Bil Browning

CNN's Gay In America: Stereotypes Abound & Bigger Picture Ignored

Filed By Bil Browning | June 20, 2010 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Media
Tags: child surrogacy, CNN, Gary & Tony Have a Baby, Gay In America, gay parents, gay stereotypes, Soledad O'Brien, surrogate parents, white privilege

I had a chance to preview CNN's first episode of their new Gay in America series: Gary & Tony Have A Baby. Unlike the multi-hour Black In America extravaganzas, the network has cnn-logo.jpgseveral one hour shows planned to look inside the queer community. BIA host Soledad O'Brien also helms this documentary.

When the press kit arrived, I didn't bother to read the letter or description. The title spoke for itself: two gay guys are having a baby. I wasn't impressed; as a starter topic it's about as original as a documentary on pride. Jerame, however, was excited that the news network was focusing on our community and really wanted to watch it.

Before we popped it into the player, he chastised me for being so pessimistic about the show. As the DVD started to play, I looked at Jerame and made a few predictions. Not only did I nail every one, but the documentary goes so far beyond the usual mass media dreck that GLAAD should issue an action alert about it for perpetuating gay stereotypes.

Here were the predictions I made for Gary & Tony Have a Baby without looking at any of the press materials:

  • The couple would most likely be white although there was a small possibility that one would be black. They definitely wouldn't both be non-white.
  • They'll be in their mid 30s to early 40s.
  • They would be upper middle class.
  • They would live in a gay ghetto. Most likely New York City, Washington DC, or San Francisco.
  • They would both be "gay masculine": that slightly effeminate masculinity always portrayed in the media. No nellies need apply.
  • They would be married.
  • They would have a surrogate child instead of adopting or through heterosexual sex.

A Checklist for Stereotypes

Call me jaded, but mass media docunews reports tend to fall along two different lines - either they're the fawning "Gay Is Good!" tug-at-the-heartstrings shows or they're the "Think of the Children!" exposés that try to titillate and shock viewers into feeling disapproval and disgust. Gary & Tony definitely falls into the former category.

Gary Spino and Tony Brown are New York City activists in their 40s. The couple married in Canada and, in the course of one hour, spend a small fortune on a surrogate mother, an egg donor, legal fees, travel costs, and medical bills.

I'm not naive enough to think that an arch homophobe would tune into a CNN special report, see a piece on gay dads and suddenly join the local PFLAG chapter. The people who will tune in will either be queer themselves or already sufficiently friendly to the community. For the most part, they're preaching to the choir and no minds will be changed by this puff piece.

If the audience is the LGBT community itself, then the piece soundly fails since it highlights a tale so preposterously stereotypical that it doesn't resonate with the majority of American queers. It's gay parenting pablum masquerading behind an assimilationist ideal.

One of the men donated sperm to a lesbian couple and has a biological daughter. The show's one highlight of how complicated LGBT life can be to navigate was when they talked about his "other family." It respectfully pointed out that the little girl had two parents - her moms - and made that distinction in a forthright manner that modeled respect for other families.

Life Is Gritty and Messy

Being queer in America is hardly an easy proposition. We're a diverse and contrary group of people because we encompass every ethnic group, religious belief, and political party. While there were a few mutterings when CNN announced they would do Gay In America as a multi-part series instead of one multi-hour show, this is the only realistic way to look at our community in any meaningful way.

Gary & Tony Have A Baby is hardly gritty and compelling television news reporting. It is so far removed from the average viewer's reality, that it was foreign even to this gay man. The majority of American queers don't spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to form a family.

The show's accompanying press packet says, "These days one of the most radical things a gay person can do is form a traditional family - and that's precisely what they want." The traditional queer family, however, doesn't look a lot like Gary and Tony's.

"Soledad O'Brien follows Gary and Tony on their struggle to have a baby that has a biological and legal connection to both of them," the release says. "But all the medical miracles and legal maneuvering can't guarantee the approval of the people around them... or even a baby."

(Not Your Average) Gay In America

In the 2000 census, 55% of same-sex couple households reported having at least one child under the age of 18 living in the home. This includes families of all sorts, but the bulk of them did not conceive their child through expensive medical procedures only available to a privileged few.

