Two teens talk about what it's like growing up in a LGBTQ family and being totally outnumbered at home by parents and siblings who are all of a different gender. What is it really like being a young woman raised by two men or a young man raised by women? Short answer - it's complex and awesome.
Meet Our Guests:
Jean Azar-Tanguay is a 17 year old junior at Boston Latin School. She has lived in Boston her entire life with her two dads, Norm and Peter, and her 15 year old brother Luc. Jean rows for her school’s Crew team and if she’s not there or selling Girl Scout cookies with her troop, she spends her time baking cupcakes for friends and family.
Zan Rabney was born in Manhattan and is a junior in High School. He loves music and culinary arts. He is also a member of the Varsity Fencing team at his school. He and his moms have been involved with Family Equality Council since he was 5 years old when they attended their first family week. He currently lives in South Orange, NJ where his two moms sell real estate. He and his family are frequent hosts of an Family Equality Council house party there.
Emily M.: Welcome to Outspoken Voices, a podcast by and for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer parents, people with LGBTQ parents, future parents, and everyone else who is part of our family journeys. I'm your host, Emily McGranachan and I am the Director of Family Engagement with Family Equality Council. Today we're talking about growing up with same sex parents when you identify as a different sex. What is it really like for a young woman being raised by two men or young man being raised by women? I'm really excited to talk about this today. It was sort of the opposite of my own experience and the questions I got from other people when I was growing up. I was a cisgender girl, raised by women and honestly people have this idea that I sort of existed in this all women lesbian society. I wish! With me today to really talk through some of that and also just share a different perspective is Jean and Zan. So to just start off, Jean, would you tell us about who's in your family and how your family was formed?
Jean A-T.: I have my two dads and my little brother. I am incredibly outnumbered. I was conceived through IVF. My egg donor is my aunt, so one of my dad's sisters, and my sperm donor was my other dad and I was carried by a surrogate who actually works with my dad so I still know all these people. And then my brother was a very similar situation with the same egg and sperm but just carried by our mother or my aunt.
Emily M.: It sounds like that's different than some surrogacy experiences that you hear about, that everybody was sort of known. Do you know if that was a factor of the sort of personal relationships maybe your dads had or was that sort of the legal landscape of what they felt like their options were at the time?
Jean A-T.: Yeah, I think it was really just a personal choice that the dad who ended up being my uncle really wanted to be our biological father and when that just didn't work out, this is the next best choice.
Emily M.: And Zan who is in your family and how was your family formed?
Zan R.: So it's just me and my two moms and I was conceived with an anonymous sperm donor and my mom carried me. We love to go out to eat together, like go to concerts together. It's fun.
Emily M.: What was the last concert you went to?
Zan R.: I think we went to see Steely Dan like a year ago.
Emily M.: Nice. Cool. And Jean, what are some of your favorite things to do as a family?
Jean A-T.: My family loves to go down to Rhode Island and watch college basketball games. When college basketball is not in season, we watch the Red Sox.
Emily M.: What would you say are some of the most common questions that you hear from people when you tell them about your family?
Jean A-T.: One question that I get a lot is - what is it like to not have a mom or what is it like to be the only girl in your house? Because for a lot of people that's a really, really hard thing to process. A lot of people have really good relationships with their moms so it's kind of different for them to have that mother-daughter connection that I don't necessarily have. That's probably the big one.
Emily M.: So it almost sounds like that first question is a perceived lack, rather than people automatically going to the great additional things that you have.
Jean A-T.: Yeah, absolutely. They think of it as a lack, which, well, it is in some ways it absolutely is not because it's not like I don't have any women in my life. I have my aunt who I'm very, very close to still, so it's kind of an aggravating question in that sense that they don't understand. Oh, she must have some other woman in her life.
Emily M.': Zan, do you have any common questions that you often hear when you tell people about your family?
Zan R.: On top of those? I always get asked like, do you ever wish you had a dad or like do you wish you had a male in your house, like a brother? And for me it really doesn't matter. I think I struggled with it a little more when I was younger. I would try to think like which fatherly traits fall to which mother, but now I'm just kind of cool with it. I like it.
Emily M.: I'm older than both of you by about 10 years. So one of the questions that I often heard growing up was - how is that possible, you have to have it dad? So is that a bit different now? Do you think people are maybe more familiar with LGBTQ families or is it just because you're in high school now and so people understand processes a little bit more
Zan R.: Where I live it's a little more common to have LGBTQ couples raising kids so I don't get as many questions as I got in elementary school. In elementary school it wasn't really understood because kids are still kind of figuring things out. I mean they are in high school too but, but people tend to understand it a little more. My parents got questions though. They went to a parent mixer with my school because I go to a private school. So I have like people from all over the state of New Jersey and especially in one county it's not as common. One of the moms at the event asked my mom, which one of you is the mom? So I feel like the parents struggle with it almost more than the kids do because to the kids, it's pedestrian around where I live.
