Deconstructing the nuclear family: an LGBT perspective on fostering

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Image Description: Gay couple with a child 

Throughout childhood, images of the typical ‘nuclear family’ pervaded my everyday life. At school, the odd sex education lesson involved fondling an overripe banana with a lube-loaded condom. Any discussion of family planning focused upon the cementation of heteronormative values.

Whilst the education system seemingly lacked perspective, I turned to other mediums in hope of some reassurance; the trusty TV, the fountain of all knowledge. As it turns out, the TV was complicit in compounding my idea of what constitutes a ‘normal’ family. Much to my disdain, children’s TV programmes rarely, if ever, touched upon seemingly ‘taboo’ subjects such as homosexuality. Put it this way, you’d never see Arthur the anthropomorphic aardvark eating dinner with his two lesbian mothers. These ideas were cemented by growing up as an only child in a small suburban town with my mum and dad. Discourses surrounding the typical family were woven successfully, albeit falsely, into the fabric of my social life.

It’s of no surprise, then, that as a closeted lesbian it seemed unrealistic to crave the ‘normal’. Only heterosexual couples can raise a family well. This, as I have since learnt, is obviously untrue. It was not until my parents and I decided to pursue fostering that I began to realise how the institutions of which I am a part of have invalidated many LGBTQ+ families’ lived experiences. The term ‘nuclear’ homogenises the complex and multiple configurations of ‘family’. Upon arrival of my now little sister, X, I was made conscious of the ways in which the County Council offers a platform for LGBTQ+ couples to make their own families. They actively deconstruct the imagined constructs which disconnect the LGBTQ+ community from everyday practices.

We must continue to reconfigure society’s paradigm of what encompasses a family

Perhaps most importantly, fostering provides an opportunity for carers, alongside their families, to challenge their own misconceptions on homosexuality. When X’s younger sibling was adopted by a lesbian couple, it was refreshing to see that my grandparents, after a few questions, were not concerned with sexuality but with the welfare of the child. Small milestones like this were paramount in forging my own coming out story, something which may have not been as easy otherwise.

Of course, it would be wrong to say that all my moments as part of a loving foster family have been quite as eye-opening. When X bought me my first Christmas present, a packet of POLOs, she was quick to point out my bad morning breath. The only lesson to be learnt here was of my poor oral hygiene.

Anyway, I suppose what I am trying to point out is that fostering complicates traditionalist framings of the heteronormative and therefore ‘moral’ family, placing the LGBTQ+ community at the fore of contemporary family life. I can only thank the work of social workers in creating a more equitable platform for the LGBTQ+ community. As a result, perceptions are changing. American TV series The Fosters (2013) highlights the unconventionality of modern families, promoting understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ+ identities to an ever-widening audience. We must continue to reconfigure society’s paradigm of what encompasses a family, setting the standards of the fostering network’s open-minded and accepting views as the watermark by which all families should be judged.

Image: Kurt Löwenstein Educational Centre International Team