By Carolyn Berger, LCSW
When Kim Tierney told her partner, Philippa Abeles, that she wanted to move to the suburbs, Philippa was less than enthusiastic. She was comfortable in their Chelsea apartment and didn’t want to commute to her job at Ann Taylor Inc. every day.
Still, the couple began scoping out communities that were about a half hour by train to Manhattan and had a good school system their 1-year-old daughter, Aiden, could use one day. They read a New York Magazine article on affordable suburbs and began looking around. Before long, Larchmont had captured their imagination. Kim says hanging out at Bradley’s, the town’s bakery/café, clinched the deal. The people were friendly and happy to talk Kim and Philippa into joining the many New York City ex-pats who found Larchmont to be at once sophisticated and unpretentious.
Finding an affordable place took time but the couple finally settled on a medium-sized Colonial in New Rochelle next to the Larchmont border. From there, they could easily walk to the train and into the town of Larchmont. And they found that the New Rochelle schools were an excellent alternative to the Mamaroneck school system that serves Larchmont.
Before placing a bid on the house Kim spoke to the owner about living there as a lesbian couple. The owner pointed out that her next door neighbors were a male same-sex couple. (Later on, another gay couple moved in around the block.)
Unlike Metro area towns like Maplewood and Montclair NJ, neither Larchmont nor New Rochelle are known as magnets for LGBT people. And yet this doesn’t seem to have mattered much for Kim and Philippa. Now that Aiden is 9 and their second child, Asher, is 5, Kim says the house is usually swarming with kids. Kim, who as a local trainer is around more during the day than Philippa, says their kids are exposed to many different kinds of couples. She says that when another mom called her about a playdate Philippa had offered, Kim introduced herself as Asher’s “other mom.” Kim was relieved to find that this was okay.
It used to be that gay, lesbian and bi-sexual people in the suburbs found the climate less than welcoming. LGBT people had to blend in to make it in suburban neighborhoods. Not so now. These days suburban living is viewed as a real option for LGBT people and they are moving to suburbs that are close to NYC as well as towns further out.
According to Gary Gates, a demographer from the Urban Institute who did a study for HRC after the 2000 census, gay male couples largely prefer urban environments (45%) to suburbs (41.3%) and lesbian couples settle more often in suburban locales (46%) than city centers (38.2%).
Shari Crandall, 36, and her wife Paige Crandall,48, moved to Bronxville from Gainesville, FL, when Paige became Dean of Students at Sarah Lawrence College. Getting pregnant wasn’t easy, but they used IVF and Shari gave birth to Charlotte (Charlie) and Owen six months ago.
Shari, an educator and an at-home mom, has lots of experience with children. She says that being a mother comes naturally to her, but that “Twins are tough.”
Because they have only been in Bronxville a year and a half, Shari and Paige don’t yet have many close friends nearby or family who can easily come over to help out with Charlie and Owen. And so far, they know just one other Bronxville lesbian couple.
When Shari and Paige walk around town with their double stroller, they are often asked questions: Are those YOUR babies? Are they real? As with straight people who have had multiples through IVF, Shari feels they are really asking whether the babies were created naturally or through high-tech fertility treatment. Other strangers on the street assume that Paige is the grandmother and Shari is her daughter. The idea that they are a same sex couple doesn’t seem to occur to them. Shari says, “I spend a lot of time educating people.”
One senses that Shari will indeed be educating people in her community and beyond—not just as a parent through IVF, but also as a lesbian parent. She has gone to Full Circle Family Care in nearby White Plains, a holistic, integrative health center that offers support for new mothers, and they have approached her about starting a group there for LGBT families.
Lynn Jeffries and Antonia Smith were married in 2005 and had their son Ian in 2009. When Ian was a baby, they lived in an apartment but soon realized their active son needed more space. They enjoy their home in Westport, Connecticut, and think it offers their family a more satisfying lifestyle.
Lynn says she and Antonia have never hidden who they are and have never felt discrimination in Westport. They do not feel the need to be “crusaders.” But if they want support from other same-sex couples, Westport just started a group for LGBT parents in Fairfield County last month. This type of Meetup group, which has many northeast locations, enables same-sex parents to plan playdates, weekend get togethers or just meet for coffee or drinks.
Ian takes being the child of same-sex parents in stride. When another boy asked him whether he had a dad while out on the soccer field, Ian cheerily answered “No, but I’ve got two moms!” “Okay,” said the other child and the two boys went racing down the field together.
Lynn and Antonia are newly pregnant, so Ian will have a sibling soon. “If we have twins, we’re done,” Lynn laughs, although she says that if it were up to her they would have four children.
Where else but in the ‘burbs would a lesbian couple entertain the idea of having such a large family?
Carolyn Berger, LCSW has a practice specializing in Fertility, All Forms of Family Building and Adoption. She counsels couples and individuals at Manhattan’s New York Fertility Services and in Larchmont, NY.
Do live in the suburbs? Considering a move outside the city walls? Let us know in the comments!