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Gay, lesbian, and trans families through the lens of social science: A revolution or a pluralisation of forms of parenthood?

Martine Gross
Traduction de Abigail Mira
Cet article est une traduction de :
L’homoparentalité et la transparentalité au prisme des sciences sociales : révolution ou pluralisation des formes de parenté ? [fr]


Compte tenu des développements rapides tant des progrès scientifiques en matière de procréation que des pratiques sociales, l’homoparentalité et la transparentalité ont cristallisé de nombreuses interrogations portant sur la parenté ainsi que sur les définitions de la paternité et de la maternité dans plusieurs disciplines. L’homoparentalité et la transparentalité remettent en question le modèle biologique et biparental (une mère et un père) dans lequel les parents ont procréé leurs enfants ou peuvent passer pour l’avoir fait, et sont au plus au nombre de deux. Au-delà des inquiétudes concernant le développement psychologique des enfants nés dans ces types de famille, auxquelles de nombreuses études en psychologie ont tenté d’apporter une réponse, les familles homoparentales et transparentales offrent de nouvelles possibilités de questionnements et réflexions – que ce soit en sociologie, anthropologie, en droit de la famille et de la filiation. En effet, ces familles rassemblent dans leur diversité des situations de désintrication de la conjugalité, la procréation, la filiation et la parenté. Cette désintrication, qui met à mal le modèle dans lequel les dimensions procréative (être né de), légale (être fils/fille de) et affective (être élevé par) sont confondues, est aujourd’hui présente également dans plusieurs autres configurations familiales, notamment les recompositions familiales, le recours à la procréation assistée avec tiers donneur ou l’adoption.

Cet article introductif sera l’occasion de rappeler ce qu’on entend par homoparentalité et transparentalité, et fera dialoguer autour des enjeux soulevés par ces thématiques des travaux issus de disciplines différentes. Une revue de la littérature rassemblera ensuite les travaux menés sur l’homoparentalité depuis les années 1990, selon trois approches principales : psychologique, socio-anthropologique et socio-juridique. Enfin, les travaux sur la transparentalité, moins nombreux et plus récents, seront regroupés dans une partie distincte. Cet article s’achèvera par une présentation des articles constituant ce numéro.

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Notes de l’auteur

Avec la collaboration de Marie-France Bureau, Professeure agrégée, Faculté de droit, Université de Sherbrooke,

The author expresses her heartfelt thanks to Laurence Charton and Delphine Lobet, respectively director and editing coordinator for the journal Enfances Familles Générations, for their close reading of the original draft and for their guidance.

Texte intégral

  • 1 LGBT stands for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans. The word “trans” is used to name the persons w (...)

1Since the early 2000s, the issues surrounding LGBT1 persons have featured prominently in francophone research on the family. Given the rapid development of social practices and changes in the legal arena, homoparentalité or gay and lesbian parenting and, more recently, trans parenting, have been fruitful research topics, seeming to crystallize many contemporary questions concerning parenthood. Indeed, they carry change, innovation, and the questioning of what used to appear self-evident in the alignment of the couple, biology, genealogy and child-rearing, and they have given visibility to the changes affecting kinship in that last few decades (Fine et Martial, 2010; Théry, 2010, 2013).

  • 2 Transition is either a masculinization if the person was assigned female at birth and wishes for a (...)
  • 3 For a recent example (2015), see the case of Sandrine Kermogant, a transgender woman denied custody (...)

2Indeed, same-sex families are predicated on the unbinding of kinship and procreation from sexuality. In same-sex parent families, children do not spring from the procreative sexuality of their parents. Unlike what happens in heterosexual families, which can involve adoption or a third party in order to procreate, same-sex parents cannot pass as having procreated their children. Trans families raise different questions, at least when the parents are of different sex, because they can conform to this procreative model and pass as having procreated their children. Trans parenting raises questions carrying rather on the possibility of remaining a parent after transitioning, maintaining participation in the care and education of children2. Indeed, trans persons have sometimes been denied contact with their children after their sex change3. On the other hand, the example of Thomas Beatie, “the pregnant man”, a trans man who kept his female reproductive organs and carried his three children, made big headlines in the U.S.A. Trans women can also have kept and frozen their own male gametes and use them to fertilize their female companion. In these cases, the meaning of the words father and mother become blurred, if they are not put into perspective by a personal account of the child’s origins.

3Gay and lesbian parenting, as well as trans parenting, have triggered and still trigger much debate and controversy, as much among experts as in public opinion and in the media. Some have voiced their worry concerning the outcome of the children raised in these types of parenting situations, but anxieties also follow the challenging of the biparental bioexclusive model of filiation (“one father, one mother, no one else”) by same-sex and trans parenting.

4In this issue of the international journal Enfances Familles Générations, we focus on these family arrangements less as research topics or as isolated social phenomena than as instances of the variability of family, pointing out contemporary issues surrounding parenthood. Is someone a mother when she has neither carried nor adopted the child? Is someone a father when he has neither a genetic nor an adoptive connection to the child? Can two parents be of the same sex? Can a child have more than two parents? Can one have been a mother and afterwards become a man? And likewise: can one have been a father and later become a woman? Are children who were carried by two different women brothers and sisters because the women are in a relationship?

5Now that it has been over a decade since certain countries moved away from prescriptive law regarding these issues (for example, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Quebec, the United-Kingdom, Norway, Sweden), while in others the debate in still heated (in particular in France, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland), it appears relevant to analyze the different narratives surrounding these reforms. This issue thus focuses on the analysis of public and media discourse on the legal changes relevant to the different ways in which one enters parenthood, research on the experience of same-sex families in their relationship to the institutions, as well as on how the issues facing gay, lesbian and trans parents relate to the broader questions raised by current phenomena such as multiple parenthood, the desire of certain children born from egg or sperm donation to have access to information on their biological origin, and gender dynamics in the family.

6In this introductory article we will reiterate what we mean by same-sex parenting/parenthood (in French, homoparentalité) and trans parenting/parenthood (in French, transparentalité) and create a conversation that connects different fields of research on these topics and the issues they raise. For exposition purposes, the body of research on same-sex families will be divided according to three main approaches: socio-legal, socio-anthropological and psychological. The studies on trans parenting/parenthood, which are fewer and more recent, will be reviewed in a separate section. There is considerable overlap between the sections; our primary focus being to take stock of the questionings and major contributions relevant to the study of same-sex families and trans parenthood, rather than to offer an exhaustive chronological review of the vast body of literature on these topics. The article ends with a presentation of the papers comprising this volume.

What do we mean by same-sex parenting (homoparentalité) and trans parenting?

7The word “homoparentalité” (in English: same-sex parenting/parenthood or same-sex families) is a neologism coined in 1997 by the French Association of gay and lesbian parents and future parents (APGL), to characterize families made of at least one homosexual parent and their child. Same-sex families refers to different family configurations in which parents that are of the same sex raise children that have been adopted or that were conceived either in a prior heterosexual union, through third-party donation, surrogacy or in a co-parenting arrangement – when a gay man and a lesbian woman conceive a child and raise her in their respective households.

Arrival of children in gay and lesbian families, by conception method and household type

Arrival by conception method

Lesbian household

Gay household





Prior heterosexual union















ART with third-party donor



Known donor








Combined (hetero union + other method)










Source : Enquête nationale FHP 2012 (Gross et al., 2014)

8For example, a study led in France en 2012 with 406 lesbian households and 143 gay households raising at least one child shows the different types of same-sex families represented as follows (see previous chart).

9Notwithstanding their usefulness in giving an overview of these situations as a whole, the terms homoparenté and homoparentalité were critiqued inasmuch as they seem to mean that same-sex families are special (Courduriès and Fine, 2014), whereas field research has shown they are not different from other families, as regards relationships within their kinship networks. Nevertheless, same-sex families do share the specific feature of defying the traditional exclusively bi- and bioparental model of filiation (“a father, a mother, no one else”). They lay bare the challenges that all the families in which the parents did not make their children together oppose to family law: who is a father? Who is a mother? What is a parent? The issues at stake are considerable, because the fictions constructed by way of the law, to uphold the predication of filiation on a procreative sexual union, are shaken when both parents are of the same sex or when there are more than two parents.

  • 4 “Circumstances of sex change at the civil registrar”, on, 28 feb. 2013, website v (...)
  • 5 http://www.ilga­ (...)

10In keeping with the French term “homoparentalité”, the term “transparentalité” refers to a family situation in which a parent has transitioned or is transitioning from one sex to an other (Ruspini 2010). Laurence Hérault prefers to use the expressions “transgender experience of parenthood” or “transgender parenthood”, to avoid characterizing said experience as a particular type of kinship (Hérault, 2014b). In France, changing one’s civil status (sex or name change on the birth certificate) is a legal process that is still based exclusively on jurisprudence, establishing an “irreversible quality of the change of appearance”4 as a sine qua non condition. This irreversibility is often understood as the inability to procreate with the reproductive organs one possessed before transitioning, in other words as sterilization. In Belgium, as in France, a trans person must accept to give up the ability to conceive children according to their previous sex. However, many European countries do not have such requirements: sterilization is not mandatory in Germany, in Austria, in Belarus, in Bulgaria, in Croatia, in Spain, in Estonia, in Hungary, in Island, in Moldavia, in Norway, in the Netherlands, in Portugal, in the United-Kingdom or in Slovenia5. In Quebec, Bill 35 adopted on December 6 2013 struck down the obligation. In the U.S.A., sterilization is not mandatory in every State, as shown by the masculine pregnancy of Thomas Beatie and those of other trans men before him.

Literature review

11Since the 1980s, there has been much research in the social sciences focusing on the transformation of family models, un-marriage (fr. démariage), the roles of different adults in children’s lives, and new reproductive technologies. The issues concerning parenthood and kinship engage sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists and doctors as much as legal experts, and make for a research object that is as complex as it is fascinating to scholars hailing from these different disciplinary fields. In the following review of literature we have chosen to organize the publications on same-sex families according to their disciplinary field – socio-juridical, socio-anthropological or psychological – creating a dialogue, when possible, between Anglophone and Francophone studies. Research on trans parenting, which is more recent and of which there is less, will be reviewed separately.

