Brandi Carlile on the Challenges and Joys of Queer Parenting

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday January 14, 2021

Brandi Carlile on the Challenges and Joys of Queer Parenting

In a new essay for Parents, singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile discusses the challenges and joys of queer parenting.

"The Story" singer reflects on the gendered ways in which parenting is often geared toward heterosexual couples. Admitting that it "might not feel radical to talk about LGBTQ+ parenting right now," Carlile rightly points out that "gay domesticity is a radically new concept. We have no generational template. There's some serious pioneering involved here."

Carlile and her partner Catherine have two daughters, Evangeline and Elijah. Catherine carried both children — with Evangeline, the couple harvested Carlile's eggs and used in vitro fertilization; Elija's conception was artificial insemination.

While adoption among same-sex couples is increasing — particularly in the U.K., where "one in six children adopted in the last year were adopted by same-sex couples" — with the domesticity Carlile mentions, there is no precedent "that could have prepared me for the strangeness of being wholly responsible for a child." Through their experience, Carlile and Catherine hope to remedy that for future generations of same-sex parents.

While Catherine carried both children, Carlile recalls prenatal classes where she joined the "dads" at the front of the room. At the same time, she says, "the 'moms' could giggle while we put on diapers backwards and struggled endlessly with BabyBjörn carriers." This scenario's gendered implications don't fit tidily into a same-sex parenting scenario, as Carlile points out.

The couple's parenting experiences through gendered constructs are part of a growing population of LGBTQ couples navigating unchartered waters, including coming out to their children, The Washington Post reports.

"Children don't have expectations about who their parents should be. They just want their parents to be healthy," Danna Bodenheimer, a therapist who specializes in the care of LGBTQ, told the Post. "They think, 'If you're going to live and be able to love me and take care of me, that's the outcome I need.' "

"Evangeline was born to two mothers on Father's Day, but she made it clear right away that she only needed us. The rigidity around gender roles in parenting is indeed a construct," says Carlile. "I think when same-sex parents are honest with ourselves, we worry deep down that we are depriving our children of a gendered experience." But ultimately, by uprooting gendered constructs in parenting, Carlile contends that "we even help heterosexual parents around us to break out of gender boxes."

The couple divide and share child-raising responsibilities in a way that "feels instinctual," she says — from schooling to meal prep, hiking and stacking firewood to folding laundry and gardening, and more. Gendered constructs of which parent oversees these (and other) activities don't figure into how the couple chooses to parent their daughters.

And where helping other LGBTQ families is concerned, Carlile urges same-sex parents to be "honest about your family and your experience. Be clear and vocal about the importance of cultural representation."

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.

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