Gayby Baby is a feature documentary that follows the lives of four same-sex parented families. It is an educational film, and almost appears set up to answer well-known objections to same-sex marriage. Ebony, for example, is a 12-year-old girl who lives in Parramatta but practises singing religiously with the hope of getting into Newtown High School of the Performing Arts. She has two mothers, and they worry that unless she attends school in Newtown, she’ll be bullied by homophobic peers. The answer, as you can expect, is that Ebony’s parents love her and that every child faces challenges at school. Growing up with two mothers has made Ebony more understanding of issues to do with discrimination and sexuality, which can only be a good thing for a child. She will grow up open-minded and strong-willed.
Other objections to same-sex marriage include: can the child be raised religiously? This objection is addressed in Matt’s subplot. At the tender age of 11, Matt is undergoing an existential crisis. His mother wants him to go to Sunday school to learn more about religion, but he is resistant because he cannot understand why his mother is part of a church that does not approve of her relationship. The answer is again deceptively straightforward: he talks to the priest, reads some picture books about the Bible, then makes an informed decision that he would rather play AFL than go to church on a Sunday.
I was excited to meet Gus, the ten-year-old who is trying to convince his mothers to let him watch WWE wrestling. They are concerned about the messages that wrestling culture propagates regarding attitudes towards women and homosexuality. They are also worried that his play-fighting with his younger sister has become more violent. It’s a predicament that edges towards a discussion of masculinity in today’s society. Should we adopt a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude, and let him embrace the world of wrestling? Would a father be more accepting of his increasingly violent tendencies? Does the fact that he has two mothers, who have no problem with him putting on lipstick at a department store, mean he will grow up to be less of a ‘masculine’ man? Unfortunately, this issue is dangled before us like a ripe fruit, before being abruptly taken away. The answer is black and white, as it is with all of the questions Gayby Baby raises: Gus can go to wrestling, but he needs to be more gentle with his sister. Also, he needs to study music and debating.
The biggest strength of the documentary is in the emphasis placed on the perspective of children raised by same-sex couples, who have been unjustly excluded from contemporary dialogues on same-sex marriage. Their opinions are pertinent and often surprisingly perspicacious. At other times, they are just plain entertaining. There is a very funny exchange between Gus and his mother, where he accuses her of child abuse because she wants him to join the debating team. She calmly explains that this does not count as child abuse, and he retorts that she wants him to get so bored he kills himself, and that he doesn’t want to do music either because he will go deaf.
The main issue I had with Gayby Baby, though, is that the subjects’ experiences ultimately feel sugar-coated and unrealistic. Raising any child, in any environment, is difficult, and while the film alluded to difficulties (for example, Ebony has a sibling with epilepsy, and another child, Graham, has learning difficulties), it does not explore these challenges in any real depth. The upshot is that the film feels less like an exploratory documentary into the lives of four families, which happen to include a same-sex couple, and more like a saccharine, two-dimensional advertisement for same-sex marriage. Certainly, this sort of information needs to be in the public domain, and Gayby Baby might be a very educational and enlightening watch for conscientious objectors to same-sex marriage. As a film, though, it is predictable, clumsily paced and boring.