I like to believe my reading comprehension skills are adequate. But my confidence was dampened when I read The New York Times Magazine‘s advocacy journalism piece on gay parenting. The mash note ran 8,000 words, which was at least 2,000 too many.
I had serious trouble keeping track of the characters in the article. My problem wasn’t just that each of the three family groups profiled was a bit complex, what with sperm donors, sexual partners, and extended families. It was that reporter John Bowe thought pronouns would be enough to identify various members of the complicated tree. Sometimes, though, the complexity of the family alone was enough to make me read the same paragraph three times over. Read, for instance, about an interracial lesbian couple, one member of which was impregnated by an opposite-race gay man, who later split up and moved on:
The black woman has a new female partner. The white woman is now living with a man, and the two have had their own child. So, as [gay sperm donor] R. said, between the one child that R. has with the black mother, the twins borne by the white mother with a black donor and the newest, fourth, child born to her with her new male partner, all of whom have some sort of sibling relation to one another, things can be a little confusing. “They’re quite a little petri dish of a family, as you can imagine,” R. told me. The children go from the white mother, who lives in a SoHo loft, to their black mother, who lives in a nice, middle-class row house in Crown Heights. On weekends, they often visit the white mother’s family’s country estate. “I’d say they’re like divorce kids,” he said. “They’ve got a family that split up; they go back and forth.” But the kids love both their mothers, and though the relationships may seem confusing to outsiders, there is certainly no lack of people in their lives who care about them — something many “straight” families can’t claim.
You really have to love that last line. See, the confusion is not only not a problem, it’s actually better than many straight families’ situation.
It’s not that I’m surprised that Bowe — who cowrote the excellent movie Basquiat, penned an introduction to a book of Ted Rall cartoons and published advocacy pieces for The American Prospect — would write such a biased piece, but who does it serve? Wouldn’t New York Times readers be better off with balanced coverage of this hugely divisive issue? Wouldn’t New York Times editors get a much more interesting piece by having a reporter with a different perspective tackle it? Who needs an echo chamber?
Many individuals or movements that advocate for liberalization of family law — be they homosexual-marriage proponents, homosexual parents or polygamists — argue that their lifestyle is normal, even boring. I’m not making a value judgment about whether that is a good or bad thing, it’s just a common refrain used by the groups. Bowe makes that his overarching theme:
- Gay parents are motivated not “by ideology but by a deep, and frankly conventional, desire to have children,” says a New York University professor.
- “Considering how many heterosexual parents are overworked, divorced or otherwise unavailable, [gay donor Mark says], children with lesbian and gay parents are “lucky.”
I mean, I appreciate that The New York Times considers children of complex gay parentage to be lucky, but you think there might have been some room for a differing view in the rambling piece.
Finally, Bowe offers this vignette, which reinforces his theme:
P.J., David and Bobbie’s co-parent, is an X-ray technician with a bawdy and infectious sense of humor. Mark’s co-parents, Candi and Jean, one of whom is a former prison guard, were more reserved. Eight conversations were juggled as children came and went, screaming, laughing, crying, demanding juice boxes, spilling juice boxes, getting sand on the frosting on their mouths and so on.
Bowe clearly is a talented writer. But a story devoid of opposing perspectives on a controversial topic does not deserve to be in a major mainstream paper — even if all mainstream papers are turning into publications with all gay news all the time.