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March 31, 2014 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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The Kids Are Alright

When I was seven years old, my mother and father sat my two sisters and me down on the living-room couch and told us they were getting a divorce. A few months later, Mum’s new partner moved in. I was quite excited about this: someone new, interesting and funny. I didn’t really bat an eyelid at the change, though I’m sure other people did – Mum’s new partner was a woman. Making me a member of a small group of around 1000 children being raised by same-sex parents at the time.

As a child, I had been exposed to homosexuality quite naturally: Mum worked in a performance arts company and many of her friends were gay. I had never been taught about the social norms of relationships, and saw no difference between the surrounding nuclear families in our suburbs to the pair of self-proclaimed queens that would visit every once in a while, shrouding me with envy because I wasn’t yet old enough to wear heels. So when Mum ventured into this new relationship, I was not fazed. She was happy in a way I had never seen her before, and that’s all that really mattered to me.

When I was 11, I heard the word ‘lesbian’ for the first time. My sister’s best friend approached me in the locker room and taunted, “Your mum’s a lesbian, that means you are too!” and then everyone started laughing. Later, I ‘casually’ asked my own group of friends what the word meant. This again sparked a huge round of laughter and a debate about which was more disgusting: men kissing men or women kissing women? My whole body ran cold. I suddenly felt I was harbouring the biggest secret in the world. It had never occurred to me to mention I had two mums before, no one had ever asked, and now something that was so normal to me my entire life felt alien. So many fears that had never been a problem before were racing through my mind… I would never be able to invite friends around to my house without having to explain myself. I liked a boy called Logan at the time, but apparently I was supposed to like girls, so would I have to do that secretly as well? Did I even like girls? I had never thought about it before… This internal debate lasted a couple of years.

One night I went to a birthday sleepover at my best friend’s house, and there was a new girl from high school invited. I asked her the general icebreaker questions about her old life, her house, her family… she told me she lived with her mum and stepdad, and I felt a sudden surge of confidence that only truly comes from opening up with a stranger – “Oh cool, I live with my mum and her partner, my mum’s a lesbian.” I waited for a deathly silence to fall over the whole room, I waited for laughter, I waited for the black cloud of social ostracism that had been following me for years to rain down… She didn’t even skip a beat – “Oh cool, so this is a pretty neat party right?”

***

Whenever I hear something along the lines of, “How will I ever explain to my children about homosexuality?!” it frustrates me no end. My mum never had to sit my sisters and I down on the living-room couch and teach us to be understanding of gay people, because what really is there to understand? Obviously, not everyone else would have the same exposure as I did to gay culture, but I never once remember a crippling fear of the unknown the first time I ever saw two men walking down the street holding hands. My parents have been together for 12 years now, and for the first four years of that I saw no difference between my family and any of my friends’. The first time I was ever ‘taught’ what homosexuality was, was when I was exposed to homophobia instead. There’s something not right with that. Back in 2005, around the time I was truly experiencing these problems at school, a study called “Lavender Parents” was released, looking into the different dynamics and outcomes of being raised by parents of the same sex. 66 per cent of the participants in the study reported that there had never been any disadvantage to their childhood because of their parent’s sexual identification. The other 33 per cent reported there had been problems, but the problems lay with schools, clubs, sports organisations and friends. Participants in the study stated their home life had been positive… but they had to be careful when bringing friends home.

Around the time the Marriage Amendment Bill debate was in full swing, the same two misconceptions I heard through my childhood popped up: a) gay parents are more likely to raise gay children, and b) the absence of either a mother or father is detrimental for a child’s upbringing. The difference this time around was these opinions were now coming from the mouths of politicians and national media – not from those of pre-pubescent children yelling vulgarities on the playground. Then again, what’s the real difference?

Anyone here seen Gus Van Sant’s Milk? You may remember the scene involving debates around whether or not homosexual teachers would be more likely to influence their students to ‘become gay’. It seems every time change is staring into the bleak face of the bigoted, they all experience a collective historical amnesia as to how the last moral panic turned out. To quote Sean Penn: “If it were true that children emulate their teachers, we’d have a lot more nuns running around.” In short, I am not gay and to my knowledge, neither are either of my sisters. However, I am quite in touch with my sexuality, I’ve dealt with all my curiosities… but that comes from an open-minded view on the fluidities of sexual attraction, not my parents aiming to indoctrinate us to start a family cult of predatory lesbians.

I don’t know if my upbringing ever took a detrimental hit from my father leaving. I do know that he would have left regardless. Rather than my mother struggling to raise us on her own while being a strong working woman, she got a bit of help. I also know that I lived in a stable family. I know both my parents loved me. I know I could have had that same sort of relationship if my mum had moved on with another man, or as she did. Family is a human quality, not a gender-based one. I wouldn’t swap mine for the world.

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