Family History in the U.S.
“Family history in the U.S. has been premised on favoring so-called normal family’s heterosexuality. This solidly heterosexual culture averted the voices of lesbians and gay men and rendered lesbian mothers and gay fathers invisible. “In fact, mainstream society viewed same-sex sexuality and desire as antithetical to parenting, which it understood to be exclusively an outgrowth of heterosexual intimacy.” In Radical Relations Daniel Rivers argues that “By defying fundamental cultural perceptions of the family as an exclusively heterosexual institution, gay fathers and mothers in the decades that followed the Second World War opened up the possibility of lesbians and gay men choosing to become parents and raising children in openly non-heterosexual environments.” As family in the U.S. has been long premised on normative heterosexuality, Queer family’s in the post war era were pathologized in courts and ostracized in their communities. In Radical Relations the reader is met with Historian Daniel Rivers recovery of important queer family history.
Rivers illustrates his argument for new founded visibility for the gay and lesbian parents by showcasing the battles the queer families faced upon asserting their rights to family. He does so by introducing chapters that emphasize the lesbian feminist agenda, that is being radically re-envisioned at the time. Re-envisioning that is occurring at the time through the battle of assertion in part of women, specifically lesbian women’s bodies. He relates the new visions at the time to the demand of rights of parental custody as mothers. As the re-envisioned notions progressed, Rivers illustrates how gay men built off the political activism of lesbian feminist and inspired gay fathers to assert their own rights to parent. In this he clearly forms the argument that the path of being queer and loss of parental rights are inevitably mutually exclusive.
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The political battles for parenting rights because parenting was exclusively coded with legal heterosexual marriage Rivers surveys, lead him to observe what he called the “lesbian gay baby boom,” which laid the foundation for future battles such as marriage equality. By defying the opposition between the role of a parent and sexuality, the queer families successfully carried the LGBT community’s culture and profound feminist ideals beyond the surveyed era of the 1990s and kept it alive into the next generation. Revealing that the pathologizing of family policy, which is understood to be exclusively a heterosexual entity, was unrelentingly diminishing the domestic civil rights for queer families. Which Rivers illustrates as something that was dangerous to the inclusion of queer families in American society. Although the subject of queer history is sensitive, and far off the lines of ideal normative heterosexual history; Rivers illustrates his survey beyond the matter of sensitivity and gives deserving transparency and visibility to queer families in the period after the Second World War with a strong, and personal touch.
Organized by temporal progression through aftermath of World War II until the early 2000s, the early part of the book highlights the early gay and lesbian struggles with parenting as the culture remained invisible to American policy. Trying to live regularly as a gay or lesbian parent, even at times where their identity was vulnerable, ostracized individuals and their families. In the decades of the 1950s and the 1960s, which the first two chapters cover Rivers illustrates the measure of isolation that gay and lesbian parents felt through having to live in anonymity. The unrelenting homophobia of the times cast queer parents as deviant, limiting their abilities to keep custody of their children. Resulting in immense intimidation coming from the law, queer families were facing lawful prosecution that created a downturn for their visibility as queer families. Queer families were seeking cover by living double lives and falsely but legally getting married with the opposite sex. However, the fear of lawful prosecution was clear to them, and the matter of ostracization in their community’s especially in their homes, gay men and lesbian women were met with high concern and opposition from their own parents. In this chapter rivers presents an example of this taken place in the year 1963, in which a Billy S. Jones-Hennin who admittedly told his father he had an attraction to men, was pushed back by his father who told him that he should hide the attraction for any feeling and any relation with men, get married, and have children.
