Documenting Kids of Queer Parents

on

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 New

York
and Outfest in Los

Angeles
. Now Spadola has re-released the film on DVD,

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

children.

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

American Life
.

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

audience."

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.

 

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