Continuing the myths that all gay men are wealthy, white and self-obsessed does nothing to validate the thousands of gay fathers around the nation who struggle with more pressing issues than picking among the dozens of prospective egg donors. Where are the fathers who had children with wives they love(d), the men who had children as a desperate attempt at proving their heterosexuality, the adoptive fathers, foster fathers, step fathers, or grandfathers?

Where are the lesbian and transgender parents? What about class, race and religious issues that surround parenting? How about issues like child support, custody cases, and how a judge's personal prejudices can influence their decisions?

After being roundly criticized for ignoring LGBT issues in their Black In America series and thereby perpetuating the myth that being gay is a "white problem," CNN's Gay In America has only served to continue a dangerous mythology that doesn't actually look at gay parenting as much as it does one couple's quest to have their perfect child.

The show would have been better served by weaving a variety of LGBT parents into the mix instead of focusing so exclusively on this one couple.

This is not "Gay In America." It's "Gay In Gary & Tony's World."

The show airs Thursday night at 8pm Eastern.

(Image via Boondoggle)


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How would you persuade straight America, Bil?

It's not about persuasion, it's about telling stories that are reflective of the plight of gay Americans. This story is not reflective of any but the upper-tier of gay men in America. It's not even remotely a typical situation, nor is it a terribly sympathetic way to portray us.

The white, northeastern liberal guys who spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the vanity of "having your own offspring" isn't exactly how I'd come out of the gate on telling the LGBT story to straight America, gay America or any other part of America.

It just perpetuates way too many stereotypes and does a really poor job of highlighting the real struggles of LGBT Americans.

I was pretty disappointed, to say the least.

Okay, but you dont say how you would address this. I mean, I can see the logic of this: start with something familiar to the viewer, then take them from there. That's how this stuff is usually handled, no matter what the hot-button issue might be.

And considering this is only the first episode, I think you might be rushing a tad to judgment. Did you guys get any materials on the rest of the series, or did CNN only send the first one? How many episodes are in this series? Did the materials outline other families they're showcasing?

And whether we want to admit it or not, guys like Tony and Gary exist. As pointed out in Bil's own description, they're activists as well. Is the issue that they're the wrong kind of activist to meet some demanding criteria no one's discussed thus far?

Sorry, but I'm getting really tired of this "let's complain about everything" mentality that seems to permeate the Project these days. Nothing is ever right enough, perfect enough, reflective or inclusive enough. Well, y'know, that's life sometimes. And sometimes life, if you give it a freaking chance, can surprise you a bit.

Regarding: "Okay, but you dont say how you would address this."

and "Sorry, but I'm getting really tired of this "let's complain about everything" mentality that seems to permeate the Project these days."

Well, to start, there's nothing wrong with complaining, let's make that clear. GLAAD's entire existence is built on that, and I don't see anyone *complaining* about that. Secondly, our collective "complaining," as you call it, about the representations of our community (I'm thinking of early and, sadly, some contemporary AIDS representations; or even earlier, of weirdos whose bars needed to be raided so that schoolteachers could be outed and have their lives ruined - the list goes on) is what has succeeded in some semblance of sanity concerning us in the MSM. It's by no means perfect - we can only be perfect citizens if straights are to like us, it seems.

Networks don't generally send the entire series out to reviewers - they may not even be done with the series. And the episode they send out is usually pretty reflective of where they think the series should go. Bil has a right to write a critique based on what he saw. I doubt he got the entire series, but he can answer to that specifically.

Thirdly, and most importantly, critique is vital and necessary to any intellectually engaged society and it doesn't require that we always create a perfect version of the thing we critique. Bil is not required to rush out and make a documentary to show people how to make one about queer families - the point of a critique like his is to let the creators and future filmmakers know what the problems are and what they might want to think about in upcoming projects. To constantly ask the intellectually reductive question, "Well, so what would YOU do?" (which I see often) or to make a statement like, "Okay, but you don't say how you would address this." is to deny the power of intellectual and abstract engagement.

I might have a stringent critique of Chicago's vaunted architecture but that doesn't mean I have to go out and build my own buildings. We could go on, but I think the point is clear.

