26 Jun I AM MY MOTHER’S DAUGHTER
Disclaimer: The author would like to acknowledge that her writing is reflective of her own experience, and she does not intend to represent the experiences of queer families at large.
My childhood was similar to any other kid in my neighbourhood. I played outside on the street until the sun went down, scraped my knees falling off my bike, and took trips to the corner store with only two dollars and fifty cents to my name. I also grew up getting asked questions about the pride flag on my front porch, and the beginning of summer was usually marked by marching in the pride family parade. My summers always had one camping trip wedged into the middle with a large group of other lesbian parents and their children. The other kids and I would spend our days on the beach in the blistering August heat and later wait around a campfire until one of the moms called for us to find sticks long enough for s’mores.
The experience of being a child of a lesbian parent, from my perspective, cannot be summed up in this word length. While many children of queer parents are often able to relate to each other, the experience for each individual is impacted by other factors that influence identity, such as race, class, ability, and geographic location, among various other qualities. Queer families have historically been made invisible, restricted from having children through any pathway, and barred from marriage. Despite the significant advancements in western culture, children of gay or lesbian parents have often noted the difficulties they endured by having a queer family, from offhanded comments to violent attacks. I am fortunate to have had my experience be resoundingly more positive than negative due to my position of privilege within a relatively progressive and populous city. I regard my mother’s understanding of sexual orientation as a piece of knowledge she could pass on to me, wherein I could benefit from being introduced to concepts of non-heteronormative sexual orientations at an early age.
A 2008 study conducted by Katherine Kuvalanka and Abbie Goldberg that focused on queer youth raised by lesbian or bisexual mothers summarized the experiences of a sample of 18 mother and child pairs. Throughout the study, Kuvalanka and Goldberg determined that children who identified as Queer and had lesbian or bisexual parents generally found it easier to confide and find support in their parents throughout their identity development and disclosure processes. The majority of children from the Kuvalanka and Goldberg study noted that “having queer parents had given them broader conceptualizations of the potential sexual/gender identity options available to them.” Nonetheless, a portion of the participants felt that the pressures of societal scrutiny and heterosexism significantly impacted how they felt about their own identities. Those participants were often ones whose queer parents held the same fears, and consequently, disrupted the free flow of supportive conceptualizations of gender and sexuality.
A situation that has remained prominent in my mind happened when I was in the earlier years of elementary school. I was explaining to a friend how my mother was once married to my father. In more child-like terms and the most innocent manner, she asked if my mother’s love for my father holds, considering that she now identifies as a lesbian. I became flustered, only because I wanted to know the answer too. Her question voiced my own concerns at this age. In elementary school, between grades one to four, sexual and gender diversity was not in the school curriculum, despite sexual orientation and gender representations being a comfortable and common topic of discussion for myself and my friends. While these elements weren’t in my early education curriculums for what I believe to be ill-informed reasons, I had the ability to learn about such topics from my family.
The early lives of queer individuals are constructed by their communities. Schools are often an intensive environment where heterosexuality and cisgender identities are sustained, naturalized, and popularized in schools. For myself, my family, containing my mother and my sister, has been the long-term community that influenced my knowledge formulation throughout my life. When I came home from school that day, I told my mom about the question I had been asked. She explained to me how sexual orientation is a spectrum and how people can fall anywhere on the spectrum. She then explained how this applied to her, and in my mind, it all clicked. Despite what many opposed to queer parenting argue, concepts of sexuality were not hard for child-me to grasp.
When it came to my own identity and the conversation I had with my mother, it was comfortable and short. I believe it to be because of how my mother raised me that I could easily conclude that I am interested in individuals regardless of gender. My understanding from a young age about the spectrum of sexuality has allowed me to feel comfortable with self-determining my own identity. Self-determination, being the ability to decide one’s own identity regardless of potential societal or familial pressures in this context, is a gift that my mother gave me.
Participants in the Kuvalanka and Goldberg study, who felt an increased feeling of safety when disclosing their sexual orientation, believed it to be a result of having queer parents that allowed them to explore and question non-heteronormative identities at an early age, in comparison to their counterparts from heterosexual families. Children in this study were allowed to explore and question their identity earlier because their parent(s) supported and facilitated those important conversations. The various curious questions I received from friends during elementary school sparked conversations inside my home that were absent in school. In hindsight, the two communities that formed my knowledge growing up, being my classroom and my immediate family, conflicted with each other.
My mother is able to support broader conversations surrounding identity, which I believe has provided a basis for her and my ongoing learning. A few years ago, my mother had begun joining social groups and met more people with a similar identity. Whenever she drives me home from school, she tells me about the projects she’s been working on for the sexual and gender diversity department at work. To this day, our conversations often surround the current and past politics of sexuality and gender and the ways in which they construe our lives. Having grown up watching my mother’s continuous work towards living her truest life, I feel it will always urge me to do the same.
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: REFINERY29