By DAWN ELAINE BOWIE
Early in my practice as a Maryland family law attorney I realized that the cases I loved the most were the ones involving good fathers. For almost two and a half years, I focused my practice exclusively on them. The most challenging cases were those involving men who didn’t fit traditional stereotypes — men who were victims of domestic violence, or men who married and had children, then realized their sexual orientation was as a gay or bi-sexual man.
The bottom line is, if you are a man who chose to marry and have children, and then end your marriage in order to live a more authentic life as a gay man, many of the same stereotypes that existed in the late ’70s persist in family courts today. This is not so much so for lesbians.
Despite significant research to the contrary, there are still many antiquated and active fears about gay fathers. Some common and persistent misconceptions are:
Assumption No. 1: Gay fathers have children to disguise their homosexuality. Too often, the man is seen as somehow “tricking” the woman into marriage and children, or worse, as being so lacking in self-awareness as to have been unstable when the marriage was formed. This assumption leads to the faulty conclusion that such a person must be fundamentally dishonest.
Assumption No. 2: Gay fathers might molest their children (especially sons). Or the gay father might expose his children to other gay men who will molest them. This myth has been debunked for years by scholarly research showing that heterosexual men are far more likely to molest children than are gay men.
Assumption No. 3: Boys raised by gay fathers will become gay themselves (or, if they are girls, will become promiscuous). Gay fathers are often more sensitive than many men to the difficulty of developing a strong personal identity. Thus they are often more supportive in giving their children support in developing their own identities, whatever those turn out to be.
Assumption No. 4: Children raised by gay fathers are more likely to be subject to bullying or teasing by peers. It isn’t what a child is subject to that matters as much as the tools he or she has to handle it. As society becomes more polarized into an “us v. them” mentality, it isn’t likely to matter what label a kid has, bullying is bound to increase. Gay fathers often have learned first-hand how to deal with the mean kids, so they are more likely to have apt tools to deal with bullying.
When a gay man comes out during marriage, the divorce process is often complicated because wives in these relationships can be unusually selfish and controlling. For the children of these marriages, life before divorce is almost always colored by conflict, even if the conflict is unspoken. The divorce process is often especially hard.
However, gay fathers who have the courage to end their marriages and live authentic lives, offer their children substantial gifts — the end to years of conflict and tension, the example of an adult with the courage to be true to himself, and the strength of a dad who knows how to navigate the frequently treacherous waters of human experience.