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