Brett Webb-Mitchell: Gay Parenting as Performance Art

In a recent article on, writer Jessica Valenti asks the question: "Do Gay Couples Have Happier Kids?" The answer is an unequivocal "yes."

She writes: "If you want what's best for your kids, one surefire way to provide them with a healthy, happy home is to make sure they have lesbian parents. In the longest running study of lesbian families to date, zero percent of children reported physical or sexual abuse - not a one. In the general population (read straight), 26 percent of children report physical abuse and 8.3 percent report sexual abuse." Furthermore, in a "five-year review of eighty-one parenting studies published in the 2010 Journal of Marriage and Family, it was reported that children raised by same-sex parents are 'statistically indistinguishable' from those raised by straight parents in terms of self-esteem, academics, and social adjustment." With these statistics, and other anecdotal information, Valenti declares the "nuclear family is on the way out."

I'd like to correct Ms. Valenti a little bit: the nuclear family was an ideal that was never all that popular or healthy. Prior to Valenti's article, writer and researcher Stephanie Coontz made it known that the "nuclear family" is but modern society's latest reconfiguration of being a "family." For example, prior to the Industrial Revolution in the United States and we were largely an agrarian society, a family was equated to a household or extended family; with children, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins living relatively close to one another, if not on the same piece of land or in the same house. What is fascinating is that the word "family" is a rather new term. "Family" was never used in the Bible because the ancient Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic writers used the word "household" to talk about one's family, e.g., extended family.

Valenti's point is important for our same-sex parent families: what matters most is the good of our children. Valenti writes, "Having a mother and father is not the best opportunity we can give a child - having loving parents is." Being an actual, conscientious, loving, adaptable, inventive, creative parent to one's child or children is vital to good parenting. It matters not if one is straight, gay, a lesbian, transgender, bisexual, or queer. What matters is that we are present, no matter what hour of day or night, to be a parent in a child's churning, changing, swirling small world.

What works best is re-conceptualizing parenthood - straight or gay - as a performance art. Unlike a "performing art," a performance art is far more creative and imaginative, and is usually unscripted and random rather than orderly, scripted, and planned. The performer is either present or absent in person, but has a presence nonetheless. The performance takes place in any venue, at any place, for any length of time. All that matters is that we have these four elements at play: a span of time; an environment; the performer's body, mind, and spirit; and a relationship between the spectators and the performer. This is parenthood as performance art, as improvisation. We, who are LGBTQ parents, are not playing to the old script of a nuclear family, but choosing our role and function of being a family out of our desire to meet our children's deepest needs. And the deepest need for our children is love. After all, to quote Shakespeare from "As You Like It," the world is a stage, and all of us are merely players, children and parents alike. And the song we sing to one another is love.

Taken with author's permission from