Socio-juridical approach

12Quebec’s Civil code was modified in 2002 by a law giving lesbian couples and single women access to (medically or not) assisted reproduction and the right to establish filiation with the child born of it. This legal reform sparked considerable debate in Quebecois academic circles, resonating in francophone Europe. Some francophone researchers defended the idea of a privatization of the family, allowing single women or lesbian couples access to parenthood without State intervention (Moore, 2002). They perceived the State’s mission as being defeated by individual choice, where it should have protected the institution of filiation (Nicolas-Maguin, 2000; Philips-Nootens et Lavalée, 2003).

13The recognition of same-sex families bore witness to the rise of egalitarian and individualistic values in the West, those values having caused changes within institutions, such as conjugality and filiation, that had up until then appeared immutable (Roy, 2006). In a logic owing much to Legendre’s concept of filiation (Legendre, 1985), the recognition of this type of family must have been, according to several researchers, the result of a legislative frenzy, a craze of transformations of the institutions of family (Roy, 2003). In this perspective, giving gays and lesbians access to parenthood was to fulfill the dubious desires and parental projects of adults. Some legal experts went so far as to say that children would be adversely affected by this reform of filiation (Pratte, 2003).

14It is quite clear that in Quebec, immediately following the 2002 reform, the dominant discourse was rather opposed to same-sex parent families and to surrogacy, in the name of formulaic expressions such as “the symbolic order”, “the necessary difference of sexes in the parental couple” or other justifications affording civil law the mission of upholding an anthropological order. In this sense, Quebec’s legal experts stuck to a certain French discourse that is loaded with a particular version of psychoanalysis and anthropology. A very insightful analysis of it is found in Camille Robcis’ (2012) book.

15Thus, until quite recently, research seems to have covered mostly the “shift” brought on by same-sex families in the “social construction of the family” (Ouellette, 2011) rather than their inner workings or the ways in which the rules of kinship should change to take into account the new realities of parenting and family when several adults share a parental project and may play a role in the children’s life. Indeed, the main challenge at this point is to rethink the bionormal family, which is no longer the universal model that the law once strived to enforce.

16Obviously, the recognition of gay and lesbian parenthood in several states has caused legal experts and sociologists to rethink the family, and has contributed to considering the issues surrounding multiple parenthood. However, a large part of francophone authors in the field of filiation are focusing less on acknowledging the fact that children can have more than two parents and more on restating a principle of hierarchy in filiation. These authors admit that several adults can act as parents in a child’s life, but they insist on the law upholding only one type of parenthood, that based on sexual reproduction (Moore, 2002). There would be on one hand biological origin: that which, represented by filiation, is the true measure of kinship and is supposed to give individuals their identity. On the other hand would be all the other forms of “material responsibility, care and attention” that could be otherwise taken into account (Herbrand, 2011). “Other types of material responsibility, care and attention”, that is how the French doctrine refers to those who exercise parental responsibilities but are not real parents, in the sense that they do not connect the child to a genealogical and familial order (Neirinck, 2001).

17Thus, in the context of francophone legal research, same-sex parenting was at first considered mainly as a symbol of a society focused on the rights of the individual. It was seen as an example of the changes that “subject the interest of the child to the right of the adults who wish for a child” (Roy, 2006:viii).

18As a matter of fact, same-sex families have, in the last 15 years, often been referred to as an example of the tendency towards confirming a new “right to a child” (Bettio, 2010). Assisted reproduction technologies (ARTs) and the possibilities they now offer in terms of the access to parenthood outside the bounds of heterosexual sexuality have been treated as a way of making the interest of the child conditional to the desire of the parents (Roy, 2006).

19This vision stands in contrast with the forwardness of Anglo-Saxon legal experts, who for over twenty years have been saying that lawmakers should develop mechanisms allowing for the recognition of diverse forms of kinship that are not covered by the exclusive framework of the conjugal couple. As of the 2000s, researchers were showing that families deriving from same-sex couples did indeed exist and that were becoming more common – without legal recognition of the phenomenon. Thus, these families made visible the misalignment between the diversity of forms of family and the way in which the law continued to attribute filiation on the assumption that it was biological, in a perspective where heterosexuality was presumed (Kelly, 2014). Others have stated, as early as the 1980’s, that upholding the exclusiveness of parenthood within the confines of the nuclear model of conjugality was not in the best interest of children nor of families, this model having been for the most part outmoded by social practices (Batlett, 1984). Female writers have also suggested the idea of a tripartite parent system for lesbian mothers (Gatos, 2001; Bernstein, 1996).

20The years 2000 were a watershed in the recognition of marriage between same-sex partners in several western states and this brought the question of the reform of filiation to the forefront in a very direct manner, as much in common law countries as in those where the laws are based on a civil code.

21In recent years, research has been focused more on changes in the socio-legal framework, on legislative change following constitutional norms regarding equity and non-discrimination, and on their impact in terms of conjugality and kinship. Despite these constitutional protections, legal experts have found that same-sex families are still confronted to legal difficulties, especially as regards the parents who have no biological relationship with the children. Thus, in Quebec, even though the civil union law of 2002 makes it legal for a child to have two mothers, in cases where the child was conceived with the help of a known donor and by means of a sexual relationship the non-biological mother must wait one year before being recognized as a mother by law (Kelly, 2011). This holds true in the entire European union, where most countries do not allow for a child to have two parents of the same sex (Borrillo, 2001).

22Legal experts have studied Canadian law and have determined that better protections should be set up for the families formed by lesbians and by single mothers. For example, there should be better protection of the kinship ties between non-biological mothers and their children in order to put an end to their current vulnerability, which could worsen if the anonymity of donors was abolished (Cameron et al., 2010).

23Within research in the field of law, very little is said of the access of gay fathers to kinship ties. In the European Union, since surrogacy contracts are prohibited in many states and have high costs in the countries where they are legal, a great number of gay fathers have turned to shared parenting, and a few to adoption (see chart above for the French example). Even if a few studies in the field of social work or in socio-anthropology have examined these questions (Mallon, 2004; Gratton, 2008; Lewin, 2009; Tarnovski, 2010; Fortin, 2011; Gross, 2012), one can only take note of the invisibility of gay fathers in the legal doctrine and jurisprudence (Dort, 2010).

24Legal research has thus concerned, first and foremost, those who could obtain recognition as parents and the legal obstacles they face when trying to. Many studies in the social sciences have examined the ways in which gay and lesbian couples negotiate their roles and their identities within their families. This empirical research raises the question of whether simple formal equality with heterosexual couples is really adapted to the needs of these families, which represent only one of the many forms of family variability and of the changes affecting contemporary kinship. The 2002 reform relative to filiation in Quebec recognizes two women as legal mothers, but limits the number of parents to two and does not impose any formality in the exchange of consents leading to a parental project. Yet, social practices do not confirm this lack of formality. Furthermore, despite the fact that empirical research does provide grounds for limiting the number of parents, configurations nonetheless exist involving more than two parents (Leckey, 2011a).

25The bioethical debate on new reproductive technologies contributes to reexamining what was once held to be self-evident as regards kinship. The questions raised by these new ways of procreating entail rethinking what “makes” maternity and paternity, what the foundations of the parental relationship are. Thus, with same-sex parenthood, the importance of intent in the making of parenthood is brought to the forefront, restating the fact that contemporary filiation is the result of the compounding of biology, intent and culture (Cadoret, 2007). In same-sex families, since parents cannot have procreated their children together, intent is particularly significant. Thus, same-sex families are always brought up when surrogacy is considered (Bureau and Guilhermont, 2011; Belaish-Allart, 2012; Brunet, 2012).

26Likewise, when touching upon new reproductive technologies, the question of opening their access to gays and lesbians inevitably surfaces, especially as regards the European countries in which this has not been done yet (Courduriès and Herbrand, 2014; Belaisch-Allart, 2014).

27In Quebec, there is a strong doctrinal movement in favor of the idea that knowledge of one’s origins is a fundamental right of “the children”, as opposed to the right “to a child” which has recently come under attack by legal experts. Beyond the well being of children, reference to the right to know one’s origin also reflects social anxieties regarding the access of gays and lesbian to parenthood, the end of the womb as the sole determinant of motherhood and the loss of the central position of the father in the family (Bureau et Guilhermont, 2014). This discourse has also been understood as a way of putting gender back into filiation by opening up a space for the biological parents, especially in families formed by a single woman or a lesbian couple (Pratt, 1993; Borrillo, 2015).

28The current debate on the right to know one’s origin in several European countries and in particular in France, as well as the abolishing of the anonymity of gamete donations in others (for example, Sweden and the United-Kingdom) force us to reconsider the system of gamete donation and the topic of the access of lesbians and single women to ART. The anonymity of gamete donation raises issues relative to one’s origin and to filiation, especially for the children born of a donation. Some authors have taken a stand in favor of abandoning the principle of anonymity (Théry, 2010; Théry et Leroyer, 2014; Spanzi et Brunet, 2015), while at the same time strictly distinguishing the procreating donors and the parents. Distinguishing origins and filiation in this way could break the perception that the “true” parents are biological. In this perspective, Théry and Leroyer (2014) have offered a new method for establishing filiation, based on commitment, when a child was conceived in the context of assisted reproduction with a third-party donor. Rather than building fictions to pretend that parents always procreate their children, doing away with the principle of anonymity would make it possible to establish a clear distinction between procreation and filiation (Gross, 2006).

Socio-anthropological approaches

Anglo-Saxon research

29As early as 1997, researchers noted that the focus on comparing the development of children raised by homosexual parents versus heterosexual parents set back other research that was less directly connected to public anxieties (Julien and Chartrand, 1997). Stacy and Biblarz’s (2001) meta-analysis showed that research had mostly kept to deconstructing preconceptions and had thus gained less than it could have from the study of the “social laboratory” that is same-sex parenting. Indeed, ceasing to focus on proving their normality allows the opening of many new lines of questioning, in particular regarding the inner workings of the family, the sharing of domestic and parental tasks, the experience of homophobia, the impact of invisibility on daily life and on relationships with institutions (such as school, doctors, etc.), the importance given to biological connections, the impact of an unequal legal status, the expressions of the desire to have children, lesbian maternity, gay paternity, etc.

