It’s not a matter of fashion: How psychological research can revamp common beliefs on lesbian and gay parenting

Many studies into lesbian and gay parenting address the question of gender identity. While research of this type has been vital in challenging concerns about supposed damaging effects upon children, it may also be criticized for employing a notion of gender as a fixed, measurable entity, thus failing to question the notion of expected gender or sexual identity development (Hicks, 2013).

Findings do not show any significant differences in gender identity of children of lesbian and gay parents compared with children of heterosexual parents (Anderssen, Amlie & Ytterøy, 2002; Bos & Sandfort, 2010; Fedewa, Black & Ahn, 2015; Crowl, Ahn & Baker, 2008; Green, 1978; Green, Mandel, Hotvedt, Gray & Smith, 1986; Kirkpatrick, Smith & Roy, 1981). Thus, children seem to have access to the same signals to define themselves as male or female, such as genital, dress and word labels (Green et al., 1986), whether or not they are from heterosexual families. 

Gender role refers to behaviours, attitudes and personality characteristics that are culturally defined as more appropriate for one sex than the other (Boldizar, 1991). Research comparing gender roles in children from same- sex and opposite- sex families offers different conclusions: while some studies indicate that children of lesbian and gay parents are in some respects less traditional in their gender attitudes (Fulcher, Sutfin & Patterson, 2008; Green et al, 1986; MacCallum & Golombok, 2004), other studies have found they are as conformist in their gender behaviours and preferences as children of heterosexual parents (Anderssen et al., 2002; Brewaeys, Ponjaert, Van Hall & Golombok, 1997; Crowl et al., 2008; Fulcher, Sutfin & Patterson, 2008; Golombok, Spencer & Rutter, 1983; Green, 1978; Green et al., 1986).  So while lesbian mothers and gay fathers may challenge the stereotypical gender roles, they may avoid imposing nonstandard ideas about gender onto their children, since they know that their children live in a gender-conforming world (Hicks, 2013). Moreover, children’s gender roles do not depend only on their parents; we are all heavily influenced by what is culturally appropriate and what is not (Tasker & Golombok, 1997).