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May 9, 2014

Pride and Parenthood: A Conversation with Jane Fleishman About Her Intentional LGBT Family

Today's post is written by Kira Garcia, SAGE's Director of Media Relations and Integrated Marketing.

With Mother’s Day approaching, it’s a great time to honor the courage, creativity and hard work—not to mention abundant love--that goes into creating LGBT families. It would be tough to find a better example of this than the family of Jane Fleishman and Joan Tabachnick. Jane and Joan co-parent their son Ezra, 21 and daughter Rose, 17, with their dads, Irwin and John.

All six of us at India House 2014
Jane Fleishman (second from left) and her family

 

At 60, Jane is pursuing a PhD in Human Sexuality after a career in staff development at a large psychiatric facility. Joan, 58, is a consultant specializing in sexual violence prevention. Irwin is a therapist specializing in transgender teens & families, and John is a retired school principal and puppeteer. I sat down to talk with Jane about her family’s remarkable story.

When did you decide to become parents, and how did parenthood come about for you? I know you have a unique story.

We have an intentional gay and lesbian family, but we all came to it in different ways.

In the late ‘80’s I wanted to be a mom but wasn’t sure how to do it-- I didn’t have a partner. I was searching around and thought I’d find a friend to be a donor. I asked my friend Irwin f he’d be a donor and he said he’d actually like to be a dad. His partner, John, was supportive.

So we embarked upon this project! It took me a long time but I finally became pregnant, and Ezra was born in 1992.

I love being a lesbian mom, and I love my community. Around the time Ezra was born, a lot of my friends were becoming sick with HIV and AIDS and I lost a number of close friends. So when we had a ceremony to celebrate the birth of this baby, everyone was happy to have a reason to get together that wasn’t a memorial. People were coming together for birth instead of death.

I met Joan when I was five months pregnant with Ezra. I had no idea what would happen but I knew she was amazing!

Wow, so Joan and Ezra were new to your life at the same time!

Yes! It was a magical time; I fell in love with both of them at the same time.

Joan’s commitment to become a mom with me was instrumental in helping me have another baby which I wasn’t sure I could do alone. So three and a half years later we had Rose. Rosie has the same bio dad as Ezra, but to recognize Joan’s role as a parent, we gave her Joan’s last name.

So you and Irwin were the legal parents, and then Joan became a third legal parent more recently.

Yes; we always wanted Joan to become a third parent but it wasn’t really an option. Initially, we understood that for Joan to become a legal parent, one parent would’ve had to give up parental rights—we didn’t want that to happen! We were about expansion, not contraction. We wanted the law to acknowledge Joan. Then we heard of friends in Boston who filed for three legal parents under the MA law which recognizes the “best interests of the child.”  When they went through with their legal adoption we knew it was now possible. She became a legal parent in 2012. It was great—we had our friends there and it was beautiful. Joan’s mother came up and we celebrated with bagels and lox.

When we began 20 years ago, it felt like we were ahead of the law but we knew the law would catch up with us—and it did!

What has surprised you most about parenthood?

I came out in the 70’s when I had to be really secretive at work. I couldn’t come out everywhere I wanted to. I felt like my lesbian and gay community was my neighborhood, my people. And I’m so close to my neighbors now! But when I was a young person I never knew my neighbors because I thought they’d shun me.  

When I became pregnant I became part of this huge new community. Hetero women saw me in this new way—I had a shared lived experience with hetero women that I’d never had before! It was wonderful but it was also kind of weird.

How do you think the world has changed for gay parents since your kids were born?

Well, my kids grew up in what is sometimes called, “Lesbianville, USA”. In Northampton a lot of the hetero families are like ‘we wish we had two moms!’ people joke about it, but the water is different here.

 When Rosie was in kindergarten she’d say [of her classmates] ‘he’s got 2 moms … and she’s got 2 moms, but no one’s family is exactly like ours.’ She knew a whole cohort of people that allowed her to be acknowledged, visible, seen, and not so different.

Yet when my son went to college he was struggling with how out he could be about his moms. He was in Boston, and it was a big school and it wasn’t as safe. But now both of my kids are totally out and proud about their parents. But they didn’t get the opportunity to decide whether they wanted to be out. They had to struggle like parents of gay children have to struggle—‘who do I tell?’

I’ve seen a lot of changes in 20 years. I was one of the first to have a baby in my community. There were people in my office who were like ‘why are you bringing a baby into this world, with so much hate?’ and I had to answer those questions.

From the moment Ezra and Rosie were born, we all took a stand that we’d be honest with them at every level, that they would know who their parents were, so that they could be proud.

There’s still hate and intolerance in the world. I’m fighting now the backlash in Uganda. So the issues are not gone. But my children have learned to be proud of our family and we are so happy to have held on to our own dreams of what is possible. 

 

Comments

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How wonderful Jane and Joan. We love you all!!

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