A Queer-Raised Teacher:

Born in ’93, I am the queer child of two gay mothers. To understand what it was like growing up with two moms it is useful to keep in mind the political landscape of the USA and the Pacific NorthWest. While my mother was pregnant our state, Oregon, was debating Ballot Measure 9. Oregonians sought to require all government agencies, including schools, to recognize homosexuality as “abnormal, wrong, unnatural, perverse and … to be discouraged and avoided.” Throughout my K-12 education, the nation also debated same-sex marriage. Many believed queer people would go to hell, and a large part of my childhood was learning how to carefully craft friendships around landmine-topics. We could laugh, play and talk about anything as long as I didn’t mention my family.

As time passed, I began to wonder whether my friends didn’t actually believe the things their faith dictated. Could someone truly smile and laugh with people they believed deserved eternal punishment? In eighth grade, I attended a youth service with my best friend. On the car ride back I mentioned how I liked the program but didn’t agree with everything they said. I can still see her face as she glanced over her shoulder at me in the back seat and told me matter-of-factly, “Yeah, I do think gay people go to Hell.” The air left my lungs. I maintained small talk for the rest of the ride, trying to suppress the hurt. We remained friends for years, yet with so much to avoid our conversations became superficial.

Some might wonder why I didn’t just find other friends; perhaps another child would have. But I liked all of my friends, and even when they believed my family was immoral I would tell myself: I shouldn’t feel hurt; they have a right to their religious beliefs.

A great deal of my childhood is stained with the internal belief that I wasn’t allowed to feel emotional pain.

It is difficult to distinguish which part of this emotional invalidation was due to mental illness and which part stemmed from the complex desire to protect my family.

The debate over marriage was never just about marriage for my family, it was about our family’s right to exist. One of the key arguments for both sides of the marriage debate was about the child; how damaged would a kid be being raised by queer parents be versus how amazingly a child would turn out because or despite of their queer parents.

I was a straight-A student, a 3 sport athlete, part of the honor’s program, and a volunteer at the local elementary school. I was fit, modestly dressed, and deeply devoted to my family. I helped care for my great grandmother, and assisted my grandfather with our small farm. Due to the pressure I felt from the marriage debate, I did not tell anyone about the frightening emotions I held nor how society’s homophobia hurt me. It settled in my chest like a thorny vine, constantly aching. And soon, it was tangled up with all sorts of other secrets. The biggest of which was that I was hurting myself.

My struggle with self-harm is not a result of my family structure. However, the news’ appetite for stories about queer families made talking about my life seem dangerous. I knew there was an image I needed to portray. I was terrified our imperfections would leak out and damage rights not just for our family, but all families like mine.

It felt as though one ‘bad’ child of queer parents could be used to say no queer families deserved to exist.

It wasn’t until my second year of college that I found a community I felt completely comfortable in. I took a class on queer history, began queer historical research, and whizzed through every queer children’s book I could find. Through my research, I stumbled across the life-changing book Families like Mine by Abigail Garner and COLAGE’s website and tumblr page. In a remarkable chain of events, I fell head-first into the local queer community. I even met someone my age with queer parents.

When I began discussing my experiences with an instructor, he asked me to jot down some notes about what it was like growing up with two mothers. This simple list sparked conversation between my queer-raised friend and I, and quickly evolved into a Peggy-McIntosh style list of privileges. From there, my instructor encouraged my friend and I to guest-teach in his class.

This started my four years of educational activism. Part lecture and part panel, I spoke about the experiences and rights of LGBTQ+ youth and queer-raised children in K-12 public education.

It was through this work that I truly began to address and discuss the difficult parts of growing up with a queer family in a homophobic society. It was here, that I nervously began to engage in the radical act of speaking honestly about my life.

When same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States in 2015, a university journalist contacted me asking if I wanted to comment on the ruling. My initial thought was YES!, but I called home first. As a teacher and a government employee, my mothers have always kept their relationship slightly closeted.

“No, you never know how long this will last,” my mom said to me, repeating familiar, jaded advice. She reminded me, “There are families who request their children be put in my class year after year… ” but that parent/teacher relationship rests delicately upon her remaining closeted. I understood, but that understanding couldn’t quash the old rage that re-awoke in my chest. How is it that our families won legal recognition in the highest court of the land, yet daily reality remained unchanged?

As I enter into adulthood and begin my career as a teacher in Oregon, I realize the community my younger self needed is finally available and that many youth are speaking out about their experiences in schools and with their families. I look to this blog with the hope that it will provide discussion and stories of adults with queer parents and that it will explore the unique ways our families and our experiences shape our lives even after we move out and embark on journeys of our own.

Katie Southern
she/her/hers pronouns