TBP wasn't set up as a kumbaya space - otherwise, I wouldn't be here. So if a less contentious space is what one wishes to have, there are massive numbers of queer blogs to choose from.

The constant "complaining" about critiques set forth here is also becoming something of a steady feature of some commenters. But, it's interesting to note, the complaining about said critiques/"complaints" only runs in particular ideological directions. Hmmmmmmm...nobody complains about standard liberal politics and marriage.

>> "there's nothing wrong with complaining"

No, there's not, but let's make it at least pretend to be meaningful. As you yourself note, CNN didnt send out the entire series, just one episode — and based on that, just that, folks seem to think it's okay to trash the entire thing. Or let's take the actions in another thread, where folks were complaining because Bil had put out as bunch of photos of (arguably) cute little twinks, just because they were all white. No one's saying, "Hey, I know a site that has hot black guys!" or "Y'know, there's this webpage of truly smokin' lesbians!". No, it's just easier to complain. And I'm tired of it, mate.

>> "critique is vital and necessary to any intellectually engaged society"

Well, again, as noted: informed critique is great. Not a whole lot of that around here tonight, sorry.

>> "We could go on, but I think the point is clear."

No, it's not. In my business, I design and fabricate trade show displays. Like any creative field, it's all very subjective. But when a client looks at a design and says, "No, I dont like it," my first response is "Why not? What's missing from it? Is it missing your marketing targets? Is it not presenting your product or service correctly? If all you're telling me is 'I dont like it', we're not gonna have much to go on." The salespeople hate it when I do this, but in the end, we wind up with something that the client not only likes but understands.

So, again, I say, give this series a chance. If it bombs out because it's not presenting your view of what our community is like, well, not much to say. But from what I've read thus far, I'm not seeing much of an issue with the way CNN started this thing off. It's soft-pedaling and making a contentious issue palatable for its audience. It portrays a couple of guys in a successful, solid relationship who want to take on the responsibility of a child.

And folks have an issue with that. Because they're white. Because they're succesful. Because they're this or that or the other.

Incredible.

I may have been too subtle, so let me say this clearly: It's not standard industry practice to send out entire series, for the reasons I gave above. Ergo, it's also standard practice for reviewers to write critiques based on single episodes. What I'm trying to say is: you're asking Bil to use different practices than those used in the general field of television reviewing.

For more, please pick up a copy of the latest Time Out or Entertainment Weekly, and check out the television review sections.

And, in concluding this point, in case I'm not being very clear: Your complaint about Bil's critique of a tv show is not informed by the reality of how television reviewing works.

As for the rest - you've clearly got a bone to pick (and I note you've been picking at it in many comment threads) but your points hew to the same conservative side of things, and echo the typical complaints made, unfortunately, by a certain kind of white/self-described white reader (note that, happily, not all white readers share the sentiments you've expressed above): the sense that somehow, complaining about the lack of POC representation is somehow taking away from oh, CENTURIES of the priority accorded to white bodies in any kind of representation: "Oh, no, there they go complaining about too many white people in films/photos/television! That's so unfair! Why can't these POCs stop complaining already! And it's just so mean to be nasty to *rich* white gay men - I mean, isn't that what we all want to be, after all? Poor people should just eat cake!"

Your analogy about trade show displays simply does not work. It's not Bil's job to make the documentary - he would be more like the person deputed to judge your display. Let me break this down: If you were participating in a trade show display contest, Bil would be the judge. In deciding that your work was not up to snuff, he is not obliged to show you how to make it better - he's simply there to tell you, if that's even necessary, what looks wrong and what he had issues with. In many cases, he would not even be required to give you any reasons. It's YOUR job to listen, if you even get a critique, and then make a better product the next time. In the world of television? Without reviews, producers would have to rely entirely on ratings. In your world, no one's obliged to tell you where you went wrong or what they did wrong - they can just move on to the next display maker.

And, furthermore, critiquing the show IS giving it a chance. Bil isn't crying out for complete removal or censorship or insisting that the entire series be yanked on the basis of one episode. There have been plenty of instances where television producers have listened and engaged with viewers and/or critics and modified their series accordingly. The advantage with television is that, unlike with film, changes can be made. For more on that, I'd have to refer you to the entire history of television - but the very concept of ratings should give you a hint of what I mean.

