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In this symposium paper, I reflect upon how public images of gay fathers who raise children from the start as a gay couple are likely to impact the identity both of gay men and of fatherhood. I consider both the perceptions of the larger society as well as the self-images of gay men and their perceptions of fatherhood. For ease of reference, I refer to such gay fathers who begin fathering while in a gay relationship as primary gay fathers. I contrast primary gay fathers with the first generation of gay fathers to come to American public consciousness - gay fathers of heterosexual marriages. I theorize that the circumstances surrounding the coming to public awareness of the latter class of gay fathers - typically divorce and custody litigation following the gay father's coming out to his wife - helped to reinforce and perpetuate the identity of gay men as deceitful and untrustworthy, particularly in intimate relations, unable to commit to or enjoy a stable relationship, selfish, self-absorbed, and hyper-sexual. These circumstances, I argue, also helped to strengthen traditional masculine images of fatherhood by setting the gay father apart from what is considered the ideal father. I further theorize that, in contrast, the increased visibility of primary gay fathers, particularly in the context of the struggle for recognition of and protection for their intact families, is likely to help to break down these negative stereotypes and self-images of gay men. Moreover, I argue that this increased visibility also has the potential to weaken traditional gender roles associated with the fatherhood identity and to undermine the perception that gay men are unsuited for fatherhood.



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