In chapter 2, Rivers focuses on the beginnings of gay and lesbian parental rights activism within large cities. Cities existed as spaces where counterculture is vastly variant and much more anonymous. Within said spaces, there was an emergence of homophile organizations which included the Daughters of Bilitis, the Mattachine Society, and the Janus Society who advocated for the inclusive civil rights for queer parents. Rivers emphasizes the radical neighborhoods that emerged with common fundamental benevolence amongst the streets to be indicative of a better representative future for gay and lesbian parents. The chapter emphasizes the strong importance of social education for the children of gay and lesbian parents was, offering instances of family conversations and memories that showed gay and lesbian parents instilling fear and strong moral in their children. They did so to prepare their children for the adverse ostracization in their communities, as they would grow older and realize their families were far from close to that of their neighbors. In this, the reader gets a glimpse of revaluation in society for the uncharted inclusion of gay and lesbian parent’s families during the era.
Chapter 3 continues to reflect on the struggles of gay and lesbian parents through observing unrelenting battles with the legal system. Inquiring into gay and lesbian parental custody cases from 1967 to 1985, the reader is met with the powerful revelations of legal practices that supported not only the “proper families,” and pathologized queer families in America but also showcased the perception of parenting as exclusively heterosexual. The longstanding belief of proper family that was exclusively heterosexual was met by opposition not only by the gay and lesbian parents, but also by the people handling their cases. Animosity toward gay and lesbian parents launched highly public opposing organizations like the “Save our children” campaigns that advocated strongly against the gay and lesbian custodial rights. However, the emergence of such high public opposition, gave a chance for queer families to speak in the public eye influencing media and their communities to gradually become open to listen. Additionally, the field of Psychiatry was greatly interested in the counterculture emerging and quickly came to their aid in helping to gain better acceptance for gay and lesbian parents amongst the public. This emergence of curiosity and support launched the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to argue that “sexual orientation was irrelevant to fit parenthood.” Battling the belief that was constructed in society that parenting was exclusively heterosexual, especially with the help of accredited individuals gave justification that was much needed for gay and lesbian parents to assert their rights. With help from the credited individuals in the legal system and the psychiatric realm, challenging the strong held belief that family was exclusively heterosexual was successfully met with the public visibility gay and lesbian parents needed to assert their parental civil rights.
Chapter 4 emphasizes the emergence of networks of lesbian mother feminist organizations in the 1970s. The networks created relations with the foundation of lesbian feminism that were part of a greater challenges to sex and social normative ideas that eradicated changes in ideas about gender, sex, and the family in America post the Second World War. In the chapter feminist political organizations such as the Furies in Washington, D.C., the Lesbian Tide Collective in Los Angeles, the Radical lesbians of New York City, and the Lavender Woman Collective in Chicago were networks that challenged the social norms by launching an initiative that called all women to acknowledge but also develop the idea that oppression of women needed to be met by strong opposition that did nothing but showcase female empowerment. Women’s empowerment within itself was the key to liberation, as the organizations brought forward by them especially by lesbian mothers opened conversation to women’s health and long standing strain on their reproduction. As an extension of oppression, Rivers here brings forward the lucrative role implemented by the counterculture in queer families in the notions of sexual liberation.
Chapter 5 amid the sexual and gay liberations of the 60s and 70s, Rivers highlights the revolutionary vanguard gay fathers who transformed sexist gender roles and challenged male supremacy known as effeminist. Efferminist as defined by Rivers, were gay men who advocated anti–male supremacist agendas following the stonewall riots in the original gay liberation movement of New York. The transformation of sexist gender roles although aiding the rise of good policy, prompted analyses of the gay fathers. Analyzing the construct of social norms Rivers suggest that gay fathers were seen more socially viable, mostly because men were economically stable individuals. However, now that men were politically engendered by the lesbian movements, it also meant that the male political perspective, needed to coincide collectively with women’s sexuality if they wanted to successfully challenge and create visibility during and for the battle for civil rights of gay and lesbian couples. The political perspective that is a direct product of gay father organizations in places like San Francisco, Portland and New York launch campaigns across America that not only earned gay communities’ social visibility but embedded them into the political spectrum. “Accomplishing a great deal: they made early inroads in discrediting homophobic social attitudes that saw gay masculinity as incompatible with fatherhood.” They were determined to fight, for their children and wellbeing even through one of the largest AIDS epidemic. Collectively, the chapter reflects on the coherent ideas lesbian and gay parents had, and the radical movements of the era which reminds the reader of the humanity carried by people the gay fathers and organizations presented, who were innovative beyond belief and indifferent to their labels or situations.
