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

In spite of the encouraging findings, lesbian and gay parenting remains controversial and beliefs about same- sex parents and their children seem to be independent of empirical data. If this is due to a deep-rooted conventional vision of gender and sexuality, it should be useful to reflect on the contribution that psychological research gives to support a different culture of family and parenting.

If we look at the basis of the studies summarised above, it is evident that most psychological research, in true good faith and probably unconsciously, has adopted some assumptions that could reinforce the idea of lesbian and gay parenting as something abnormal. First of all, the comparison between lesbian and gay parenting and heterosexual parenting is, in itself, something to reconsider since it creates two categories on the basis of sexual orientation, assuming that they are internally homogenous. If the readers think of four or five couples they know that are parents, they can easily remember differences and similarities between them (in their conjugal functioning, their parenting styles, etc.), whether they are lesbian, gay or heterosexual. Living in a lesbian or gay family is clearly ‘different’, but it is not because of some essential characteristics, rather in the sense that lesbian or gay families have been considered as abnormal through a range of legal, moral and social measures (Hicks, 2005). Moreover, when psychological research looks at dimensions such as sexual identity, inevitably it supports the idea that there is only one way of being “normal”: the straight self-identification, the straight gender role and the straight sexual orientation. Instead of reinforcing standard notions of gender and sexuality, a more critical research enquiry would help us to understand how all of us are required to perform the appropriate masculine or feminine roles differently dependent upon the context, and what the consequences are for those who challenge the social expectations about gender and sexuality (Hicks, 2013). Finally, scholars should also reflect on the possibility for their research to reach the public opinion, giving solid references for interpreting relevant social phenomena: why is the idea that children need a mum and a dad so hard to overcome and why does the resistance to accept lesbian and gay parents persist? Why, in spite of almost 40 years of research, do opinions on lesbian and gay parenting without any scientific basis get to be on the cover of a magazine? Why has psychological research not yet been able to succeed in contending that lesbian and gay parenting is not a fad? How can psychological research improve its social relevance so as to confront, with its empirical findings, those stereotypes that persist even among openly gay cosmopolitan people?

Thus, the contemporary challenge for research on lesbian and gay parenting is not to do more studies on the topics mentioned above, but instead to do studies that do not imply an artificial antithesis between same- sex and opposite- sex parents, and to find new ways to communicate their results.



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