The problem with the blogosphere is that people have forgotten or simply don't know, out of sheer ignorance, that reviewers actually have a right to exercise certain criteria of judgment. And they are often clueless about how certain industries function. Bil can provide the information you asked for about how many episodes etc - but none of that means anything in the world of television, where an entire series can disappear after just one episode/hour. For more on that, please see...the entire history of television.

Bil's acting as a reviewer, not a friend of CNN. He was sent a preview, and he's reviewed it. But you have the option to turn it on to see if you agree with him or not. And, please, let's not pretend that CNN is some tiny, indie tv channel that will be crushed by Bil's review and go out of existence (I'm anticipating some such point). Programs like these only emerge after months of focus group "research," and CNN is likely to only have gone to the HRC-type organisations. I would not be surprised if the "research" was supported by GLAAD - but that's another story.

>> "may have been too subtle, so let me say this clearly: It's not standard industry practice to send out entire series, for the reasons I gave above. Ergo, it's also standard practice for reviewers to write critiques based on single episodes"

You neednt worry; you werent too subtle. Apparently I was, so let me say this:

If you wish to portray me as some racist, privileged, white guy, go for it. You'd be in error, but hey, whatever floats your particular boat, bud. You dont find my posts "progressive enough"? Deal with it. Here, let me make it even clearer: I profoundly apologize for being born white. I profoundly apologize for being born male. I profoundly apologize for being born middle class. I profoundly, deeply apologize for not being as politically astute as the grand majority of Project readers and commenters who are, after all, clearly my betters, so I'll just shut the hell up and let the rest of you tell me what I am and am not supposed to think on every single issue. You clearly are all so much more informed then I am. You obviously are all so much more aware of the issues than I could ever dream of being.

Do I have it right thus far? Want to make sure, you know. Wouldnt want to offend anyone, after all, like calling them stupid for not realizing centuries of oppression when it's staring them in the face on a daily basis. Dumb little white boy just doesnt understand, right?

Now that we have that squared away, let me make one final thing clear. You say I have a bone to pick? Try reading some of the posts around this place -- even this thread -- with a slightly more objective mind... if that's possible for someone as obviously progressive as you. People here are slamming these two guys for wanting to have a family. You know zip about them beyond the most superficial, and yet you feel yourself in a position to tell CNN that they're not good enough for you.

The hypocricy just glistens.

Waiiiiiit...an inability to engage with or address direct questions or refutations, a constant desire to repeat points - AndrewW! Is that you?

Good night. And thanks for proving all my points and for revealing so much, especially your anger. I'll leave you to seethe.

I did refute points, but I guess they werent the ones you wanted refuted.

Wow. Yet another thing to apologize for. Thanks for reminding me how stupid I am. Just some dumb cracker, right?

Got it now.

Sean, I've noticed on several comment threads that you get angry and sarcastic if you don't agree. I'm surprised to see this from someone of your caliber, and I note that it's no way to persuade people to your point of view. In person, it may be engaging, but in print it comes across as off-putting. Making your points without sarcasm would be much more engaging and convincing.

Yes, well, when your point of view is shut down because someone thinks they can operate under the rash assumption that you're suddenly the enemy because you dont fall in lockstep with their outrage over some TV show... sorry, I dont react well to that. I started this conversation off by being reasonable: give the show a chance before you judge, consider who CNN is televising this to before you jump down their throats with charges of "non-inclusivity" — and tell me, Jillian, what was the reaction?

Well, the reaction is right up there for everyone to read. This stupid white boy doesnt understand because he's obviously privileged and we're not and CNN is terrible for not addressing my wants and needs and it's all terrible and everyone else's fault.

I dont need that bullshit. I'm seeing it in too many threads around here: people complaining about this and complaining about that but, somehow, refusing to take a little initiative themselves. "Oh, that's not my forte." "Let someone else do it, and I'll sit here in judgment as to whether it's good enough or not." "Inclusiveness? Well, obviously it cant mean those privileged white males: you know how >they are."

