TIME Culture

Why Children of Same-Sex Parents Should No Longer Feel Invisible

Ariel Chesler is an attorney and writer in New York. He lives with his wife and two daughters, and one cat. He is the son of feminist author and psychologist Phyllis Chesler.

The world still doesn’t know nearly enough about the estimated six million children with an LGBT parent

As I nervously await this month’s Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, which may extend same-sex marriage to all 50 states, I’m thinking about what comes next. As a child raised by two women during my formative years, I’ve previously written about the invisibility and non-recognition of my family in media, culture, and law, and how my silence about my family led to a deep and unnecessary shame. Regardless of the Supreme Court’s ruling, there is still much work to be done to make sure the children of same-sex parents are no longer invisible.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve come a long way in what seems to some like a short amount of time, although those who have been part of the struggle for 30 years or more may beg to differ. But, truthfully, I am, in a way, jealous of children currently being raised by same-sex parents.

In the 1980s, when I was getting teased on the playground for having two moms, we didn’t have shows like Glee or Modern Family or films like The Kids Are All Right. This was way before Orange Is the New Black, with its diverse cast of characters, and even well before Will and Grace appeared on our screens. There were no revolutionary legal rulings recognizing gay families, and anti-sodomy statutes were still on the books in some states.

We also didn’t yet have the classic children’s book Heather Has Two Mommies, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. That book, and the many others like it that now exist, would have been so helpful to me. While I didn’t have the opportunity to see that aspect of my family in book form, I do recall reading Megan’s Book of Divorce by Erica Jong, which normalized my status as a child of divorce, and helped me work through the pain and frustration of not having my father in my home.

So, in many ways, the kids of same-sex couples today are so much more all right than I was because they can see themselves in books and on screen—which both validates and changes how they view themselves. Hopefully very soon they will see themselves and their families protected equally by the law.

But even with all this progress and with much of the focus of the same-sex marriage legal battle on the children of gays and lesbians, the world still doesn’t know nearly enough about the estimated 6 million children in America with an LGBT parent, and, speaking as one of those children, we don’t necessarily know enough about each other.

Enter organizations like COLAGE, which unites people with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer parents into a network of peers, supports them, and allows them to share experiences and create community. This is such important work because allowing us to see other children with common but also unique family stories strengthens us and allows us to be seen as well.

Gabriela Herman, a Brooklyn-based photographer whose mother is gay, is also aiding the cause of visibility by collecting portraits of and interviewing people raised by gay parents. She describes each portrait and interview session as therapeutic and says she found that, as diverse as their experiences were, they all shared the feelings of silence and isolation.

I recently had the honor of meeting Zach Wahls, who famously defended his moms in front of an Iowa House committee, wrote a book about his family, and who now serves as executive director of Scouts For Equality. He and Julia Winston are collecting letters from children of gay parents in a project they’ve named The Rainbow Letters. I plan to participate.

I hope that the Supreme Court recognizes that all families are equal. But I also hope that in the future when my daughters tell their story of having three grandmas, their peers will turn to them and say “I’ve heard that one before.”

Read next: How I Explained Caitlyn Jenner’s Transition to My 7-Year-Old Daughter

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

I Was Ashamed and Silent About Being Raised by Two Women

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Ariel Chesler is an attorney and writer in New York. He lives with his wife and two daughters, and one cat. He is the son of feminist author and psychologist Phyllis Chesler.

The Supreme Court can make sure a new generation of kids never knows this pain

Like a majority of children currently raised by same-sex couples, I was born to a heterosexual couple who divorced. The pain and anger I felt because of the absence of my father in my home was something people understood, and it was something I was able to share with others. On the other hand, even though I was taught to be comfortable with myself, I understood and internalized the sense that something was wrong with my new family after my mom began a relationship with her first long-term girlfriend — who lived with us and helped raise me during my formative years, eventually earning her the title “other mother” — and I was ashamed and silent about being raised by two women.

I did not talk about it with my closest friends, with whom I shared everything from my fears and anger to my crushes on girls. Even though these friends were in my home on a weekly basis, it was simply not discussed. Not by me. Not by them. Never.

This shame was so great that I broke my silence and “came out” about my family in the oddest way. When a girl I loved and dated my senior year of high school decided to end our romantic relationship, I was so heartbroken that I suddenly began talking about my family to her in the midst of our breakup. Somehow, the pain of the breakup and the shame I had been holding inside for years became one, and they flowed out of me together. Still, I did not begin to talk to others about it until nearly a year after that breakthrough, when I participated in a panel in a college women’s studies course and publicly shared my story. Later, I wrote about my family in an autobiography course and began sharing my writing with close friends. It was truly liberating to be able to speak about this part of my life after years of avoidance and silence.

Opponents of marriage equality continue to focus on the alleged harms children of same-sex couples will suffer if same-sex marriage is legalized, thus attempting to make the issue all about the children. This strategy makes sense since nearly every other argument against marriage equality has been rejected.

Indeed, there can be no legitimate governmental interest in discriminating against private relationships based on the sex or sexuality of those in the relationship. So while this civil rights struggle is about recognizing the equal humanity of gays and lesbians and their right to have their relationships treated equally in the law, the truth is that it is also very much about the children.

And the research on children raised by same-sex couples concludes that same-sex parents are no disadvantage to them; there is no basis for believing that kids develop better in a household led by a man and a woman. In fact, studies have shown that while the emotional and mental health of children raised by heterosexual couples is essentially the same as those raised by gay parents, children of same-sex couples are more open-minded and empathetic, more self-aware, more adept at communicating their feelings. Because they are typically not subjected to rigid gender roles, they are freer to pursue a wide range of interests.