30Psychologists have written much on the family, the quality of relationships and the socio-emotional development of children in same-sex families, but American sociologists have also made important contributions. They have worked on these topics but also on questions relevant to the ways these families face institutions such as school or family law, and the ways in which these institutions are in turn affected by same-sex families. Sociological research has also shed light on the strategies adults have adopted in order for the households they form with their children to be perceived as families. In their review of sociological literature, Moor and Stambolis (2013) focused, among other things, on the social perception of what makes a family and on the biological, social and legal obstacles met by the gays and lesbians who want to start one.

What makes a family

31Ideological debates on sexuality and the family place gays and lesbians at the center of wider discussions concerning family policy. Considerable ambivalence surrounds the normalization of homosexuality (Stein, 2005), especially as regards the marriage of same-sex couples and same-sex parenting. Powel and al. (2010) analyze two rounds of surveys conducted in 2003 and 2006 among a representative sample of Americans, touching on different topics relevant to the family, including their opinion on same-sex households. These surveys show that a large part of the American population is still ambivalent or opposed to including same-sex couples under the definition of family, because this would threaten the heterosexual family and traditional sexuality and gender norms. In addition, Bernstein and Reimann (2001) argue that by making themselves visible, same-sex parent families acquire the power to subvert mainstream perceptions regarding gender. For several authors, gays and lesbians can contribute to deconstructing traditionally held ideas on marriage and promote other family arrangements. They contend that having equal rights as the sole basis of the opening up of marriage to gays and lesbians will only serve to reinforce the conservatism of the institution of marriage (Folgero, 2008; Lehr, 1999; Oswald et al., 2009; Polikoff, 2008).

Representations of parenthood and kinship

32For sociologists and anthropologists it is particularly interesting to examine how gay and lesbian parents negotiate their identities as mothers or fathers. Scholars have explored this topic through studies of the representations of maternity and of paternity, the sharing of domestic and parental responsibilities, as well as relationships with the family and institutional environment (Agigian, 2004; Mamo, 2007).

33Most research has focused on lesbian maternity rather than gay paternity. Indeed, since it is easier for them to have children outside the bounds of heterosexual procreation, lesbian mothers are much more numerous than gay fathers. Agigian examines the progress made in the medical and legal fields, as regards the practice of insemination among lesbians and its impact on the formation of lesbian households. Mamo introduces the concept of affinity ties to describe how couples chose a donor who resembles the mother’s partner and her family, from a physical as well as religious and cultural standpoint. This helps build an imagined filiation as well as social legitimacy. In her 2007-2008 study Nordqvist (2012) shows that lesbians who conceive through sperm donation do not go up against mainstream perceptions of kinship but, rather, use a set of practices that connect lesbian families to the hegemonic discourse on family, thus making them “ordinary” families” (Finch, 2007). Indeed, they focus on biological connections, choosing a donor who looks like the non-biological mother, and sometimes change their surnames so that all the family members have the same name. Thus, the account given by Nordqvist differs from that given ten years earlier by Weeks et al. (2001), for whom households headed by lesbians portended a new type of family, creative, renewed and defying traditional ideas of family (Nordqvist, 2012).

34Nordqvist compared the pathways of women who used anonymous donation and those who used a known donor. The couples who use a known donor face the risk that he will recognize the child and obtain parental rights. They must make sure he shares their views on his future responsibilities and keeps to the agreement, in particular as regards not appearing on the birth certificate, so that the non-biological mother may adopt the child. He must also accept medical screening for transmittable pathologies, and the women must be certain that he does not have multiple partners. As a consequence, the relationship with the donor is ambiguous, containing both trust and distance. Those who turn to an anonymous donor mention choice, especially as regards the possibilities of matching one’s physical traits, whereas those who turn to a known donor refer to their trust-based relationship. In that case, physical matching is less important. The narratives of lesbian couples also indicate how they “deal with sperm”. They suggest that medically assisted reproduction with an anonymous donor and self-arranged conception open different discursive possibilities of “purifying” (in Mary Douglas’ terms) the “dirt” of sperm and the social anxieties connected to sperm donations. Medically assisted procreation offers a context in which the polluting potentialities of sperm are managed and maybe even neutralized, as well as a set of intermediary rituals that reestablish the physical and social boundaries of the lesbian couple. Thus, the medical context holds more than the practical and legal aspects of sperm donor conception, it also protects intimate, sexual and body boundaries. Procreation with a known donor, by contrast, appears more “dangerous” and is perceived, by those undertaking it, as less legitimate. Indeed, the author shows us how a moral dichotomy opposing dirty/clean and right/wrong is associated with the distinction between anonymous and known donor (Nordqvist, 2011).

  • 6 Meaning that the biological connection is stronger than any other.

35Even though there is still a limited amount of literature on gay paternity, the last fifteen years saw a surge in the number of studies (Goldberg, 2012; Lewin, 2009; Mallon, 2004; Berkowitz and Masiglio, 2007). In most of these studies, surrogacy appears as the least common way of gaining access to fatherhood, because of its costliness and, sometimes, because of its prohibition. As regards same-sex parent families, those in which the children were born of surrogacy to a gay household are those that are the most different from the traditional model of family. They deviate from this model not only because of the parents’ sexual orientation but also because of their gender and of the way in which the children were conceived, involving surrogacy and, in most cases, egg donation. In the accounts given by gay fathers who used surrogacy, these children may have two fathers, one social and one genetic, and two “mothers”, one gestational and the other genetic, but no mother in daily life. Those who chose surrogacy have to decide whether or not to involve the gestational carrier in their family life. Couples of men who decide to become fathers are often asked about choosing which one will be the biological father. The desire to have a child to whom one is connected biologically is no less common among same-sex couples as it is among heterosexual couples. David Schneider (1968) has shown it well: in our western societies “blood is thicker than water” as the basis of kinship6. In a study of 37 gay couples in Canada, three quarters had used both partners’ semen to fertilize the eggs and one of each man’s embryos were transferred to the gestational carrier’s uterus, thus leaving each one a possibility of being a biological father (Grover et al., 2013). The same trend has been noted among gay fathers interviewed in France (Gross, 2012). On the contrary, in a study led in the United-States, 80% had chosen one of the two partners, either because he was older, because he expressed a stronger desire to become a biological father, or because he seemed to have better genes (Greenfeld and Seli, 2011). Regarding donor anonymity, a majority had chosen an anonymous donor who accepted to be contacted by the child after the age of 18 (Grover et al., 2013). Without being able to establish statistics, qualitative research led among those who used surrogacy in the Unites-States shows that they usually keep contact with the gestational carriers (who, as a matter of fact, are never anonymous), whereas relations with egg donors are more tenuous (Golombok, 2015; Gross, 2012). Gay couples sometimes choose surrogacy so that one of the men will have a biological connection with the child. However, much as among couples who choose adoption, their motivation is also often to be the only legal and de facto parents of their children (Goldberg et al., 2012).

Family dynamics in LGBT households

36Researchers in the social sciences show great interest in the relationships of children and parents with their family environment and their friends. Oswald (2002) has examined the relations of gay and lesbian couples with their own families and the ways in which they use rituals such as ceremonies formalizing their union to ease or enrich their interactions with them. Same-sex couples use strategies to legitimize their relationship as well as different redefinitions to gain acceptance of their household.

37As regards the quality of relationships in same-sex couples, the literature suggests that heterosexual relationships and same-sex ones are affected differently by the risk factors for relationship breakdown. In his study comparing longitudinal data on heterosexual couples (married and not married) and cohabiting same-sex couples, Kurdek (2008) finds a similar relationship dynamic. Predictors of stability and of relationship quality in heterosexual couples, such as personality traits, conflict resolution and social support also work for same-sex couples (Kurdek, 2008). Peplau and Fingerhut have shown that legal institutions, such as marriage or a recognized union, the presence of children and an interdependent organization of finances are factors that diminish the risk of separation, while the absence of social support, financial hardship and discrimination raise it. Consequently, cohabiting same-sex couples have a higher rate of breakup than married heterosexual couples (Peplau and Fingerhut, 2007). However, it appears that marriage and its legal consequences equally raise the longevity of relationships among same–sex and heterosexual couples (Rosenfeld, 2012). Same-sex couples, even when they are married, proportionately have children less often than heterosexual couples (Simons and O’Connel, 2003). Proof has been given that having children is a factor of stability among heterosexual couples (Manning, 2004). A study led in Norway shows that the divorce rate of same-sex couples is higher than that of different-sex couples and that lesbian couples divorce more often than gay couples. However, having children lowers the risk of divorce among lesbian couples, while gay couples raising children have a higher tendency towards divorce than those who are childless (Aarskaug Wilk, Seierstad and Noak, 2014).

38Several ethnographic studies have contributed to legitimizing same-sex families by making them visible, thus contributing to them being recognized. As early as 1990, Ellen Lewin addressed the topic of lesbian maternity and showed that lesbians are “good enough” mothers (Lewin, 1990). Her study of gay paternity insists on the normalizing logic underlying gay fathers’ assertion that they want to contribute to society and wish to start a completely “ordinary” family (Lewin, 2009). Christopher Carrington (1999) offers a close examination of the minutia of daily life in same-sex couples with and without children and shows that, in those families, gender reappears under different guises. Mignon Moore’s (2008) study focuses on black lesbian mothers; this author shows that the greater responsibilities of the biological mother lend her greater authority in other aspects of domestic life, including finances, even when she earns less than her partner. Apart from the impact of gender and male prerogatives or the advantages connected to higher earnings, these families associate domestic responsibilities with greater power in the relationship.

