The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Boundary Ambiguity in Gay Stepfamilies: Perspectives of Gay Biological Fathers and Their Same-Sex Partners

Thursday, January 16, 2014: 3:30 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 002A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
David Jenkins, PhD, Professor, Texas Christian University, Ft. Worth, TX

The purpose of this study is to examine the experiences of gay men in their newly-formed stepfamilies from the perspective of the gay biological fathers and their same-sex partners.  In this family form, a gay parent brings a child into the new family from a previous relationship.  While some research has been done on gay and lesbian stepfamilies together and a modest amount of information is known specifically about lesbian stepfamilies, little is known about stepfamilies headed by two gay men.  There is a need to have greater understanding of the experiences of gay stepfamilies where the relationship is less than five years old. 


All 18 participants in this study were partners in a same-sex relationship and in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted separately with both the gay biological father and the same-sex partner.  Participants were selected using purposive sampling and snowball techniques from two large metropolitan areas.  Most of the participants were in their forties, identified as Caucasian, had completed some college, and claimed a Christian religious affiliation.  The researcher conducted and audio-recorded each interview, had them transcribed, and checked each transcript for accuracy.  Memos were written throughout the interview process and the researcher immersed himself in the data and formed initial impressions. The data were carefully analyzed and related back to the whole until salient categories emerged. The author used bracketing, debriefing, an audit trail, triangulation and member checking in the project. 


The data analysis resulted in two main themes: (1) Defining Family, and (2) Encountering Obstructions. The theme of Defining Family included two subthemes: (1) Family that Includes Partner and Children, and (2) Two Separate Families.  The theme of Encountering Obstructions included three subthemes: (1) Legal Hurdles, (2) Religious Beliefs, and (3) Ex-Spouse and Child Interference. The conceptual framework of boundary ambiguity is used as a helpful way to conceptualize what occurred among family members interviewed for this research. 

Conclusions and Implications:

Gay stepfamilies encounter the concerns that come from being in a stepfamily and the heterosexism and additional burdens of unsupportive legal, societal, and religious institutions.  These gay parents live with ties to a heterosexual past while engaged in the present with a same-sex stepfamily relationship.  Balancing these responsibilities can be a difficult and stressful task. Gay stepfamily members face multiple sources of boundary ambiguity as they attempt to function as one unit.  Some gay families are able to overcome these obstacles and form a cohesive family unit with boundary clarity.  Others struggle and end up creating two separate families to manage the boundary ambiguity in their family.  Gay stepfamilies experience two main types of factors that contribute to boundary ambiguity: (1) institutional ambiguity, and (2) interpersonal ambiguity.  The combination of these factors puts huge strains on gay stepfamilies.