Some L.G.B.T. Parents Reject the Names ‘Mommy’ and ‘Daddy’

Both Dr. Goldberg and Ms. Kahn surmise that the couples who are using new terminologies are willing to do so because of the hard-won rights L.G.B.T. people have secured, particularly the right to marry. “Now there’s more willingness to push some of those boundaries,” Dr. Goldberg said, “because of greater legal recognition and acceptance.”

Also, Ms. Kahn said, some L.G.B.T. people don’t want to seem as if they are aping heterosexuals: “There’s a political component for some, which is that we don’t want to seem like we’re emulating or mimicking straight people.” Similarly, there’s a contingent of L.G.B.T. people who refuse marriage because they don’t want to be “assimilated into this heterosexual, patriarchal society,” Dr. Goldberg added. (Others feel the institution reinforces an unfair hierarchy that privileges matrimonial coupledom above all other forms of romantic coupling.)

Dr. David Schwartz, a psychoanalyst and psychologist who has spent his decades-long career thinking about the ways in which gender and sexuality get constructed, however, isn’t so sure eschewing traditional parental labels is good for L.G.B.T. parents or their kids. While he’s all for challenging the gender norms that inform the mommy and daddy dyad, he pointed out that children of L.G.B.T. parents are already steeped in a heteronormative culture that stigmatizes their families, and it would be doubly hard for them to have to explain why they call their parents some unusual names. “And,” he emphasized, “you certainly don’t want to do anything to devalue your family,” noting that the legitimacy, visibility and value of L.G.B.T. people as parental figures is often called into question already.

“I won’t say it’s a disadvantage,” Dr. Goldberg said, “but it’s a challenge. It requires a lot of explanation and clarification, maybe even pushback from schools in certain geographical contexts, less gay-affirming areas of the country, like, ‘What do you mean you go by ‘Maddie’?” — an amalgamation of mommy and daddy. “Nobody is going to know what that means. How do we explain that to other children?’”

For families who decide to adopt atypical terms and want to minimize the potential risk of social discomfort, Dr. Goldberg suggested some parents might consider giving children the freedom to call them mom or dad “in certain settings and at certain ages,” adding, “they may become more comfortable with alternative language as they grow older.”

Ms. Kahn guessed that the reason the vast majority of participants in Dr. Goldberg’s study stuck with labels derived from mother or father is because becoming a parent was beyond the community’s reach for so long. “It’s so powerful to be a parent,” she said, “to have the title mom or dad. A lot of us want that because for decades it seemed like it wasn’t on the table for us to build a family, so there’s almost like a privilege in finally being able to say ‘I’m a mom’ or ‘I’m a dad.’”

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