Jean A-T.: To go opposite of that, with the two dads thing, people have the question - how? Because it's not as easy for two men to have a baby. People don't actually know what to think the first time they meet me and find out about my family, but I'm guessing they assume adoption was a big factor in how I became in my parents' lives. But then they see me next to my parents and see that I do in fact look like both of them. So I am guessing that most of them at first just assume adoption for two men and a child.
Zan R.: Yeah, that's true. I'll go back to the question thing. One of the most common questions I get as well as are you adopted? Like people are really interested in how I was conceived
Emily M.: That's so different just within 10 years because I think the automatic assumption when I was growing up was that the parent who had conceived me had done so within a heterosexual relationship and that so I must have a dad. It just wasn't thought of as possible to adopt legally as someone who is out or to conceive as someone who is out. Do you ever get those questions or those assumptions?
Jean A-T.: In ways, yeah, but people also understand. I live in Massachusetts and we were the first state to legalize same-sex marriage and very progressive in general. So anybody here who has LGBTQ parents, it's highly, highly likely that they are legally the people's children. So it kind of just happens and people don't really question it much.
Emily M.: When you were growing up, did you ever practice answering questions about your family at home? Did your parents sort of prep you at all for some of this? I think that thinking back over the years, I got better and better at answering invasive questions in ways that felt better for me. And so I wasn't caught off guard as much but it came with practice and I think prep from my parents too.
Zan R.: I never practiced at home but I got more used to answering the questions when I answered them to kids. So I generally give the same answer when I get the question.
Jean A-T.: Yeah. My parents didn't necessarily prep us, but they were definitely 100 percent open with anything we wanted to know from as young as we could understand it. And I really, really appreciated that. As for practicing it with people, I was lucky to go to the same school from kindergarten through sixth grade. So I grew up with these people and pretty much only had to explain it once at most and maybe a couple of times as we got older and more specifics would come up. But in my shift to my current high school in seventh grade, I did have to practice it a little bit. But I was very lucky to meet a few people immediately who were respectful and helped me out with other people.
Emily M.: Yeah. Having those allies who can sometimes take that burden off. Even having to explain things can be so helpful. So I know one big thing for me growing up was that my parents answered my questions about how I was conceived and became part of the family. And I distinctly remember being in third grade, so around nine, and peers were asking me and saying I had to have a dad. I told them, "No, I don't have a dad. I have a sperm donor." And my parents had made it crystal clear that I was not allowed to elaborate what that meant for the other nine-year-olds. So that became part of the challenge - as people got older and started understanding how conception happened, I sometimes had more information than my peers. Did you ever experience anything like that? Yeah? Okay. I'm not alone.
Jean A-T.: Yeah, like I said, I've just been really, really lucky that my parents have been open with me and my brother. There have been times where I know more than my peers. But the thing I like to say most of them is, hey, I know I was wanted because there is no way that that could have been an accident. And that's usually where they kind of realize what I mean.
Zan R.: I don't really have like a lot of problems with my peers with this. Most of them are really understanding about it. So for me, I mean at least now at this point, I can fully answer the question. Previously, I tried to elaborate as much as I thought they could understand
Emily M.: I did the same. When it comes to people and expectations around role models in your life, people would if there any man that I was close to. I loved my grandfathers, but they were in their seventies and eighties. They were not parenting me. They were men, I loved them, but they weren't my parents. And I hated when I would get those questions because it was such a presumption that I would just fail at being a functioning person in society if I didn't adhere and see strict gender roles at home. Does that happen to you?
Zan R.: It doesn't necessarily happen to me anymore. A question I used to get from like younger kids was - do your parents want you to be gay because they're lesbian? And I'd always respond with no, that's kind of ridiculous. At this point I feel like gender roles are somewhat unnecessary. We don't need defined roles for a specific gender. I think people are just going to be who they are and when they get into a relationship they're going to function in the relationship in whatever ways healthy for them.
Jean A-T.: Yeah. So I had again, kind of a different experience. There's kind of a stigma around being second- gen. So second generation in this context means that your parents are LGBTQ and you also identify as LGBTQ. I was having a conversation with one of my other friends who has two moms and we were talking about that stigma and how people assume that if you come out as second gen, that is just because your parents are gay. That it's just because you want to be like your parents, not because you actually feel that way. And it can be a little bit dehumanizing because it makes you feel like your sexual orientation or gender identity is not valid and it's only because of your parents. If I could just talk about the gender roles thing. So in my house, both my parents work and they both get money for the house - I guess they're both breadwinners. One of them is home more than the other. And some of my friends go, oh, so he's the mom, right? Like, that doesn't make him my mom that makes him, my parent who works two less days a week. He still works a substantial amount and don't tell my other dad this, but he's also just a better cook. So we're not mad that he makes dinner more often, but it's just a whole idea of you can have a functioning household without a male parent and a female parent, just as single parent households can function.
