Five further reasons why having lesbian mothers can suck

  1. When you attend lesbian nights out as a  twenty-four-year-old, you invariably end up bumping into your mums’ friends, who babysat you as a youngster
  2. Dates turn into coaching sessions when the guy sitting opposite, apropos of nothing, says “So I totally agree that gay people should be able to get married but I really worry about the impact on the children”
  3. Applying for the very lowest level of national security clearance takes you almost a year longer than most of your colleagues and you assume that’s because the form forces you to document four separate ‘mothers’ and write explanatory notes in the margins – the Government’s relationship options don’t quite cover the bases
  4. Your biggest struggle at university is learning to cope with toilet seats being left up
  5. You’re the most unfashionable kid at school, because your mums don’t teach you how to apply make up and don’t own any high heels you can borrow for the school disco – instead you turn up to hikes massively over prepared

 

 

Dear Mr KKK – you cannot silence me

Trigger warning: contains racial hate language

 

Yesterday, Easter Sunday, I checked my emails and saw I had a comment awaiting moderation on my previous post, Questions not to ask the mixed race daughter of two Jewish lesbians. That’s normally a fairly exciting moment, so you can imagine my absolute horror when I opened the email and saw this:

“Just answer the f****** god damn question concisely next time, you stupid ugly n***** b****. We havent got all day. Next.”

I’m sorry if that was shocking, but you can imagine my own shock was triply so, given that the comment landed in my inbox, with no warning, and was directly targeted at me. I’ve also considerately added in the asterisks above – I was subject to the full unedited onslaught.

The comment came from somebody calling themself ‘KKK’ (although interestingly their email address started ‘tofutofu’ – I’d like to imagine that’s because the main email providers are sensible enough to forbid addresses which are clearly offensive in nature, thus ruling out any other ideas in this person’s small brain).

It seems that my mistake, is daring, as a person of a skin tone other than white, to write and publicise my own opinion. On a side note, it’s slightly amusing that Mr Ku Klux Klan can’t even get his racial slurs right: the n-word isn’t normally one applied to people of Indian heritage.

When I started this blog, I knew that I was opening myself up to criticism. There is a difference, though, between reasoned disagreement over subject matter, and direct personal attacks based on my gender and the colour of my skin. I am a twenty-four-year-old woman, essentially writing in my spare time from my bedroom, offering a perspective which I fully acknowledge to be mine alone, and which I do not intend to push onto anybody. I don’t think I (or indeed anybody) deserves to receive such hateful vitriol in return.

What’s even more surprising, is that the comment I received did not take apparent problem with my subject matter. I don’t imagine Mr KKK even took the time to read my words. I probably could have been writing about film, or fashion, or food, and Mr KKK would still have found mine to be an unacceptable voice, given the colour of my skin alone.

This is why I now believe that what I am doing, in blogging about my very intersectional and unusual experience, is all the more important. People like Mr KKK, would rather not have to deal with the fact that there are people who look, think and behave differently from him, whose opinions count in the world.

It’s essential that different minorities get an opportunity to add their own perspective and experience to societal narratives. There are so many voices that are never heard in the mainstream media, and that’s why the internet is at once thrilling and dangerous. It opens up new opportunities to reach people across the world, but also allows cowards and bullies to intimidate people from the safety of their isolated existence.

This is why I’ve decided that this post will be the story of a little bit of hate, but a whole lot of love.

Because contrary to Mr KKK’s hopes, I am certainly not going to be silenced out of fear or shock or upset. His comment pales into insignificance, compared with the support I’ve received from a few thousand other readers.

It’s time to celebrate what my writing has achieved.

I started this blog less than three months ago, and here’s a list of some of my highlights so far.

My Motherfull Family, three months in:

  • Over 7000 views, with my own self-promotion being limited to status updates on Facebook and a couple of (re)tweets per blog post on Twitter. That means a whole lot of people have discovered my blog and liked it enough to revisit and to share with their own friends – so thank you for that
  • My 7000 views come from six continents, from countries asfar ranging as Bangladesh to Jamaica, and New Zealand to Japan. Check out the map below, to see the impact my blog is having

    Where my readers come from

    Where my readers come from

  • Childhood friends whom I’ve not heard from in years have got in touch to tell me that they’re reading every post and learning new things about a family they’d taken for granted. Newer friends have been equally encouraging, telling me that they’re learning a lot from my blog, challenging their own beliefs, and thinking about diversity in a much more complex way
  • After this post on bullying, a young man I went to primary school with contacted me to apologise for ‘being a twat’ when we were younger – how amazing
  • I’ve been filmed by a student of Journalism for her final year dissertation project on LGBT+ families
  • A Greek website posted an article about how hard it is for same-sex couples in Greece to raise families, then posted an excerpt from my blog to provide the counter-argument
  • I’ve been invited to speak at a panel event for a new Jewish lgbtq youth group
  • The What I See project asked me to write a piece on how my racial and cultural identity impacts on my female identity
  • I’ve had an article accepted for publication in the Huffington Post, and interest from EverydayFeminism
  • And most importantly of all, I’ve received messages of thanks and support from people living across the globe. Individuals have written to me to tell me that the words I am writing and the story I am recounting have given them hope to start their own families. And that means the world to me.