Francophone research

39In France as of 1997 there had been no publications on homosexual parents and their children. Since then, scholars have gotten to work, encouraged by the intense mobilization of the French Association of gay and lesbian parents (APGL), which worked hard to encourage academic research into same-sex families (Gross, 2007).

40In France, research in the social sciences kicked off in the late 1990s, with work by Didier Le Gall and Anne Cadoret, who are respectively a sociologist and an anthropologist, each one striving to make same-sex families visible within the diversity of contemporary family arrangements. The former focused on multiple parenting and lesboparental family rearrangements (Le Gall, 2001), while the later described the many faces of same-sex parenting (Cadoret, 2000) and published one of the very first books on the subject (Cadoret, 2002). Three dissertations were of particular importance in the social sciences in the years 2000: the one written by Descoutures (2010) on lesbian mothers, and those written by Emmanuel Gratton (2008) and Flavio Tarnovski (2010) on gay paternity. Virginie Descoutures has shown that even outside the bounds of heterosexual procreation, lesbian mothers are subject to heteronormativity, in particular as regards the experience and the perceptions expressed by the non-legal mothers. Indeed, they suffer from this absence of a status and the reminder that they are, as mothers, non-existent. In blended families as well as in same-sex families, the non-legal parents have ne legal existence. Ansermet et al. (2014) have noted that in Switzerland, even when social workers are aware of the distinct characteristics of these “special” parents, they dismiss them as soon as family matters take a legal turn.

41Annie Leblond de Brumath et al. (2006) studied the factors affecting decisions as to the choice of a biological mother and a method for procreation in Quebec. Content analysis of interviews shows that future biological mothers are more likely than future co-mothers to recall childhood imaginings of having a family and games relating to maternity. They are also more likely to wish to experience childbirth as adults. Results also show that, even while wishing for equal parental responsibilities they imagine distinct parental duties that stress the importance of the biological connection with the child. As regards the choice of a method of conception, this study suggests that the bill establishing civil unions and new filiation rules in Quebec had considerable effects on the decisions made by lesbian couples.

42Following a series of three studies led in 1997, 2001 and 2005 among members of the APGL in France, Martine Gross noted that as of the late 1990s, the parental projects of lesbians appear within a relationship and that the greater part used assisted reproductive technologies. She also noted an evolution in the terms of address used in lesboparental families to name the non-legal mother. Whereas “mommy” (in French: maman) or “mommy followed by the name” was never used in 1997, it was used in 17% of the cases in 2005. In these couples the women are now more likely to consider that they are both mothers (Gross, 2008).

43Isabel Côté (2012) analyzed the motivators for conceiving children with a known sperm donor among Quebec’s lesbian mothers, and those that led the donors to participate in the lesbian parental project. This author determined that the value placed on both shared biogenetical connections in the creation of family ties and the presence of the father were important motivators for lesbian couples and their donors. Narratives concerning the importance of knowing one's biological origin and the value of paternity have an impact on the thought process guiding the choice to conceive with a known donor. For some donors, donation was connected to needs such as fulfilling a desire for fatherhood without parental responsibilities, producing offspring, and being someone special for a child. For others, fulfillment was connected to the belief that they were making an altruistic gesture and thus changing a couple’s life.

44In the years 2000, most gay men who wanted to start a family resorted to co-parenting (Gratton, 2008). Their projects were for the most part individual. In a study on gay co-parents in Belgium, the desire for a genetic connection to the child was cited as the main reason for choosing co-parenting as the means to becoming a father (Herbrand, 2008). These fathers wanted their children to be raised by their biological parents, the only ones to be called mom (in French, maman) and dad (in French, papa), even when the mother and the father had partners. These findings confirm those made by Martine Gross (2012) on gay fatherhood. Flavio Tarnovki (2012) also focused on co-parenting projects, showing that besides wanting to give the child both a father and a mother, either to reproduce a certain model of family normality or as a reaction to the public debate on same-sex parenting, alternating custody is also considered by some fathers to be a positive aspect of co-parenting. Not all gay fathers wish to completely break away from the model of maternal predominance. Drawing on his investigation, the author also analyses the social contexts in which the desire for a child appears and the issues connected to the making of a parental project.

45Lately, gay men have been making parental projects as couples, with the desire to raise their children full time. They have been more likely to use surrogacy when they can afford it and choose to both be called papa or to be called papa and daddy (Gross, 2014b). The analysis of their discourse on the gestational carrier and/or the egg donor brings up new questions regarding the definitions of maternity (Gross, 2012; Gross et Mehl, 2011).

46Recently, anthropologists have been focusing on the relations of same-sex parents with their kin, not only their own parents but also their aunts and uncles, their cousins, etc., including their children in genealogies that are no different from any other (Courduriès et Fine, 2014); Gross, 2009b, 2014a; Herbrand, 2014; Julien et al., 2005). A quantitative and qualitative investigation conducted in 2012 with 406 women and 143 men living in a same-sex couple and raising at least one child or expecting a child showed that the joining of material resources and conjugal solidarity are correlated to greater closeness of the couples with each of their families. Thus, connections appear between the chosen circumstances of the conjugal arrangement and the way in which relations are built and maintained with the extended family (Gross and Courduriès, 2014). Beyond the surprise and indignation caused by the parenting practices of persons in sexual minorities, these topics now appear in a body of research that has them considered as more general issues in the field of kinship, rather than isolated and particular phenomena. Leaving controversies behind, the anthropologists brought together in Courduriès and Fine’s publication explore what homosexuality does to kinship and answer, among others, the question of whether the legal changes allowing same-sex marriage are a revolution in the French kinship system (Courduriès and Fine, 2014). With this in mind, future research should contribute to rethinking the ways in which the legal and social sciences address the family, for same-sex families to be considered as research objects not per se but inasmuch as they are one of many new issues relative to family and its new forms.

Psychological approach

Anglo-Saxon publications

47The earliest empirical studies of homosexual parents and their children go back to the 1970s and are for the most part American. Between 1972 and 2004, over 440 scientific articles on the subject were published (Vecho and Schneider, 2005). Early studies focused on the concern voiced by judges or social workers having to decide whether or not to give custody of a child to a homosexual parent, in particular in the context of the parents’ separation, when the child had been born before the unmaking of a heterosexual relationship. At the time, conflicts surrounding divorce always saw custody awarded to the mother, unless she was physically or mentally ill. But when the mother was a lesbian, custody was always awarded to the father, following the argument that it would not be in the interest of the child to be raised by a lesbian mother (Rivers, 2010). Without any empirical data on the future development of children raised by lesbian mothers, judges gave custody to the fathers, who in the mean time had often found a new partner and offered the children a traditional family, a situation that was preferred to that of the lesbian family.

48As regards homosexual adults, these studies concerned their mental health and their parenting abilities. Indeed, courts of law considered that gays and lesbians did not have a close enough relationship with their children, that lesbians were less maternal than heterosexual women or even that homosexuality was a disease. As for the children raised by homosexuals, several fears were voiced. The first was that the children would be rejected by their peers or that they would be mocked. The second was that these children would be confused as to their sexual identity or be more likely to become homosexual themselves, something that judges considered to be an especially negative consequence –it must be remembered that up until 1981 the World health organization considered homosexuality as a disease. Judges were worried by other aspects of the personal development of these children: they thought they would be more likely to display signs of mental illness and coping difficulties, and have more fragile mental health than children raised in heterosexual families. One last common fear was that these children would be more exposed than others to sexual abuse by their parents or their parents’ friends. Thus, most studies focused on the sexual identity, emotional development and social relations of these children with peers and adults.

49The hundreds of studies all came to show no fundamental difference between the children raised in a household with parents of different sex and those raised by same-sex parents. According to Patterson (2005), not one single child raised in a same-sex family and having been part of a study (over 300 children) showed any gender identity disorders or gender-role behavior difficulties. Several studies have shown that the children raised in same-sex families are no more likely than others to suffer psychiatric conditions nor emotional or behavioral difficulties (Bos et al., 2007 ; Golombok et al., 1983 ; Kirkpatrick et al., 1981 ; Lick et al., 2013 ; Shechner et al., 2013; Wainright et al., 2004). Finally, as regards sexual orientation, numerous studies have disproved the prejudice according to which the sexual orientation of children is dependent on that of the parents (Bailey et al., 1995 ; Bos et al., 2012 ; Golombok and Tasker, 1996 ; MacCallum and Golombok, 2004). The findings of these different studies show that the young adults raised by lesbian mothers are in good mental health, do not define themselves as homosexual, but are more open than other to “experimenting” with a person of the same sex. However, a study published in 2010 does state that the daughters of lesbian mothers have a higher likelihood of living a homosexual experience (Gartrell et al., 2010).

50Despite the rise in different family arrangement, it is often assumed that deviating from the two-parent heterosexual norm jeopardized the psychological well being of the children (Vecho and Schneider, 2015). Suzan Golombock, in her recent review of the literature (2015), shows how the structure of a family is of much less importance than support from the relatives, family dynamics and the quality of relations between parents and children and between the parents themselves.

51As regards peer relations, the adolescents that were raised by lesbian mothers are not different from those who have heterosexual parents, whether in terms of the quality of their relationships, the number of male or female friends, or the presence of a best friend (Wainright and Patterson, 2006). In the longitudinal study led in the United-States with lesbian mothers and their children (Gartrell et al., 2005), 43% of the children interviewed at the age of 10 had experienced homophobia and had been distressed by it. At the age of 17, the adolescents were asked about their day-to-day life (Gartrell et al., 2012). In general, they had good results in school, had a social network and long-time close friends. Most were comfortable with inviting their friends to their house and telling them about their mother’s sexual orientation. Nonetheless, half of them had been confronted with negative reactions in school concerning their same-sex parents (van Gelderen et al., 2012).

52The specifics of adoption within same-sex families has of yet received little attention but a review of the 18 articles published between 2003 and 2014 on the development of children adopted into same-sex families confirms the results of earlier data regarding the development of children raised in same-sex parenting contexts (Schneider and Vecho, 2015).

