A new study has found that nearly one quarter (22.8 percent) of cisgender lesbian, bisexual, and queer women ages 18 to 59 have children. Compared with non-parent LBQ women, the parents were more likely to be bisexual, in a relationship with a man, and non-urban. What does that mean for the LGBTQ parenting community and its representation?
This latest study, from researchers affiliated with the Williams Institute at UCLA, is the first to use a U.S. population-based sample to compare the mental health of lesbian, bisexual, and other-identified female parents and non-parents. Its findings about the rate of parenthood among LBQ individuals corresponds to previous work showing that an estimated 24 percent of female same-sex couples have children.
Among lesbian women, the oldest non-parents reported more happiness and less psychological distress than the youngest non-parents. (Perhaps there is wisdom that comes with age.) There was no difference, however, in happiness and psychological distress among the parents in different age groups. Non-parents, however, indicated more internalized homophobia than parents. The authors don’t hypothesize why this might be; I’d venture a guess that it’s because children often force us to be out in ways we never imagined.
Bisexual parents in the study, however, reported more psychological distress and lower life satisfaction and happiness than lesbian parents, something the researchers found surprising, “because the overwhelming majority of bisexual parents are in relationships with male partners and thus would likely be viewed as heterosexual by the general public.”
Parenthood for bisexual mothers involved with male partners thus comes at a cost from both the general public and the LGBT community.
Although one might assume there are benefits to being viewed as heterosexual, however, the researchers say their results are consistent with findings of other studies that show sexual minority women with male partners “reported less connection to the LGBT community and greater anxiety” and that many bisexual mothers experience binegativity and exclusion by lesbian communities. “Parenthood for bisexual mothers involved with male partners thus comes at a cost from both the general public and the LGBT community,” the current study concludes. The youngest group of bisexual women reported more community connectedness than bisexual women of other age groups, though.
Even parents with “emerging identities,” such as “queer, pansexual, asexual, and others,” reported “more social support from friends, and were lower on internalized homophobia than bisexual parents. Although the number of parents with other sexual identities was small, our results indicate that these parents are finding support and experiencing pride in their identities, contrary to bisexual parents.”
Co-author Esther D. Rothblum, visiting distinguished scholar at the Williams Institute, said in a statement, “There is a unique form of bias against people who have both same-sex and different-sex attractions and sexual relationships, and this may be why we see poorer mental health outcomes for bisexual parents.”
Another recent study confirms that the majority of LGBT adults (54.6 percent) identify as bisexual. And we’ve long known there are millions of bisexual parents, most in different-sex relationships. Yes, that may sometimes give them the advantage of “passing” as straight, but as this study shows, there are significant disadvantages as well. And parents who feel excluded and distressed may convey that stress to their children. It’s not good for anyone. The takeaway, for me, is that the LGBTQ community needs to do more to include, support, and represent bisexual parents.
The study is “Mental Health of Lesbian, Bisexual, and Other-identified Parents and Non-Parents from a Population-Based Study,” Journal of Homosexuality, by Mark Assink, Ph.D., Esther D. Rothblum, Ph.D., Bianca D. M. Wilson, Ph.D., Nanette Gartrell, M.D., and Henny M. W. Bos, Ph.D. (2021).