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Two moms or two dads, no worries

By Nicole Saidi and Liane Membis, CNN
James N. says he grew up with two mothers, Naomi (left) and Tabor, but that his childhood was otherwise normal.
James N. says he grew up with two mothers, Naomi (left) and Tabor, but that his childhood was otherwise normal.
  • Aspiring same-sex parents have biological, social issues to consider.
  • Children of lesbian or gay parents had some teasing, mostly normal lives.
  • Did you grow up with gay or lesbian parents, or are you a same-sex parent? See more stories

(CNN) -- When two women or two men decide to have children together, there's a few thorny issues to work out. From who gives birth to obtaining and divvying up the sperm, the rules change -- just a little. And then there's the mommy and daddy part.

Jay, an iReporter from Boston, Massachusetts, says she and her female partner have lots of details to account for as they plan their family, but that overall, it's just another family.

With same-sex marriage being debated in several states, further discussion is taking place about raising children in these partnerships. We asked iReporters what it's like to have a child in a same-sex relationship or to have gay parents. We got tons of thoughtful responses.

Now 26, Jay was raised in a home with straight parents. Jay isn't her real name, but a nickname we're using in this story to protect her privacy. She struggled with gender identity for years, but she now considers herself a lesbian with an unfixed gender identity. She says she prefers female pronouns for feminist and political reasons.

The two partners plan on splitting the birthing duties. Using the same sperm will make the children half-siblings, Jay says, adding that the couple wants to have biological children but also may adopt.

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Jay says her partner will have a baby first, and then she will follow suit. The biological part is relatively easy; as for the social part, they may have to play it by ear.

"My partner and I have often discussed the implications of my gender identity on having a child, whether they might refer to me as Dad sometimes or go to me when they want to play more culturally masculine games or activities."

Meeting her current partner has helped her open up about her sexuality and gender, Jay says. She says she doesn't want her children to experience the same loneliness that she felt when she was struggling with her identity.

"I can't wait to give our child the full love and support I so desperately needed when I was growing up," Jay said. "I have not a single doubt that they will have a much happier childhood than I did."

There's lots to hope for, says James N. of Richmond, Virginia, who says his two mothers provided respite from the collapse of a seemingly perfect nuclear family in the suburbs. He'd lived with his straight father and gay mother and the difference was palpable.

"Dad was very Norman Rockwell and was trying hard to create an idyllic middle-class American experience," James said. "He was trying to inculcate us with the attitude of the 1950s. It never really worked."

James' father was a nuclear safety engineer with a strong sensitivity to detail and a propensity to be strict about the rules. Boy Scouts and regular church attendance were expectations. Dad was Dad, Mom was Mom. James says his father wanted very badly to recreate his own suburban life, even as it was collapsing around him.

Not quite a nuclear family

His mother, Tabor, was a passionate advocate for gay rights but was terrified that her relationship would lead to child protection authorities getting involved. During custody hearings when James was young, the question came up as to whether such a relationship was safe for a child.

James says his mothers' household was more relaxed and as long as messy rooms stayed behind the door and common sense was obeyed, everything was OK.

Traditional family gender roles were thrown out the window. James says by necessity, the same-sex couple has to invent their own ways of dividing responsibilities rather than using predefined templates, leading to a more deliberate style of behavior.

Sexuality was never discussed. James' mother came out when he was in first grade and that was all he knew. "She just hung out with women and that was it," James said.

Money was tighter with Mom than with Dad, but James says he felt more secure.

"Our house was where our friends came to have a safe, sane, nonabusive refuge from some pretty messed up 'traditional' families," James said. "Of all of my friends, I had the most stable family life."

For Jeff Roth of Tucson, Arizona, who grew up in a household with two gay men, living at home was easy. The problem was that not everyone outside was understanding about it.

"I remember one time someone was giving me grief about having two dads at home," he said. "A friend of mine stepped in and said that they were old buddies from Vietnam that moved in together after the war."

The excuse was utterly ridiculous, he muses, but he was grateful that the kids left him alone. This was a turning point in his life, as he realized that not everyone would accept his upbringing and he wouldn't have any ability to justify it.

Growing up with two gay men

It was the 1980s. Same-sex parenting and other nontraditional families were getting more attention, the gay rights movement was developing and publicity surrounding the AIDS crisis brought a new sense of urgency.

At home, the sexual orientation of Roth's dad was never discussed or even brought up. His father came out and his parents split when he was 3. His father got custody.

Roth says he believes that happened in part because his father's sexual orientation was kept a secret by both parties. He believes such an arrangement would never have occurred otherwise during that time.

Throughout the years, Roth came to know lots of gay people and same-sex couples, and it took him a while to comprehend that he was different and to come to grips with it.

"For several years I went out of my way to hide my situation or not discuss it, simply from fear of ridicule. However, when I got into high school, I started to be more open and bold about it."

Now grown-up and in a heterosexual marriage, Roth says his friends loved his fathers and thought they were "cool parents." Overall, he says his upbringing was a good one.

"I was raised with good morals, a great education and all of the love in the world," Roth said. "People that don't believe that a child can be raised 'normally' in a homosexual household are just ignorant."