53Research on the psychological development and the well being of children raised by same-sex parents has almost entirely focused on lesbian households, and very little on gay ones. However, many studies have shown that fathers and mothers influence their children in similar ways. According to these studies affection, attention and sensitivity, which are shared by fathers and mothers, are what matter most for the psychological well being of children (Lamb, 2010). Furthermore, the quality of the relationship between a father and his child is more important that the father’s behaving “masculine” (Pleck, 2010). Regarding the development of gender identity, it has been suggested that the children of gay fathers may differ from the children of lesbian mothers because of the absence of a mother. Golberg et al. (2012) started with the hypothesis that the children of gay fathers, especially the girls, may display a less gendered behavior that the children of heterosexual parents due to the absence of a female role model, but they concluded that that is not the case.

54One often hears that adoption by gay fathers could further complicate an already potentially difficult situation. Do the children adopted by gay fathers suffer more problems than those that were adopted by lesbian mothers or by heterosexual parents? A study has shown that the problems of children who were adopted by heterosexual parents, lesbian mothers or gay fathers did not depend on the sexual orientation of the parents (Averett et al., 2009). Several studies involving samples of adoptive parents without setting apart the lesbian mothers and gay fathers, using self-administered questionnaires, describe positive family functioning and children showing positive psychological adjustment (Erich et al., 2009 ; Erich et al., 2005 ; Leung et al., 2005). A study on gay and lesbian adoptive parents showed high levels of social support and appropriate parenting skills (Ryan, 2007; Ryan and Cash, 2004).

55The first study on the development of children in a systematic sample of adoptive gay families was implemented in the United-States in 2010 (Farr et al., 2010). It found no difference between children as regards emotional problems or behavior as perceived by teachers and parents. Another study on adoptive same-sex families was implemented in the United-Kingdom (Golombok et al., 2014): 41 gay families, 40 lesbian families and 49 heterosexual families were recruited via adoption agencies. Each family had welcomed children between the ages of three and nine, for at least one full year. The only significant differences that were identified were those that appeared between gay households and heterosexual households: gay fathers showed lower stress and depression levels than heterosexual parents. They were also more loving and had higher levels of interaction with their children than did heterosexual parents.

56Criticism has been voiced concerning the studies on gay and lesbians and their children, bearing most frequently on the size of the samples, which for the most part are of less than a hundred people. Furthermore, we cannot consider these samples to be statistically representative of same-sex parents, because such a population is difficult, if not impossible, to define clearly. Scholars thus turn to “convenience samples” of voluntary participants, a practice that is considered to introduce bias. The overrepresentation of middle class, highly educated people is also frequently criticized. It is hard to tell if this overrepresentation indicates that only those who possess higher means and enough cultural capital allow themselves to start same-sex families, or if it is due to the fact that they make up the majority of participants in sociological investigations, a known bias of quantitative research. One method for adjusting for selection bias is to combine the results of comparable studies in a meta-analysis: this raises their statistical strength and facilitates the identification of any significant effects. Thus, Crowl et al.’s (2008) meta-analysis, based on 19 studies involving 564 same-sex families (mostly lesbian) and 641 different-sex families, focused on the children’s gender identity, gender behavior, sexual orientation, cognitive function and psychological adjustment, and on parent-child relationship quality. No difference appeared between the children based on family structure, but parent-child relationship quality was better in same-sex families. Other meta-analyses (Fedewa et al., 2014) yielded similar results. This brought Golombok (2015) to the conclusion that the fact that data does not indicate psychological difficulties among the children cannot be due to statistical bias.

57One last critique concerns the collapsing of many different same-sex parenting situations (adoption, ART with a third-party donor, co-parenting, surrogacy, previous heterosexual parenting) into one and only category for comparison with heterosexual parenting situations. However, as of the 2000s, studies have avoided this bias (Vecho and Schneider, 2005). Another objection concerns the absence of an analysis of the “absence of difference”. Stacy and Biblarz (2001) attribute this consensus to the heterosexist circumstances in which these studies take place, where the slightest difference may be exploited by those opposed to same-sex families. According to these authors, there nevertheless are differences –small, but interesting– between the children of same-sex and heterosexual parents, for example the fact that the former develop a less stereotypical range of masculine and feminine gender roles or that homosexual relations do not seem unacceptable to them.

58Authors that are opposed to same-sex families have focused on the biases found in existing studies, to discredit them (Cameron et al, 1996; Wardle, 1997; Regnerus, 2012). The same level of scientific rigor should however be required of studies that show that the children of homosexual couples do less well than others. Few such studies exist, the most widely cited one being Regnerus (2012). According to this study, compared to the children raised by their married biological parents, those raised by homosexual parents would be more likely to benefit from social welfare and less likely to hold a full time job. However, Vecho and Schnieider have pointed out biases that are far greater than those that can be found in studies that prove the harmlessness of same-sex parenting (Vecho and Schneider, 2015). The participants designated as the children of same-sex families are actually individuals who have declared that between their birth and 18 years of age at least one of their parents had a romantic relationship of at least 4 months with a person of the same sex. Furthermore, these groups of children improperly called the children of lesbian mothers and of gay fathers are dissimilar as regards the ways in which their families were formed. Finally, only 23% of the children said to be of lesbian mothers lived at least 3 years in such a situation, which amounts to about 40 people. This proportion is of 2% in the “group of children of gay fathers”, bringing down the total population to one unique individual. Consequently, Regnerus’s study does not offer the grounds to challenge studies of same-sex parenting on the basis of the small size of their samples.

Quebec and France studies

59In Quebec, different studies have yielded the same results as comparable investigations in the Anglo-Saxon world (Dubé and Julien, 2000 ; Lavoie et al., 2006 ; Leblond de Brumath and Julien, 2001; Vyncke, 2009). Danielle Julien is one of the most prolific authors writing on the development of children in same-sex families. She published research comparing the development of children of homosexual parents and heterosexual parents as early as 1993 (Julien et al., 1994). Not only has she offered an overview of the existing empirical research on the subject (Dubé and Julien, 2000; Julien, 2003), she has also focused on many topics that shed light on different aspects of the dynamics of same-sex parent families: support from the family of origin (Vyncke and Julien, 2005), relationships between children and grand-children in same-sex families (Julien et al., 2005 ; Julien and Vyncke 2005), deciding factors regarding which partner will carry the child (Leblond de Brumath et al., 2006), conjugality and same-sex parenting (Julien et al., 2007; Ryan and Julien, 2007), and the effect of homophobia on teenagers raised by lesbian mothers (Vyncke et al., 2014).

60In France, no scientific work on gay lesbian parents and their children was published before the year 2000. In the field of psychology, few empirical studies have been published in France. The research led by the child psychiatrist Stéphane Nadaud closely resembles Anglo-Saxon studies. It is the first French study to have implemented a scientific protocol taken from developmental psychology. The subjects, 58 children aged 6 to 16 years, were recruited via a network of associations. Three questionnaires were submitted to the parents: the Children Behaviour Checklist (CBCL) that yields behavioral and psychopathological profiles; the EAS (Emotionality, Activity, Sociability) used to determine the child’s temperament; and a third tool that evaluates the child’s capacity to adjust when faced with difficulties. The results are comparable to those obtained with children raised in different-sex parent families (Nadaud, 2002). Olivier Vecho’s work on the socio-affective development of same-sex family children is noteworthy (Vecho, 2005; Vecho et Schneider, 2005 ; Vecho et al., 2006 ; Zaouche-Gaudron et Vecho, 2005). The results obtained by Stéphane Nadaud and Olivier Vecho confirm earlier studies: the psychological profiles of these children show no fundamental difference with those of the general population.

61In France, developmental psychology has had less impact than clinical psychology or psychoanalysis, both of which are an important part of the training of psychologists, psychotherapists and doctors. Some of the psychoanalysts that appear in the media express normative opinions regarding same-sex families, and object to developmental psychology, criticizing its methodology. In the context of the debates surrounding the opening up of marriage to same-sex couples in 2012 and 2013, they tried to warn politicians of the supposed dangers inherent to legalizing the adoption of a child by a same-sex couple or to making ART available to couples formed by two women (Berger, 2014; Flavigny, 2005; Lévy-Soussan, 2002; Winter, 2010). Taking stock of the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Maurice Berger’s criticism of studies on same-sex families, Vecho and Schneider answered point by point in a highly documented article, displaying the weaknesses of his line of argument (Berger, 2014; Vecho and Schneider, 2015).

62Claiming to speak in the name of their discipline, some psychoanalysts made ominous predictions as to the future of children raised in same-sex families. However, hostility towards any type of legalization of same-sex parenting is not unanimous among psychoanalysts and some have criticized such prescriptive discourses (Hefez, 2010 ; Prokhoris, 2000 ; Roudinesco, 2002; Tort, 1999). According to Geneviève Delaisi De Parceval, it is impossible de predict anything, given the extreme adaptability of the human psyche. Being a homosexual is not an obstacle to being an acceptable parent. According to her, we must distance ourselves from the perception that the heteroparental nuclear family is a normal family and that filiation is necessarily determined by the heterosexuality of the procreating couple (Delaisi de Parseval, 2008). A growing number of clinical psychologists have started revising Freudian theory in light of new forms of parenthood; some of them are involved in clinical research with same-sex families, exploring how they work as well as the psychological development of their children (Ducousso-Lacaze, 2006, 2008, 2014 ; Ducousso-Lacaze et Grihom, 2009, 2010 ; Feld-Elzon, 2010 ; Heenen-Wolff, 2010 ; Hefez, 2005, 2012 ; Naziri, 2010). Studies led in Europe, in North America and in Anglo-Saxon countries in general have paved the way for new research, that is no longer focused on disproving prejudice, but rather on same-sex families as study objects that could shed light on contemporary transformations of the family. There have been publications on a great many topics: the transmission of religious identity (Gross, 2004); intergenerational relations (Gross, 2009a, 2014a; Julien et al., 2005; Julien et al., 2006); terms of address between children and parents (Gross, 2008, 2014b); gay paternity (Gross, 2012; L’Archevèque et Julien, 2013; Tarnovski, 2010); the importance of biological connections and heteronormative perceptions (Ciano-Boyce and Shelley-Sireci, 2002; Dalton and Bielby, 2000; Descoutures, 2010; Gratton, 2008), and the sharing of domestic and educative tasks in a household where gender does not come into play to predefine the division of responsibilities (Patterson et al., 2004; Vecho et al., 2011).

