How queer parents can handle invasive questions about their families

Gay dads and their kids in a stock image
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This is an excerpt from “The Queer Parent: Everything You Need to Know from Gay to Ze” – “The only guide you’ll ever need when it comes to the ins and outs of queer parenting” – by Lotte Jeffs & Stu Oakley, from Cleis Press, distributed by Simon & Schuster.

Let’s get ready for some BIG conversations. First up, as queer parents-to-be, we might find ourselves regularly having to talk to our own parents or friends about our intentions to start a family, and people expect a level of detail from us that heterosexual couples trying for a baby aren’t subjected to. You don’t get Aunty Carol asking her straight niece when she’s ovulating, but asking a lesbian going through IVF for the dates of her next treatment? Perfectly acceptable.

For many of us, when we came out as gay or trans, our parents assumed this meant we’d never have children, so it might take certain people in your life a while to get their heads around your intentions. Even if they’re happy about it, their first reaction could come from a place of unfamiliarity, fear, and confusion, so try not to hold this against them but instead be willing to bring them on the journey with you and open their minds.

It can be helpful to start sowing the seeds early so that by the time you do have children, everyone can just enjoy these tiny humans without feeling that they have unanswered questions or “don’t understand how it all works.” Giving your parents or family members a copy of this book is a great way to begin the conversation and help them understand the challenges you might face along the way.

At this stage, allow people to make mistakes and say “the wrong thing” at first. There will come a time when it’s not acceptable, but these early chats are when it’s best to get all the issues and potential faux pas out of the way, because once the child is in your world, you don’t want any negativity or ill-placed “concern” from your nearest and dearest.

Setting Boundaries

Before talking to your parents or siblings for the first time about wanting to have kids, have a chat with your partner or be clear in your own mind about your boundaries when it comes to answering questions. You don’t owe anyone anything and are perfectly within your rights to say your version of “no comment” at any stage of these early chats. But in our personal experience, being really honest and sharing almost everything with our families at every stage of the process, of adoption and donor conception respectively, ended up being a really positive approach. When you do eventually become parents, you’ll want to check in on those boundaries again so that you are clear on where you draw the line when talking about your family. It’s often deeply dependent on context—you’re not going to open up to a nosey stranger about something you might have no problem sharing with a close friend, but it’s good to be prepared.

Maybe you don’t want to give specifics about the donor or the birth family; maybe you don’t want people to know whether it was yours or your partner’s sperm you used for surrogacy, or why you decided to co-parent with this friend and not this one.

All totally fine! This is your family’s story to tell, how and when you want to.

Responses to Common Questions

How to avoid the inevitable “But have you thought about X?” response to saying you are doing “Y”

“We’ve thought long and hard about this and explored all the different options. We have decided that adoption/ fostering/ donor conception/egg-sharing/surrogacy, etc. is right for us. There are lots of reasons why this is the case, but maybe right now we could just tell you more about the route we’ve chosen rather than go over the ones we haven’t.”

How to avoid well-meaning constant check-ins about how things are going

“We’re just starting out, but we’ll let you know when there are any significant developments.”

How to respond if someone says, ‘But aren’t you worried they’ll be bullied or face prejudice because their parent(s) are queer?’

“We’re confident we’ll raise a strong, brave, and independent person who grows up feeling so loved by all their wonderful friends and family that they can face whatever the world throws at them.”

What to say if someone says, “I just think all children need a mum and a dad”

Permission to roll eyes, flick hair, walk away. But if you can be bothered to confront this, try saying, “Children need to feel loved and secure. Our kids will be surrounded by role models of all genders and won’t feel the lack of anything in their lives.” If you want some data to back up your instinct that children don’t specifically need a male and a female parent to thrive, see the chapter “K is for Kids,” where Professor Susan Golombok shares the findings of her thirty-plus years of research into the subject.

How to handle catastrophizing questions

“Well, there are lots of what ifs in this process but we’re going into it with positivity and we’d love it if you could support us in that.”

Owning Our Narrative

As LGBTQ+ people, we are used to coming out. We have to do it on a daily basis at the supermarket checkout, the GP’s, to delivery people, and taxi drivers. It’s a pain—but what it has done is steeled us for unnecessarily intimate conversations with strangers. And once you have kids, you’ll find yourself having a lot of them.