Emily M.: It is so interesting because what does that also then say about how this other person perceives moms and what women do you want a house? There is that assumption that women don't work or that they're absolutely around the house more.
Jean A-T.: Yeah. It's thankfully starting to change, but there's definitely an assumption that the woman's home more and works a little bit less or maybe takes more time off to take care of the kids. Both of my parents were lucky to get paternity leave and a substantial amount to0, so that was very fortunate. But there's still the assumption that the woman will take a longer time off to take care of the baby and the woman will be home and cleaning and cooking, all while still working potentially. But that idea is luckily changing.
Emily M.: Zan at your home. do people put on expectations that now you are a teenager, you'll do lots of labor around the house? Do you hear those assumptions now that you're older and the only male identified person in your house?
Zan R.: Yeah, I definitely get that. I hear, Oh, you should be moving all these things for your parents. You should be doing manual things for your parents. I mean I'm doing some stuff but I'm doing it because I want to help out around the house. Not because I'm the only male in the household.
Emily M.: Yeah. Gender expectations. We now know gender expectations are made up and in so many ways are outdated. And they often don't apply to our families and I think that's one of the benefits of growing up with LGBTQ parents. You can look at those different expectations, and realize that they make no sense. Has having an adult role model or someone who you're close to have your same sex or gender been important to you?
Jean A-T.: Yeah. I'm very lucky to have such a close relationship with my aunts, but I by no means feel like I need to have it. I feel like I would've been totally fine had I not had this close of a relationship with them. I do not wish I did though because I love them very much. But if I didn't, I feel like I wouldn't have been that much different. It has been a little bit helpful with certain things, just random little bits here and there, but my parents are actually both physicians so they know a lot about things as I started to get older and things like that. But my aunts have definitely been there for me in certain instances that my dads might not have been able to provide as much guidance in.
Zan R.: I don't really miss having a male figure at all. I mean, again, when I was younger I thought about it a lot more than I do now. But I really don't miss it. We have close family friends who are male. If I really need to, I'll ask them a question. For example, a family friend taught me how to shave. But it's not something I feel like I needed all. I'm very happy with my parents and I'm very happy with my family.
Emily M.: So in all three of our experiences, our parents were out when we were all conceived. It's hard for me to feel a lack of something that I never had. One of my questions that I want to ask is what is the best thing about being outnumbered at home and what's the most challenging? And I can just share a challenging experience of my home was every member of the family going through puberty and menopause at the same time. There was just a lot of emotion.
Jean A-T.: So one of the best things about being the only girl in my house is that I can usually tell what clothes are mine, so it's less likely to get mixed up in the laundry. But that being said, I do own primarily t-shirts that are identical to my brothers or my dads' and I'm the same size as my dad. So sometimes that becomes a problem. But for example, if a nice top comes up in the wash and my brother tries to claim it, I can just flip the tags, show this is a woman's shirt and then take it back. I would say a challenge would probably be maybe the whole puberty thing. My parents just kind of don't understand certain things that happened to me that didn't happen to them. Well, they do understand the science behind it. They don't understand like what it feels like to get cramps or things like that. So it's just a little bit different in that sense where if I come downstairs I need Ibuprofen and they're like, can you wait an hour or something? And it's just a different kind of thing.
Zan R.: I really haven't that many challenge. My moms did a good job of trying to educate themselves on what on what boys go through. And they've done a very good job of not making me feel like I need another person of my gender in the household. They make it feel very easy and normal.
Emily M.: What do you think that they went out and learned?
Zan R.: I'm not necessarily sure because a lot of it would be when I'm younger. When I was going through puberty, I never had the kind of issue where it's like, oh, they don't understand what a guy's going through. I guess because it's a little bit more simple. I think at this point they're so used to raising a boy that they're like, oh, whatever. It's fine.
Emily M.: Well it's interesting because then it doesn't sound like they had to really scramble to answer a question or issue you brought up. They weren't scrambling to figure it out. It sounds like they kind of preempted things or if they did scramble, they did their research at night and didn't let on.
Zan R.: Honestly, if they didn't know, the would ask a male friend. They've never lied about knowing something when they don't, they'll just say it's not our expertise.