I can understand that people are angry and people feel slighted — believe it or not, I experience that every day myself; I know, shocking! that a privileged gay white male should feel slighted! — but it seems like I'm doing an awful lot of apologizing while everyone else dont seem to feel they need to take one whit of responsibility for cranks like "lily white NCers". When they do, get back to me, huh? I'll be waiting.

Well, Sean, I don't think you're the enemy, but I do think you're being a bit hypersensitive. I understand that, because I've been hypersensitive myself at times, and we're all human.

Your first comment said "Sorry, but I'm getting really tired of this..." - I think that was a signal that you were open to a vigorous debate. I don't think anyone was trying to "shut you down." They disagreed. Vigorously.

But I'm sorry you felt hurt, and I hope that you will be able to recover and continue to play with your Bilerico friends.

Babelonian | June 21, 2010 2:21 PM

I sympathize with "Sean Martin" in this instance. You, Gillian Weiss, are being unfair to him. "Yasmin Nair" is a vicious and nasty influence on every blog comment they join. Their comments are always attacks -- personal and going for the kill. Whatever the pathology of "Yasmin Nair", more disturbing is that you as editor focus your condescending finger wagging on Sean with not one word for the tone of Yasmin Nair that precipitated Sean Martin's tone of response. And not one word of the history of anger and baiting sarcasm in the endless comments of Yasmin Nair. Your biases are showing and they are not showing well, Gillian Weiss. Perhaps it's time for someone more open minded as gatekeeper.

Felt hurt? Damn straight I do. Lots of threads around this place seem *real* fond of attacking the white guys. Not enough lesbian or MOC representation? It's the white guys' fault. Not enough indepth coverage of the remifications of a gay issue on the trans community? You got it: the white guys' fault. Folks like me are the one-size-fits-all excuse for everything.

Not that we're generalizing or anyting like that, right? Nossir, we're too inclusive for that... except when it's something like a post about a couple of guys in NYC who want to have a kid, and then inclusiveness goes right out the window. We cant acknowledge that straight couples do exactly the same thing and spend just as much cash... but because this is couple of upper middle class white guys, the torches come out about how terrible and racist and exclusionary it is.

Funny, but every day I read in the news about some group from some right-wing church organization or some hyper-conservative political party telling me the world would be a lot better if all those pesky gays would just shut up and become "just like us". The parallels here are obvious and frightening: we are no different than they are. We just use different terms, but our moral outrage at their not liking us for not being like them is a game at which all of us, on all sides of poltiical spectrunm, have seemingly become Grand Champions.

Well, this white guy aint playing that game anymore. Either folks start taking a little more responsibility for their own words -- like "lily white NCers" (no comment on that one?) -- or we just make this a "no white guys allowed" kind of place. Then folks can throw their verbal rocks with absolutely no impunity at all -- wont that be just peachy keen?

Babelonian | June 21, 2010 8:28 AM

"TBP wasn't set up as a kumbaya space - otherwise, I wouldn't be here." writes "Yasmin Nair". Can someone in charge please set up TBP as a kumbaya space immediately! Thanks. signed Citizens for a "Yasmin Nair"-free TBP.

Yasmine writes: "Hmmmmmmm...nobody complains about standard liberal politics and marriage."

Well, Yasmine, maybe standard conservative politicians should consider cleaning up their own act and marriages before they start pointing fingers at us card-carrying liberals. Double Hmmmmmmm!

If you can't stand the heat, don't let the door hit'cha where the Good Lord split'cha.

Bil, so if we applied the 'Gay Rules' of the Trans Documentary Drinking Game how many shots would this be? From the way you describe it, at least 8 shots...

Well, okay, to be fair to CNN, this was a "safe" way to start the series: put things in terms that Middle America can empathize with, then move to more adventuresome stuff. Their target audience for this isnt us: it's those people who live in the Flyover States who think Pride Parades are all about ugly drag queens and far-too-muscular-for-their-own-good leathermen with their asses sticking out of their chaps.

I mean, c'mon, Bil, did you really expect them to run off the Radical Rails their first time out? This isnt... well, I was going to say Logo, but even they have trouble going beyond the white bread most times. I would suggest holding off and giving CNN a bit of a chance before dismissing it altogether. It's very possible your issues will be confirmed, but then again it's possible (however unlikely) that you might wind up surprised.

