Paul Cameron quoted “Greta” out of context in his article, “Children of Homosexuals and Transsexuals More Apt To Be Homosexual.” Now it’s time for “Greta” to speak for herself.
Jim Burroway, with Anna Carlsson
June 13, 2006
This interesting E-mail arrived in my inbox few weeks ago:
I’m one of the people Abigail Garner interviewed for Families Like Mine (in there I’m called Greta, as I’m Swedish, and Cameron quoted me — out of context of course — for his article). I live in the UK and I’m wanting to do something about the article Cameron published here…
You can find a full review of Paul Cameron’s article that appeared in the Journal of Biosocial Science in “Paul Cameron Conquers Cambridge.”
“Greta’s” real name is Anna Carlsson. Her mother is lesbian and Anna identifies as bisexual. She appeared in Abigail Garner’s book, Families like Mine: Children of Gay Parents Tell It Like It Is, one of three books that Paul Cameron purchased from Amazon.com and reviewed, to try to “prove” that gay parents make gay kids. Surprisingly, his resulting manuscript, “Children of Homosexuals and Transsexuals More Apt To Be Homosexual” managed to get published in the May 2006 edition of the Journal of Biosocial Science.
You can learn more about Paul Cameron’s problems with the psychological and sociological professions in “Paul Cameron vs. Professional Ethics.”
We also covered two other examples of Paul Cameron’s dishonesty in touting his latest article. First, he misrepresented the nature of his own study in a press release and during an interview on Air America, and then he misrepresented Abigail Garner’s book during an interview on Sirius Satellite Radio.
Paul Cameron is famous for pulling quotes out of context and mischaracterizing the works of others. When someone misuses the work of other professional researchers, the aggrieved party can file a complaint with the relevant professional association. That’s how he got kicked out of the American Psychological Association, and was rebuked by the Nebraska Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association. But what do you do when someone quotes an ordinary Greta out of context in a paper that gets published in an ostensibly peer-reviewed journal?
This is exactly the situation that Anna found herself in when she contacted me.
Families like Mine offers a very informative view of the experiences of children of gay parents. Author Abigail Garner covers the subject with the great skill and confidence that comes from her own experience growing up with a gay dad. For Families like Mine, she draws on the wide and varied perspectives of more than fifty other children of gay parents. In a major recurring theme, Abigail describes the experience these kids have of being under the microscope to “prove” their families are just as “normal” as any other. Relentlessly studied by social scientists, the media, gay activists and gay rights opponents, these kids often bear the burden being “good” and “normal” kids in order to validate their parents’ worth as parents — a burden that doesn’t exist with any other family.
One of the many measures of being a “good” and “normal” kid is that these kids are expected to be straight. Abigail describes the fears of many gay parents that if their children are gay, it would reflect badly on themselves and the community. This means, ironically, that in the few cases where their children actually happen to be gay, their own gay parents may react with anger, shame or disappointment. But even if the parents are accepting, there is still the matter of other friends and neighbors who may fear that the presence of a gay child of gay parents might provide ammunition to anti-gay activists to use against the gay community, to everyone’s detriment.
This reaction is baffling and frustrating to many of in this “second generation,” a term that Abigail uses to describe gay kids of gay parents. Because these children typically grew up observing first-hand the many difficulties their parents faced in society because of who they were, second generation children often have an easier time understanding the many political and social issues surrounding their emerging sexuality than their parents did. Their parents, on the other hand, are more likely to have been more affected by growing up in a much less supportive environment than their children.
It’s here, as Abigail describes this generational gap, where Anna (as “Greta”) comes in:
While the generation gaps make some people on either side of the age spectrum judgmental about differences, second generation children enter adulthood benefiting from a broad perspective on queer ideology and history that spans several decades. Their awareness of queer culture often began years before they came out themselves.
