A New Approach to Family: Gay Parents

Source: Mine Kösem, “Aileye Yeni Bir Yaklaşım: Eşcinsel Anne Babalar,” (“A New Approach to Family: Gay Parents,) bianet, 16 November 2013, http://www.bianet.org/biamag/diger/151326-aileye-yeni-bir-yaklasim-escinsel-anne-babalar?bia_source=twitter&utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

During the “Is a Different Family Concept Possible?” conference hosted by the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Foundation, we met Sema Merve İş who was one of the speakers on the “Alternative Family Models” panel.

İş researched LGBTI people’s parenting experiences in Turkey by interviewing 15 different people from 4 different cities for her master’s thesis, “Tracking the Invisible: A Queer Approach to Family and Parenthood.”

So we talked about LGBTI-queer parents who remain outside of the notion of the sacred family and are invisible in Turkey.

How do LGBTI people become parents in Turkey?

One of my interviewees had adopted his/her child from abroad. Another one made an agreement with her ex-partner to have a baby. But many of them had a child from their previous marriages or previous heterosexual relationships. I also had interviewees who are not parents yet but are planning to be within the next 5 years. There are those who prefer to adopt and those who want to carry their own child or to have a baby with their partner.

Family is a concept that is integrated into the heteronormative system. Mother/Father roles are defined through the gender binary system. How do LGBTI and queer people define themselves as parents?

Many of the lesbian, bisexual, queer and transgender people that I interviewed define themselves as mothers and fathers. Just one of them found a term which has no meaning, she define herself as “mazz,” neither mother nor father. Some of them try to raise the child regardless of these roles, but many of them don’t care about these roles since raising a child as an LGBTI person is already a struggle.

How is the relationship between transgender parents and their children after the transitioning process?

For many of them, the child came into their life before they announced their transgender existence. One of my interviewees, who is a trans man, gave birth to his child and then began to transition. In other words, the child sees him as his/her father. Since they have a relationship that depends on caring for each other, there is no problem between them.

My interviewee who defines herself as “mazz,” continued her transition after coming out to her children. One day, they went to a stationery store for shopping for the child. The woman in the stationery store said: “Hello Mrs., welcome.” Then, the child pointed to a notebook and asked, “Dad, shall we buy it?” and everyone suddenly turned and looked at the woman: “Dad?!” My interviewee defines mazz by rendering it genderless. She also states that parenting is not only shaped by social norms. It is also defined by the biological gender. These norms create pressure over certain people’s lives.

How many LGBTI-queer parents and families are there in Turkey?

We cannot give an estimate since LGBTI parents are invisible. But I did not imagine that I could even reach this many people when I had started my research.

The LGBTI people that I could reach were subjected to violence and pressure by their families because of their gender identities, some of them were even forced into marriage, and they somehow had kids. And many of them are single parents. Even if the nuclear family model is seen as the most common family model, there are a lot of single parents and how can we tell if they are heterosexual?

Are parents visible in their children’s social environment? For instance, can they go to parents’ meetings without hiding their gender identity?

For them, the school is a heteronormative universe. That is why they remain distant but they certainly participate in these meetings and follow their children’s progress in school. None of them reveal their gender identity in their child’s social environment. Transgender parents give their right to being a school parent to their friends or parents because they do not fit the school’s desired parent stereotype.

Is the school also a pressure mechanism for parents who have school-aged children?

For parents the main difficulty starts with the school. Only the nuclear family model is taught in social studies classes. Children are raised with the formal ideology to become acceptable citizens. They grow up being scared of differences. Even if you try to raise your child within an alternative model, you cannot fight the school, which is a governmental institution, by yourself.

Are there resistance tactics developed against this?

One of my interviewees, a lesbian divorcee, told me this story. The child’s school wanted a family photo and so she sent a photo of her with the child because they are a family of two. Then the teacher called and wanted a photo with the father. In response, she photoshopped the photo of the man and sent it to school. The school wanted a family photo every 2-3 months and she kept sending photoshopped photos. The school does not accept your family of two. In one sense, this is a really serious form of violence that children are exposed to. You may be happy with your family of two but the school makes you feel like you are not complete.

What are the needs and problems of LGBTI parents?

Their main problem is their individual struggle and loneliness. Even if there are lots of people in the same situation, they do not know each other. They need to hear each other’s experiences and take strength from each other. They are already cornered legally. A 1982 Supreme Court of Appeals decision is still relevant: if the lesbian orientation of a mother is found out, guardianship of the child may be taken from her. Sperm banks are already forbidden and fertility centers are for married couples only. That is why it is very important to rub shoulders with each other and stick together.

Do their biological families support LGBTI parents?

Actually their families could be a really important support mechanism. But most of the time their families function as a violent and exclusionary mechanism.

So what should be done and how?

Blogs and other channels on the Internet could be started so that people can come together and share their experiences. It can be brought into the LGBTI and feminist movement’s agendas. Ground for this discussion may be opened within academia.

Do LGBTI parents appear within the LGBTI movement?

LGBTI parents are also invisible in the movement. The reason behind it is that this movement is formed by a very young generation. The young generation is struggling for the most fundamental right, which is the right to life. LİSTAG did a revolutionary thing by bringing the family discussion into the movement. But these discussions were based on the parents or siblings of LGBTI individuals.

Is there a platform where they can come together?

Not yet; a platform is needed to stick together and get stronger.

Is there a life with family for LGBTI people?

Firstly, we should discuss the family structure and the myth of the sacred family. We should redefine the family. Relationships that are independent from sexual orientation and gender identity, that can be constructed with love, respect and cooperation are possible. They have been constructed and they will continue to be, despite all the pressures and difficulties.

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