Jean A-T.: With my parents, sometimes it gets a little bit annoying because I'll bring up something that I don't know how to deal with and they'll kind of leave it up to me in a way, but not entirely. They'll make it seem like it is my choice and it's just because they don't necessarily know the answer. Like, just a small example is my prom is coming up and I got a dress and one of my aunts came down for my birthday recently and was talking all about how I should get it altered. And my parents have seen me in the dress, but they didn't say anything about it because they don't necessarily know what it's supposed to look like on me compared to what it looks like. So that whole thing came up and my parents asked if I was going to get it altered. Like, I don't know, am I? And it's a little debate that we're having now about do I trust what the female has said or do I trust what I want to do and that kind of situation.
Zan R.: For me, it's like it's not necessarily so much about gender but more about heterosexuality. Sometimes my moms will have trouble with questions about heterosexuality and they'll just tell me to talk with my aunt because she's straight. They identified as straight at one point in their lives but it was very long time ago.
Emily M.: I so agree with that! It's funny because one of my straight aunts took it upon herself to share advice for how to date straight men, sometime when I was in high school or college. So when your moms ask straight female friends questions, are they also asking straight male friends?
Zan R.: So my mom tends to ask her sister a lot who's straight those kinds of questions. And quite frankly they don't have a lot of straight male friends. So it's understandable. The majority of my parents' friends are LGBTQ.
Jean A-T.: Totally. I'm surrounded by gays and lesbians - my aunts and all their lesbian friends and my dads and all their gay friends and it's kind of fun.
Zan R.: Most of my parents' male friends are gay. When people are over and they're not LGBTQ, they're either really close family friends or their clients. One of our neighbor's sons is gay, so as soon as we moved in here, he was overly excited and he was like - My son is gay. You guys are gay. That's great.
Jean A-T.: Yeah. People assume that anybody and everybody in the LGBTQ community knows each other. I've run into that on multiple occasions and it's been kind of funny, but it is a community
Zan R.: The assumption is all of a sudden, because you're the same sexual orientation, you have something in common and you're friends, which is odd because nobody says that about straight people.
Emily M.: To close out this really great conversation - for people who are growing up or have families like yours or for parents out there, what advice do you have?
Jean A-T.: Don't stress. Everything will turn out fine. Your kid will be fine. They will grow up just as planned even if they don't have that extra parent of the other gender. I was speaking on a panel of all females with two dads in New York recently and a man approached us afterwards and said - hi, my husband and I are expecting twin girls. We have no idea what to do. So the first thing we all said was just take a deep breath. It will be fine. Google will be your friend and it's just a matter of not worrying about what other people tell you because in the end you are their parent and you will be able to make informed decisions on what would be best for your kid.
Zan R.: I think the one that extra piece of advice that I have is to know the area that you live in well because that'll help you prepare kids to answer questions.
Jean A-T.: Yeah. My family is one of the only gay families in my area. There's a lot of LGBTQ people but not a lot of families. But because I live in Boston, everybody is very open and helpful.
Emily M.: And what about other youth or young adults who may be listening?
Zan R.: I would say don't think about it too much. Just be happy with your parents and who they are. Because I don't think you're limited by the gender at all. I don't think that's something that's limiting because there's always someone in your life that you can ask the question of if your parents can't answer it. I really think you should just get as much as you can out of your parents in the time that you have living with them.
Jean A-T.: And don't let others try to shape who you are because of your family. For example, people will tell me that because I'm raised by two men, I must not wear makeup because they never taught me how to wear makeup and things like that are absolutely not true. It's because I want that extra half hour of sleep in the morning. So don't let other people say you're like this because you have two dads, two moms, a trans parent, etc. It's all because you are you. I don't think I would be much different than I am now if I was raised by a male and a female.
Emily M.: Gender is a construct and didn't construct me and it didn't instruct how my parents parented me.
Zan R.: Quite frankly, I'm more aware having two parents of the same gender. I'm more aware of the struggles of the LGBTQ community and the struggles of people who don't have all the civil rights that a white cis male would have. I feel I'm definitely more aware. If I had a heterosexual, non-mixed race parents, I don't know if I'd understand what's going on in society.
Jean A-T.: I bring friends down to Provincetown, MA and you can't swing a cat without hitting a drag queen and they all become super shocked and awed by everything around us. And I'll just look at them and say, I have been coming here since I was two months old. This is what I've grown up with. I've definitely had friends who are LGBTQ themselves approach me and feel more comfortable with me because I'm open about my family. My life has been much more open and I have organizations like Family Equality Council and COLAGE that I've grown up with to help me get the tools to be allies to other people.
Zan R.: I've even had kids who were not necessarily my friends talk to me about their sexual orientation. I can understand it more than their friends can or more than even their parents can.
Emily M.: That's good to know that that still happens, because in high school I had to talk multiple people through their coming out process.
Jean A-T.: Even if not just through the coming out process, through everything else. My friends who are trans, who are gay, know that if anyone is giving them crap, I will be right there to back them. They have that confidence in me and that trust in me and it's a really good feeling to have people who trust you like that.