Separated Same-Sex Parented Families: Troubling and Troubled By Family and Separation Discourses

Thursday, 14 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 41 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Luke GAHAN, La Trobe University, Australia
Separated same-sex parented families are not only troubling the discourses and practice of family, they trouble the discourses and practice of family separation. This paper presents findings from an Australian qualitative study of separated same-sex parented families and explores their experiences of the restrictive power of heteronormative family and separation discourses.

When forming their families, same-sex parents could not take for granted traditional discourses and practices of family and parenthood and as a consequence they were required to make decisions on how to define their family practices. These decisions inturn shaped participants’ experiences of separation and post-separation parenting.

Societal expectations of separation are framed by heteronormative discourses that ultimately involve one mother and one father. Consequently, participants were required to create their post-separation family without any clear social or discursive frameworks. Likewise, heteronormative family discourses define government separation policies and services. As a result, participants were often left without legislative protection or the ability to access non-heteronormative service providers such as family therapists, mediators, and lawyers.

Similarly, family discourses frequently position separation as troublesome and separated families as ‘broken’. These restrictive discourses make it difficult for separating same-sex parented families to imagine the possibility of creating a trouble-free separated same-sex parented family. These discourses created particular troubles for separated same-sex parented families who frequently found themselves juxtaposed to the ‘marriage equality’ discourse of trouble-free, happy, and intact same-sex parented families.

Participants were acutely aware that existing family discourses and practices were frequently unable to provide adequate frameworks for their families or reflect their family practices during family formation, and ultimately, during their family separation. Nevertheless, the majority of separated same-sex parented families overcame discursive barriers and created new discourses that reflected the futures they wanted.