In the past twenty years there has been an increase in published books by people with LGBTQ parents or featuring their stories. Author and activist Jenny Rain discusses her own journey to telling her story through writing and why sharing queerspawn history is so important for all generations of people with LGBTQ parents and parents themselves. Jenny recently published one of her stories in the new anthology, "Raised by Unicorns: Stories from People with LGBTQ+ Parents", edited by Frank Lowe, a gay dad. It is filled with stories by people with LGBTQ parents.
Meet Our Guest
Jenny Rain has 26 years of corporate training & marketing experience. She recently completed her first book and her hope is that this book will change the partisan and theologically-charged conversation around LGBT families to be less combative and more redemptive.
Her passion for serving the LGBT community began in the 70's when her biological father met his now husband. Watching her dads fight for a voice in the 70s, 80s, & 90s, as well as experiencing extreme marginalization herself because her family looked different sparked Jenny's passion for LGBT advocacy. Jenny works to build bridges between the church and LGBT families in a manner that promotes reconciliation & healing.
“How Kids Became the Strongest Argument for Same-Sex Marriage” in the Washington Post, 2015
Family Equality Council’s Book Nook with other books by queerspawn and LGBTQ parents
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. It will come as no surprise to listeners of this podcast that I love LGBTQ family stories and so does Family Equality Council. Hearing them, telling them and creating new platforms to share them. We love it all, so anytime there is a new book or resource that tells the stories of people with LGBTQ parents in their very own words, I just get so excited. Growing up, I really often felt like the only child of LGBTQ parents in my community. In the past 20 years, there has been a clear increase in published books by people with LGBTQ parents or really featuring their stories. One new anthology of stories of fellow queerspawn is "Raised by Unicorns: Stories from People with LGBTQ Parents" edited by Frank Lowe, a gay dad. It is filled with stories by people with LGBTQ parents, including author and activist Jenny Rain. So today Jenny is with me to talk more about the book and why amplifying the stories of people with LGBTQ parents is really so important to her. Jenny recently completed her first book. Her passion is to serve the LGBTQ community and that began in the 1970s when her biological father met his now husband. Jenny works to build bridges between the church and LGBTQ families in a manner that promotes reconciliation and healing. So welcome Jenny.
Jenny R.: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I'm grateful to be involved.
Emily M.: This is the question I love to ask everybody and I already alluded to it a little bit in your bio there, but who is in your family and how and how was it formed?
Jenny R.: I was born in 1970 and so back in the day there wasn't an opportunity for kids to be born into or to be adopted into LGBTQ families. And so my biological dad, who you'll hear me refer to as Papi and my mom were married in the sixties and then they had me in 1970. My dad met his partner who is now his husband in 1977. I have a fantastic picture of them where my dad looks like Welcome Back Kotter, the guy, the main guy. Dencil, who's my first Stepdad, has this ginormous seventies glasses. And so they met in the seventies, obviously things were very hush hush back then. My mom met partner who is now her husband in the 80s. So I've got two stepdads one named Dencil and one named George.
Jenny R.: My biological parents divorced in 1975, but I really had kind of the best of both worlds. They shared custody. My Dad was a primary caretaker of me in the home and then he really stayed super involved after they got divorced. I had the best of both worlds because I had parents who wanted and cared deeply about being involved.
Emily M.: And where were you growing up?
Jenny R.: So I was in the Midwest. I actually grew up in Peoria, Illinois and went to college at University of Iowa and so I was smack dab in the middle of very white, very conservative, very cisgender heteronormative land. And I'm back in the seventies. You didn't talk about it. I mean there were other families like me, but they were very closeted, very hidden. And so connecting with those other families was a little bit of a monumental task. It's a little different for kids nowadays, which I'm so happy for. But back when I was growing up, but it definitely was isolating. My dad moved out to Washington DC when I was probably ten-ish and I hated having him that far away. But he kind of opened the world for me to see that not everybody was like they were in the Midwest. Not to slam the Midwest, but it's a different world between the East Coast and the Midwest. And DC was very gay friendly. It's still is a very gay friendly place. Growing up during the school year, I went to school in Illinois and then every break I would spend that time with my dads. And so, again, the best of both worlds.
Emily M.: So did you know of other families like yours growing up? If it was a monumental task to really find and connect with one another, were you able to do that? And if so, how did you find one another?
Jenny R.: I vaguely remember some families, but the families that we ran into were primarily in the DC area. There wasn't anybody in our regular circle that had LGBTQ parents. Most of them that I ran across were kids with moms, and not as much kids with dads. There wasn't anybody that I developed a long standing relationship with or had any kind of a kinship with where I could say, oh yeah, they get my rainbow family. They get the experience that I'm experiencing. It wasn't until I was 44 years old and met my friend Ceheirra, she has dads, and she's really the first person that I was able to share at a deep level what it was like growing up with dads and the challenges. She's also a woman of color, so she has that added complexity of battling what it's like to be a child with dads and then battling what it's like to be a child with dads who happens to be a person of color, which that's a whole other layer to everything.
