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Real Families: Beyond the 20/20 Sound Byte

by Ethan Tussey

by Danielle Silber for IN MEDIA RES

When I was sixteen I was interviewed by Barbara Walters as one of “the children everyone was worried about, those of Gay and Lesbian parents.” Of course this was not the first time we had spoken out, but 20/20 was the first mass tv outlet to “sanction” our voices - and our families – as legitimate… within reason.

Leading up to the taping I grappled with how I would answer the question they were most likely to ask: “Are you gay?”

I knew that I had likely been chosen because I identified as straight. How could I answer authentically and problematize the question’s inherent homophobia without alienating the American and international audiences we were supposed to win over?

I still cringe at the clip – recollecting my frustration that I so quickly claimed “straight” and with the edit that clearly cut off what I had to say next: “But I believe sexuality is a continuum and I am open to falling in love with a woman one day. If you mean to ask me whether I feel empowered to have a healthy love life, then the answer is yes.”

The truth is that I didn’t feel empowered to freely explore a love life or my sexuality. I was acutely aware that, according to pop culture, proving my parents’ legitimacy meant I should date men. Simultaneously, my feminist upbringing challenged me to pursue a dating life that did not emulate 90210 or Melrose Place. Meanwhile, the movement that bore me was all about free love, and revolutionizing the definition of family. We were interested in breaking down white picket fences, not merely expanding them.

Two of my four fathers continue to identify as Bisexual and have been in an open relationship all my life. My family consists of divorced, separated and reunited parents - none are married – and yet we all come together for Thanksgiving. The power of queerspawn is not in our ability to legitimate our parents’ sexuality, but rather to re-envision what relationships and family can mean – and create media that inspires others to do the same.


Queer Families

A clip from 20/20

from 20/20 (1999)
Creator: ABC News
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey