COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Two sociologists at the Ohio State University are on a mission to find out why LGBTQ+ adults keep relationships with family members who have rejected them.
Sociology professor Rin Reczek and doctoral student Emma Bosley-Smith interviewed 76 lesbian, gay bisexual, transgender and queer adults and 44 of their parents to understand why LGBTQ+ individuals continue these relationships. The pair reported their results in the new book, “Families We Keep: LGBTQ People and their Enduring Bonds with Parents.”
“We found a sense of what we called ‘compulsory kinship,'” said Reczek in a release. “There’s this feeling among many LGBTQ people that the family is untouchable and should be maintained at all costs.”
Further, the pair found three themes as to why these adults keep ties. The first theme was love and closeness. In the interviews, many talked about pain and suffering in their relationship. Still, they said they were close or that they loved each other. The interviewees tended to repeat this contradictory language.
Second, growth. Many said they saw, or thought they saw, real growth in how their parents accepted them. Interviewees also had a sense of hope and optimism that growth would happen eventually. Third, uniqueness of the child-parent bond. This was often mentioned by individuals who had the most difficult relationships.
“We would hear things like ‘There’s not even any love in our relationship, but she’s my mom,’” Reczek said. “It was this notion that the parent-child relationship is so unique that it can’t be replaced or ended.”
To take part in the study, participants were required to maintain their relationships with their parents. Reczek and Bosley-Smith call this “conflict work” and the individuals tried to maintain relationships in various ways. Some stayed in the closet while others did not speak about being LGBTQ+ again after coming out.
Some were able to get married and have kids, but Reczek and Bosley-Smith note this option is generally only available to white gay and lesbian people, not transgender individuals or those of other races.
The pair also cited practical and financial reasons that keep adult children tied to parents.
“We need to make it so adults can be less reliant on their parents,” Reczek said. “For example, having a living minimum wage that would allow all adults to live on their own without having to rely on a homophobic or transphobic parent.”
The pair concluded there also needs to be less compulsory kinship, and that individuals don’t need to place senses of self or identity on being a parent or child.
“Adult children should be able to be independent or even estranged from their parents without losing their sense of belonging, purpose and identity,” said Reczek.