Book Review: The Kids by Gabriela Herman
By Leah Pfenning
The question of the reverberations of being raised by LGBTQ parents has been a keen topic in the social-political sphere of America for the last several years. Conservative opinions posit that it is detrimental to a child’s psyche, that being raised in such an environment is condemning the child to grow up to sexually identify as queer themselves. This political scrutiny has resulted in an ill-begotten pressure for the kids of LGBTQ parents to conform to a sort of “normalcy”, or at least for advocates of LGBTQ families, to tender these kids in a Pleasant Ville-esque way in order to prove to the right that LGBTQ parents are capable of raising children that are psychologically and socially undaunted by their “alternative” upbringing.
Gabriela Herman is a Brooklyn-based photographer and the child of an LGBTQ parent. She began her seven-year-long exploration of photographing and interviewing children of LGBTQ parents, erecting off of her images that were featured in an article in The New York Times Sunday Review and The Guardian. Her work culminates in a candid response to the questions of the impact of being raised by LGBTQ parents; the answer Herman delivers is The Kids. Herman’s book is equal parts portraiture and narrative, creating a raw and vivifying platform that gives faces and voices to the children of LGBTQ families.
The individuals in The Kids span across generations and feature kids raised in rural, suburban, and major metropolitan areas in America. Some of the people in the book are children of divorce, some of artificial insemination, and some, adopted. There are kids who were brought up from infancy in an LGBTQ house, and others that experienced a parent coming out later in life. There is not one, universal shared experience for a child of LGBTQ parents, just as there isn’t for any two children who were raised in different families.
The intricacies of each family as its own entity are the very fibers that weave the individuals together to become a unit. As Meema, a child of LGBTQ parents featured in the book states, “Yes, love makes a family, but also fighting with your mom at Thanksgiving makes a family… And sometimes things [are] super harmonious, and sometimes not… You still have the right to be a family even if you’re not a perfect family.” Herman takes care not to filter any experiences of the kids, and the resounding clarity that gives lends to an understanding, an empathy. There were good times and there were hard times, questions and secrets, they were kids like we all were, and that sameness is what resonates through the book.
The Kids was developed in collaboration with COLAGE, the only national organization that focuses on children of LGBTQ parents. The collaboration brought together a diverse set of experiences, which combined with Herman’s earnest interest and care, gives the book an inherent intimacy. As Annie Van Avery, the executive director of COLAGE says, “Gabriela’s book is more than a book of portraits. It is a narrative of a culture, our culture, created by a photographer who clearly knows our souls.” Walking through the stories in The Kids one has the feeling of a confidant entrusted with personal details–ones to make you laugh and ones to make you cry, from individuals who are proud to speak them.
Gabriela Herman has seamlessly untangled any wondering about the what’s and how’s of being a child of an LGBTQ parent. From the pride to the pain, the kids are speaking it all, and Herman doesn’t want to miss a thing. By virtue of her empathy we can see and hear, too, and what’s greater, we can learn.