Friday, April 8, 2011

Is coming out as childfree like coming out as gay?


This is the question posed by Lisa Hymas, senior editor at Grist.org in a recent article. I had to ponder this question for just a few seconds before nodding yes. There are some similarities because there is still stigma attached to being childless by choice, maybe not as much stigma as being gay in our society, but stigma all the same. It all has to do about the assumptions our society holds and the judgments we make about what is good or bad for society.


In a November 2010 TIME article titled Marriage: What's It Good For? results from a Pew Center Research survey showed that 29 percent of the U.S. persons polled felt that more women never having children was “bad for society.” Forty-three percent of those surveyed thought that more gay and lesbian couples raising children was bad for society. So gay and lesbian couples raising kids is obviously perceived by more folks as “bad for society” than women not having kids. However as Lisa Hymas has observed:

While LGBT people face more vehement and vicious prejudice than the childfree, they can, if they choose, ultimately lead more conventional lives. Their families won't look like the Cleavers, but they can have what many people would at least recognize as a family, following the traditional parent-with-child pattern. We childfree people, in contrast, are messing with the notion of family in a way that's perhaps even more fundamental.

Maybe that's why gays actually seem to be further along in gaining social acceptance than the childfree. In my urban milieu, no one skips a beat or lifts an eyebrow if you say you're gay, but people do often frown or avert their eyes or awkwardly change the subject if you say you've decided not to have kids -- if they don't tell you what you're missing and try to get you to change your mind.

Take, as a pop-cultural example, the Sex and the City 2 movie. Carrie Bradshaw and the gang are having a gay old time at Stanford and Anthony's big, fat, same-sex wedding when a woman starts interrogating Carrie and hubbie Mr. Big about when they're going to have kids. "It's just not for us," Carrie responds. "So it's just going to be the two of you?" she asks, voice dripping with pity and disdain. Flamboyant gay lifestyle: A-OK. Heterosexual couple deciding to forego parenting: deviant.

A stranger’s reaction to our status in one thing but the real acid test for testing the level of stigma or perceived deviance is how our immediate family reacts to our contently childfree status. As Hymas points out: “Coming out as gay or lesbian might hit your parents hard at first, but at least you can still give them grandkids!” Flickr photo by Sea Turtle

5 comments:

Dr Bron said...

I think there are HUGE expectations that men and women - especially women - "naturally" want to have children. Womanhood and motherhood are inextricably combined and entwined by society; that archaic idea that you're not a "real" woman if you choose not to have children is still out there. And what does that say about women? Apparently we are measured only by our ability to procreate....

Gwynnie B said...

Found your blog by accident (or was it!?!) and am now a follower. This is exactly what I need being a woman who chose not to have kids. It will be great reading about others who made the same decision as I did, as well as learning more about a childfree life.

I recently saw Sex in the City 2 and cringed at the woman's remark to Carrie and Big about not having kids. I couldn't say to myself
"it's only a movie" because I've lived it by choosing to not have kids!

Gwynnie

My NEK said...

I think it is an apt analogy. Other people's disccomfort with my life choices often makes me uncomfortable. Lately I have begun to feel better about my child free-ness. I am at the age of the 'empty nest'...my friends are all mourning the loss of their kids to college, etc. I realized my nest has always been empty, yet my life has always been full. I feel fulfilled at this age; I don't have to 'start over' like so many friends are; although I do mourn the loss of the ideal of 'maybe someday...'. I am happy with who I am, with my marriage, and all the things I accomplished in my life. children just happened to not be one of those things.

Laura S. Scott said...

My NEK and all those who posted comments here. Everyone shows such a deep level of awareness of the bigger picture. It's not whether you have children or not, it's how you craft a life, and all of you are crafting authentic lives born out of your values. I salute you!

walserjl said...

I loved that scene in SITC2, only because I knew exactly what it was like to be in that situation! It's so frustrating that the choice to have kids is, by most of society, not viewed as a choice. Most people we meet look at us like we are from another planet because we are cf. It can be isolating and lonely but I'm finally learning that we aren't alone.