Emily M.: Did you tell your story really at all in those sort of intervening years between your dad coming out and age forty-four? Did that have any impact on your desire to tell your story and now through writing?
Jenny R.: Yeah, that's a great question and it definitely informs my advocacy and where I am now. I didn't talk about my dad probably from when I was a very young child up until I quote unquote "came out in college" and I wrote a paper. It was called 'My Little Secret' and even in the paper I didn't ever say the words, you know, my dad is gay, but that was very much a pivotal point for me because it's the first time I was able to in public say the words. I can remember I was in Catholic school when my parents divorced and I remember the nuns like gathering around me and praying that daddy would come home and I'm like, oh honey, yeah, that's not going to happen. But you didn't talk about it in the seventies. And then in the eighties when AIDS happened, to talk about it was to just bring incredible shame and ridicule upon yourself as a child because - "Oh, your dads must have AIDS or are they dying from AIDS or oh you know, they're a plague on society." And then in the nineties when I was stepping into college, it was the moral majority and Pat Robertson and so it was pushing that message of abomination and all of that to the extreme. The first time I came out about my family was in, in when I was in college, so in the nineties, and then really I didn't start talking about it on the regular until the first boyfriend that I dated in 1994 I think. And I had to break up with him to tell him that my dads were gay and he was so funny. He was like, Oh yeah, I already knew that because your dad had those funny purple tube socks. That's how much staying silent was really trained into 'kids of' and rainbow families in the seventies and eighties. We just didn't talk about it.
Jenny R.: So I fully embrace the importance of children telling their stories because it's this act of healing and act of redemption that they get to do. But it's also an act of education for communities, especially the church community. Like if we could create a community where kids could talk about their two moms or two dads within the church, first of all, my mind will be blown if that can ever happen, but it's so important to be able to talk about it. It normalizes their experience. Vicki Beeching said, when you have the courage to tell your own story, you give others the courage to tell theirs. And that statement, I heard it in a few years ago, really gave me kind of the final push to realize that my story telling in and of itself was a means of fighting the narrative and fighting the system that says rainbow families aren't normal. So I, I just, I really believe in the importance of stories.
Emily M.: Absolutely. And it's interesting how different it sometimes feels today because when I meet younger children and especially people who live around the Boston area where I am, where it doesn't feel courageous, it just feels normal and safe and so standard for them. That even for me, having grown up in Massachusetts, but in the 90s and early 2000s, it still felt nerve wracking for me to do that. Within 10 and 15 years to see the shift where it just feels so safe and normalized, is incredible. At the same time it feels like other progress hasn't been made quite the same.
Jenny R.: I totally agree. And honestly, just even hearing you say that is music to my ears because it should be normal, right? Love is love and you know, marriage is marriage. And so the ability to create a, a loving family is what creates the foundation for children who grow up in a healthy environment. And you know, thousands of studies have shown, well maybe not thousands, but studies have shown that what a child needs to grow up in a healthy well-adjusted manner is love.
Emily M.: And what has pushed you to tell your story in an increasingly public way, to have a chapter in this anthology and to be writing your own book.
Jenny R.: So I used to be a prolific blogger. I would blog every day and I had an article that I posted called "Will They Laugh if I Call You Daddy: Growing Up With Gay Dads in an Evangelical World", and that post was grabbed by the wordpress. This was back when like wordpress.com was all the thing. They grabbed my post and put it on their dashboard and it went viral-ish. I say viral-ish because I got like a thousand hits in an hour, which to me, I was like, oh my gosh. And I was working in a very conservative church at the time and obviously trying to change some of the narratives there. And I was like, I'm going to get fired. Well I didn't get fired, but I had so many people on staff who I kind of pigeonholed a super conservative, come up to me and they're like, we are so proud of you for, for sharing your story, your story needs to be told. So I wrote parts two and three and then that became the basis for the book that I wrote, which have the same title "Will They Laugh if I Call you Daddy". I realized that the more I told my story both to kids of LGBTQ parents and to the parents themselves, people would have this reaction to me like their eyes would pop open and they would say the story needs to get out there. People need to hear this. How, how have we not heard your voices up until then? And you know, I always want to say, well you guys aren't paying attention because we've been here, right? Family Equality Council has been around for 30 plus years. We've been here, you know, but we've been on the margins of the margins and so nobody's heard us.