Transparentalité or trans parenting/parenthood

  • 7 A cisgender person perceives his/her gender in a way that aligns with that assigned to him/her at b (...)

63Transgender parenthood is not limited to the publicized examples of male pregnancy. Many trans men gave birth to their children, whether it be before their transition, in the context of a union with a cisgender7 partner, or after their transition, through ARTs. Many wish to become parents and do, with or without the help of these technologies. Transgender parenting makes us enter a world in which men get pregnant and give birth to their children, where women conceive with their sperm, where women are fathers and men are mothers. These different subjects are troubling and they raise scandalized reactions that are reminiscent of those raised by mentioning same-sex families in the 1980s. That it because these, just like transgender experiences of parenthood, bring into question the foundations of filiation. Laurence Hérault (2014) has highlighted the fact that, unlike for same-sex families, the familial and parental ties of transgender persons have until now raised little interest among scholars. Starting in the mid-20th century, psychologists and psychiatrists worked in an etiological perspective, analyzing relations established in childhood with both parents in order to understand “gender dysphoria” (Stoller, 1985). Attention later turned to the family environment, to help parents deal with their child’s transition when it was experienced as a major difficulty. The different stages parents went through, starting with the announcement and leading to their acceptance of the situation, have been described by several authors (Emerson et Rosenfeld, 1996 ; Lesser, 1999 ; Wren, 2002 ; Zamboni, 2006). The relations between transgender persons and their children, on the other hand, have been the subject of very few studies in psychology. In a study that goes quite far back Green (1978) studied 34 children of tran persons having stayed in contact with said parents, concluding in the absence of negative influence of parental transexualism on the psycho-sexual development of children nor on their gender identity. A more recent study has shown that children adjust well to their transexualism or to that of a parent especially when they are still young (White and Ettner, 2007). More recently, Petra de Sutter pointed out that, such as had been the case in the discussion surrounding the access of homosexual person to ART, the question underlying these studies is that of whether or not trans persons can be good parents and not have a negative impact on the sexual development and gender identity of the child to be (Baetens et al., 2003; De Sutter, 2003). The results of these studies are identical to the ones on the children of lesbian mothers: the development of these children is not really different from that of other children. More recently, a few scholars have focused on the parental experiences of transgender persons, and in particular the way in which they act as parents (Hérault, 2011; Hines, 2007; Ryan, 2009). Hines has showed the importance of taking trans parenting into consideration and how parents negotiate their transition with their children. A study led between 2000 and 2010 among 22 couples in which the men were transsexuals and had contacted the Centers for the conservation of eggs and sperm (CECOS) requesting a sperm donation, and with 33 children from ages 2 to 11 has shown that the men are clearly fathers for their children and that these do not display any problems in their psychomotor or cognitive development (Chiland et al., 2013). The edited volume directed by Laurence Hérault (2014b) focuses on the crucial topic of procreation and engendering by transgender persons and the troubles caused by the pregnancy of a man or the use of her own sperm by a woman. Even if these works, just like those on same-sex families, confirm the idea that “trans parenthood” can help understand the changes and the rearrangements of filiation and parenthood in contemporary societies, mainstream reactions are mostly of a kind of “monsterization”. The analysis of social commentary (Fraïssé, 2014; Hérault, 2014b) shows that what appears to be unbearable is the threat of an abolition of the gender-related dimension of human existence: “on the one hand a usurping that assimilates and on the other a demiurgic autonomy, the opposite of what makes us human” (Hérault, 2014a: 80).

64As emphasized by Desmons (2014), trans parenthood is a sociopolitical question that goes way beyond the trans population, because it bears on what defines one’s identity: “Through the psychiatrization of trans identity it is identity itself that officially becomes the object of psychiatry” (Espineira, 2011: 280). The unease caused by masculine pregnancy exposes our essentialist and dualist vision of gender identity. Laurence Hérault (2014a) shows that this view is not inescapable, on that condition that we change our perspective and take a person’s narrative and relational identity into account.

65In addition, Alain Giami (2014) has shown that there is much that is still unknown regarding the diversity of the trans population itself. Few studies in sociology or in public health have examined the plurality of gender identifications or the diversity of transition pathways. Based on a study led in France with 381 trans persons (96 men assigned the female sex at birth and 281 women assigned the masculine sex at birth), Alain Giami gives some information on the incidence of procreation among trans persons living in France, as well as on the social and demographic factors affecting it: the MtF (Male to Female) and the FtM (Female to Male) have different experiences of procreation. While the MtF that were polled had already had a child at the time of the study, only 8.6% of the FtM declared having had that experience. This was highly age-dependant: in both cases, the majority of those who had had a child were over fifty years of age. In both cases, the later one began the transition process, the higher the likelihood of having a child. The experience of fatherhood/motherhood seems to precede the transition process. For MtF persons, the fact of having gone through with a heterosexual family project seems to be a precondition of engaging in the transition process. The situation appears to be different in the case of FtM, who appear to engage in the transition process at a younger age, before becoming parents. Asked about their possible parent project, 10% of the FtM wished to have a child, while 4% of MtF wished to. This wish to have children concerns the persons who did not undergo surgery of the genital organs, which in France, is a legal obligation in order to obtain a change of civil status. However, the desire to adopt a child is not associated with the fact of having been operated, 20% of MtF and FtM wishing to adopt a child. Alain Giami ends with the observation that keeping their reproductive capacities opens novel questions on parenthood and kinship: for example, the “gestation carrier” could thus be the father.

66Pierre Jouannet (2014) of Paris’ Cochin hospital CECOS, who is responsible for the interviews previous to starting third-party donor medically assisted reproduction with FtM persons, notes that they are completely open to giving the children information concerning the way they were conceived, and that this seems less problematic for men who have changed sex that it does for men who are infertile. However, speaking of transexualism seems more difficult, due in particular to fact that these men often wish to conceal their previous life (Jouannet, 2014).

This issue of Enfances Familles Générations

67The articles in this issue focus on topics relevant to current issues concerning all contemporary families. Same-sex parenting and trans parenting illustrate the complexity of kinship ties in contemporary families, which may rest on the sharing of biogenetic substances and/or the building of relationships. As highlighted by Chantal Collard and Françoise Zonabend (2015), many studies in anthropology have debated the relative importance of biological and cultural determinisms regarding gender. Some go so far as to defend the idea that the natural facts of procreation are cultural constructs, that they cannot be considered to be a natural given in the study of kinship and gender. Some anthropologists however, such as Françoise Héritier, still contend that there are inevitable biological facts, which all kinship systems must deal with: sex, age and generation. These biological stoppers create differences and asymmetries. Nonetheless, if it is always and everywhere necessary, for a child to be conceived, to have access to the gametes of a man and those of a woman, with trans parenthood women are not always the ones to give birth.

68Scientific advances in the field of reproduction have shaken our ways of understanding filiation, whether the topic at hand be the determination an up-to-then uncertain paternity through DNA, the freezing of gametes, or embryos that open possibilities in terms of the “blurring” of filiation, with the possibility of dividing maternity into three parts: gestational maternity, genetic maternity and intentional maternity. The use of these techniques defies our exclusive filiation model, where the norm is to have only one father and one mother. Indeed, this norm does not easily allow for adoption and new reproductive technologies, which involve a greater number of actors: gamete donors, birth parents, gestational carriers or partners of same-sex parents. In France, upholding an exclusive filiation model has led to tying maternity to the act of giving birth and to ignore its other aspects. The children born abroad in the context of surrogacy pay the consequences of this. France refuses to recognize them and to transcribe their foreign birth certificate, in particular the filial relationship between the child and the intentional mother or the biological father’s partner. Marriage between same-sex partners is possible in 11 countries of the European Union, in all Canadian provinces and now in all States of the USA, but it has prompted heated debates in France, especially as regards filiation and the possibility that two parents of the same sex have children together.

69This issue examines the legal and medical obstacles facing sexual minorities in their access to parenthood and analyses the unwillingnes to define kinship as "hybrid", both social and biological, as well as the social perceptions in mainstream discourse and in the practices of same-sex parents. It also covers issues relative to the well being of children and their thriving in atypical family contexts.

70The different issues covered in this issue are considered according to four lines of analysis:

  1. gender studies and discourse analysis

  2. psychosocial and developmental analysis

  3. socio-legal analysis

  4. the anthropological perspective

Gender studies and discourse analysis

71Laurence Molinier works on the indicators of obstacles to equality. She shows how gender is at play even in the making of France’s May 2013 law, that forgets some same-sex families, in particular those with a multiple-parent arrangement and those whose children were conceived through surrogacy. A comparison with Spain and Great Britain is useful in analyzing how the law references the heteronormative family. Then, working on the proceedings of the parliamentary (Sénat and Assemblée Nationale) debates Molinier spots the underlying logic of a “gendered order”, the organizing principle that lies at the heart of the obstacles to equality. The author is led to formulate the concept of “monsterization”. “Monsterization” allows to justify the upholding of a gendered order supposed to protect the “non-monsters” that are the only beneficiaries of a system of oppression. Admittedly, the May 2013 law is a step forward towards changing the heteronormative framing of families and kinship relations, filiation, parenthood, ARTs and marriage, and towards considering same-sex parenting. However, Laurence Molinier ends her article with the idea that this erosion of the symbolic order also leads to a violent fallback into the realm of the imaginary, deepening the resistance to progress from formal equality toward effective equality.

