Me, My Sister, And Our Two Mothers
Everyone seems to have a position on gay marriage, from the parliamentary reform in the UK, the debate in the US, and even the president of restaurant chain Chick-fil-A. The recent debates held worldwide about equal marriage had a particularly personal resonance for me. I am the daughter of a lesbian couple, and have always had a keen interest in the rights and interests of my family, although I generally regard our situation (two mothers, two daughters) as fairly ‘normal.’
On hearing about my family, people often ask me what it’s like being raised by a same-sex couple, and I am always unsure how to answer. I don’t know anything different.
At the age of five I moved 269 miles away from a large, metropolitan, city school to a very rural (which is code for bigoted) school of 80 pupils. I remember being distinctly surprised to discover that no other child in my class had two mummies. “But who is your real mum?” my classmates would insist. “Do you mean my biological mummy?” I would precociously reply. I was certainly a point of interest to my fellow pupils when I first arrived at the school, although the novelty soon wore off, and in general I found teachers to be more of a problem than students. Nervously, they would usher me into The Reading Corner while the other pupils made Father’s Day cards, “Because your parents are different. They’re l-l… l-gay.”
While I found this behaviour strange as a child, it didn’t bother me, and I was always careful to helpfully correct my teachers, informing them that Mother’s Day was a bigger celebration in our house anyway, and could I use the glitter glue please for my rainbow flag. As I got older, parents’ evenings became increasingly awkward occasions; my teachers addressing only one of the women sitting in front of them, or else the floor, about my progress.
People’s reactions are usually amusing. My more earnest friends attempt to prove that they are OK with my family, exclaiming “Cool! I love lesbians!” Their well-meaning comments often make me wonder what people would say if I responded to my friends’ family situations with “Cool! I love divorced people/the disabled/adoptive parents!” Conversely, my pubescent male peers would ask eagerly if we ever had pillow fights in our underwear, (only on the weekends, I told them), although most people are just curious.
There are, of course, a whole host of other questions that follow, which I quickly became accustomed to answering from a young age. I have managed to condense my response down into the most informative answer I can, and I like being able to explain my family to a curious questioner. In fact, I love talking about it! The alternative is for someone to sit in awkward silence forming all sorts of bizarre ideas about my life in their heads. Or worse, the person who hastily brushes over it and never mentions my mothers again, as if they had just discovered that my sister suffers from a rare fungal growth on her face, and that my father is, in fact, also my uncle. Occasionally I think about producing an FAQ brochure. (FYI: my mums have raised me from birth, my sister and I have the same biological parents, and I was conceived using the help of a plastic syringe and the sperm of a friend – a surprisingly unscientific method compared to people’s expectations).
While the overwhelming majority of the time people react well, part of the issue is the apparent ‘Otherness’ of my family. We don’t quite fit the mould, and consequently any kind of form, or academic event, or formal ceremony is a bit awkward. For example, agonising over documents demanding my “father’s occupation,” or my school consistently ‘correcting’ my personal details form to exclude one of my mums. Even word processing this article, hundreds of squiggly lines litter my writing, helpfully suggesting that I might mean “my mother’s”, rather than “my mothers.”
Realistically, these things are irritating minutiae, and yet somehow manage to attack and destabilise the very notion that my family is a ‘real’ family. The subtle prejudice that is so undermining of my mothers’ relationship created by the assumptions made on these record forms, or legal documents, or computer programmes, is in fact extremely powerful. One of the most significant examples of this document discrimination is my birth record. When I was born, only one of my parents was legally allowed to be on my birth certificate. This not only forced my parents to decide who would be my lawful mother, but disregarded the possibility of a family that consisted of anything other than a married, heterosexual relationship. I regard my parents in 100% equal standing; they both raised me, support me, provided for me and love me, so why on earth can only one of them be my genuine and legally endorsed parent?
I am similarly angry and baffled as to why my parents may not get married. Why should my family somehow be less valid, the love between my parents less real, their relationship less legitimate? In the eyes of the law, my mothers do not, or cannot, have the same love as heterosexual couples, because they are denied the right to openly and lawfully make a commitment to each other. Of course many people would agree that the 27 years of love, understanding, care and respect between my parents are just as legitimate as between any couple, but if love doesn’t discriminate, why does marriage?
My younger sister, now 17, is also a lesbian, leaving me (ironically) in the minority as the only heterosexual in my house. (Cue plenty of jokes from my parents about it just being a phase, that I just need a good female lover and when did I first know I was heterosexual anyway?) I am the straight girl that must come out for her family. Despite the occasional homophobic form we have to fill out, my sister and I are happy, caring and balanced individuals. We are such wanted children (we certainly weren’t conceived by accident!) and our mothers have always made us feel so loved. Rather than being damaged by prejudice, restricted by our situation and condemned to a life of perpetual shame, I think we have been shaped and strengthened by our experiences as the daughters of a same-sex couple. Personally, I would not choose to have any other parents; I believe I had one of the best upbringings of anyone I know.
Reader submission by Jessica Hubbard