As innovative as gay fathers were within the political spectrum, the conversation and attention were open to the LGBT community. In chapter 6 and 7 Rivers exemplifies the egalitarian communal values that the visibility of the generations of the 60s and 70s brought for gay and lesbian parents. He does so by further inspecting the lesbian community at the emergence of openly lesbian couples or parents. The idea Rivers brings forward in chapter five in which he believed that gay fathers were more socially acceptable, is still presented in chapter 6 however he acknowledges that the reason for this is because women, especially lesbian mothers were more vocal and “claimed space literally, and culturally with immense assertiveness.” In the emergence of the openly lesbian families it was clear that they were “awakening society, with assertion of independence.” They did so by claiming their own space which paved way for the inclusion and the conversation of the autonomy they wanted in their family’s structures. As Rivers correlates the need for autonomy with independence in the civil realm, he argues that the yearn for independence sparked the notion of women’s self-awareness, especially with that of their body.
Women were prideful of their ability to claim their own sexuality and assert the ownership of one’s body. They instilled asserting beliefs in their households and lead them to dwell into a different construct of American family. Women were encouraging other women to lead a household independently, without the influence of man. The book investigates women of the era whom through education, constructed the way their own daughters and the young impressionable women in their neighborhoods were to carry themselves. They first sought out better education for their daughters specifically and instilled a cultural change. Women in this era were social mavericks, who wanted strong leaders that were women and created immense hope for themselves and their daughters. They sought out to achieve the goal of having only women in the household, which inevitably had many questionings and challenging the boundary of their own reproductive systems. They did so with intense research in the sciences of anatomy and reproductive technologies. Women were taking their understanding of their bodies and looking into orthodox procedures like artificial inseminations. Regardless of the immense work in part of the women, exclusively lesbian couples the “lesbian and gay baby boom” of that era was not in their favor due to the quality and unreliable technology. The efforts however do not go unnoticed in Rivers observation as he closes his book with the numerous findings in the long battles the couples had while trying to solidify their rights to their body and reproduction.
Daniel Winunwe Rivers survey is an incredible focus on the culture and LGBT history regarding the era. His findings and oral history are something that comes across quite personal to the reader as he illustrates the long-standing struggle of gay and lesbians’ parents to achieve permanence that was constantly met with the notion which thought heterosexual parenting exclusively was, “codified through marriage, was visible in the eyes of the law,” which heavily excluded gay parents. Rivers uses dominant primary sources such as historical, legal, and public census archives that included testimony’s and transcripts of cases he presented. However, the reader is met with the personal care he took in formally interviewing 124 men and women, in which 77 were women who all resided within the large cities of New York, many in California and Washington in the years of 2002 to 2012. The use of his sources is of course to his advantage as he specifically pushed the lesbian feminist agenda highlighting women as striking individuals that created visibility for the LGBT domestic civil rights.
The sources in favor of Rivers, however, might have pointed specifically to his arguments and could draw back its merit by being manipulated for the book. Like many oral recollections River’s sources are kept in personal archive, leaving it out of public record. Regardless of limitations, the measure of the work credits Rivers undoubtedly reputable, and helps the reader correctly understand the findings correlations to the battles for civil rights such as parental and domestic rights within the LGBT communities of the time. He regards his findings with care and constructed a good point of reference for historical studies of the LGBT community, legal policy, behavioral studies in psychology, sexual and reproductive health, gender, fertility, and history of American family planning. Radical Relations has been received in high regards that surpass political agenda and reaffirm visibility for the LGBT community, that was beyond the coding of American law in regards to marriage and parental rights, deeming the community a prime example of the shift in family Rivers illustrates. In this, it is apparent that Radical Relations is a gainful reading that is cleverly constructed with assurance of awareness and respect for the queer families.”