Questions not to ask the mixed race daughter of two Jewish lesbians

I don’t have a problem with people asking me questions. If somebody is genuinely curious and interested, desirous to know more about alternative families, I welcome any dialogue. However, there’s a general principle that it’s sometimes best to think before you speak, and to work out how to word your question so as to get an open, honest conversation going. Some questions can be offensive – thinly veiling prejudice and ignorance. Sometimes it’s clear that someone is expecting a certain answer, and they’re not happy when my response challenges their assumptions. Inspired by this, and other recent examples (see I, too, am Oxford), I’ve donned my very own whiteboard and put together my own list of some of the less welcome questions and comments I often encounter, alongside the response that goes through my head at the time.

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Sigh.

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Never and always. Check out my blog post, here, for a slightly lengthier explanation.

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There’s a thing called google. It might be appropriate to try using it before asking me. There are lots of options, and I’d be happy to discuss them further with you, but I’m not sure that you ask other people if their existence is the direct result of sex between their parents, or IVF, or another method, so why ask me? The important thing is knowing that different ways of conceiving exist, not knowing how I personally was created.

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The concept that one of my parents need mother me, and the other father me, buys into pretty damaging gender stereotypes. If I did have a mum and a dad, I don’t imagine that their roles would be limited by their genetalia. Sure, one of my mums is a big football fan. She’s also a good cook. And a good gardener. And a good cyclist. And a good lecturer. Let’s just call her a good human being. And yes, my other mum also cooks. They’ve never separated parental activities along gender lines.

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We’ve probably been talking for all of five minutes and this has come up. Maybe wait until you know me better, if you want an answer any more detailed than ‘no’. It’s also worth trying to use my own language – referring to my sperm donor as my ‘dad’ will only make me inwardly prickle. And try not to be visibly disappointed with my response – I’m sorry I won’t be providing a storyline worthy of a primetime soap for you, but I’m very happy with the family around me.

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The answer is still London. Unless you’re asking where my parents are from. In which case the answer gets a bit more complex, although I’m not sure that’s what you want to know either. It probably doesn’t interest you that one of my mothers grew up in Sri Lanka, moved to Scotland when she was nine, and then to England when she was seventeen, given that I have no Sri Lankan or Scottish blood in me. I think what you’re trying to get at, is where the exact shading of my skin hails from. In which case, just ask that. Or maybe don’t, seeing as we barely know each other.

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Jews come in all shapes, sizes and colours. My Hebrew name might be a bit of a give away. Or the fact that we’ve just spent ten minutes discussing Judaism, but some people can’t see past colour, or their own limited experience. If you can’t stop yourself making assumptions, at least try not to sound so surprised next time.

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I think I look quite a bit like my birth mother, Leah. I think lots of people don’t, or won’t, or can’t see that. The fact that my skin is darker than hers, doesn’t mean we don’t share features, or facial expressions. Maybe focus a bit more on what you can see, if you try, than on what you’ll never see, but would like to imagine because it’s so much easier to focus on colour than what’s underneath it.

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I don’t claim a biological connection; I do claim a familial one. Yep, pretty sure the woman who has raised me is my mum, the brother I’ve grown up alongside is just that, and pretty sure it’s me who gets to define that.

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And finally… questions are good. Curiosity is good. Keep wondering, thinking, learning. I’d love to answer those questions of yours that are thoughtful, but please leave any preconceptions at the door.

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29 thoughts on “Questions not to ask the mixed race daughter of two Jewish lesbians

    1. Sheelagh Stewart

      Loved this. We (two lesbians) have two children who are half brother and sister and born 20 days apart… The questions are tricky always because people always want to know if they are twins and then when we say no, are clearly very curious but don’t want to ask….

      I found it helpful to know that you get all this and that you are so smart about answering. Your mums must be so proud. Sheelagh.

      Reply
      1. shoshana1989 Post author

        Hi Sheelagh, glad you found my blog helpful :) I think it’s understandable that people have questions, and great if they want to learn more, but they should always consider the best way to ask personal questions and learn to recognise if their curiosity is welcomed at any particular instance in time. I’m sure your kids will get great at dealing with peoples’ curiosity as they grow up!

