The challenge of developing personal competence as a gay father moving to Toronto and the creation or discovery of a promotive social milieu, difficult enough in Toronto, is particularly complex in rural areas. Personal competence involves four major components: accurate information about life issues; personal, interpersonal, and social skills to meet life goals and needs; the ability to take risks to try new behaviors; and the creation of a social support system that can promote
personal goal achievement.
Rural areas are generally lacking in resources that are found in Toronto for acquiring such personal competence as a gay father. Little information about rural gay fathers is readily available. Toronto has anonymous switchboards and help lines that provide information, whereas few rural information systems exist. There are limited opportunities to observe and acquire personal and social skills compared to Toronto, which provide a variety of social settings. For instance, such settings as a gay political caucus meeting or a gay athletes’ competition allows for personal development as well as the creation of a sense of community in Toronto.
Risk-taking in rural areas may be more troubling. The anonymity of Toronto allows for the control of one’s public sexual interests and the ability to take risks. Such anonymity is not the rule in rural areas, where there is often intense interest in the lives of neighbors and friends. Finally, access to support systems is more difficult. Many rural gay fathers experience intense isolation having limited social connections with other gay fathers. This isolation can lead to lowered self-esteem and a general sense of hopelessness. These feelings are more intense for gay fathers exploring their feelings and experimenting with novel situations and behaviors.
Families of rural gay fathers are also disadvantaged as far as their resources for building family strengths. Many family members have no information about gay fathers, and may have never seen or talked directly to a gay man, woman, or a family member. Many unreflectively believe myths about gay fathers, their lives, and their futures. Few know other families from Toronto who can model acceptance and understanding, no less active promotion and encouragement. Few, if any, rural community leaders (ministers, lawyers, officials, etc.) or influential sources of information such as local newspapers even acknowledge the existence of gay fathers; when they do, they seldom present positive, gay-affirmative attitudes.