Bare with me. If you will? I know this is a long post but I do not know how to make it any shorter. It is a lengthy and much needed conversation for those of you willing to continue reading past the first few paragraphs.
I read and heard an interesting conversation. It was about same-sex parents. It was about straight parents trying to understand same-sex parenting. It is about straight parents wanting to know how to raise their children so that they are accepting human beings, in this case specifically (but not limited to) preventing them from becoming homophobic. It was about those potentially awkward conversations that we, as same-sex parents, have whenever we meet new families.
Coming out is an intense thing. Coming out isn’t easy because it means we have to spend energy revealing ourselves. It’s not enough that we just are. That we exist. That we hold a place in this world. Each time we change jobs, situations, meet new people, attend a new doctor (this list goes on), coming out is part of our being. Then when we decide to have children it is another coming out story. It isn’t enough that we just want to. It isn’t enough that we are like everyone else that wants to have kids. Then when we have them we have to come out again in the playground (and anywhere else we take our children and form new relationships). It isn’t enough that we are just other parents in the playground and our kids are just other kids.
Why? Because we still live in a ‘world’ that marginalises us. The parentheses around world is deliberate. Deliberate because what this world really looks and feels like is dependent upon each of our individual contexts and experiences. Where we live, how we were brought up, how the people around us were brought up, the socio-ethno-religious-political systems into which we are born.
So coming out is a constant conversation. A conversation that some of us are comfortable to have. A conversation that is confronting for some us. A conversation that is impossible for some of us. All because of those aforementioned reasons. I am fortunate to be in the the ‘comfortable’ group. Although, paradoxically, this is not how I started. My biggest issue has been my own family, at various stages with various types of reaction; violent to uncertain…never accepting from the start. In that first instant I didn’t come out of the closet so much as was dragged out. Grabbed by my collar and wrenched out. Kicking and (internally) screaming. Stood accused of a violation. Rendered powerless by this act of being forced. I have never been powerless since. Each opening of that door since has been at a time of my choosing and I have been fortunate that, aside from that first instance, I have had the courage and felt safe enough to do so.
SO back to straight parents raising non-homophobic children. The irony in the title of the article, that this statement originates from, is that children aren’t born homophobic; ‘we’ make them so. Or at least ‘homophobics’ make them so, how same-sex attracted people are portrayed in the media makes them so, how our so-called leaders (political, religious…) talk about same-sexed attracted people makes them so, our laws and the discourse about same-sexed attracted people makes them so. This is the same for any marginalised group. Children aren’t born with prejudices. Their prejudices are learnt. It is nurture not nature that makes them so.
So how to get past this? How to re-frame the mental models that people have acquired? The one way that I am able to do this is through open and frank conversations. Awkward, sometimes uncomfortable, conversations in the playground, at the footy oval, at school mum dinners . I can’t hide the way my children came to be behind the veneer of a heterosexual relationship. A heterosexual parent isn’t asked how their children were conceived, who the father is, who the ‘real’ mother is or how it was all made possible. It is just assumed that it all happens as per the ‘birds and the bees’ for a heterosexual couple and we will just leave it at that. I am making this sound like it is a difficult conversation for me but for the most part it is not. I am prepared to be open to those clumsy questions, those ‘crap’ questions, those intrusive questions. I believe I should allow them to be asked. I should be prepared to answer them. I should be prepared to challenge them. I will happily shout it to the world if the world were to ask. As I have already stated, I am comfortable in this space, in my skin and I figure that if I don’t have the conversation how else is the ‘world’ going to change for those around me who may not be. For those that come after me. For my children as they grow.
I have written to politicians about discriminatory laws. I have demonstrated on the streets. I have sat in on parliament as they debated my future legality; the future legality of my right to have children and for my partner to be equally recognised as their parent. I haven’t just done this for me. I (and many many others like me) have done this for us, for those that can’t, for those that come after us.
The article I mentioned at the start was providing a space for this conversation and the best information and advice is in the full podcast (starting ~12 minutes in). As a same-sex parent when I first read the article it gave me the impression, through its’ focus on what questions to avoid, that we might be limiting our conversations with other parents. If I had not spent the time to listen to the podcast and hear the full interview with Jacqui this would have been the impression I was left with. Jacqui however speaks more broadly than this. Speaks of that human condition of curiosity. The need to investigate things we don’t understand.
From my perspective I welcome all questions, even those which are ‘crap’, because the only way we can advance upon crap is to be open and upfront. Tackling those uncomfortable questions to remove the possibility of other stories being ‘created’ to fill the gap. Tackling those uncomfortable questions to help people understand a little better and in doing so helping them to appreciate another version of family. Having these conversations not only helps our children but has the potential to help the children of these parents should their children one day come out or should their children meet others in families like ours.
Almost without fail, in our school and our broader community, we have had incredibly positive experiences. Where there have been issues at school, that we have been made aware of, we have never been required to manage them. Our school and it’s staff have managed these issues in the most magnificent way. I trust that those awkward conversations have helped with this in some way.
I trust we shall all keep the conversations going. I trust that, once our children reach an age that they are having their own children, these conversations will have become redundant.
I will ever be grateful for meeting all the wonderful people that I have met on this journey. From new found friends, work colleagues, creche families, school families, sporting club families. Despite what could be awkward conversations for them and us they have accepted us as part of this beautifully diverse world we live in.