One (Small) Gay, Happy Family: How I Stopped Living in Shame and Learned to Live in Celebration
On August 5th, 2017, Disney Junior’s Doc McStuffins aired an episode titled “The Emergency Plan,” which featured an interracial, lesbian couple. The couple were voiced by actresses Wanda Sykes and Portia de Rossi, who identify as lesbians. Though the premise of the episode was about emergency safety, such as teaching kids how to take precaution from a hurricane, what was more was the visibility and the portraying of LGBTQ+ identifying parents as normal, not “other.”
How many times have we been spoon-fed the narrative via TV shows, videogames, etc. that a character who, identifies as part of the LGBTQ+ community is odd and incapable of living a happy, fulfilling life just because they’re part of this community, by default? This untrue to life and isolating portrayal further stigmatizes LGBTQ+ identifying individuals who, as is the rest of the world, consuming these mediums. This is why the portrayal of a happy family in this episode of Doc McStuffins is so valuable: it gives way for light to break through that queer shame and teach kids with parents who are part of the LGBTQ+ community that they aren’t alone.
Growing up, I believed I was the only little girl with two mommies. My friends had moms and dads, the whole concept of single parenting wasn’t really a thing when I was in Pre-K. I never thought of my family as “weird” or “other.” All the pictures I drew in kindergarten of who I lived with would always be of me and my moms. That was my reality, my family the way I loved them. My kindergarten teachers never questioned my drawings. They were just happy I could draw a stick-figure and not just a squiggle.
My friends didn’t care that I had two moms; they thought it was cool. My friend Brian* said to me once, “It’s awesome you have two mommies.” Brian’s mom and my moms were best friends, they used to take us to the beach almost every weekend during the summer, and I would hang out at Brian’s house with him and his older sister until my mom got home from work and picked me up. When my friend Kym* used to sleep over at my house, it was always the definition of a girl’s night and there were no boys to crash the party. My moms were the cool moms, they still are.
It wasn’t until one day when I got sick in the second grade and had to be picked up from school early that I experienced queer shame. Mom couldn’t pick me up that day because she was stuck at work, so Momma had to come get me. I remember working with my friends on the handwriting assignment we had and hearing Ms. Giller* call my name.
One of my friends asked, “Who’s that lady?”
“My mom,” I said, without thinking anything of it.
Ahmed’s* brow furrowed in confusion as he stared my mom down, 8-year-old eyes trying to undo the mirage in front of the doorway. No way that could be my mom, it wasn’t the woman who looked just like me: same face, long, curly brown hair, and thick, black glasses. It wasn’t the woman who worked on the PTA, drove my best friend home after school every day, jamming with us to the latest Hilary Duff CD, wasn’t the woman everyone’s parents, the faculty, and staff in the school knew as Ms. Sejuelas.
“No, that isn’t your mom. Your mom isn’t a fat lady.”
The muggy heat of judgement made my stomach turn, so I got up from my desk and ran over to Momma, where she was talking with my teacher.
“Let’s go. Hamtaro is gonna be on soon,” I said quickly, tugging on Momma’s hand, praying she didn’t hear Ahmed’s* hurtful words.
At that moment, I realized my family was different, realized it made me different. Something in my 8-year-old self felt the need to protect my moms. In the fourth grade, I transferred to a tiny, Catholic school across the street from my house where the Sisters were extremely strict and dictated what a “lady” was. On my first day, one of the Sisters chastised me for stuttering: “A lady doesn’t stutter.” I wasn’t the same after that comment, it was like someone had clipped off my wings and I was trying to fly when I could only crawl. I became extremely shy in elementary school, not having many friends, and trying to keep the fact that I had two moms a secret. This deeply rooted shame led to me keeping people who wanted to come over and hang out at my house to a distance, in fear word would spread that “Anna’s the one with the lesbian moms.”
Shame is a silent creature, a pretty liar. What was once threatening is now stagnant comfort: you’re comfortable living life in suspended animation because nothing can hurt you. You think you’re protecting yourself when in reality, you’ve fooled yourself into believing you’re okay with not fighting back.
Coming to terms with my own sexual identity when I was thirteen was difficult, but losing what little friends I had because of it was harder. When I came out to my ex-best friend, her mom told her to stay away from me, that “it’s contagious. That means she likes you now, and you like boys.” I wanted to say, “that’s not how this works, she’s my friend,” but Shame wrapped its velvet hands around my mouth. I wish now that I’d said it. The person I am today would have pointed out my friend’s mother’s ignorance, tried to get her to understand the harmful nature of her words.
Fast-forward to high-school, which was an entirely different experience: a colorful journey where I confronted my shyness and my queer shame.
When I was a senior in high-school, I was in Creative Writing, a class that I couldn’t have been more excited to go to four times a week. In that class, I was surrounded by a sisterhood of women who were my rocks, individuals with open minds and open hearts, where exposing personal experiences on paper was met with kind eyes and supportive words. At the end of the year, the class always holds a reading at a nearby bookstore where we read our best pieces and of course, family can attend. It was a no-brainer that my moms were going to be there to support me that night: they’d been by my side through every re-write and sleepless night I stayed up late trying to find inspiration for my poems, even the dark ones I tucked in the back of my mind.
The day of the reading, we were there early and my moms went to sit down in the front row (the seating was first-come first-serve). My amazing writing teacher and best friend ‘till this very day (and always) went to greet my moms, recognizing Mom from Report-Card Day and after-school Glee Club rehearsals. As soon as he went over, I felt that nascent shame creep up the back of my neck, steering me towards them so I could intervene before any questions were asked. As fate would have it, I wasn’t fast enough and to my surprise, he said hello to my moms and struck up a conversation. No furrowed brow or stare drenched in homophobia, no side-eye or snicker. Just pure welcoming.
In the days to follow, and even now when we email each other once in a blue moon, my Creative Writing teacher would tell me to “send my love to the moms.” That sentence, that invitation from a kind heart changed my shame into acceptance, acceptance of my family as well as my own sexuality.
Now, I tell everyone I know that my family is “one gay, happy family.” My therapist asks if this is me trying to use humor to hide my self-deprecating feelings. I can answer truthfully that it isn’t. I’m proud to be part of the LGBTQ+ community and am blessed to have two cool moms. And frankly, I don’t give a damn who knows it.
It’s no surprise the world around us is changing, especially when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. So many of our ideas and behaviors are informed not just by the people around us, but by the media we consume. Television shows like Doc McStuffins, The Fosters, Modern Family, and other shows are breaking-ground in their choices to make all families visible, not just the heterosexual nuclear family. This gives children a hope for the future, a voice that says, “you’re not alone.”
Not every family is nuclear, not every family unit is made up of a mother, father, child, and white-picket fence: some families just are. Love isn’t shameful, isn’t pre-determined. Love is proud, is celebration, is representation.