Jenny R.: I have always believed that children of LGBTQ families and parents have the ability to change the conversation that our society. And I believe that whether you are LGBTQ yourself or whether you are cisgender heterosexual, you have a voice that people who normally might not listen to that voice will listen to. And I know that because in the church, because I'm cisgender heterosexual, I can enter into conversations where a person who is LGBTQ might not be allowed. And so we have a really important voice in the conversation and we have a really important story to add to the LGBTQ community narrative. And I think as a whole, kids of LGBTQ parents have been erased, unintentionally erased, but still erased from both the LGBTQ conversation and the church's normative family conversation. And yet our voices have the power to change the conversation for good. You know, I think about the work that Family Equality did with the Voices of Children amicus brief, which I had incredible honor of being a part of.
Emily M.: Can you, can you describe what for anyone who may not know what that was?
Jenny R.: So in 2015, I was invited by Family Equality to be a part of the Voices of Children brief and the Voices of Children brief brought together hundreds of kids from all over the nation who spoke their own voice on behalf of why marriage equality was so critical for the nation to pass. And the brief was put together and walked up to the stairs of the Supreme Court and delivered as evidence to the Supreme Court on the importance of marriage equality. Well, what ended up happening from that is the Washington Post's got a hold of our stories and I ended up on the front page of the Washington Post and the angle that the post took was essentially how kids became the strongest argument for same sex marriage. And that was a direct result of the Voice of Children brief. Fast forward, if you listen to the audio of the SCOTUS case for marriage equality, the strongest argument, and honestly the argument that I felt was the most persuasive, was about the welfare of the children. So that brief and the article and kind of the groundswell behind it, I think was it just a fulcrum point upon which marriage equality turned and so I was thrilled to be a part of that. And then we fast forward a year and kids' voices have gone underground again. We're are thinking don't just cooperate our voices. Leverage our voices for good to change the conversation forever.
Emily M.: So it sounds like some of that is people maybe not understanding the validity and the importance of the stories of people with LGBTQ parents that I know I run up against - people not identifying my experience as like part of the LGBTQ community as a whole and that queerspawn identity that I personally identify with. It's not visible.
Jenny R.: Yeah, totally. So much. Yes. So because I'm not LGBTQ, I'm erased from the LGBTQ community and because I don't have quote unquote "normal parents", I'm erased from the heteronormative family. So we experienced very much the same thing that our parents experienced from the perspective of marginalization. The only difference is we're erased from being seen, having a valid experience. And what's kind of much worse with the upcoming generations, there's this trend now in the... And let me first off start by saying I really believe millennials are going to change the world and I'm so grateful for their voices because they are blowing the binary boxes and I love what they're doing. One area where I feel that it is important for younger generations to hear from the kids of LGBTQ parents is to hear that when they say that kids of LGBTQ parents have to quote unquote "earn their allyship", does untold emotional violence to kids like me. Because in many cases, in most cases we've endured the exact same prejudice and marginalization. The only difference is I've experienced it for about three decades longer than than a millennial has. So while they weren't even a thought in their parents' mind, I was experiencing and bleeding for this cause.
Emily M.: So growing up, would you talk with your dad and your step dad about some of what you were experiencing and seeing or your identity within the community?
Jenny R.: No, honestly we just, we didn't talk about it and they didn't know about it. So in "Raised by Unicorns", I talk about what happened to me when I was an 11 year old. I was walking down the boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach where I directly experienced something that my dads didn't. It was aimed at them, but the toxic sludge so to speak, leaked on over to me because of cat calling and prejudice that was aimed at my dads. And they didn't even know that happened until 2015. And when they read my story, they cried. They were like, oh my God, we had no idea. They remember the incident because I essentially turned mute at the end of it and I couldn't say anything. But they didn't realize the impact that had on me and I think because they created a comfortable, safe space for me to exist in a family atmosphere. God knows they would try and get me to talk, but society was telling me I didn't have the right to talk about it. Society was telling me I needed to stay silent and hide. And so as a result I just, I didn't talk much about it.
Emily M.: And so today, how do you now navigate sort of advocate a within the faith community you're currently in and then also maybe with your family today?
Jenny R.: Yeah. So there was not anything that I knew of called an affirming church when I was growing up. There was Dignity, which is an affirming expression of the Catholic Church and that's what would go to with my dad. We would go to Dignity Washington. I now live in Palm Springs, California. Even in more liberal Palm Springs, there's only three LGBTQ churches in the Coachella Valley. That's staggering when you think about the number, because 60% of palm springs is LGBTQ and there's only three churches and there's thousands of non-affirming churches. So there's a huge need for churches to reach into the community, and not just the LGBTQ individuals, but also the family unit as a whole. So it has been bumps and scrapes and it has been at times a bloody mess. And I actually came to my belief for full inclusion when I was working in a non-affirming church. And I will, I will forever be grateful to that experience because that kind of incubator of faith created a space for me to fight for my own beliefs and find my own story and narrative of why I believe that the truest concept of God that you can see is one of inclusion. You know, if you look back to the vast witness of scripture from Genesis to Revelation, it's God radically welcoming the outsider, throughout the entire scripture. And yet somehow we've kind of forgotten that along the way as churches. So when I find a church who has that expression of radical welcome and acceptance and love I I dive in with both feet.
