In Installment I we learned how in most rural areas the gay community is invisible. This invisibility is a result of justifiable fear and discomfort about others’ reactions to disclosure of sexual orientation. Many rural gay fathers fear discovery and possible rejection, worrying that any gay behavior will lead to exposure. Contacts with known gay fathers may be avoided due to fears of others’ reactions, thus limiting the ability to learn effective parenting/living/coping skills.
Connections to existing local gay fathers social networks may be particularly difficult anyway, since many are tightly knit and do not actively seek new members. In addition, integration into non-gay parenting rural life may prove stressful because of different interests and values. Rural life is difficult not only for those gay fathers just “coming out,” it also poses problems for fathers who have defined themselves as gay for some time.
This limited number of gay fathers available may make enduring friendships difficult since many have little in common except their gayness. Many rural gay fathers remain in unsatisfying relationships because they cannot locate more compatible gay partners.
The development of a satisfying life as a gay father is a stressful personal experience which also produces stress in their families. Pervasive homophobia makes the gay father self-labeling process a personal struggle, not a joyous affirmation. Negative attitudes, minimal exposure to gay parents, misconceptions about gay father lives, and the lack of positive cultural symbols and role models for gay fathers and their nuclear and extended families make this life process appear highly non-normative.
Because of this, few straight parents and siblings are exalted to learn of their offspring’s same-sex sexual interests; few announce the discovery with pride to relatives, neighbors, friends, and others in their community; and few are prepared by anticipatory socialization to welcome gay fathers, dating partners of gay fathers, lovers of gay fathers, or the gay fathers lovers’ families (e.g., parents, children by former marriages, grandparents) into their own families.
Although many individual family members, friends, and community residents become supportive, integration into routine family and community life is generally proscribed. Such integration can be partially achieved for an individual gay father, of course, often under the unstated condition that the gay father become publicly asexual and not appear too gay, nor expect non-gay others to acknowledge, no less encourage, his status. This stigmatizing social process often ends with the gay father’s gravitation to urban areas where affirmation and pride can be sought.