I will happily make that change.


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