Emily M.: Who were you writing for in some of the different ways that you've written? There are people who are new or potentially hostile to what you're trying to say. You've talked those sort of audiences. There's also an audience of newer or younger generations of people with LGBTQ parents to really understand the legacy of children growing up with our families. Sharing that we have our own queer history as well. And parents to really understand that your story is important and unique, but your children's stories and their experiences are also important and also unique.
Jenny R.: Yeah, so I should have you read my book proposal because that was such a perfect analysis of my personas. Starting with parents - I want parents to understand that their child will have two coming out processes, the child will come out for the family unit and then the child will come out for themselves as to whether they are LGBTQ or not. I had both of those coming out processes. I had to ask those questions of myself and figure it out. I will never forget the conversation with my dad where I was like, Dad, am I gay? And he was like, no, honey, you're not. And he kind of giggled and I was like, I'm serious. A lot of children ask that, whether they're in a heterosexual family or an LGBTQ family.
Emily M.: I know I did! I remember distinctly being in kindergarten and sitting in the car with mom, saying I really like my best friend, but do I like her-like her? Do I like her the way I like this other boy? I got to have that parent sounding board and then I got to keep doing it and it got to continue to be safe to do it with, with people who knew me so well.
Jenny R.: Right? Because I mean, the first time you speak the words or ask the question, am I gay? Whether you're straight or gay or anywhere on the spectrum or whether you're struggling with like I'm a girl or I'm a boy and you're on the gender identity spectrum. Those are the most terrifying words because society tells you that they're terrifying, right? Society tells you that to question if you're gay is wrong. So having the scaffolding of a safe parental structure where you can ask those questions is so key.
Emily M.: When you got the book, when you were reading the book, what was that like seeing and reading and meeting other people who were sharing their stories?
Jenny R.: So I can only read one story a day because I get like four paragraphs in and I'm a hot mess. I am snot-nose crying, but because I feel like these kids are saying things that...They're wrapping words around my heart - words that I've never been able to say and words that I didn't even know I need to speak. I feel like little pieces of myself are scattered all through this book, which is why again, I feel like it's so important that the stories get out there because kids need to see themselves in literature and they need to see themselves in other people's stories.
Emily M.: Do you think that 'Raised by Unicorns' is coming out in a particular time when more people may be seeing this? I know that there are other books out there - Abigail Garner's 'Families Like Mine' in 2004 or Tina Fakhrid-Deen's 'Let's Get This Straight' in 2010. All of these are great books that are by people with LGBTQ parents. Now we're seeing some more. And does this feel like a particular moment that is right for more stories like these?
Jenny R.: I hope so. I really hope so because every story is special and it's important across every generation. I want to see lots of these books. I see the work of Family Equality, the work of COLAGE. There was another book that just came out a few months ago, a photographer took rainbow families and LGBTQ kids and did pictures...
Emily M.: Gabby Herman's 'The Kids'. I'm actually in that.
Jenny R.: I saw that and I was like, yes. So again, I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful that this is a growing genre. We've got the kids' books, right? We've got the Heather Has Two Mommies and all of that, but we don't have the piece that's kind of in the middle that says, let me educate this part of society and create a space for the kids to see themselves. You guys are doing the work of getting these stories out there and making sure that you are giving them press and that people can find out about them.
Emily M.: If someone picks up this book, what are your hopes or wishes for them to be reading this?
Jenny R.: I think my hope is that you can see the heart of the kids. That somebody reading it can step into a kid's shoes and put aside their theology, to put aside their politics, to put aside any worldview that would shade how they read the story and to just very innocently read the story and let the story read them. Because I think that will then inform their place in the overarching narrative and what happens. And the other thing is I would say is when you run across these narratives, whether it's Raised by Unicorns, whether it is Let's Get This Straight or Families Like Mine, and then you meet a child of LGBTQ parents, give a book to their family. Pass it on and get our stories out there. I truly believe that the stories of children are going to change the conversation for good.
Emily M.: Yeah, absolutely. Well, thank you so much for talking with me. This was really wonderful and I really hope everyone goes and finds 'Raised by Unicorns' and learns a little bit more about your story and many other people's stories. How can anybody find you if they wanted to find you on the Internet.
Jenny R.: Yeah, everything that I am branded by JennyRain, so my website which is out of date is JennyRain.com. I'm on twitter and instagram is as @JennyRain. Thank you so much Emily, for letting me be a part of this and thanks to all the work that Family Equality is doing. I'm grateful to you know, to to be a part of the work that y'all are doing.