Dawn Stefanowicz. Out from Under: The Impact of Homosexual Parenting, Annotation Press, 2007
Brothers Thomas and Scott; a homosexual father, “raised in an extremely dysfunctional family where sexual barriers were violated and incestuous relationships occurred”; and a weak, subservient mother. These are the protagonists in Out from Under, where Dawn Stefanowicz narrates an open, honest account – at times raw and harsh of her troubling times from being a young girl to young adulthood. It is a personal life story told with no holds barred “so that the reader can fully understand how parents and family structure can have a negative impact on children”. It is like a cathartic re-elaboration, of great psychoanalytic value, where words of forgiveness and hope unexpectedly emerge where the most traumatic moments are touched on.
Cynthia Dawn (her complete name) was raised in Toronto in the 60s surrounded by personal and family hardships. To a large extent, she was ignored by teachers at school and the external world in general.
She was emotionally betrayed by an absent father who was in a continual search of occasional gay relationships. Her mother, morally weak and a long sufferer of diabetes, was unable to give the adequate care and attention a child needed. She quickly entered in a spiral of conflicts, confusion and shame caused by the vivid and explicit sexual experiences in her family setting.
This state of annihilation of personal and human dignity was emphasised dramatically during her turbulent adolescence and greatly prejudiced her early years of youth. To add to this depressing picture those years were marked by mood disorder and suicidal thoughts. Years of psychoanalysis and profound faith in God have permitted Dawn to reconcile with a past so cumbersome and traumatic, so heavily marked by humiliation, deceit and oppression. Analysis and faith have helped her to find sense in life and regain an inner balance. Yet, it was only after her father passing away (died of AIDS like many of his partners) and her mother’s death that this woman, now a mother of a girl and a boy, has found the courage to make public her terrible experience in order to “show to everyone how much parental and family relationships can influence negatively on the development of children”. Dawn, now 50, has taken on a true and proper mission, to travel the world to bear witness to the reasons of her writing this book. Her battle is to lobby the legalization of gay marriages and gay adoptions to safeguard children’s welfare by promoting the importance of the family as a natural institution founded on marriage between a man and a woman.
Out from Under is a book which will stir opinions and discussion and not just because of Dawn’s painful personal story but also because it raises questions about the definition of parenthood and whether a child should be raised solely by his or her biological mother and father. The gay community and supporters argue that the “biological” aspect is not necessary in order to become a parent. However, if this definition is changed then one of the primary rights of a child is denied. It is a subject which regards issues on a moral and sociocultural level that we cannot ignore or take lightly. Future legislations should be made to protect and safeguard the interests, the rights and needs of children. The function of family is essential, it is an irreplaceable one which is not only sustained by the Catholic Church but also by recent studies published by the Social Science Research journal.
If the views supporting heterosexual parents are hastily defined as homophobic or misleading and false, then public debate will be stilted and will not have space to grow. If there is no change in direction (of views) there is a risk of sliding into fruitless ideological controversies. Moreover, a recent study - published on the famous Daily Telegraph and on the italian paper La Stampa - by ComRes agency on behalf of Catholic Voices in the UK states that many gays and transgender alike do not consider gay marriage a priority.
On the eve, therefore, of choices destined to inevitably rekindle controversies - the new French government has already confirmed its intention to legalise same sex marriages and adoptions-, Dawn Stefanowicz’s strong and courageous testimonial is all too welcome. It provides us with concrete elements to reflect on regarding our identity, parental responsibility and for once it is something which keeps our feet firmly on the ground.
(*) Caterina Saccà is a Child Neuropsychiatrist