The sad side of gay parenting

A Canadian woman was raised in an unconventional household. Now she tells her story.
Dawn Stefanowicz | 25 April 2007
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Gay marriage and gay adoption are being fiercely debated in a number of countries. Usually these issues are framed as a human rights issue. But whose rights? Patrick Meagher, MercatorNet's contributing editor in Canada, recently interviewed a woman who was raised by a homosexual father. She feels that her rights as a child were completely ignored.

Dawn Stefanowicz (www.DawnStefanowicz.com) grew up in Toronto. Now in her 40s, she has written a book, Out From Under: Getting Clear of the Wreckage of a Sexually Disordered Home, to be released later this year. Stefanowicz has now been married for 22 years, is raising a family, and also works as an accountant. She has also testified about same-sex marriage in Washington and Ottawa.

MercatorNet: Tell me about your childhood.

Stefanowicz: My mother was seriously ill. I grew up with my homosexual father and his many partners. They were there for a few days or as long as many years in Toronto, beginning in the 60s. I was at high risk of exposure to contagious STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] due to sexual molestation, my father's high-risk sexual behaviour, and multiple partners. Even when my father was in what looked like monogamous relationships, he continued cruising for anonymous sex.

MercatorNet: What were you exposed to?

Stefanowicz: I was exposed to bathhouses -- although I wasn't allowed in the bathhouses --  cross-dressing, sodomy, pornography, gay nudity, lesbianism, bisexuality, minor recruitment, voyeurism and exhibitionism. Sado-masochism was alluded to and demonstrated. Alcohol and drugs with sex were common. My father would take me to a gay nude beach, other public places, and vacation spots where there was cruising. I was used as bait to attract younger males at various well-known pick-up places known by gay men.

MercatorNet: For how long were you exposed to the homosexual lifestyle?

Stefanowicz: Over two decades of direct exposure to these stressful experiences caused me insecurity, depression, suicidal thoughts, dread, anxiousness, low self-esteem, sleeplessness and sexuality confusion. Every other family member suffered severely as well.

MercatorNet: How did you feel about what was going on around you?

Stefanowicz: You become used to it and desensitised. I was told at eight years old not to talk about this but I knew that something was wrong. I was not thinking “this is right or wrong” but I was disturbed by what I was experiencing. I was unhappy, fearful, anxious and confused. I was not allowed to tell my father that his lifestyle upset me. You can be four-years-old and questioning, "Where is Daddy?" You sense women are not valued. You think Daddy doesn't have time for you or Daddy is too busy to play a game with you. All this is hard because as a child this is the only experience you have.

MercatorNet: How did this affect your relationship with others?

Stefanowicz: I had a hard time concentrating in school on day-to-day subjects and with peers. I felt insecure. I was already stressed out by an early age. I'm now in my 40s. You're looking at life-long issues. There is a lot of prolonged and unresolved grief in this kind of home environment and with what you witness in the subcultures.

It took me until I was into my 20s and 30s, after making major life choices, to begin to realise how being raised in this environment had affected me. Unfortunately, it was not until my father, his sexual partners and my mother had died, that I was free to speak publicly about my experiences.

MercatorNet: What was your relationship like with your father?

Stefanowicz: I came to deeply care for, love and compassionately understand my dad. He shared his life regrets with me. Unfortunately, my father, as a child, was sexually and physically abused by older males. Due to this, he lived with depression, control issues, anger outbursts, suicidal tendencies, and sexual compulsions. He tried to fulfil his legitimate needs for his father's affirmation, affection and attention with transient and promiscuous relationships. He and his partners were exposed to various contagious STDs as they traveled across North America. My father's partners and ex-partners, whom I had deep caring feelings for and associated with, had drastically shortened lives due to suicide, contracting HIV or AIDS. Sadly, my father died of AIDS in 1991.

MercatorNet: Did you feel like you had a family growing up?

Stefanowicz: It's like not having a dad. You have a lot of freedom. You don't have the same level of parental supervision that you really need. We always had male partners in the home from the time I was an infant. It was like walking on egg shells around my father and his partners. Even with certain niceties around my father that make you appear cultured, I sensed a lot of pain about not having a real family.

I feel sorry for kids today, because they can't even go to most counsellors or teachers without hearing the gay rights rhetoric. The professional may try to change your negative perspective about your parent's lifestyle choices as if you, as the child, have the problem. There's no really safe place to go to get help. Entering adolescence I made vows to never have children and I meant it.

MercatorNet: When did you seek help?

Stefanowicz: I was just entering my teens. People who often have a faith background or are more sensitive to quiet children who appear to be hiding some deep secrets will say to you, “if you ever want to talk, just ask and we can sit and chat”. Often kids will talk about school or friends, beating around the bush and then come out and tell you.

But as a child, you are afraid it will get back to your parents. Sometimes you get good advice. Sometimes you don't. You really have to fend for yourself and sort out all of this confusion. Some professionals don't give the best advice when they say to you to get involved with boys so you don't turn out like your dad.

MercatorNet: Do you know other people who have lived with homosexual parents?

Stefanowicz: I am in touch with many families in which about 40 children have been impacted. Many of the children have dealt with fear, anger, and depression. Without a doubt, we deal with sexuality confusion. Suicide has come up quite a bit with adolescent boys who have gay fathers. They appear to be very angry with their dad. There are insurmountable odds that these children have to face. Some of us have been exposed to pathogens. This would be expected as we are in high-risk situations that haven't even been researched yet. Our parents often die early. We have a hard time coping with the burdens we carry, while some of us don't make it and commit suicide.

MercatorNet: Why do so few children speak out?

Stefanowicz: You're terrified. Absolutely terrified. Children who open up these family secrets are dependent on parents for everything. You carry the burden that you have to keep secrets. You learn to put on an image publicly of the happy family that is not reality. With same-sex legislation, children are further silenced. They believe there is no safe adult they can go to.

MercatorNet: Same-sex marriage is now accepted in Canada and children are being taught in some Canadian schools as young age six that same-sex parents are part of a normal, healthy family. Why is there so little objection?

Stefanowicz: There is an assumption that children in this situation want acceptance of that situation. That's not true. We don't think of daddy's partner as another daddy. In the cases I've come across, none of the children think of the partner as mommy or daddy. They are daddy's partner or mommy's partner.

MercatorNet: How can society wake up to these problems?

Stefanowicz: It will take parents who have their own children, making appropriate sacrifices, saying we will not go down this path. It will take people not accepting government legislative permissions. I am challenged by the passivity I am seeing in Canada right now. When children come home from school and tell their parents, “I think I am gay”, it's just because of the school programming. The grassroots will have to rise up. Unfortunately, there are school boards which have aligned themselves with the homosexual lobby.

I grew up in this environment they promote and yet the problems I witnessed are ignored. Just as an example, I ask: “Why is the HIV rate not dropping? Why?” It's not lack of education. It's lack of morality. If you don't teach a moral framework around chaste sexual behaviour, including instruction on monogamous marriage, children will experiment. All children question their values, but I'm hoping parents who have a moral framework will take a stand.

MercatorNet: You seem to have survived your ordeal well.

Stefanowicz: I have processed everything that I can right now. I may still have more issues to deal with. You have to come to a place of thankfulness for life itself and that you can now help others.

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