Will we be in the gutter?
I was interviewed for a tabloid’s Sunday magazine recently. When the request came in we were very wary, but the article celebrates modern day mums and focuses on diversity. They needed a lesbian mum and we felt it was an important place for a positive example of same-sex parenting. So we said yes. The journalist phoned and started with our background story – how we met, then how we had our boys. The trouble is our parenting journey is dramatic, gripping and at times unbelievable. You can’t tell it quickly. Eight years of heartbreaks; being turned down by male friends, talking to sperm donors, stressful inseminations at a clinic, being scared off adoption, a year of co-parenting negotiation, endless discussion and renegotiation. By the time I got to my pregnancy with Noah, our first, we were an hour in and I knew she already had too much fodder. When I was pregnant with Noah my mother was being treated for cancer. When I was due to give birth she was in intensive care after an operation went badly. She died when Noah was 4 months old, never getting out of hospital, and left with a one-foot square open wound exposing her bowels, for those last 4 months. I was in charge of her care, visitor schedule and affairs. So ‘settling into motherhood’ was overshadowed by my mother’s demise (losing your mother whilst becoming a mother – a whole story in itself). By the time we got to trying for our second child (which took a year) the journalist was almost speechless. She started signing off. She hadn’t asked me anything about motherhood – instead focusing on the dynamics between us and the boys’ donor dad and what we called ourselves. The closest she’d got was asking if our kids ever get confused, not a great start. I wondered if our story was going to be more like staring at a rare species in a cage at the zoo. I reminded her of the focus of her piece and she asked a couple of questions, then called time. Oh well, I thought, too late now!
Then came the photo shoot at a London studio. Us mums were given makeovers and costume fits and photographed individually and in group shots. There was the ‘young mum’, the ‘working mum’ (not sure how I don’t qualify for that one!) and the ‘single mum with the dad not involved’. Never before have I spent a whole day introducing myself with the phrase, “Hi, yes, I’m the ‘lesbian mum’”. I gritted my teeth as I came out to strangers. Over and over again. Again. No matter how often I’m in this situation I haven’t figured out how to handle it with ease. The responses make me feel just as awkward, probably because they’re often awkward. I got the usual ‘oh I have lesbian friends who’ve just had a baby…’ and several ‘good for you, live and let live etc etc…’s, then ‘I was explaining to my daughter about different families and that some kids have two mums or two dads…’ which I quite liked. It seems that I am to take these responses as proof that this person is, er, a sympathiser. They’re saying ‘I’m not homophobic, I’m not homophobic!’. It’s alright people, I don’t assume anyone is homophobic, in fact I assume if someone is homophobic I’ll find out pretty quickly.
Aside from the fact that I never wear makeup and the clothes they got me into were laughable, everyone was very friendly. It was fun. Luckily they ditched the 3-inch heeled winkle picker boots for some pumps (must’ve been my painfully slow manoeuvring down stairs…onto set…off set…from one stool to another…). At least the shoes were more me. Kind of. (No I am not a lesbian stereotype.) Whilst all the other mums were scavenging for makeup freebies and heading home with their professionally made-up faces held higher than cats who had face-planted in bowls of cream, I insisted they remove my makeup to get rid of the feeling that my face was permanently wet.
Then came an email with queries from the editor and the kicker that really has me worried: “How did you reconcile being gay with wanting kids in your head?” Argh! How do I even begin? There are assumptions behind this that I don’t want to entertain with a response. What do people think us gay people do in our heads? Separate our gayness from our life expectations like it’s some kind of choice we made that doesn’t allow us to want the things other people want? Er no. I’m gay which is who I am. I came to the conclusion I wanted children in my mid 20’s. I never thought being gay and wanting a family meant anything other than it would be a little more challenging to achieve. Yes we’d have to think about how we manage prejudice from the outside world, and yes we thought about whether it was fair on our children to put them in that position. We never thought we didn’t have the right to a family. It was never something I had to reconcile. I’m not even sure I know how to reconcile something so fundamental to my identity – both being gay and wanting children are part of me. For most of us wanting children is a biological condition. Everybody has a right to a family. But maybe not everyone feels the same. Has anyone reading this had this experience? I’d love to know how other gay parents address assumption that we’re less entitled to have our families. To me the more the world sees us the more they’ll see we’re just the same as every other family. This is why we agreed to the article. I just hope it doesn’t have the opposite affect. I might have to not read it. It comes out some time before the end of November (was 18th October but they keep changing it!) in The Sun’s Fabulous magazine. Watch out for it and if you spot it, read it for me and let me know it’s not all that bad. And send me some love lovely people!