The Family Weekly: Gay Rats (And Gay Rights)

Mr. Ratburn from Arthur gets married. Plus: A reality-TV contestant says he has 114 kids via sperm donations, and how long-distance relationships are thriving in the digital age.


This Week in Family

After 22 years, Mr. Ratburn, the feared but beloved schoolteacher on PBS’s Arthur, finally got married. What made this “very special episode” so special is the fact that a gay wedding wasn’t presented as an unusual or remarkable teaching moment. “The show treated it as a joyous celebration of a happy relationship, and so did viewers,” write Ashley Fetters and Natalie Escobar. Although the depiction of same-sex couples and LGBTQ characters on children’s television has a way to go, Mr. Ratburn’s wedding marks one more milestone for positive and normalizing representation.

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Wenjia Tang

In this week’s installment of The Friendship Files: the story of how Norman Mineta and Alan Simpson met as Boy Scouts and reconnected decades later as congressmen. In the 1940s, Mineta’s family was sent to a Japanese internment camp in Wyoming, not far from where Simpson lived. Nearly 40 years later, the two worked together across political parties to pass the Civil Liberties Act of 1988, which prompted the federal government to formally apologize for the internment of Japanese Americans.
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Centuries ago, long-distance relationships entailed the occasional handwritten (and sometimes raunchy) love letter. Decades ago, they meant the infrequent but expensive (adjusted for inflation, $26 a minute!) telephone call. Now couples who live in different cities, states, or countries can see each other at a moment’s notice. Thanks to smartphone apps, they can watch TV together, or leave each other on a video call as background noise. Today, for the educated, professional class in particular, modern technology has enabled people to pursue their career goals independently while staying in a relationship that transcends geography.
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The men who join The Bachelorette make a concerted effort to prove their masculinity—but this year, has one of them gone too far? Matteo, a 25-year-old management consultant from Atlanta, claims that he’s fathered 114 children via sperm donations. If it’s true, that admission might be a cause for concern. Although the United States doesn’t have any regulations limiting the amount of sperm someone can donate, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine suggests no more than 25 births per sperm donor in a population of 800,000, to prevent accidental incest. The population of Atlanta? Fewer than 500,000.
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For decades, the American imagination of the first family included a husband, a wife, two or three kids, and a dog—think the Obamas or the Kennedys. But this year, the candidates running for president in the 2020 election are more reflective of the blended families that average Americans might belong to: divorced, remarried, in a same-sex marriage, no kids, stepkids, single mother, unmarried. Although Americans selected nonnuclear families to occupy the White House in the past, they became less and less common after the post–World War II Baby Boom.
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Dear Therapist

Bianca Bagnarelli

Every Monday, the psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb answers readers’ questions about life’s trials and tribulations, big or small, in The Atlantic’s “Dear Therapist” column.

This week, a mother has already had “the talk” with her daughter—but now that the 12-year-old has come out to her as gay, she doesn’t know whether she needs to have another talk with her, about healthy lesbian relationships and sex. How can she best support her child while navigating this paradigm shift?

Lori’s advice: Talking openly and honestly about sex with your children is always better than avoiding the conversation openly—and at the end of the day, the same rules about healthy relationships and communication apply whether your child is gay or straight.

By opening up conversations early and often—as opposed to having “the talk” and being done with it—you’ll communicate to your daughter that you respect her sexuality and the relationships that will go with it. This ongoing dialogue avoids a more shame-based approach (where sex is compartmentalized into a single awkward conversation) and also engenders trust—something you’ll need on both sides as you negotiate boundaries through your daughter’s teen years.

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Send Lori your questions at