The keys to a healthy childhood are stability and love. Having two mothers during my formative years saved me because it gave me the stability, support and love I needed. The shame I felt and the stigma I experienced was unnecessary. Children should not be stigmatized because their families are different from the “norm,” whether they are raised in an interracial family, in a single-parent household or by a same-sex couple. Yet when the law does not recognize your family, stigma and fear are perpetuated and reinforced.

Now, the Supreme Court has a chance to finish the job once and for all and decide that the 14th Amendment requires every state in this great country to license a marriage between two people of the same sex. I make this appeal to the Justices, and particularly to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who two years ago in the Proposition 8 case recognized that “It’s the voice of those children” of same-sex couples that should be heard. As one of those children, I say, Do it for us.

Beyond the significant legal rights that will be afforded to children of same-sex couples who marry, including inheritance, adoption, hospital visitation rights, and other rights that ensure stability for the children, my appeal to the Justices is most concerned with the human element of the matter and the real-life effects of the ruling.

As Justice Scalia has remarked, the law reflects our society’s moral judgments. Our laws have reflected a moral judgment that same-sex relationships are lesser and not worthy of recognition by the government. In addition to the harm caused to those in same-sex relationships, children raised by gays and lesbians have suffered because of this moral judgment. It’s time for the highest court in our land to reflect a new moral judgment that same-sex couples should no longer be stigmatized, that their relationships should be recognized by the law and that their children will be better off for it.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME feminism

If You’re a Modern Dad, You Might Just Be a Feminist

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Ariel Chesler is an attorney and writer in New York. He lives with his wife and two daughters, and one cat. He is the son of feminist author and psychologist Phyllis Chesler.

The label doesn't have to mean either perfection or rigidity, so don't be afraid to embrace it.

I was raised by a second-wave feminist leader and attended countless feminist rallies, marches and readings as a boy. Last I checked the movement didn’t give out cards; it dispensed ideas that have changed the world and each of us.

For me, feminism is tradition and family legacy, but also a movement I have chosen to embrace. I am a feminist and I am a better dad for it. So are we all.

Whether one calls oneself a feminist, it is undeniable that feminism and feminists have made the modern dad possible. Feminism taught me to be comfortable and proud of who I am, and encouraged self-determination. These are traits we all want to pass along to our kids. But, more significantly, feminism benefited us dads greatly by encouraging increased involvement in our children’s lives, and forever changed our roles.

If you believe that dads are capable of diapering, feeding and raising children as well as women can, you might be a feminist. If you are a stay-at-home dad and your wife (or husband) is the family breadwinner, you might be a feminist. And if you believe that dads deserve better paternity leave policies, you might be a feminist.

Yet using the term “feminist” is questioned even by those, like Dave Lesser, who, to his credit, believes that his daughter should be able to take leadership positions, earn as much as a man doing the same job and be free from sexual harassment, challenges his daughter’s gender norms and wants to ensure that she will never be limited by her gender (I wonder what movement gave him those ideas?).

While I don’t insist that anyone label themselves, and I understand it’s easier to not use a label that comes with a lot of baggage and misconception, it’s obvious to me that the only reason “feminist” remains a bad word is that women (and anything associated with them) are still discriminated against. And, the fact that stereotypes of man-hating feminists persist (not to mention the visceral anger the word inspires) proves the point. Feminist is the only appropriate word for those that believe in the radical notion that women should be equal to men, and who understand that we live in a world of historically and culturally inscribed female disadvantage.

However, being a feminist doesn’t mean either perfection or rigidity. Like Lesser, I encourage my 4-year-old daughter to wear multiple colors, play with blocks and basketballs and limit her exposure to princess culture. And, like Lesser, I am faced with a daughter who likes princesses, purple dresses and painting her nails. I have also allowed her to watch a number of Disney movies, including Cinderella (gasp!). On the other hand, I don’t let my daughter play with a toy vacuum cleaner. But, that’s because neither my wife nor I use one in real life. We avoid cleaning equally.

The crux of feminism is analysis and awareness. Even feminists have internalized the pervasive sexism in our culture and exhibit contradictions in their lives (I love rap music, much of which contains misogynist lyrics, and I’ve objectified women I’ve passed on the street).

While I recognize that my daughter also “loves all the crap that is shamelessly marketed to girls her age,” I will challenge her when she repeats ideas about gender norms or limits the roles we can each occupy during pretend play. I will never let her limit her vision of who she can become. And I will continue to analyze and dissect the rigid gender roles placed on children’s clothes, toys, and cartoons and in popular culture.

Feminism is also crucial for dads raising boys. If you care about ensuring that boys aren’t denied their full humanity and aren’t stunted in their emotional development, you might want to thank feminism for recognizing that boys and men have feelings too. If we truly care about boys, we can acknowledge, as feminists have, that placing them in a limiting “man box” hurts them deeply and releasing them from it will improve their lives.

Just as being a parent includes a learning curve and requires constant effort, and sometimes trial and error, feminism recognizes that we are works in progress and need to challenge our children and ourselves as we grow together. Mistakes will be made. Sometimes we will succumb to our culture’s sexism. But we can rise to challenge it the next day.

So while I want equality of the sexes and safety for all our daughters and try to resist gender limitations for my daughter, I sometimes buy my daughter clothes and toys that make me cringe because I know that they will make her happy. I buy her those things to respect her choices, even if I might make different ones. And, what could be more feminist than that?

Ariel Chesler is an attorney and writer in New York. He lives with his wife and two daughters, and one cat. He is the son of feminist author and psychologist Phyllis Chesler.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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