For some reason, which I find hard to comprehend, a lot of conversations about my family go as follows:
“I don’t have a dad. I have two mums – they’re lesbians – and a sperm donor”
“No way! That’s so cool”
“But did you always know?”
That last line can be replaced with variations, including “but when did they tell you?”, as though, one day, when I was five, or eight, or eleven, my mums suddenly decided ‘Right, Shosh is now ready to be told the verbal news that the two women she sees every day, who parent her, who go on family holidays, who hug each other and tuck her in at night…are not waiting for a man to appear so that they can both settle down into separate heterosexual marriages’.
I realise that many people may have children in heterosexual relationships and come out as gay or lesbian later in their lives – this might be what some of the questions I receive are driving at. However, in my own story I’m always careful to mention my sperm donor, which rather points at the fact that my beautiful family was an alternatively structured one from the get go.
So why does the question bother me? Firstly, I think it implies that lesbianism is something that you can understand and process once you are old enough. Like…we’ve learnt basic maths for the last few years and today we’re moving on to trigonometry. You know that you have a mum and that mummies can love daddies – well now you’re old enough we’ll discuss that some mummies can also love other mummies and that’s okay.
What’s wrong with that is that there’s an assumption that we have to prepare our children so that they’re ready to acknowledge and accept families where sexuality and gender differ from the norm. It’s true that a bit of normalisation can help – I had plenty of books which featured alternative families, and even during the height of section 28 (a delightful piece of Thatcherite legislation which made it illegal to ‘promote’ homosexuality in schools), my mums would happily provide my school with such books so that other children too could benefit from reading about non-typical families. The most important thing for children though, is that as long as the people around them are happy and open, everything they do will seem totally normal – why would anything that makes someone smile not be okay? It’s when children are young that anything goes. Studies have shown that while young children notice racial differences, prejudice around skin colour is a learnt behaviour. Similarly, if all our kids could see more families which featured parents of the same gender, they’d be less likely to be surprised by these families when they get older.
So my advice to you is that honesty is always the best policy. There is no moment I remember when things clicked into place and I realised I was different for having two mums. I always knew because I was always brought up being told, and more importantly, shown so. I grew up easy in the knowledge that some women like men and some women like women and some men like men, and some people like both genders. And that when I grew up I could love whoever I wanted to love. It would be fantastic if that was a message we could give to all of our children.