    2. lucy

      I think those questions are to be expected. Anyone who doesnt ask them will just be thinking them instead, so would you rather someone was open about what they are thinking so that they can get real honest responses or that someone was thinking about it and then talking to others about it instead, rather than just asking you directly?

      Reply
      1. shoshana1989 Post author

        Hi Lucy, if you read the whole post carefully you’ll find that I mention that it’s fine to be curious and ask questions when you encounter a familial situation that is new to you, but the manner in which you do so is important – it’s worth considering tone and wording, for instance, and actually listening respectfully to the answer you receive.

    1. shoshana1989 Post author

      Thanks so much – it’s really lovely to get feedback and I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the blog. Sounds like you’ve got a wonderful family!
      Chag Pesach Sameach :)

      Reply
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  3. kevinstoronto

    loving our blog. know that your family were trail-blazers. We are a 2Dad lead family with 3 kids. We are lucky to live in a big city and around other same sex families. It is getting more common – it is interesting to hear your perspective.

    Reply
    1. shoshana1989 Post author

      Hey, thanks for sharing your story :)I think it’s wonderful that it’s so much more common these days. Knowing other LGBT+ families when I was growing up was really important to to me, so it’s lovely that your kids can grow up in a world where families like there’s are even reflected on tv and in the media :)

      Reply
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  5. Jen

    I absolutely love this post! We are a two-mom family with three little ones, and it’s so awesome to hear your perspective. Thank you for this!

    Reply
  6. Jerry Mahoney

    I love this! So glad you commented on my blog so I could find yours. Reading from a kid raised by LGBTQ parents who’s clearly so smart, happy and so proud of her family gives me so much hope as a gay dad. Thanks for sharing your story!

    Reply
    1. shoshana1989 Post author

      Thanks for stopping by! I really enjoy your blog and no doubt your kids will have plenty of inspiring things to say when they’re older too :) (I’m sure they have lots to say now as well)

      Reply
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  8. freerangeresearch

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

    I get a lot of this with my kids- people can’t seem to see past skin color to see the features we share: “I think I look quite a bit like my birth mother, Leah. I think lots of people don’t, or won’t, or can’t see that. The fact that my skin is darker than hers, doesn’t mean we don’t share features, or facial expressions. Maybe focus a bit more on what you can see, if you try, than on what you’ll never see, but would like to imagine because it’s so much easier to focus on colour than what’s underneath it.”

    Reply
  9. Sinead

    I just found your blog today, but I like I really like it. I can’t truly relate as I’m heterosexual, white, atheist and raised by a heterosexual (single) mum. The only one I get is ‘do you want to meet your dad’, and it’s a pretty personal question to get when you don’t even know the person. I mean, it’s 2014; have people never met a single parent before?

    But anyway, back to your blog, I think it’s great that you’re raising awareness and answering questions (though let’s be honest, if people actually paused for a moment and used their brains they wouldn’t be asking such personal and obviously answered questions in the first place). It must get tiring having to always repeat yourself to overly curious people, or worse, defend yourself and your family. One thing I am wondering is as time goes by and LGBTs get more and more rights and portrayal in the media do you get more or less questions? The reason I ask is that people are acting like same-sex couples raising kids is a new thing, but it isn’t. It seems many people don’t even realise that gay and lesbian couples had kids decades ago, so did you get questioned then? Or was it shoved under the rug and mostly ignored? From my own experience of anything classed as ‘different’ when I was going up those people would get insults to their faces, but the bullying wasn’t discussed. I suppose you could say that in a way, it was sort of expected (which is really horrible but sadly true for many bigots). Do you think times have gotten better in regards to how the general population treats you and your family?

    Reply
    1. shoshana1989 Post author

      Hey Sinead, that’s a really interesting question and one I hadn’t thought much about before! I guess from my experience that people ask more now / are more genuinely curious, than they did when I was a kid… but I don’t know whether that’s because LGBT+ families are more common, or whether it’s because of my age, and that I’m more in control of the kind of people I’m around. I think when I was younger people didn’t really get it and so just shied away from asking about it. I definitely think society is probably more understanding as a whole now, with more LGBT+ families in the media etc.

      You’re spot on about that question. Regardless of the circumstances of why someone doesn’t have a dad (or mum) about, it’s sooooo presumptuous to think you can ask them that question straight off and expect an answer which is anything other than extremely basic.

      Reply

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