Outlaw moms and lost boys

Readers respond to Spoon Bennett's story on lesbian moms, and -- once again -- to Amy Benfer's report on gender and education.

Published February 13, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Read "Outlaw mom" by Spoon Bennett

Thanks for the piece on lesbian mothers. It was enlightening in ways I, as a gay man, didn't expect it would be.

-- Paul Peterson

While I applaud your choice to run this article, and to shed light on the difficulties that livers of alternative lifestyles face, I found a few things disturbing about it.

I certainly support same-sex couples, and even same-sex couples who want to raise children. In fact I think it'd be great if they could marry, and attain all the relevant benefits and responsibilities. It would certainly help with providing some stability to the gay and lesbian communities by providing some legitimacy to their union.

However, I always find it sad that so many gay and lesbian individuals define themselves so completely by their sexuality: I'm Here and I'm Queer -- the little chant so eloquently repeated by the author of this article in the following paragraph.

"I'm also friendly, sweet, compelling and useful; at work, out in the world, I am often people's favorite lesbian. My contribution to this revolution goes something like this: I'm here, I'm queer and, yep, I can un-jam the copier for you. I'm here, I'm queer and how 'bout I carry those groceries?"

I don't care if you're queer -- just unjam the copier. I don't need to know your sexual proclivity to work with you, or have you work for me, or work for you. You could be a Satanist who has a thing for auto-erotica asphyxiation for all I care.

Yes, our sexuality is a major portion of our life experience. However, it's not the only portion -- and it doesn't belong, or need to be brought up in the context of every little thing. I realize that gays and lesbians are in a fight for equal rights. I support their claim to equal rights, and feel that it should be a nonissue. They are people, just like everyone else in this country. We have specific language in our laws to prevent discrimination, and these apply to everyone. I wonder what is so hard about this to understand.

-- Porter Woodward

I read Spoon Bennett's article "Outlaw Mom" while crying, just as I had read the AAP's press release. Eight months ago, my stepdaughter's biological mother told my partner she was moving 18 hours away, taking our child and cutting off regular visitation. They left three days later and there was nothing we could do to stop it.

The intellectual and political discussions surrounding this issue are necessary, but seem superfluous to me. They don't fill the ache that never quite goes away. They don't stop the tears that come unexpectedly when a co-worker talks about her child. They don't make it easier to breathe when I think about what has been lost.

And they certainly don't fix the heartbreak of a little girl who was pulled from her grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends and her mommies.

-- Anonymous

What a beautiful story! Thank you for giving me access to it.

Nearly 16 years ago, I "inherited" a 3-year-old daughter when I fell madly in love with her mother. I had never planned to be a parent, but I am so lucky that it fell into my lap. My life has been a thousand times richer than it ever could have been without her.

The most familiar note in the story is how frustrating it is to know that you are so very much like everyone else, yet people imagine that you must be so very different.

We all want the same things.

-- Candy

This article struck nearly one thousand chords for me, for I too am an "outlaw mom" -- not a lesbian, but a stepmom. Strangely, the issues the writer faces here are the ones that nearly every stepmother (especially the custodial ones, like me) face day in and day out: questions about the "real" mom, worries about the kids should their "real" parent die, an inability to legally make the kinds of decisions that "real" parents are allowed to make, but which I must make every day, about healthcare and schooling.

Keep up the good fight, because at the rock bottom it is about a question that our society has a very hard time dealing with -- can two women, lovers or not, both be Mom? And it confirms what has always seemed clear, that despite a massive infrastructure of codes and laws to govern our relationships, love can not be legislated.

-- Madeline Vann

Read "Lost boys" by Amy Benfer.

There is one factor in this which nobody has mentioned, and it is the feminization of the school assessment system. When I was at school, and college -- quite a while ago -- everything, but everything, depended on exams. I had exams every single term from the age of 8 to 22. There was no continuous assessment, absolutely none at all. This kind of intensely competitive, dog-eat-dog situation favors boys, IMHO, because it panders to their more individualistic and competitive natures. Nowadays, the whole thing is the other way around: Continuous assessment rules (at least, it does here in the UK), and exams, while still important, are derided and marginalized. Quite simply, girls work better in this environment.

I concur with the issue of the lack of male role models, though. At our local primary school, the entire staff -- all the teachers, all the assistants, all the cleaners, everyone, are all women. This partly because the jobs don't pay very well (that could be fixed) and partly because of the sex abuse paranoia that rules us now. Whichever, it doesn't help the boys much: They just see school as a girl thing.

Swamps? Let them all play ice hockey I say!

-- Andrew Duffin

As a boy in public high school, I am an eyewitness to the "feminizing" of education. I myself have a very good academic record, and believe that the problem of failing boys lies not in the curriculum being taught but in boys' reaction to it. I just read "The Joy Luck Club" last semester and found it to be a boring, estrogen-filled yawn fest -- at the same time, however, my favorite book is "The Mists of Avalon," one of the strongest feminist books of all time. Boys and girls aren't that fundamentally different in how they absorb and communicate knowledge, and great literature, if it's truly great, will appeal to both boys and girls alike. Another one of my favorite books is "The Catcher In the Rye," a seminal "boy's" book.

We just need to teach boys not to run away screaming from anything that looks like a "chick" book and tell them that if they want to succeed in the world, they're gonna have to deal with the fact that women have been empowered far beyond what any generation has seen before. The same goes for girls though; we can't let the empowerment of girls drag boys' problems into the background. This is an issue that needs to be discussed in school, not simply regarding school.

-- Michael Gold

It would be interesting to see how boys compare to girls across different socioeconomic groups. I believe that girls probably do outpace boys in urban settings, where they are more likely to actually go to school, less likely to be violent and, in general, perceived as less of a threat among school faculty and staff.

However, in higher socioeconomic groups, those where students are expected to take PSAT, SAT and ACT, the data suggest that the boys still have some educational advantage.

Material for another article I hope.

-- C. Vaughn

By Salon Staff

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