72Camille Frémont, whose work is based on qualitative field research, focuses on how the children of lesbian mothers are socialized to gender norms. At the individual and conjugal level, the lesbian mothers she spoke with genuinely challenge gender norms. Their distancing from heteronormative thought is clear: through criticism of gender stereotypes, the decrying of sexism and a certain deheterosexualization in their way of speaking about themselves as well as in their appearance. The way these couples work in daily life exhibits grater equality than is found in the traditional heterosexual model of domestic organization and parenting roles. As regards the transmission of gender, the author hypothesizes that women who do not deny sexual difference but object to the idea of closed social categories of man and woman implicitly share models of femininity that are quite different from stereotypes. However, as much as they are predisposed to transmit non-stereotypical and non-hierarchical gender models, the respondents strive to insure their children’s integration through normative gender socialization, in order to protect them from the social disapproval they believe they may be exposed to given the atypical family they belong to. Thus, they explicitly endorse the dominant gender norms in their children’s education. It follows that their transgression of the heterosexual norm does not entail a willingness to subvert the heterosexual order in their educational function.

Psychosocial analysis, experience of children and families

73The authors in this section, Émilie Moget and Susann Heenen-Wolff on one hand, and Alice Olivier on the other, focus on the lived experience of lesbian same-sex families and their children.

74Through qualitative, longitudinal and prospective research in psychology, Émilie Moget and Susann Heenen-Wolff offer an analysis of the experience of lesbian same-sex families that used modern methods of assisted reproduction with anonymous sperm donation. They raise many questions concerning: the mothers role towards the child-to-be; the way the donor will appear in the family narrative; the enigma, facing the child, of his or her origin; the development of the child’s sexual identity, and the integration of these families within a heteronormative society. Frequent meetings with the children and the parents, as well as the use of thematic projective analytical tools allow the authors to bring to light the particular ways in which these families work, to explore the intrapsychic and intersubjective experience of these children within their families, and to move towards an understanding of the building of the children’s psyche in relation to a same-sex couple.

  • 8 In 2013, 3% of the cases identified by the association SOS Homophobie took place at school.

75Research has focused on the formation of same-sex families and on the growth of their children but very little has been said concerning the way in which these children deal with “family difference” at school. Yet, homophobia at school is an important topic8 and these children are at risk of being stigmatized (Goffman, 1975). This difficulty is particularly likely to surface during preadolescence and adolescence, which are characterized by the importance of identifying with the norms of a peer group (Galland, 2011). Alice Olivier focuses on the preadolescents and adolescents of same-sex families. How do they decide to talk about or on the contrary to hide their “family difference” at school, and what arguments do they use in explaining their choice? Based on the analysis of interviews led in 2012 in France with 13 girls and boys aged 10 to 19, living in same-sex families that display different arrangements, Alice Olivier shows that depending on their age, the characteristics of their school, the behavior of their parents and/or the person they are speaking with, these youths attitudes varied considerably – going from a spontaneous revealing of their family situation to invention and the painting of a “traditional” family. They may speak of their “family difference” because their parents are visible at school, to prove friendship or by activism. In other cases they prefer to say nothing of it, fearing rejection by their peers or because they refuse to be seen only as a “child of”. These results are analyzed in light of the recent debates and changes made to the law in France, and of the changes that might follow in terms of the visibility of same-sex families in schools.

Socio-legal analysis

76Laurence Brunet and Marta Roca I Escoda take on an analysis of the obstacles and the unwillingness expressed respectively by French and Spanish lawmakers in the making of the law allowing same-sex filiation. For his part, Sébastien Sauvé analyses the shortcomings of the legal system in Quebec as regards the protection of trans parents.

77Laurence Brunet addresses the making of the law that allows same-sex couples to marry and analyses the law’s delays regarding access to parenthood in France. The French law voted in May 2013 institutionalized a first acknowledgment of the family formed by two (married) persons of the same sex: it is now possible for a same-sex couple to adopt a child jointly and, more notably, it is possible for one of the two partners to adopt the child of the other. Given how few children are up for adoption, in France and abroad, the preferred way of starting a same-sex family is clearly through adoption of the partner’s child. But how, if not through adoption, did this partner get this child? The French lawmaker says nothing about this. However, ART with sperm donation is not open to lesbian couples and surrogacy, the only solution for gay couples, is harshly punished under French law. If they do not want to enter a co-parenting project with a person of the other sex, lesbian couples have turned to going abroad, to a country that offers them artificial insemination with a donor, and gay couples have looked for gestational surrogates in states that have not banned this practice. Once the children are born and raised in France, the French courts are seized either to give the “social” parent (as opposed to the legal parent) a legal status or to recognize the filiation of a child born abroad. The May 2013 law now allows the parent that is not the progenitor to apply for adoption of his or her partner’s child. How do the judges respond to these claims? Is their appraisal of the situation comparable when the parents are two men and when they are two women? When the couple lives together and when they are separated? Laurence Brunet offers a first jurisprudential assessment of the now numerous rulings implementing the law of 2013.

78Marta Roca I Escoda’s article follows on the thoughts arising from a study in bioethics seeking to analyze the intersection of three phenomena: the development of new reproductive technologies; their legal and normative framework; the opening of new rights to sexual minorities, especially with respect to the recognizing of same-sex families. The purpose of the study was to look at how the legal artifacts pertaining to filiation, which institutionalize and presuppose the biological “truth” of a heterosexual reproductive framework, adapt to the new technological, social and political realities. In her analysis, Marta Roca I Escoda focuses on recent legal change in the Spanish context. Spain, by opening allowing same-sex couples to marry, went further than other countries towards recognizing same-sex filiation. Yet, in practice, several types of legal no man’s lands raise practical issues with regard to the recognition of same-sex filiation. It is in the context of these legal impasses that the question of the body (in the biological and genetic aspects, the act of giving birth) takes on great importance in the current political and legal debate. The analysis found in Marta Roca I Escoda’s contribution aims to show precisely how, in these debates, the body is connected to the concept of filiation. Marta Roca I Escoda shows that despite the position of the Spanish lawmaker, which refers to intention as the key factor of filiation, the biogenetic element is part of the concept of filiation, as much from the legal point of view as in practice for homosexual couples.

79The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (hereafter Quebecer Charter) to a certain extent prohibits discrimination against trans persons. However, it does a poor job of covering the different aspects of trans parenting. In response to this shortcoming, and using a positivist approach, Jean-Sébastien Sauvé’s article suggests adding “sexual identity” and “gender expression” to the list of defined discriminations that are prohibited under the Quebecer Charter. This amendment would provide trans parents better legal protection. It would also clarify the rule of law. In support of this assertion, the author starts with an examination of the prohibition of discrimination against people who challenge stereotypes of masculinity, femininity, fatherhood and motherhood. This shows that the concepts of “sex” and “civil” status are central to the issue. However, because of how they are interpreted, these concepts fail to fully and explicitly encompass the situation of persons who challenge gender stereotypes, and in particular that of trans parents. Quebec law thus proves inadequate in this respect.

Anthropological perspective

80This part focuses more specifically on two types of situations in which the separation of sexuality, procreation and kinship are hindered by the reluctance of lawmakers or doctors: on the one hand “amicably” assisted reproduction in which a lesbian couple works with a donor in a private setting (Côté et al.); and on the other hand the different types of trans parenting in which trans persons have children or wish to (Corinne Fortier, Laurence Hérault).

81Under the law establishing Civil union and new rules of filiation in Quebec, a child can now have two legal parents that are of the same sex. The law also allows for the realization of a parental project through use of third party genetic material, in the context of a process of assisted procreation in a private setting. A lesbian couple can beget a child outside of the medical system, using the sperm of a man who accepts to act as a progenitor. The role that may or may not be held by this man regarding the child is to be negotiated between the mothers and the donor, since the status is not determined by any obligations or legal responsibilities (Malacket and Roy, 2008).

82The topic of the known donor has since been hotly debated. Legal experts and sociologists have developed three lines of argumentation. Firstly, the fact that a filial relationship is not recognized between the known donor and the children born of his donation could deprive the children of a relationship with their biological parent (joyal, 2002, 2006). Furthermore, this could lead to a certain degree of instrumentalization of men on the behalf of lesbian couples (Philips-Nooten and Lavallee, 2003; Tahon, 2006). And finally, sperm donation through sexual intercourse, entailing a full year during which the biological father can claim a filial relationship with the child, could be conducive the commodification of the child’s filiation by an ill-intentioned donor (Roy, 2004). Isabel Côté, Kévin Lavoie and Francine de Montigny counter these allegations through considering the point of view and the experience of the men that are involved in these situations. Their argument is based on qualitative data resulting from two collections of interviews with men who have donated their sperm to lesbian couples, either in the context of a preexisting relationship with the women (n=10) or as part of an agreement following initial contact over the Internet (n=8). Their findings suggest the need for a more nuanced understanding of these men’s participation in someone else’s parental project. These men derive a great sense of accomplishment form what they view as an altruistic gesture towards lesbian couples. Furthermore, the recommended conception method is part of a consensual and transparent process that meets the needs of all those involved and their respective motivations.

83In her study at the intersection of anthropology and psychology and by way of interviews led in France, in Switzerland and in Quebec, Corinne Fortier shares the words of trans persons who have had children. She analyses the life stories of MtF trans persons who were already married or in a relationship before their transition. These narratives bear witness to their way of adjusting their transition into womanhood with their role as parents, even in the face of much incomprehension and even exclusion. The few existing studies on trans parenting tell us little of the experience of the children. Corinne Fortier has met children of parents who have changed their gender identity. On the basis of their testimony, she examines how they react to this change; this reaction that can change over time is connected to their age, the way in which they were given the news, the attitude of their mother and of their immediate family, as well as the social perception of trans parenting.

84Laurence Hérault shows how the last decade has seen “monsterization” go from same-sex families to trans parenting. She focuses on how trans persons are received in ART centers in France, and more broadly, how procreation among trans persons is currently understood and managed within the French political context. She analyses how CECOS (sperm and egg banks) have received couples formed by trans persons (receiving only those who have legally changed their birth certificate, requesting that they be sterilized if that was not already the case, following up on the children for several years, etc.). Using data collected through the media and through ethnographic investigation she explores the ways in which the question of gamete conservation before transition is currently taken into account (refusals of the CECOS facing requests for conservation, referral of the case to the Human rights defender, pronouncements by the Academy of medicine, pronouncements by the National consultative ethics committee). Laurence Hérault particularly endeavors to understand how the attempts of trans persons to conceive are constructed as problematic and particular in these different medical and legal contexts. Her contribution sheds light on the procedures and apparatuses that make trans parenthood a problem.

