This guest post was written by Dana Rudolph, founder and publisher of Mombian, a blog of parenting, politics, diversions, and resources for lesbian moms and other LGBT parents. Mombian received the award for “Outstanding Blog” at the 23rd Annual GLAAD Media Awards.
I had high expectations for The Fosters when it debuted on ABC Family in June, the first mainstream drama to focus on same-sex parents and their kids. I’m happy to say it more than met those expectations, while also throwing in a few pleasant surprises. The show has meant a lot to me as a lesbian mom -- and to many others as well. I therefore invite you to join me, the Family Equality Council, and GLAAD this week by tweeting about what the show has meant to you. Use the #TheFosters hashtag and write something like, "#TheFosters has meant [....]"
For myself, The Fosters has meant:
My spouse and I have models for our daily lives. One of the surprises I found in watching The Fosters was how much I personally enjoyed watching the dynamic between moms Stef and Lena. It was different from the times I’d seen lesbian moms on other shows, where they tended to be focused on the important, but ultimately brief period of trying to start a family. On The Fosters, they take part in many of the same everyday activities and discussions my spouse and I do--making breakfast, negotiating schedules, dealing with children’s crises, folding laundry, and trying to find some “together time.” The Fosters also aren’t as wealthy as many of the other same-sex parents we’ve seen on television (although they’re far from poor), making them more relatable to viewers like myself. (It's a myth that same-sex couples are mostly affluent.) We lesbian moms benefit from role models just like our kids do--and I was struck by just how good it felt to have them.
Youth with same-sex parents have better representation. The Fosters is one of the few television depictions of same-sex parents with older children, as opposed to same-sex parents just starting the journey of parenthood. Seeing positive representations of families like their own can build confidence and self-respect among youth with same-sex parents.
LGB youth have models for their future. Seeing positive depictions of grown LGB people with families and successful careers can similarly be inspiring for LGB youth. Such role models are increasing, but may still be scarce in real life, depending on where the youth live. (The same goes for transgender youth, but we have yet to see any trans characters on the show.) I also give The Fosters credit for showing Jude as a gender nonconforming, possibly gay child -- not all LGBT parents have LGBT children, of course, but statistically, some will. The Fosters’ producers aren’t so scared of the myth that they’re afraid to show what could be a reality.
Our community's racial and ethnic diversity is celebrated, not "whitewashed." The Fosters are a multi-racial, multi-ethnic family. More importantly, the show hasn’t simply plunked in characters of different races and ethnicities and then ignored those parts of their identities. We see the Latino twins Marianna and Jesus speaking Spanish with each other and with their non-Latina mom, and one whole episode is devoted to Marianna’s quinceañera party for her 15th birthday, a Latin American tradition.
Religious belief and support for same-sex-headed families aren’t always in opposition. When I first heard of an episode involving Jesus’ girlfriend’s Catholic parents, I was prepared for a clash between their beliefs and the moms’ sexual orientation. So was Stef -- in a nicely written setup that flipped that stereotype on its head. The girlfriend’s mom says they fully support the Fosters, and the dad observes, “What’s more Christian than family?”
We have more bridges to our allies. One of the biggest surprises of the season, for me, was to discover that the majority of the show’s fan base -- judging from the #TheFosters hashtag Twitter feed -- consists of straight teenage girls who think Jake T. Austin (who plays Jesus) is the hottest thing on the planet (followed closely by David Lambert, who plays the eldest son, Brandon). Yes, a show can appeal both to us lesbian moms (and other LGBT parents) and straight teens. We all live in the same world, and there’s no reason we can’t bond over the ups and downs of one family -- even if we might disagree when the moms need to discipline the kids.
Things do get better. In the July 29th episode, I think the entire LGBT world held its breath when Stef lay in the hospital and a doctor assumed Mike, her ex-husband, was her current husband. Lena had to explain that she was Stef’s domestic partner. To my surprise and delight, the writers didn’t go down the unfortunately expected path of making the hospital staff homophobic. Instead, they showed them acknowledging Lena and allowing her, not Mike, in to visit Stef -- as the law now requires. The show deftly recognized that hospital visitation has been an issue for LGBT people, while also indicating there has been progress in that regard.
Same-sex parents are both the focus and not -- as it should be. The Fosters aren’t the first family with same-sex parents to appear in a television series, but they’re the first to be the sole focus of a dramatic show (not a sitcom). At the same time, most (but not all) of the plot lines revolve around things other than the fact that the family has same-sex parents. That reflects the reality of our lives -- as you can see from the many stories of real LGBT parents from Blogging for LGBT Families Day, an annual event that celebrates LGBT families and our allies.
I look forward to your tweets about what The Fosters has meant to you!