Janna Darnelle’s recent Public Discourse essay, “Breaking the Silence: Redefining Marriage Hurts Women Like Me—and Our Children,” reveals what is behind the heartwarming pictures of gay families from a mother’s point of view. As someone who was raised by a lesbian mother, I would like to weigh in. I will comment not only as a former child who was once all smiles in those pictures, but also as an academic, a woman, a mother, and a feminist.
Darnelle’s essay struck a nerve and went viral. It is not surprising that, within a few hours, LGBT activists had taken up arms against her. Keyboard warriors manned the ramparts. Soon, the usual thugs took up their clubs and pitchforks.
For those of you who avoid the subterranean landscape of online same-sex parenting debates, it is useful to be introduced to Scott “Rose” Rosenzweig, a virulently misogynistic LGBT activist. As soon as Darnelle’s essay was published, Rose went into action, darting from the blog Good As You to other sites in an effort to destroy her personally. (Rose’s obsessive internet commenting has attracted attention at other news outlets as well.) Darnelle’s ex-husband even weighed in. A helpful fellow, he left her personal information in the comments section of several activists’ blogs, including her full legal name.
Janna Darnelle wrote under a pen name in order to protect her family. Unfortunately, her ex-husband’s comments helped Scott Rose embark on a campaign of harassment and intimidation. As I will discuss below, Rose was not content to confine his character assassination to the internet; he has also contacted Darnelle’s employer in an attempt to get her fired.
Readers will recall that Darnelle’s essay discusses her divorce from her ex-husband and her struggles as a single mother to provide a sense of family. Although her conclusions are controversial, her story is well-written and articulate. Sadly, the hate-driven response from extremist LGBT activists and bloggers confirms what many women are beginning to realize. While these activists laud the ex-husband for “living his truth,” they hold women and children in such contempt that they refuse to recognize the legitimacy of Janna’s account of her difficult experiences as a mother. Although they purport to represent the disadvantaged, certain wings of the LGBT-rights movement function as all-white men’s rights groups. In our contemporary climate, these men are allowed to do great harm to women and children with impunity.
Erasing and Exploiting Women
On the most superficial level, what Darnelle described could have parallels in a heterosexual divorce. In most cases, a woman’s standard of living drops significantly after a divorce, while men’s goes up significantly. So, in that sense, there was nothing surprising in Janna’s story: the judge favored the husband, who had a steady high income.
The bloggers and activists who comment at Jeremy Hooper’s Good as You blog have used this judge’s decision to suggest that Darnelle was an unfit mother. Darnelle’s piece did not give details about the family’s custody arrangement, but I have confirmed that the mother has 60 percent custody of the children. This indicates that she has not been found to be “unfit” in any way.
The “unfit mother” trope is very important, because it helps justify taking women’s children, eggs, or the use of their uteri. Darnelle is right. Many families headed by gay male couples are built upon exploitation of women. Practically speaking, Scott Rose and his compatriots have formed a men’s rights group that seeks to use women as breeders. These egg donors and surrogate mothers supply infants for a bustling market full of same-sex couples, for whom reproduction is naturally and biologically impossible.
In the name of equality, groups such as GLAAD (which employs Jeremy Hooper as a consultant) have pushed through gender identity laws that have legally erased women. The term “woman” now legally can refer to the way that a man chooses to identify himself. Once women have been erased legally as a group and as individuals, it is not hard to erase “mothers.” This lends support to the practice of using one woman’s eggs and another woman’s womb to supply children for gay male couples, obscuring the concept of motherhood and making it seem dispensable.
A Guide to the Playbook of Extreme LGBT Activists
The publication of Janna Darnelle’s story led to a spate of blog posts full of vitriol, calling her “a pitiful creature,” accusing her of mental instability, and questioning her very existence.
With the help of her husband’s comments, Scott Rose set off to dig up and publicize as much personal information as possible about Darnelle, such as high school graduation and real estate records. Rose has harassed Darnelle with threatening messages. He has even contacted Darnelle’s employer, leaving this message on the company’s Facebook page:
This is a COMPLAINT against […], an executive assistant in […]. Under the nom de plume of “Janna Darnelle,” […] has published a horrifying, defamatory anti-gay screed on the website “Public Discourse.” The first problem would be that she is creating a climate of hostility for eventual gay elders and/or their visiting friends and relatives. The second problem would be that in the screed, she comes off as being unhinged. Her public expressions of gay-bashing bigotry are reflecting very poorly on LLC.
Sadly, all of this conforms to a predictable pattern of attack. If you study the routine that plays out whenever extreme activists like Scott Rose decide to take someone out, you will see seasoned patterns. Four steps comprise their usual character assassination.
First, they call the individual a liar and say the person’s existence cannot be verified without more data about him or her. Second, once they have such data, they write to the person’s employer to get him or her fired or professionally destroyed. Third, if they cannot get the person fired, they go after the family members. Fourth, if they cannot turn the person’s family against him or her, they blast endless broadsides against the person, trying to make him or her feel afraid or unsafe at all times.
They have a bag of rhetorical tricks as well. Learn these.
Soft derails: “What about straight divorces, adoptions, and blended families?” Such asides are meant to distract and create false equivalencies. The fact is, every single family headed by a gay male couple had to take another person’s child. In order to accept this, one must accept that men have the right to use women’s bodies and buy their children.
Shocking derails: “Look at all the bad parents that are heterosexual.” The existence of such parents, while tragic, does not give men the right to harvest eggs from women, to use them as breeders, or to take their babies and children.
Appeal to emotion: “We want children; what should we do?” This tries to make people feel guilty or shame them into handing over poor women to be used by rich men. My response: I have not asked you to solve my problems, have I? You can’t demand society legislate a special subclass of women to be used explicitly as breeders so you can feel happy.
Born this way biology: “Do not live a lie; be true to yourself.” This tactic becomes another erasure of women. In this scheme, we are asked to accept that men’s biology matters. A man who is attracted to other men could not possibly be asked to stay with his wife, because he is biologically fated to be attracted to other men’s bodies. Yet, simultaneously, we are told that women’s biology—especially their biological bonds with their children—are of no importance. Despite the scientific evidence of maternal and fetal bonding during pregnancy, and despite the long histories of women who have suffered lifelong grief because their babies were taken from them, we are expected to think of women as breed animals and to believe that men have the right to raise other people’s children.
You want to marry a man and you are a man? Society does not owe you women’s children, women’s eggs, or women’s bodies.
They Can’t Silence Us Forever
In writing this piece, I know that I risk being labeled a bigot. Like Janna Darnelle, I will probably have to endure a whole host of misogynistic terms. I’ll be called crazy, unhinged, laughable, bitter, fat, old, and ugly. In other words, I am just a woman who dares to say rich privileged white men do not have the right to women’s bodies and body parts.
Male sexual pleasure has been a protected industry for both gay and heterosexual men for ages. By and large, the industry exploits women and children. Now we have a new industry: surrogacy, or the commercial-industrial uterus. How very progressive. And at the same time, how very old and predictable.
Rivka Edelman is a visiting professor of literature and writing. She has published widely under a different name. She is also a feminist, a children’s rights activist, and an active member in the network of adult children raised in LBGT households.
Correction: October 6, 2014
An earlier version of this article incorrectly conflated the actions of Jeremy Hooper and Scott Rose. It also described Mr. Hooper as being employed by GLAAD. Mr. Hooper is not a full-time GLAAD employee; he acts as a part-time Special Projects Consultant. Public Discourse apologizes for these errors.