Today at Crisis, there is a piece by author Robert Oscar Lopez, who relates how his experience of growing up in a “gay household” affected him. As the only child in his family to live with his mother and her lesbian partner after his father died, Lopez indicates that the effects did not merely impact his sexual identity, but altered him in more basic, profound ways:
When your home life is so drastically different from everyone
around you, in a fundamental way striking at basic physical relations, you grow up weird. I have no mental health disorders or biological conditions. I just grew up in a house so unusual that I was destined to exist as a social outcast.
My peers learned all the unwritten rules of decorum and body language in their homes; they understood what was appropriate to say in certain settings and what wasn’t; they learned both traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine social mechanisms.
Even if my peers’ parents were divorced, and many of them were, they still grew up seeing male and female social models. They learned, typically, how to be bold and unflinching from male figures and how to write thank-you cards and be sensitive from female figures. These are stereotypes, of course, but stereotypes come in handy when you inevitably leave the safety of your lesbian mom’s trailer and have to work and survive in a world where everybody thinks in stereotypical terms, even gays.
I had no male figure at all to follow, and my mother and her partner were both unlike traditional fathers or traditional mothers. As a result, I had very few recognizable social cues to offer potential male or female friends, since I was neither confident nor sensitive to others. Thus I befriended people rarely and alienated others easily. Gay people who grew up in straight parents’ households may have struggled with their sexual orientation; but when it came to the vast social universe of adaptations not dealing with sexuality—how to act, how to speak, how to behave—they had the advantage of learning at home. Many gays don’t realize what a blessing it was to be reared in a traditional home.
Lopez, who is married with children (though he still identifies himself as a bisexual) indicates that he spent most of the first 30 years of his life living as a gay man before he had his first relationship with a woman. He writes that Mark Regnerus contacted him after he left a comment on a website about his controversial survey of children who are raised by gay parents, and thanked him for offering his perspective as someone who experienced this life and its effects. Lopez contrasts this against his own experiences, about which he states, “nobody—least of all gay activists—had wanted me to speak honestly about the complicated gay threads of my life. If for no other reason than this, Mark Regnerus deserves tremendous credit—and the gay community ought to be crediting him rather than trying to silence him.”
Lopez goes on to rebut certain claims of some of the critics of the New Family Structure Study, such as Darren E. Sherkat, a sociology professor at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale who described the results of the study as “B.S.,” though not in a polite acronym. Lopez spends time examining some of the complexities surrounding the data in the Regnerus study as well as pointing out certain potential flaws in previous research, and though I haven’t the space here to summarize, his insights are worth reading.
It is ultimately Lopez’s statement of political philosophy that stood out as a sharp contrast to the expected narrative for a man of his background:
The other chicken-and-egg problem of Sherkat’s dismissal deals with conservative ideology. Many have dismissed my story with four simple words: “But you are conservative.” Yes, I am. How did I get that way? I moved to the right wing because I lived in precisely the kind of anti-normative, marginalized, and oppressed identity environment that the left celebrates: I am a bisexual Latino intellectual, raised by a lesbian, who experienced poverty in the Bronx as a young adult. I’m perceptive enough to notice that liberal social policies don’t actually help people in those conditions. Especially damning is the liberal attitude that we shouldn’t be judgmental about sex. In the Bronx gay world, I cleaned out enough apartments of men who’d died of AIDS to understand that resistance to sexual temptation is central to any kind of humane society. Sex can be hurtful not only because of infectious diseases but also because it leaves us vulnerable and more likely to cling to people who don’t love us, mourn those who leave us, and not know how to escape those who need us but whom we don’t love. The left understands none of that. That’s why I am conservative.
This is a profound statement, one that comes from the depth of painful experience. Understanding that the conservative viewpoint on these difficult issues is, in fact, the healthiest one is a remarkably courageous statement.
There is pain in Lopez’s examination of this subject, but there is also great intellectual honesty and maturity. It would serve the social debate over homosexuality as it relates to marriage and family to hear from more voices like his.