We like to preempt questions about our families by loudly and proudly asserting ourselves before anyone has to ask. There’s a sense of power in owning the narrative in this way and it protects us from being caught off guard. This might mean at the newborn baby drop-in, when all the other mums have obviously postpartum bodies, you say, “Hi, I’m Lotte—it was actually my wife who gave birth.” Stu tries to slip into conversation as quickly as he can that he and John adopted the children. “We know that the moment they meet us and see we are two gay dads they will start wondering the how of it all. I’d rather just be straight (first time for everything!) and answer the inevitable question. We are proud to have adopted and we teach the kids to be proud of being adoptees; there is no shame in it. That doesn’t mean we want to immediately share intimate details of our children’s life story (that’s our kids’ choice to do if they wish when older; it’s their story), but at least we have addressed the pink and sparkly elephant in the room.”

We’ve also found it useful to be really clear with new people about what our children call us. To the uninitiated there’s little to differentiate Dad from Daddy or Mummy from Mama, but for our kids, their two parents’ names are as different as “Mum” and “Dad.”

Something we’ve both been really aware of is providing consistency for our children in the language used about their
family from all of their caregivers. A conversation with a childminder, schoolteachers or grandparents so that they know Lotte would never refer to her daughter’s “father” but rather her “donor” goes a long way. Likewise, in Stu’s case, explaining why we don’t use the phrase “taken from” in terms of adoption is hugely important. Once we’ve passed on this kind of information, ideally in a face-to-face conversation, followed up with an email or text message, we’re not afraid to pull people up on it when they don’t get it right. It can be easy to shrug off mistakes in that very English way of not wanting to make a fuss. But it matters.

Teaching Pride

Something that’s a lot harder to control is what happens when our children encounter other children who ask them about their family. And perhaps they do so in a way that feels confrontational. There’s going to be a time in their lives, and hopefully we can put it off as long as possible, when they are made to feel different. All we can hope is that we’ve given them enough confidence and equipped them with enough tools to be able to talk about their families with pride.


  • Be honest with your children.
  • Talk to them about their family and how it was made even before they can talk back.
  • Say the words “gay” or “trans”—we have been conditioned to see these words as “inappropriate” for children to know about or say. This is the sad legacy of living in a world that centers on heterosexuality.
  • Tell them that every family is different—some have two dads, one mum . . . some even have a mum and a dad.
  • Be ready to answer deep questions at awkward times.
  • Smile, laugh, be playful, and affectionate as you have these discussions.
  • Let your child know they can ask you anything, at any time. Nothing is awkward or difficult to discuss so nothing is off limits.


  • Pretend you’re just like everyone else.
  • Tell a child they are extra special because of the way they came into your world.
  • Put things off until they’re old enough to understand.
  • Whisper or avoid words like “adoption” or “donor”— these are not dirty words.
  • Say anything that isn’t true.
  • Expect these conversations to happen in a linear fashion.

We’ve talked to our children about their origin stories from before they could talk back to us. This means there’s no big
reveal moment where they find something out about themselves. They grow up always knowing. When she was two, Lotte’s daughter was fond of telling people that she had “Two mummies and a donut.” She meant donor. Having a healthy sense of humor, as with so much of parenting, is key!

Of course, at three a child can’t understand the nuances of her conception, but she can grasp the basics, like whose tummy she was in. As queer parents we are constantly having to come out throughout our child’s life—every new school or club or holiday, it never stops being something we have to at the very least acknowledge and most often explain to others. But the way we discuss it within the family gets inevitably to a deeper level.

As parents of older children you may have spoken to them about their origin story throughout their life, but that’s not to say new questions or desires might arise. It’s a conversation that will go on long into your child’s adult life and it will shift and change as they do and your relationship with them evolves too.

All rights reserved. Except for brief passages quoted in newspaper, magazine, radio, television, or online reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying or recording, or by information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.  

Published in 2024 in the United States by Cleis Press, an imprint of Start Midnight, LLC, 221 River Street, Ninth Floor, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030. Copyright © Lotte Jeffs and Stu Oakley 2023. First published 2023 by Bluebird an imprint of Pan Macmillan.

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