I'm with the second commenter. This is one family's real life story. Maybe we'll see others too. Give them a chance.

So, is anyone surprised that CNN doesn't provide any news in anything that it does? Why would anyone expect news or valid information from CNN?
Sounds like a paid advertisement for HRC on CNN. Thanks for the warning.

Rick Sours | June 20, 2010 8:24 PM

Being Gay in America is very unique and disturbing at times. One is told just be honest and treat everyone fairly and society/institutions will treat you accordingly. Maybe this program is simply another small step forward towards the concept that being LBGT is a non-issue.

All great points, Bil.

Without critiques like this, the mainstream media will carry on with the absurd idea that "middle America," itself a stereotype that it relies on for marketing purposes (as a world where no divorces or alternative forms of even *straight* sexuality exist), cannot take our reality.

This reminds me of the cover of the NYT Sunday magazine a while back, which illustrated a feature story about younger gay men getting married in droves. Besides the fact that I don't think this actually reflected a trend, no on at the mag seemed to have noticed that all the men looked barely distinguishable from each other (all white and preppy).

But then again, that may have been the point...don't worry, gays are just like the frat boys you went to school with.

Here, as with trans stories, is an excellent example of why it's crucial to have marginalized communities speak and define their own narratives, and for allies to focus on helping to give opportunity and voice, only filling in where people are not available to do that for themselves. I'd bet if there were more representative LGB people on the development and editing teams of this doc, we'd be feeling very differently about it.

So...what tag are folks going to use to live tweet it when it's on? #CNNGIA

I stopped settling for any old media visibility that's not completely negative. That made sense a 15 years ago when hardly anything was positive, but it's time to start demanding better.

tiggertampa | June 21, 2010 6:43 AM

I agree Bil is being to harsh. Another show that is along the same lines is "the Fabulous Beekman Boys" on the Green Network. Same premise, a couple of lily white NYCers decide to buy a farm. It is funny to watch the former drag queen shovel pig s**t though. At least affection is shown between the two, lots of hugs and kisses. You don't see that on "Modern Family".

The media is moving forward on the gay issues, even if it is pretty slow.

I didn't see the show, but I did read synopses of it in several magazines. I remember wincing at what I read, especially the stupendous sum the men paid to conceive and bring home their children. I remember thinking it was a sort of gay dad version of "fabulousness." Of course, some gay dads do spend that much, but some, like me, a gay dad through adoption, do not. Perhaps they could have followed the life trajectories of several gay families in the show, which would have provided some variety.

Andrew Conte | June 21, 2010 8:52 AM

I will be watching something more enlightening...maybe a rerun of "Leave it to Beaver"

I have not seen the show yet, but the problem is that the gay community has not gotten beyond the stereotype, yet, in the eyes of straight America. Look at it, the black community has not even gotten past it. People are still in shock that we have a black President!

The media still shows the successful masculine gay couple as the norm to be respectful and thinks they are not perpetuating myths by portraying only the "good" gays when a comprehensive look would also take in the transvestite street prostitutes and the nelly queens.

The gay community in all its diversity has not assimilated yet in the eyes of the heterosexual community. We are not just "people"yet, just as in less open minded places, African-americans are not yet just people.

Dear Bil,
I suspect you'd have felt better about this show if it had been about two guys in Indiana who raise a daughter without paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for eggs and a surrogate.

The CNN show (I went to a preview of it last week) is not about you, but that does not make it a bad show.

It is also not about me, but the child-raising panel who led the discussion after the screening (Soledad O'Brien, Jarrett Barrios and the two dads) never once made me feel bad about not choosing to raise children. Your slant is not like theirs. You see injustice were there is really only good and healthy diversity.

I hope everyone will watch it and then weigh in. CNN Thursday 8PM ET/PT

Gary Gates | June 21, 2010 12:58 PM

I'm not sure where Bil got the statistic about same-sex couples raising kids, but it was not 55% in Census 2000. It was actually 20% (see http://www.law.ucla.edu/williamsinstitute/publications/USCensusSnapshot.pdf).

