Lesbian Mothering International Symposium

Date : June 1999

Conference Statement

There have always been lesbians who are mothers, lesbians who have struggled with the decision to have children, lesbians who have gotten pregnant against their will, lesbians who have adopted and/or been foster parents, lesbians who have had children in heterosexual marriages, lesbians who have raised the children of relatives and friends, lesbians who have lost their children, who have had their children taken from them, or who have felt the necessity to give them up, lesbians who have been open, and lesbians who have hidden their lifestyles from their children (Sandra Pollack and Jeanne Vaughn, Politics of the Heart, 1987). In recent years, more and more lesbians are choosing motherhood and struggle for recognition of the families they are creating.

The Association for Research on Mothering (ARM) is happy to announce a one day International Symposium on Lesbian Mothering. This symposium will bring together researchers, activists, artists and academics to present and discuss issues raised by the intersection of lesbian identities and motherhood. The presentations will include personal narratives, humorous anecdotes, interview-based research, history and analysis of legal and social struggles and theoretical work.

The symposium begins with a session entitled “Narrative Journeys”. This session includes a multimedia chronicling of a butch mom’s experience, an eco map of 125 lesbian mothers, reflections on the particular difficulties of coming out after motherhood, and tensions involved in negotiating relationships with family and friends.

“Questions of Legitimacy”, the second session, focuses on questions of legal and social recognition. The first two presentations explore the status of lesbian non-biological mothers, specifically the impact of language and legal recognition on the visibility of co-mothers. This is followed by a comparative study of lesbian mothers in Ireland and Sweden, and a report on a long-range study of Toronto lesbian families.

Identity is the focus of “Dilemmas of Identification”. The first paper looks at how the identity of the independent lesbian clashes with the reality of being a mother. This is followed by a paper on butch-identified mothers, which explores this somewhat striking and sometimes contradictory combination of masculine and feminine. This session ends with a paper on mother-lesbians, a term referring to women who were mothers before they were lesbians.

The final session, “Inside/Out: Challenging Norms” explores the resources and strategies that lesbian parents and their children develop to negotiate through a range of school practices that privilege heterosexual family structures. The symposium concludes with a paper which asks: How does one study such a diverse and multifaceted group of women?

The Symposium is followed by a wine and cheese reception to launch the inaugural issue of The Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering.

– by Rachel Epstein and Mielle Chandler on behalf of the Organizing Committee