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