Howver, those same-sex couples raising kids are economically disadvantaged. One in five children being raised by same-sex couples in Census 2000 was living in poverty (see http://www.law.ucla.edu/williamsinstitute/pdf/LGBPovertyReport.pdf). Among all racial/ethnic groups, white individuals in same-sex couples are the least likely to be raising children (that's also true in a few small surveys where we have information on single LGBT people). In particular, African-Americans and Latino/as who are in same-sex couples are roughly twice as likely to be raising kids as their white counterparts. It also appears that most children being raised by same-sex couples likely came from heterosexual relationships prior to the same-sex couple relationship.

Chitown Kev | June 21, 2010 2:03 PM

Let's try the critique this way.

I think that the area where there is the greatest concentration of LGBT couples with children is actually in the Bronx.

Therefore, maybe the couple depicted in this episode of the series should be from the Bronx.

And that might reflect something...more true(?) than this episode actually depicted.

auntie_alias auntie_alias | June 21, 2010 2:05 PM

I wouldn't call it a mere stereotype as much as a media-induced, headline-grabbing stereotype. Gary and Tony are atypical gay men (I'm gay) and certainly don't represent a majority of the population. The show was obviously aimed at viewers (other than the queer or queer-friendly types mentioned in the article) who will want to gawk and stare and shake their heads at yet another example of how those gay people are trying to ruin the sanctity of something straights hold dear. CNN should be held accountable for perpetuating the myth.

Chitown Kev | June 21, 2010 2:37 PM

I mean, I think Bil's critique is that it does fit all too comfortably into the picture of "Gay America" that many people already have and that it's a viewpoint (like it or not) that not only doesn't reflect the bigger reality but it's also a viewpoint that is used against our community.

I am good friends with one person in a couple very much like Gary and Tony. My friends make excellent parents.

But I know many other single and partnered LGBT parents that don't fit into "the stereotype." And to see them on a national stage such as this series would be refreshing and may, indeed, be more reflected of a multilayered reality.

At COLAGE, we know our families exist in every neighborhood and across the socioeconomic spectrum. COLAGE is the only national youth-driven network of people with a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer parent. It can be isolating or challenging to live in a world that treats our families differently, but by connecting us with peers who share our experiences, COLAGE helps us become stronger advocates for ourselves and our families. For more information, visit www.colage.org.

Wow.

So surrogacy= vanity and self-absorption. Welcome to parenting! It's all vanity and self-absorption. You're raising a child with the hopes that he will carry out your lessons, values, background, and ethics.

But somehow being vain and self-absorbed is a bad thing. Non-Mother Theresa clones need not apply for a place in the gay community. Only selfless (read: people who abide by MY views of morally acceptable behavior) people are worthy of being portrayed.

Then we jump to this persistent belief that my experiences as a financially constricted gay guy with a snowball's chance in hell of achieving protections in Indiana must be the sole standard for evaluating the gay experience. This mythical ability for being able to tell what the "gay American experience" feels like is only available to this one guy, and those whom the guy is completely opposite of (and resentful of-- those filthy wealthy gay guys should all crawl back under the rock they came from!) do not possess this rare trait.

Jesus H Christ, what makes you think the "gay American experience" even exists? It's just one story to give curious viewers some notion of what a gay man's life is, even if no life is the same for all gay men. We do this all the time, or did you forget Black In America, or most of Hollywood's Southern theme productions?

Then again Father Tony voiced my thoughts more concisely. Someone is angry because it's not his story that got told. And I don't fault you for that-- god knows it pisses me off when I go to the movies and all I see is straight people. We all have some need for seeing ourselves represented. But we have to understand that even if we weren't represented, somebody else that has felt alienated for long finally saw themselves represented.

And yes, wealthy, white, middle aged, married gay men feel alienated by the mainstream, too. No, their concerns and pains are of no lesser consideration and compassion than yours. Good for Gary and Tony.

I couldn't agree with you more. Sometimes it seems like we in the LGBT community view media representation as a zero-sum game. Would it be good if, say, a black trans-man was shown on TV? Yes. But why can't it also be good if a white, wealthy, gay New Yorker is shown on TV?

