Filmmaker Meema Spadola made Our House: A Very Real
Documentary About Kids of Lesbian and Gay Parents, because it was the type
of movie that didn’t exist when she was a child. "If I had been able to
turn on the television and see a documentary or any kind of program about kids
with other gay and lesbian parents," she said, "that would have
radically changed my life."
Our House, first released in 2000, profiled five gay
and lesbian families with teen or preteen children. It garnered numerous
awards, including Best Documentary at both Newfest in
along with bonus material that brings us up to date with her original subjects.
The five families, three with moms and two with dads, each
have very different stories. They live in disparate areas of the country, are
of differing ethnicities, and became families in different ways. Some were
intentional LGBT families, created through donor insemination or adoption. Some
formed after the parents left straight marriages, already having kids.
In the original film, we see the families going through
their daily routines: getting ready for school, playing soccer and softball,
having a barbecue. The children, ages 9 to 23, express a range of feelings
about having lesbian or gay parents, from ambivalence to discomfort to
approval. Some of the children don’t talk about their families to their
friends, afraid of their reactions. Others are more open, and one has even come
out as a lesbian herself.
The families have also faced various levels of
discrimination. One family is home-schooling their daughter after she was beaten
by classmates when she told them of her moms’ wedding. Another, living in New
York’s LGBT-friendly Greenwich Village, fought a four-year custody battle with
their known sperm donor. Two sisters from Arizona struggle to reconcile the
anti-LGBT messages from their Mormon church with the fact that their father is
gay. The New Jersey family, in contrast, attends an LGBT-welcoming gospel
church, but has to deal with disapproval from the father of two of the
Spadola’s own mother and father were married until she was
10, when they separated and her mother came out. Living in a small town in Maine in
the 1980s, Spadola felt alone having a lesbian mom. "I was really scared
about coming out," she explained. "I use that term purposely. I think
children of queer parents have their own coming-out process, and I was
terrified to come out. … I can’t even
imagine what it would have been like to go through my childhood without feeling
that kind of fear of exposure and that confusion and isolation."
Even though she now looks back and realizes her mother’s lesbian
friends also had children, she never connected with them. It wasn’t until she
left town for college that she told anybody about her family.
Spadola began working in documentary film in 1988 while a
student at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. She founded Sugar Pictures with Thom Powers, and
they have produced works including Breasts: A Documentary, which
explores how breasts have affected women’s and girls’ experiences of puberty,
sex, motherhood, health and aging. She has also produced documentary segments
for The Vagina Monologues, which aired on HBO, and for public radio’s This
When she turned her talents to Our House, she said: "I
really wanted it to be from the kids’ point of view. I felt a lot of the media
I had been seeing was from the parents’ point of view, which is certainly
worthy and important and has its place, but I felt that as a kid of a gay
parent, I had this role to play. I could help bring our voices to a wider
While there is structural, racial, religious and geographic
variety among the voices she chose, she realizes this is only a small section
of the whole. "Trying to sum up the community of LGBT families is next to
impossible," she said. "We are so diverse that it is impossible in
one hour to even begin to hint at how varied we are." She would have liked
to have had more time and money to include families with bisexual or
transgender parents, to talk more about extended families, and to include
families from other locales, among other things.
She does feel good about the families whose stories she was
able to tell, though, and is excited to give updates on them in the DVD extras.
She noted with pride that they are all still intact families. Two of the
children have lives that "changed pretty radically," though,
including one who came out as a lesbian (in addition to the one in the original
film). Two of the parent couples got married.