When she was in high school Gabriela Herman’s mother came out of the closet. Understandably, such a revelation may not be easy to deal with. As Herman explains it, there are two main reasons why a situation like the one in which she found herself could be traumatic.
Firstly, as a teen all you want is to find a group of friends that is like you. Any kind of difference that makes you stick out means you could get teased and bullied. At the time she hadn’t met a single person who had a gay parent. There were no classmates who had experienced a parent coming out or their mother marring another woman. She felt isolated.
We dealt with it by not dealing with it.We spoke all the time, but never about that.
Secondly, the matter was never talked about within the family. As Herman puts its “We dealt with it by not dealing with it. Even my siblings and I, who are very close otherwise, never discussed it. We spoke all the time, but never about that.” She felt silenced.
As she grew older, Herman felt the urge to repair the isolation and the silence, by reaching out to other kids of gay parents. Through her sister, she found out about an organisation called Colage, that at the time (about a decade ago), was the only national non-profit support network for children of gay parents. She went to her first meeting, to the New York chapter of the group, and for the first time talked about her experiences to nine others in the room. For the first time she felt like she had found her tribe; a group that understood this particular aspect of her life.
Being a professional photographer – she does a range of editorial, product and food photography – one of the ways Herman engaged with this new found tribe was to take portraits of them. “I’ve always had a few personal projects on the go while doing commercial work, this was one of them. Whenever I travelled to other parts of the country I’d reach out to them, meet up with members, take their pictures and listen to their stories.”
At first she mobilised her own personal network to connect with people. But then The New York Times Sunday Review and The Guardian wrote about her work. Once featured in these publications, the project suddenly grew, with people reaching out from all over the country. So many people, in search of belonging, wanted their stories to be heard. She followed these up as best she could, traveling all over the States, and her collection of stories grew.
While there was the initial feeling of similarity and familiarity with everyone she met, there was also the realisation that being the child of a gay parent isn’t a singular or homogeneous experience. There were adopted children, those conceived through surrogacy, those who were attached to just one parent biologically, and so on. “I thought, over the course of seven years, I could have encountered every ‘kind’ there was. But then I met a boy who has two gay dads, but conceived with the sperm of one dad and the egg of the other dad’s sister. So he actually has both dads’ DNA.” It’s fascinating, she says, and proves to her that there’s no one way to do family.
We need to reach a place where being gay or being the child of a gay parents doesn’t warrant special attention
The series cam to a natural end with the book deal; it felt like a neat bow that bound together and closed the project. She’s been on this journey long enough to notice social change. “When I first started making these portraits, I used to spend two or three hours talking to subjects, sharing our experiences. There was so much to discuss. But in recent years there’s been much less to talk about, in about ten minutes we’re done talking about gay parents.” Herman believes that this speaks to the change in attitude towards non-traditional families. There is less to say about being a child of an LGBTQ parent because it isn’t thought of as being that big a deal anymore, and rightly so.
In a few years’ time, she hopes the world looks back at her work and thinks “What was the need for that?”.
The Kids: The Children of LGBTQ Parents in the USA is out now, published by The New Press.