As part of MoFo’s celebration of Pride Month, partner Katherine Erbeznik moderated a conversation with Andrew Solomon, writer and lecturer on politics, culture, and psychology; winner of the National Book Award; and an activist in LGBTQ+ rights, mental health, and the arts. As the author of groundbreaking works like Far from the Tree and The Noonday Demon, Andrew has shed light on the complexities of family, mental health, and resilience.
In 2007, Andrew married his husband during a three-day celebration with friends and family in England. He explained that at that time getting married felt like a radical gesture. He added that their wedding was very traditional, noting that the ceremony included a minister, a rabbi, and a registrar. “I felt like having that big wedding and having kids and in many ways aping the traditions that had been the traditions of my own parents and the generations before them, was a way of asserting a kind of freedom as a gay person that I had not anticipated having and of proving that all the tragic issues of loneliness and childlessness and so on weren’t going to afflict me.”
Andrew clarified that the reasons he loves being a father are not the same as the reasons he decided to become a parent. “In our valid quest for equality for our community, we have often made an invalid demand for equivalence,” he said. Though neither is better or worse, he explained that the experience of being a queer parent is different than the experience of being a straight parent. And by ignoring these complexities, we cheat the LGBTQ+ community of its own validity. “We end up marginalizing people who choose not to marry or choose not to have children and who may not in fact aspire to long-lasting relationships. As long as we keep those lives at the margins, I think we’re doing an injustice to our community,” Andrew explained. “We’re still stuck in a lot of dated and peculiar ideas about moral righteousness that, strangely, haven’t shifted so much.”
However, Andrew did add that he believes that the emergence of gay parenthood has made an enormous difference in strengthening the perception of the LGBTQ+ community. “I think a lot of people who are very uncomfortable with the idea of gay sexuality are less uncomfortable with the idea of two men, or two women, or trans people, or whoever bringing up a child and facing all the same particular challenges they are,” Andrew explained. “It allowed people to stop thinking about one’s identity as being a matter of sexual acts that were to those individuals repugnant.”
During the program, Andrew also discussed how feelings of unhealthy perfectionism can affect gay households. He shared an example of his own anxieties that had surfaced during a time when one of his children had been going through a difficult phase. “I think many parents feel as though if their child turns out badly, whatever that may mean, that it is an indictment not only of who their child turned out to be, it is not an indictment of how things went in their family, it is an indictment of the whole operation,” he said. “You feel like you have to keep up a good front all the time and you have to be the perfect gay family.”
Regarding the ways in which parents of neurodivergent children and parents of LGBTQ+ children diverge, Andrew said he found remarkable the ways that they have come together in so many spaces. “There are many people who are neurodivergent and also LGBTQ+ so the points of overlap are tremendous, but more profoundly, I think if you understand what the struggles are of being different in the world, you should understand them more broadly,” Andrew explained. “It is my hope that what we will all learn is a greater acceptance of differences that initially make us uncomfortable and an ability to tolerate our own discomfort.”
Learn more about Andrew and his works.