Gayby Baby is an Australian documentary that takes a look at four children who have same sex parents. Initially I was slightly wondering whether the film was going to render itself moot to gay audience by spending it’s entire running time suggesting there’s no difference between kids with gay parents and those without. That might be news to some, but for most LGBT people it isn’t exactly revelatory.
However, that was unfair of me, as while for the first 10 minutes it concentrates on the similarities, it then begins to subtly dissect the possible differences and pressures, asking both LGBT and straight viewers to question their presumptions about gay parents and their kids. It’s certainly not a film that sets out to undermine the idea of gay parenting, but it does want to look at whether things are as black and white as either the pro or con side might want to suggest.
For example there’s Graham, who was adopted from an extremely tough situation when he was five, at which point he wasn’t yet able to speak. While he’s made huge amount of progress, his two dads have now moved him to Fiji, a country that isn’t particularly accepting of homosexuality. While Graham is already facing educational issues, he now has to deal with having two dads but not being able to generally acknowledge that to those around him.
Then there’s Gus, who’s mainly a very normal kid, but has a massive obsession with wrestling. The film questions whether this is a result of his lack of a male parental figure, while his mothers become concerned about whether his increasing identification with the world of wrestling is giving him an unbalanced view of what it means to be a man. It’s particularly interesting as a lot of kids love wrestling, so the film asks the viewer to consider whether this is really an issue or if it’s something we only think about because Gus has two moms. However, it does feel like Gus is starting to wonder what manliness is and is searching for a path through that. Perhaps most smartly, the movie suggests that with the right touch even something as unreal as WWE can be a path towards a balanced view of what it is to be a man, as long as there’s the right parental direction and support.
The film also follows Matt, who’s having a bit of an existential crisis. One of his mothers is quite Christian and keen that her son follows in her footsteps (although she is also keen to point out she’ll support him whatever), but he is increasingly unsure whether he believes in God, especially one from a religion that often rejects gay people and families like his. Even his mother’s own church says gay couples are sinful, which causes Matt to question everything – not least why his mother chose that church rather than one that’s more accepting. He is determined there should be full equality as it makes no sense to him to think otherwise, and is struggling with the idea of why either he or his mother would ally themselves with something which seems to stand against that.
Finally, there’s Ebony and the struggles of her family as they do their best to help her fulfil her dreams of being a singer and attending a prestigious performing arts school. However, they don’t have much money and her younger brother has severe problems stemming from his epilepsy. The film also looks at the fact Ebony’s mother hasn’t always been with a woman, and that her daughter has had to adapt to that, having previously made jokes about gay people and things.
It’s a smart and interesting movie, that is very supportive of gay parenting while also acknowledging that things aren’t always ‘just the same’. It doesn’t mean the kids featured won’t end up as normal, well-adjusted people (indeed it’s easy to argue these kids have a good shot of being better adjusted than most), but that having gay parents may bring particular issues and pressures that it doesn’t help shying away from. That’s true whether it’s the conflict between religion and sexuality, equality, the need for male and female role models, or a general feeling of difference by not coming from a ‘typical’ family.
Gayby Baby presents these as surmountable issues, but also things that need to be addressed. You may question some of the parents’ decision, but you would of any parent whether gay or straight (although I really do wonder whether Fiji is the best place for Graham). The doc also smartly looks at the world through the eyes of the children, rather than looking down on them or being too concerned with the issues of the parents (other than in how the parents affect the kids).
The documentary is far more interesting and emotionally affecting that it initially feels like it’s going to be, as you watch the kids thinking through their issues, while growing up and often showing a surprising maturity. As Ebony says at one point, it’s your family who make you who you are, and Gayby Baby suggests that while there may be issues with having same sex parents, they are not greater than those of other families and that they are likely only to be a real problem if totally ignored or denied.
Overall Verdict: An interesting, empathetic and well-made look at kids with same sex parents, which doesn’t shy away from the issues such children may face, but is also keen to show that with love they are far from insurmountable.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac
Gayby Baby is available on VoD/iTunes in the US, UK & Ireland from May 1st 2016