Conclusions : Fear and “moral panic” must surrender to knowledge

85The topics discussed in this issue for the most part show that there are great differences between France on one hand and on the other Quebec and more broadly North America and other European countries such as Belgium and Spain. In Quebec, legal protection of same-sex couples and same-sex families has been effective since 2002. In lesbian couples both women become legal mothers if conception took place in a medical setting with sperm donation, or outside the medical context but without sexual relations with the biological father. Indeed, the law does not exclude the carrying out of parental projects without medical control, but it this case the Canadian lawmaker set up protections for the rights of a man wishing for a recognition of his paternity if he conceived the child through sexual intercourse. If conception takes place without intercourse with the donor, he will not be able to become the legal father, because the act of insemination signals that the donor’s consented to the carrying out of the two women’s parental project. As shown by Isabel Côté and her colleagues, the absence of legal ambiguity surrounding the donors’ role allows lesbians to start their families in a spirit of negotiation, with different possibilities for involvement on the donor’s part. The particular context of Quebec law offers lesbian couples the freedom to use a great diversity of conception arrangements, while making commitment and intention decisive in establishing filiation. Regarding male same-sex filiation, in Quebec it can only take place in the context of an adoption since, just as in France, surrogacy agreements are illegal. However, by virtue of “the superior interest of the child”, courts do not oppose the adoption of a partner’s child even when this child has been conceived through surrogacy.

86As regards trans persons, in Quebec Bill 35 adopted in December 2013 allows the change of civil status without having undergone a surgical intervention. It is thus a possibility for a trans man to get pregnant. FtM persons living in a relationship with a woman can apply for a sperm donation. The law does not prohibit the use of eggs that were fertilized before the transition towards a masculine identity for implantation in the partner’s uterus. MtF persons living with a woman can apply for a third-party sperm donation, but can also theoretically use the gametes that were theirs before their transition to a feminine identity.

87Unlike what is standard in several other countries (for example Germany, Spain, the United-Kingdom, Denmark, the USA or Argentina), France still requires for the transition to be irreversible to allow trans persons to change sex on their birth certificate; the interpretation of this requirement of irreversibility often still amounts to a forced sterilization (Brunet, 2014). Everything is done to protect the difference between men and women. Law refuses the pregnant man, the father who has become a woman, the mother who has become a man, the woman becoming a father or the man becoming a mother, all of them categories that blur the certainty of the binary difference between sexes, and are perceived as being unnatural or even “monstrous”.

88Despite the breach opened by same-sex marriage and adoption, the lawmaker is still very attached to a bionormative exclusive model of filiation. He is shaken by the possibility that a same-sex couple could, through an adoption they has become legal with the law of May 2013, become the parents of a child. Laurence Brunet exposes the uneasiness of judges facing lesbians who resorted to ART in the neighboring countries where they are permitted to do so. Considering that two women may procreate through a third-party donor seems difficult because it means separating procreation and sexuality. Gay fatherhood and the different procreative ways of achieving it imply not only separating sexuality and procreation but also dividing motherhood into intentional, gestational and genetic motherhood. It is the absence of intentional motherhood that allows two men to become fathers without a mother, through surrogacy. The possibility of implanting several embryos conceived with the two men’s sperm brings the scandal to a maximum for the believers in an exclusive filiation system. Elsewhere, co-parenting, which gives fathers and mothers to the children, and resorting to a known donor, whose involvement may vary, suggest family arrangements where more than two parents care for the children. Just like blended families, these arrangements are in no way legally recognized. The French law of 2013 barely deals with the situations of already existing same-sex families, but does not consider giving homosexual couples the means to start a family. Trans parenthood, like same-sex parenting or multiple parenting, challenges a system that is based on an irreducible binary difference in sexes, grounds filiation on the mimicry of procreation and is hard pressed to acknowledge the intentionality of parenthood.

89Parliamentary debates and the declarations of those opposing the draft law thus conjured up the risk of gender confusion, the numerous dangers children could be exposed to, polygamy, bestiality, the making of orphans etc. In her contribution, Laurence Molinier shows how homosexual couples and trans persons are “specified” and “monsterized”, causing fear and anxiety in “normal families”.

90Why has there been such a “moral panic” en France regarding same-sex families and trans parenthood? One answer is in the latent and sometimes explicit homophobia and transphobia that were heard surrounding parliamentary debates connected first to the civil solidarity contract (PACS) and later to “marriage for all”. Other factors such as the importance given to a certain type of psychoanalysis, the catholic cultural tradition or republican universalism may explain the greater resistance in France as opposed to other places, such as Quebec where the Anglo-American influence has allowed for more rapid evolutions (Gross, 2011). In France, some psychoanalysts, exploiting their discipline, brandished alarmist predictions during the debates surround PACS and same-sex marriage. The opponents of the law took these elements of discourse and made them into a transcendent, intangible and immutable principle: the difference between sexes and the gender roles attached to them. Within the debates surrounding marriage for all, the political opponents’ rhetoric was more often clearly connected to religion. Indeed, the origin of the “gender theory” controversy is in the Vatican, and religious authorities have not only voiced their opposition to marriage for all but also called their worshipers to protest (Béraud, 2015). Despite the fact that the French Revolution took place over 200 years ago, and despite the fact that Church and State have been separated since 1902, a catholic cultural tradition still weighs on the French democracy, especially as regards topics relevant to marriage and the family. The Christian model of marriage has endured, despite the Revolution and the secularization process that was formally integrated into the law. Unable to maintain leadership in the political arena, the Catholic Church took to the family as a privileged space from where to continue wielding major social influence (Hervieu-Léger, 2003). It still makes its position known regarding all the questions concerning marriage and the family. Secularization was not as rapid in France as in Quebec, where the influence of Catholicism has much more notably diminished. Finally, the principle of republican universalism precludes the expression of difference and identities. “French style” universal citizenship rests on the assumption of a theoretical duality of the individual who, as a citizen, is detached from any group affiliation and whose identity, whether it be ethnic, cultural, sexual, or of any other type, is banished to the private sphere. The calls for equality made by those who are suffer from this universalism (women, homosexuals, minorities) are, when they are not accepted, labeled as communitarianist. Special interests supposedly have no place alongside the interests of the greater number.

91This discussion cannot end without touching upon the heated debates raised by surrogacy. This practice does indeed raise ethical questions: is it acceptable to pay for the use of a woman’s body in order to birth a child? Is the woman who carried the child still a mother? If yes, is surrogacy a surrendering of the child at birth? Are the women who carry a baby for someone other then themselves subject to a commodification of their body and an economical exploitation or on the contrary, are they manifesting a type of autonomy and control over their own body? Feminists are divided on the subject. The testimony of North-American surrogate carriers seem to suggest ownership of their own bodies and a great pride in what they did to help a couple become parents (Levine and Melton, 2015; Lance, 2015), while in other parts of the world, particularly in India and Ukraine, the economic situation of surrogate women puts them at risk of being exploited in the context of a transaction without them having real power to change the conditions in which they become surrogate carriers or the terms of the contracts that bind them to different brokers or agents.

92The production of scientific knowledge is the only thing that can fight the “monsterization” of same-sex and trans families. Same-sex couples have been recognized in the USA and in several other countries around the world, via the institution of marriage or a civil partnership. Research could thus turn its focus to the study of the impact of marriage or partnership (as well as adoption or the possibility of establishing filiation relative to two parents of the same-sex) on the understandings of fatherhood and motherhood, on the well-being of the children, on the characteristic features of the family and conjugal functioning of same-sex and trans families. More research should follow, based on quantitative and qualitative data: on the sharing of parental tasks, on practical and financial organization, on the way in which parental functions are performed, and on inclusion in the social environment and kinship networks, among other.

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The author expresses her heartfelt thanks to Laurence Charton and Delphine Lobet, respectively director and editing coordinator for the journal Enfances Familles Générations, for their close reading of the original draft and for their guidance.

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1 LGBT stands for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans. The word “trans” is used to name the persons whose gender identity is different from that assigned to them at birth relative to biological sex. The term transgender is sometimes used to refer to persons who do not wish to undertake sex reassignment surgery. Some people prefer to speak of transidentity rather than of transexualism or transexuality, which make reference to a mental illness according to the DSM-IV. When possible, we will avoid use of those words, speaking instead of trans persons.

2 Transition is either a masculinization if the person was assigned female at birth and wishes for a masculinization of their body, in which case one is designated as FtM (Female to Male), or a feminization if the person was assigned male at birth and wishes for a feminization of their body, in which case one is referred to as MtF (Male to Female).

3 For a recent example (2015), see the case of Sandrine Kermogant, a transgender woman denied custody of her child, de-la-garde-de-son-enfant-une-femme-transexuelle-de- nonce-un-jugement-transphobe_839975.html.

4 “Circumstances of sex change at the civil registrar”, on, 28 feb. 2013, website visited on 24 October 2015.

5 http://www.ilga­

6 Meaning that the biological connection is stronger than any other.

7 A cisgender person perceives his/her gender in a way that aligns with that assigned to him/her at birth. The term cisgender matches the term transgender.

8 In 2013, 3% of the cases identified by the association SOS Homophobie took place at school.

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Martine Gross, « Gay, lesbian, and trans families through the lens of social science: A revolution or a pluralisation of forms of parenthood? »Enfances Familles Générations [En ligne], 23 | 2015, mis en ligne le 08 juillet 2016, consulté le 07 décembre 2023. URL :

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Martine Gross

Ingénieure de recherche en sciences sociales

Centre national de la recherche scientifique

Centre d’études en sciences sociales des religions (France)

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