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Gay Fatherhood

Narratives of Family and Citizenship in America

Gay Fatherhood

Narratives of Family and Citizenship in America

Men are often thought to have less interest in parenting than women, and gay men are generally assumed to prefer pleasure over responsibility. The toxic combination of these two stereotypical views has led to a lack of serious attention being paid to the experiences of gay fathers. But the truth is that more and more gay men are setting out to become parents and succeeding—and Gay Fatherhood aims to tell their stories.

Ellen Lewin takes as her focus people who undertake the difficult process of becoming fathers as gay men, rather than having become fathers while married to women. These men face unique challenges in their quest for fatherhood, negotiating specific bureaucratic and financial conditions as they pursue adoption or surrogacy and juggling questions about their future child’s race, age, sex, and health. Gay Fatherhood chronicles the lives of these men, exploring how they cope with political attacks from both the "family values" right and the "radical queer" left—while also shedding light on the evolving meanings of family in twenty-first-century America.

248 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2009

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Gay and Lesbian Studies

Sociology: Sociology--Marriage and Family


“With Gay Fatherhood, Ellen Lewin further cements her position as one of the most careful and innovative anthropologists of gender and sexuality writing today. Through detailed ethnographic analysis paired with an uncompromisingly rigorous yet accessible theoretical framework, Lewin provides us with insightful and moving understandings of how some gay men in the United States have chosen to become parents. Gay Fatherhood is doubly a magnificent achievement: it not only offers an exemplary investigation into the lived experience of gay parenting, but also shows how the struggles and triumphs of these gay men and their children can act as a kind of lens into how American cultures more broadly understand family, love, responsibility, and belonging.”

Tom Boellstorff, University of California, Irvine

“The beauty and power of Ellen Lewin’s work is that she makes us see the world differently; Gay Fatherhood continues that tradition. In it, she challenges the rigid orthodoxies of both a Christian right and a queer left that can’t utter ‘gay’ and ‘fatherhood’ in the same breath. Her thoughtful observations about these men’s choices let us understand parenthood, family, and sexual identity in provocative new ways. Gay Fatherhood deserves a wide readership.”

John D’Emilio, University of Illinois at Chicago

Gay Fatherhood is a useful introduction to a major, if somewhat unexpected, dimension of contemporary U.S. gay culture. The book expands the intersections of anthropology, feminist theory and marriage and family studies that emerged from Lewin’s earlier studies of lesbian motherhood and same-sex commitment ceremonies. And it presents a strong counterargument to those who insist that parenting is a form of gay assimilation, by showing, in the men’s own words, how parenting becomes a site for resisting and reshaping conventional definitions of ‘gay identity’ and ‘fatherhood.’”

William L. Leap, American University

"A dense, comprehensive academic text, Gay Fatherhood nevertheless deserves a wide readership. The issues contained in its pages are simply too important. . . . Simply put, Gay Fatherhood does what many studies, papers, and books fail to do. It lends an unbiased ear to the struggles of gay men seeking fatherhood. . . . Illuminating this struggle within GLBT communities is not only a necessary part of the growing conversation around homosexuality in America; it is an integral part of how we continue to redefine our expectations surrounding gay identity, the law, and ’family.’"

Brittany Shoot | RH Reality Check

"This thoughtful, well-crafted ethnographic study unapologetically depends not on direct observation of quotidian experiences in the households of gay fathers, but rather on the discourse they have developed to explain their incursion into parenthood. . . . The narratives spun by the fathers show a more conservative and altruistic side than is usually attributed to gay men, making this fascinating book a true treasure."


Table of Contents


Prologue.  “How Can You Study Such Yucky People?”  

Chapter 1.  Family Values:  New Questions about Lesbian and Gay Peoples in the U.S.  

Chapter 2.  Consuming Fatherhood  

Chapter 3.  “Something Inside Me”:  Gay Fathers and Nature  

Chapter 4.  Our Own Families  

Chapter 5.  Do the Right Thing  

Chapter 6.  “We’re Not Gay Anymore”  

Chapter 7.  Corrective Lenses, or Revisioning Yuckiness  





Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

Association for Queer Anthropology (American Anthropological Association): Ruth Benedict Prize

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