My Queerspawn Story
My father and mother divorced when I was still in diapers and my brother was just a toddler. My mother went back to college and there she discovered the feminist movement. She soon found that she couldn’t hold on to her strength and be with a man — she always backslid into subservience — so she started dating women. My mother has said she had been attracted to one or two girls in her life, but that if she hadn’t gotten divorced, she didn’t know if she would ever have pursued it.
My mother met Pat when I was three years old. Conversely, Pat always knew she was a lesbian. In terms of the “born this way” debate, I think some people are queer form birth, and some people aren’t. In my family, I have one of each of my primary parents in either camp.
My father moved to Alaska, and although I saw him in the summers, when I say “my parents” I mean my Mom and Pat. They were the ones to go to my school concerts, teach me to drive, ground me when I broke the rules.
My mother hates to be asked, “which one is the real mother?”
“Both of us,” she always answers.
If people ask me, I clearly say which one is my mother. Although I love Pat and have no question that she is a full parent, I have always thought of her as my stepmother. I have a father. She didn’t change my diapers or rock me to sleep. Granted, Pat came along before I started kindergarten, and I can’t remember much before she moved in, but we never had a special name for her. She was just Pat. I often think everyone would have been better off if she had a name that recognized her position in our lives, but in my mind, it isn’t “mom #2,” particularly as she’s male-identified.
Mom and Pat moved in together in the late 1970s. It wasn’t a good time to be gay (we never said lesbian — mom said it sounded “too sexual”) and upstate New York wasn’t a good place to be gay. My brother and I were taught to lie, but we weren’t particularly good at it. In junior high I was outed by the daughter of a friend of my mother’s, who had seen my mother at a lesbian get together (the other mother was bisexual) and told her daughter, who told the class. The other girl was popular. I was not. I became Lara the Lezzie for the rest of junior high. Finally, my mother sat down with the other mother and told her to make her daughter stop, and eventually she did.
Although we no longer had to keep as tight of a grip on the lesbian secret — my brother and I had been outed, so it was only our parents who had to keep lying — we had another family secret to contend with: my mother’s partner was bipolar. My brother and I weren’t trusted with this secret for years — we experienced the effects of her mental illness, but were never given a word for what was wrong.
I moved in with my father for a year when I was fourteen. I told everyone at school that my mother was a lesbian and that was why I moved in with my dad. Everyone gave me sympathy and easy acceptance, but I knew it was wrong. Lesbian wasn’t the word for what was wrong in my family. Life wasn’t easy in my mother’s house, but I always knew she and Pat loved me, and they were trying their best. I moved back home.
Our parents finally told my brother and I that Pat had a mental illness, but it didn’t get easier. I didn’t have a happy childhood, and I moved out my senior year in high school. That’s not to say that I didn’t love my moms, or that they didn’t love me. As an adult they have saved me again and again, but we definitely get along better with our own space.
I have always felt a pressure to represent queer parenting as happy and cheerful and just as good as any other family, but that wasn’t the life I lived. I can say, however, that the problems in our family were not from their sexuality, but from mental illness. I can say that mental illness affects heterosexual families as well as queer families, and I don’t imagine it is a picnic for them, either.
Here’s the thing. I can’t say that my parents deserve equality because of anything they did or didn’t do — that argument is flawed. They deserve equality because they are human beings — none of us should have to prove merit. All of us would fail. And queer families that have other challenges — alcoholism, mental illness — any of a million stressors — need legal protection in order for it to be OK to seek help. It is in some part because of my dysfunctional childhood that I am so vocal about equality. Human rights aren’t just for well-adjusted people.
Still, I was hesitant to tell my story. I was particularly afraid of responses from the lesbian community. I felt as if I was betraying my community by not being a shiny happy poster child. Yet, it was they only story I had, and I felt driven to write it.
Surprisingly, some of the greatest support I’ve had has been from lesbians. Women tell me stories of their abuse at the hands of other women, and the need to break the silence about mental illness in the queer community. Sure, a few were concerned that people will assume my parents represent all lesbians, and that, I think, speaks to the need for more visibility of my fellow queerspawn. We cannot be the lone messengers of some universal experience, because there is no one queerspawn experience. We need all of our voices to be heard.