I think that we oftentimes act as if showing a white gay man on TV somehow harms, for example, Latina lesbians, or elderly bisexuals, etc., etc. And I don't think that's the case. There is no "LGBT experience" that is more pure, or somehow more worthy of being portrayed, than any other.

I am morally opposed to surrogacy while millions of children are waiting to be adopted. The narcissism of wanting a child that shares your genes is just so shallow, unless you're Albert Einstein.

George Byrd | June 24, 2010 3:54 PM

Wanting a child that shares your genes is the most fundamental life urge. Creatures of all species are beholden to it. It is indeed tragic that so many children are without loving families, but that has no bearing on the reproductive urge. Humans always have procreated, and humans always will procreate, until we are extinct.

I was adopted as an infant by people who were different from my biological parents in every imaginable way. I spent my childhood in a state of bewilderment, with parents who were unable to "get" me at all. As an adult, I met my biological family and the similarities were uncanny. Had I not met them, I would never have felt OK about myself.

Now I have biological children of my own--from a previous heterosexual relationship--and luckily for them, I am understanding of their exceptional characteristics. They are like me in so many ways.

There is actually a well-defined syndrome among adoptees known as "genealogical bewilderment." Adoption is not the panacea that many people seem to think. It might work for the adoptive parents, and the biological parents--but there is another stakeholder in this triad: the baby. The baby has no say and in many instances no rights. As an adoptee in the State of NY, I have no right to my medical history. Shocking? True. It is also sad that the majority of people think that the baby should be grateful that he/she was given a "good life" by parents who are better. That this "bastard" was allowed entrance into normal society and that he/she should never doubt his/her luck.

The issue is not that they show wealthy white gays, but that there are basically two types of gays the media ever shows: good gays (white, upper-class, gender conforming, married with kids) and bad gays (irresponsible, immature, vain). And we know the "good gays" will be the ones to pull on the heart strings of straight white America (and the majority vote) while the "bad gays" will continue to be seen as freaks. That reality pisses us off.

I'm a straight ally - and I suspect it's quite possible I'll get some criticism here - but it feels like you have forgotten your true enemy. Remember those people who won Prop 8 by saying that there is homosexual agenda to get at children, that you are pedophiles, sexual deviants, have thousands of sexual partners, and you deserve to die from AIDS? Remember those people? Their lies? Their funding? THAT is the stereotype you need to fight. I live in straight America. They do NOT have it in their heads that the stereotype of gay people are two well off white guys wanting a child.

They are your enemy. CNN put out one show, in a promised series of many. Gary and Tony deserve the same respect as anyone else in the LGBT community. Not more. Not less.

When you think about the people who do not support same sex marriage, do you hope that they will watch this show? I do.

Marc Paige | June 27, 2010 7:09 PM

I am not offended by a gay couple having a baby who happen to be white.

Let’s try a real critique of the documentary. This documentary focused on Gary and Tony’s sexual orientation almost to the exclusion of all other factors. They are in their late 40s, but they didn’t discuss on camera their feelings about whether they are too old to be parents. They didn’t why they want to be parents in any meaningful way. They didn’t discuss what kinds of parents they want to be, why they want to raise their son in the city rather than moving to the suburbs. There was no discussion of child care.

Instead, each of their parents, the surrogate and the egg donor were asked about how they felt about working with two gay guys. There is a lot more to Gary and Tony than their sexuality (at least I hope so). According to research I’ve read, a lot of gay men who start families begin to feel alienated from the gay community at large. Have they experienced that?

In terms of how our community is represented in mainstream media, gay dads are still not well represented. More often than not same sex couples raising children are presented as lesbian couples. I do applaud CNN for showing gay men building families.

Bil, I think your critique went for the low hanging fruit. You barely had to watch the piece in order to write your post. Representing the diversity of our community is important, I’m not going to say it’s not. But, to complain about only presenting images of upper class gays in a piece about surrogacy is like complaining about the lack of class diversity in Lexus’s customer base. Surrogacy is expensive, of course poor people don’t use surrogacy as a means to build their families. This piece was not about how gay men build families instead it was specifically about surrogacy and how these two men built a family based on biology. And it didn’t even do that well.