“I was always reading books with gay characters,” Greta explains, “and listening to music by gay artists. I knew the lingo before joining [the LGBT organization on campus] or even thinking about my own sexuality. … I do not think it was just ‘questioning’ curiosity. As the daughter of a lesbian, the gay community was a place where I fit in. … My opinions were appreciated and often sought after in the gay community, as an activist.”1
Now, let’s see how Paul Cameron uses this quote in his manuscript:
Knowing that a parent desires a particular outcome hardly assures that a child will follow it: children often rebel or ‘learn from parental mistakes’. But most children tend to accommodate parental desires, and adult children of homosexuals have sexual proclivities that are plausibly influenced by parental influence. … Greta, currently lesbian, reported ‘I was already reading books with gay characters and listening to music by gay artists. I knew the lingo before … even thinking about my own sexuality’.2
Apparently Paul Cameron didn’t read Families Like Mine very closely. He seems to have the impression that that the “desires” of gay parents include their children growing up to be gay, a belief that is very much at odds with Abigail’s thesis. But as for the rest, I think it’s time for “Greta” to speak for herself.
Jim Burroway: Anna, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. I really appreciate it. Before we get started, please tell us a little about yourself.
Anna Carlsson: I’m 27, the bisexual daughter of a lesbian mother. I’m Swedish, but I have lived abroad most of the time since I was 19, and I’ve moved around a lot, both in Sweden and abroad, which has all contributed to my “in-between” identity. I now live in London in the UK where I work with market research. I studied Geography for my Bachelors degree and History of Science for my MA here in England. My mother came out when I was around nine years old, which was a couple of years after my parents divorced.
JB: It looks like a lot of people were more interested in your sexuality than you were when you were younger. Did you think it was strange at the time?
AC: I think Western society is obsessed with sexuality, and as a teenager you are “supposed” to have an interest in sex. As a teenager that did not conform to this norm, I did wonder what was “wrong” with me (as it turned out I was just a late bloomer). But no, I did not think it was strange I got asked lots of questions about it, as society is so concerned about sexuality in general and in particular about that of kids with LGBT parents. However, I guess my problem was more to try and express my asexuality without making it sound like I was hiding something.
JB: You’ve been asked about your own sexuality a lot by researchers and media as you were growing up. Did you feel that when you were asked “The Question” (your sexuality) that they were looking for a right answer?
AC: Yes, certainly. I did not want to present a “bad image”, as I did not (and don’t) feel there is a bad image to present, but this did mean that I had to a) present a/any sexuality to the interviewer, even though I didn’t feel one clearly b) I did feel that I ought to present myself as straight (if anything), as this question is somehow the litmus test for good upbringing by LGBT parents.
JB: How did you get involved with Abigail Garner’s book, Families Like Mine?
AC: If I remember correctly, she asked for volunteers and I said yes. I usually take part in all research that I am asked to take part in, as I feel more research needs to be done in the area. However, this one was actually much more interesting than most of them are, as it was peer research (I’d even met Abigail at a Family Week once). Participants were also able to pick and choose questions, and I took this opportunity to not answer some questions that I’d answered to death elsewhere. This made this questionnaire much more interesting and fun than most are. It was moving beyond the material normally covered by research on kids with LGBT parents.
I did choose to use a pseudonym as I was not yet out to parents and certain friends.
JB: In Families Like Mine, Abigail describes how children of gay parents grow up with a very broad perspective of gay culture and history, even before a few of them come out as gay themselves, which is where one of your quotes appears. Do you think your growing up in the gay community gave you some perspectives in understanding the gay community and issues surrounding sexuality that many gay kids with straight parents lack?
AC: I was aware of more ways one’s sexuality could be than kids with straight parents might be, and I had an immediate awareness of the reality of LGBT life, as against the stereotypes. I also have more “history” and wider understanding of the LGBT community (e.g. as including children of LGBT parents) compared to some other young LGBT people.
JB: Do you think growing up in the gay community complicated your own coming-out or did it make it easier?
AC: It made it easier in some ways, but more difficult in others. Easier, because I was more aware of it existing as a legitimate and “ok” sexuality in general so it was easier to come out to myself, and it was also probably easier to tell my mum (and her ex, one of my “extra mothers”) than it would have been with straight parents. I never felt pressure directly from my mothers to be straight and my mothers had no problem with me coming out at all. My coming out to them was so straightforward and matter of fact that it was almost an anti-climax. However, coming out was more difficult because of my activism — I felt a perceived need to be straight, as an undue attention is given in society to the sexuality of children with LGBT parents as if this somehow is the test for good parenting.
JB: So now, here we are, two years after Abigail’s book came out. Paul Cameron’s manuscript “Children of Homosexuals and Transsexuals More Apt to Be Homosexual” appears in the Journal of Biosocial Science. And there you are, quoted in his manuscript, with him portraying your reading books with gay characters and listening to music as influencing your sexuality. What was your reaction? Did reading books with gay characters make you bi?
