Monday, November 26, 2012

[Australia] - Gay male couples’ paternal involvement in lesbian-parented families - Academic Research

Another new study will be published shortly in the Journal of Family Studies called "Gay male couples’ paternal involvement in lesbian-parented families".  The abstract and advanced copy of the text is available online, the full version will be published shortly.

Gay male couples’ paternal involvement in lesbian-parented families
Journal of Family Studies Vol 18 Issue 2-3 (2012) Pages 155-164
Deborah Dempsey


Australian gay men often assist lesbian friends and acquaintances to have families through known donor insemination arrangements. This paper discusses how these men's paternal involvement is negotiated and enacted vis a vis that of their same-sex partner and the children's mothers. It is based on three detailed case studies taken from a 2007-8 study of 14 gay biological fathers and their partners. I argue that these unconventional family relationships can provide creative and successful solutions to wanting a family with children and being in a same sex couple, in addition to the paid work/care balance issues that affect many busy parents. At the same time, these relationships potentially become problematic due to incompatible parental expectations of the men and women involved, and different understandings of the obligations and entitlements of paternal involvement. Conflict may arise due to the perceived fixed status of preconception agreements as opposed to the lived reality of childrearing, the cultural and social conventions that position paternal involvement as a choice rather than an obligation, and the predominance of same-sex couple based nuclear family aspirations.

Article Text (Advanced Copy)


Lesbian mothers have a long history of reliance on gay men to help them create families with children. The varied reasons for this include: legal restrictions on who may access clinical sperm donation; preference for their children to have an identifiable biological father; wanting to give gay male friends or acquaintances the opportunity to have children in their lives, or a desire to have a socially involved father figure for the child (Borthwick & Bloch 1993; Wakeling & Bradstock 1995; McNair et al. 2002; Clarke & Kitzinger 2005; Clarke 2006; Dempsey 2006). Gay men may provide sperm under conditions of anonymity, or with the understanding that they will have contact with the children. When gay men are involved in lesbian-parented children's care, this is usually on a non-resident basis, and distinguished legally and socially from the primary parental status of the children's mothers (Dempsey 2006; Short 2007; Riggs 2008a and b; Power et al. 2010).

This paper considers how Australian gay biological fathers and their partners are involved in lesbian-parented children's care through detailed analysis of three male couples' stories. These men were part of a larger group of 14 gay biological fathers and their partners recruited to a study on men and assisted reproduction in 2007-08. The paper reflects on how biological fathers' paternal involvement is negotiated and enacted vis a vis that of their same-sex partner and the children's mothers, and the kinds of care arrangements with lesbian parents and children the men's involvement facilitates. The relationships created can be well-placed to provide creative and successful solutions to wanting a family with children and being in a same-sex couple, in addition to the paid work/care balance issues that affect many busy adults. At the same time, these relationships potentially become problematic for a number of reasons including the perceived fixed status of preconception agreements, the cultural and social conventions that position paternal involvement as a choice, and the predominance of same-sex couple based nuclear family aspirations.

While it is customary to refer to the biological fathers discussed in this paper as 'known sperm donors' the term 'donor' can be very politicised within lesbian and gay parenting communities, in keeping with contestations over socio-legal definitions of family and relational rights among lesbians and gay men (see Riggs 2008a and b; Dempsey 2004; Kelly 2005; Arnup and Boyd 1995). Throughout the paper, I use the terms 'sperm provider' and 'biological father' instead because, arguably, these terms are more neutral with regard to the social content of the relationship between the man and the child. There is a more detailed discussion of this issue in Dempsey (2012).

Conceptualizing paternal involvement in lesbian-parented families

Gay men's reasons for assisting lesbian-parented families to have children are multifaceted. The increasing social acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex relationships have influenced the possibilities for gay men's 'procreative consciousness' (Berkowitz and Marsiglio 2007) insofar as being gay and being a father are no longer seen as mutually exclusive. In the late 1980s and 1990s, the early days of the Australian lesbian 'baby boom', published accounts by gay men often emphasised political motives for giving their sperm. The men regarded their actions as anti-patriarchal in that they facilitated women's rights to become mothers independently, without the need for sex or the intervention in child-rearing of a social father (van Reyk 1995, 2002). These days, negotiations with lesbian prospective parents will often occur with a view to having a degree of involvement with the children (see Dempsey 2006, 2010; Riggs 2008a and b; Ripper 2008). This can range from occasional social contact as a family friend to fully-fledged 'co-parenting' status and daily engagement in children's care (Dempsey 2010).

Discourses and practices of heterosexual paternal involvement could be expected to provide one meaningful context in which gay men's own expectations are shaped. Media depictions of heterosexual fathers and their portrayal in influential parenting texts indicates that women continue to be positioned as the primary parents who are largely responsible for children's daily care and nurture. Men as fathers are usually depicted as helpers, rather than as the parents with substantive responsibility for performing care or managing and coordinating children's care routines. Depictions of father involvement rarely represent men as having to make the kinds of personal sacrifices for children often demanded of mothers (e.g. Lupton and Barclay 1997; Wall and Arnold 2007). Despite the fact that Australian heterosexual fathers have increased the amount of time they spend on childcare (Baxter 2002; Baxter, Hewitt & Western 2005, Craig 2006) their uptake of care-giving responsibilities continues to lag far behind that of mothers and may be somewhat conditional. Fathers tend to spend more time on the fun or rewarding interactive forms of care with children than the more routine or less rewarding physical care (Craig 2006). However, alongside such representations and enactments of paternal involvement as more marginal, optional and relatively free from responsibilities than motherhood is a discourse of 'involved' or 'active' fatherhood (Lupton and Barclay 1997; Smart and Neale 1999). This emphasizes fathers' care competence, the emotional rewards of parenting, the importance of fathers to young children's emotional and social development, and the benefits of spending time becoming skilled in care routines and getting to know the child (see also Fletcher 2011).


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[Source: Original Document]

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