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The New York Times Stirs up Discussion on The Kids Are All Right

Posted July 22, 2010


The New York Times’ special section “Room For Debate” invites people in the know to discuss issues raised by current events. The recent question up for discussion is “What role does a movie like The Kids Are All Right play in changing social attitudes?” The panel chosen to respond include The Daily Beast columnists Kate Aurthur, The Stranger’s editorial director Dan Savage (and a gay dad himself), Stephanie Coontz, who teaches family history at the Evergreen State College and recently wrote Marriage, A History, and finally Lynn Spigel, a professor at Northwestern University School of Communication and the author of Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America.

Each participant looks at this question from a very different point of view. Two of the writers––Lynn Spigel and Kate Aurthur––give fascinating context to the history of LGBT representation, especially on television. Dan Savage, whose own experiences as a gay dad have been chronicled in his books The Kid and The Commitment: Love, Sex, Marriage and My Family, champions the film’s honesty and courage: “Lisa Cholodenko’s film lived up to the hype. “The Kids Are All Right is tremendously moving, the first film about a family headed by a same-sex couple that treats our existence as a fact and us as human beings.” But as a person who has lived the drama enacted in the film, Savage goes on to talk about the complicated relation gay parents negotiate with the biological force (be in surrogate, sperm donor, or such) that helps them start that family.

Coontz provides a historical look at the demographics of gay families and how they match up (or not) with popular representations. For Coontz, The Kids Are All Right is both the exception (it focus on a lesbian couple rather than single gay men) and the rule:

The Kids Are All Right stands out not in its acceptance of same-sex marriage but in its focus on a same-sex family with many of the same relationship and generational tensions we find in heterosexual couples. All but die-hard opponents of gay rights can relate to that. And in fact, portraying same-sex couples with children may be the best strategy for same-sex advocates in the United States.