AC: The quote is completely out of context. This was not about my sexuality — I hardly had one when I was reading those books, and reading them certainly did not change that. The quote was about LGBT culture and how I, irrespective of my own sexuality, belong in it as the daughter of a lesbian. I’m culturally queer, whatever I am erotically, and to me that is a bonus as it gives me a wider world-view, even though my in-between identity is clearly threatening to people like Paul Cameron.
JB: How did you find out you were being quoted by Paul Cameron?
AC: I’d already been told about the article and decided I want to express my concerns with it one way or another. Abigail then told me, before I read the actual article, that Cameron was quoting me personally. I guess it made it a bit more personal, but did not change my level of activism in regards to the article.
The Question — What Do The Experts Say?
Now it’s time for me to ask “The Question” myself — did being immersed in gay culture influence Anna’s sexuality? — a question I’m sure she is more than tired of answering. But first, let’s explore what the social scientists have to say — the ones who’ve spent much of their careers studying Anna and others like her.
To date, very little research has focused on the development of children’s sexuality in gay- and lesbian-led families. What little has been done suggests a somewhat higher probability that these children will be gay or bisexual when they grow up (although none have found the more than tenfold increase in likelihood that Paul Cameron claims). But professionals are well aware that many in society believe that gay children are a “bad” outcome of gay parents, and they know that these findings, no matter how modest, are exactly the sort of thing that anti-gay extremists are likely to pounce on. That’s why some tend to downplay these findings.
In 2001, sociologists Judith Stacy and Timothy Biblarz called for an end to this nonsense and blasted their fellow social scientists in a startling paper in the American Sociological Review.3 After eviscerating anti-gay activists for their misuse of social science research, they then turned their attention to their fellow social scientists and pointed out that of course children of gay and bisexual parents might be somewhat more likely to be gay or bisexual themselves:
…It is difficult to conceive of a credible theory of sexual development that would not expect the adult children of lesbigay parents to display a somewhat higher incidence of homoerotic desire, behavior, and identity than children of heterosexual parents. For example, biological determinist theory should predict at least some difference in an inherited predisposition to same-sex desire; a social constructionist theory would expect lesbigay parents to provide an environment in which children would feel freer to explore and affirm such desires; psychoanalytic theory might hypothesize that the absence of a female parent would foster a son’s pre-oedipal love for his father that no fear of castration or oedipal crisis would interrupt. Moreover, because parents determine where their children reside, … [some might] anticipate that lesbigay parents would probably rear their children among less homophobic peers.
If all of this is true — that children of gays and lesbians are somewhat more likely to be gay or bisexual, and more importantly, that the sexualities of these children are not a valid test of their parents’ worth — then what’s the beef with Dr. Cameron’s article? The problems rest on these five points: his hostile premise, his weak methodology, his deliberately mischaracterizing what others say, his unproven conclusions, and his flagrantly anti-gay bias that lends the entire article all of the scientific merit of a crude propaganda piece.
The Question — What Does Anna Have To Say?
And now we have a real live young woman whose story has been co-opted by an anti-gay extremist. What does Anna have to say about this?
JB: Back to your quote from Paul Cameron — and never mind about reading about gay characters — do you think growing up immersed in gay culture influenced your sexuality?
AC: No, not directly, I guess I think sexuality is pretty internal and not really influenced by this sort of thing. However, being bi, had I not had the increased awareness of lesbianism that my mother being lesbian had given me, I might not have thought about my crushes on girls in terms of bisexuality but simply ignored them. It seems to me to be a question of expressing an LGBT identity vs. feeling LGBT attractions/emotions (and possibly not acting on them).
JB: Do you have any further thoughts on your participation in Abigail Garner’s book?
AC: I’m happy I did it, as it is a great book.
JB: And what about how Paul Cameron used your story?
AC: It is unfortunate that people are still this prejudiced — and also amazing (and depressing) how his article could get published in a Cambridge University Press journal.
3. Stacey, Judith; Biblarz, Timothy J. “(How) Does the sexual orientation of parents matter?” American Sociological Review 66, no. 2 (April 2001): 159-183. Abstract available online at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=276907.