Friday, April 04, 2008

(this continues the posting of chapters from The Brides of March: Memoir of a Same-Sex Marriage)

No Closet, After Kids

When we first had Duncan, I wanted to be such an exemplary mother that it wouldn’t matter that I was also a lesbian. I was looking for some kind of benediction for daring to have him, simply because we selfishly wanted him. As if by being exemplary, I could be forgiven this audacious act, and he, and his siblings, would never feel the breath of prejudice.

I got over all that, some strange cocktail of internalized homophobia and post-partum depression that left me breathless.

Many years into lesbian motherhood, I can say from experience that there is a rule of reciprocity about being out. If you feel confident, and assume it will be fine, most often it is. Equally, if you approach revealing your sexual orientation as if it is a tender subject and potentially volatile, it will be.

During the long months we discussed becoming parents, before taking the plunge to make that happen, a major topic was being out. We knew that once we were parents, there was no going back.

The real transition from discreet to wide open was a little bumpy. We were the first out of the closet couple to have a baby at Providence Hospital in Seattle; yet, two months later, I was huddling inside our freezing nineteen-seventies Volkswagen van while Jannine brought Duncan to her office at Boeing to meet her co-workers, who knew that Jannine was adopting him (and wondered how she’d gotten her hands on a green-eyed, blonde, white baby in such a short time), but had still to learn that Jannine was living with the birth mother as well.

By the time he turned three months, and Jannine’s co-parent adoption was finalized, her co-workers knew, and rose to the occasion.

At first, it felt like a big deal every time I had to say the words, “He doesn’t have a dad, he has two moms.” I would pause every time someone wanted to know what my husband did, or if he looked like his father, or how long I’d been married. Each time there was that subterranean fear. Would the mom next to me on the bench stand up and walk away? Would I hear a spirited lecture on modern morality? Would my child witness some kind of right-wing religious response right there in the line at the supermarket?

So far, no.

Jannine takes care of most of those “what does your husband do?” kind of questions by posting photographs of me and our kids in her cubicle at work, and she came out in the job interview when we moved to Portland, getting it on the table from day one.

I still get butterflies in my stomach when I’m meeting the parents of one of my kids’ classmates for the first time while setting up a play date, or while assuring the parents (before their child comes over), that we have no guns, drugs, or weird relatives at our house. The butterflies aren’t for me, but for our children. I worry that the friendship is going to be stalled by a parent who says, “No, Sarah can’t play with Anna,” when he or she discovers that Anna has two moms. Despite the butterflies, I have to be straightforward about who we are, so our kids will be, too.

Being straightforward can reap unexpected rewards. Years ago, a mom from our son’s school turned to me and said, “So you stay home too, right? What does your husband do?”

I looked at her long bleached-blonde hair, serious cleavage, tight jeans, and high-heeled boots, knowing from previous conversations that she was from a large Catholic family, trying not to stereotype her any more than I’d want her to stereotype me.

Then I told her where “my partner” worked.

“Oh”, she said. There was a long pause. Then she told me all about her two gay sisters, one of them struggling with it because of being Catholic. “She should just get over it and be happy.” I still get reports from time to time on her sisters, one now expecting twins with her partner.

Because I was out, she felt free to talk about her sisters.

I think sometimes it is our children who will change the world for us. Three of our daughter’s closest friends are from very traditional, Christian families, nice girls with good manners who like to come to our house because it’s teeming with pets, and because, despite a culture that pressures girls to be mean, Anna is a nice girl. She has become expert at calmly explaining her family structure, knowing when to give details, and when to just give the basics, without apology, qualification, or hesitation. The only thing the girls have said about our family is how lucky Anna is to have two moms.

Duncan has been our biggest proponent from day one; his love and faith in us made it clear that we were OK the way we were, that we were the parents he wanted to have, and he has communicated that faith, whenever it has come up, for his entire thirteen years. He has a calm rationality that lent him the title “Mr. Switzerland” in second grade, and allows him to counter argument or prejudice without sinking to the level of his opposition. Graeme is entering a new world because of them.


Mo said...

Beautiful! I love this post. I think it's true that being out allows you to hear everyone else's gay stories. My mom was always afraid to tell her friends about my relationship, but she finally started sharing when we had kids and found that many of her friends had gay family members of their own.

Anonymous said...

Hi Beren,

What I have felt and experienced about being a gay parent, in the straight world of parenting, is that being a parent trumps being gay.

Now mind you I live in Seattle which is extremely liberal but suddenly people who otherwise wouldn't have given me the time of day feel like we have something in common. We can talk about parenting issues and challenges and joys. Now the connection is made and people begin to realize that we are just normal people and families like theirs.

At my daughters public school it is such a non-issue that she has two moms. In our school of 300 there are about 8 same sex families, and another child in my daughter's class has two moms. We are completely out at her school and mostly in the world (except where it might feel dangerous).

Sometimes it actually seems like we have had famlies "attracted" to us because we are gay. Perhaps they are curious, perhaps they want to have diverse role models for their children...perhaps they just simply like us for who we are. What an amazing concept.

By the way, I worked with your sister Abby for many years at City People's Mercantile. How is she doing? My family (kids 3 and 6years) will be making a Portland trip for fun in the summer...have any recommend places for family fun?


Lisa Moody

BerengariaD said...

Thank you for your comments Mo and Lisa. I'm with you all the way.

Lisa--last I heard my sister was lying on the beach in Puerto Rico, working remotely, and seeking more adventure for her and her chihuahua, Cheech.

Fun Portland things to do... play in a public fountain by the waterfront, take a hike on Mt. Hood, catch toadlets at Frog Lake and let them go, visit the Oregon Zoo?

Our youngest doesn't do crowds, so we go for more solitary activities, visiting public places during off hours.

heather said...

this post got to me. one day my boys will be tested...

BerengariaD said...

I'm sure your boys will pass any test with flying colors. It is a new world for our kids. Our older son is 17 now and he's done the Day of Silence three years in a row at school and is so comfortable with having two moms. It is a good time to be a lesbian mom.