I do not claim that my story is any more important than anyone else’s, or that I have access to some deeper truth. I only hope that by contributing my story, I might help others. That I can provide a space for open dialogue around a subject not often discussed. That I can inform, and sometimes inspire. So long as I know that people are responding positively to my blog, I will not allow an ignorant minority to threaten that endeavour.

Mr KKK: I will not be victim to your intimidation or dreams of a whitewashed world. Rather, I see you as a victim of your own prejudice, living an unenlightened life, unable to share in the joys that the diversity of this planet’s people offer. You will not silence me: I will continue to write, to share, to shout – my words touching many more people than your vitriol ever will.

Thank you, everybody, for reading, sharing, and especially for responding. Every comment, message and tweet that I receive puts a smile on my face and gives me the strength to laugh at individuals like Mr KKK. The knowledge that I am making a small difference makes me prepared to fight fiercely for my right to do so. I know I can expect more comments like the one that’s inspired this blog post before I am done writing. I don’t want to pretend that this is easy, because it is not, and it does hurt, but I do want to acknowledge that what I have to say is important, and is said in an environment which isn’t totally safe, but is full of wonderful people whose acceptance and encouragement allows me to stand strong.

My words are more powerful than a bully’s words.

And if anybody feels like doing something practical today – there’s little better you could spend a few of your pounds on, than supporting this Kickstarter project, which aims to do something about the fact that 94% of the UK’s journalists are white, whereas 1 in 6 of the population are not. Let’s make sure that Mr KKK will soon have to deal with more non-white voices than mine, cluttering up his newsfeed.

 

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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Reflections on racial and female identity for the What I See project

This week, the What I See project invited me to contribute a piece on how my racial and cultural identity shapes my female identity.

It’s a great community project, which asks women all over the world to think about the question ‘What do you see when you look in the mirror?’, as well as hosting monthly themes which various women contribute longer reflections to. Its purpose is to provide a platform for women to connect and share their thoughts on female identity, creating “a global exploration of women’s experiences, perception and self-expression”. Any woman can upload a video, or contribute a few lines of text – so please do so if you’re feeling inspired!

You can check out my post (and video, eek!) here.

I’m also copying it below. Racial identity is a big topic for three hundred words (and I already went over by quite a few – thank god this isn’t being marked by a university English tutor), so I’m hoping to explore some of these themes in more detail on My Motherfull Family in the future. Now go add your own voice to this wonderful project :)

 

How does my race and culture shape my female identity: Image

When I first started thinking about this question, I wasn’t sure that I would have much to say. I identify as half Jewish and half Indian, and this cultural/racial identity is important to me both politically and personally. However, I’m not sure that it typically interacts with my female identity, which has been formed as a result of the people in my life – strong women who question societal norms and raised me to recognise and resist sexism and patriarchy and take pride in my gender whilst being exactly who and what I wanted to be.

I figured that my female identity and deep-rooted feminism were centred in my existence as a woman (in both sex and gender terms), not in my experience as a brown woman, or a Jewish one.

One of the reasons that I perceived my racial identity as not core to my female one, is that whilst I identify as half-Indian, I arguably have little connection to that side. This is because a sperm donor gifted me my Indian genes, meaning I possess the racial biology, but few of the cultural trimmings.

However, what I’ve come to recognise, is that what other people see shapes my identity just as much as what I feel. When I look in the mirror, I see whatever detail I am looking for that day – whether my hair is too messy, or if the colours of my clothes clash. I’m very aware that when many other people look at me, they see my skin colour, first and foremost.

That means that people make assumptions about me. They expect certain behaviours of me, based on my visible race and gender.

The identities people superimpose onto me come to matter too, because they affect the way I’m treated, which in turn affects the way I react. So the external and internal interact, and my identity as a woman becomes intrinsically linked to, and shaped by, my cultural/racial identity – if only because I want people to know that I am a unique, complex, multifaceted individual, who will never fit simply into a box for anybody else’s ease.

(Not) in search of gender role models

People often ask me if my parents made sure that my brother and I had men in our lives. After all, we had two strong women raising us, but no fatherly figure to teach us what men should be and do.Image

To be honest, that last sentence is my problem with the notion that children need a core male and female role model in their life. What does it mean, to show a child how to be a man or woman? I love Caitlin Moran, but I’m certainly not taking all of my womanly advice from her and her alone.

You see, there is no single uniform correct way of being a man or a woman. If I had a father, there is no guarantee that he would be a good male role model. What if he was overly aggressive, or overly passive? Far too loud, or far too quiet? All behaviours exist within a spectrum, and so we cannot say that there’s an ideal combination to role model, nor that any single individual should provide the sole basis for a child to construct their identity.

Instead children end up piecing together their own gender identity from the multiple experiences and examples in their life. That’s why it’s good for children to have lots of positive adults around them, and why it’s not absolutely necessary for them to have both a female and male parent permanently present.

My brother and I may not have had access to a father figure. However, we grew up in a society full of men we could watch, listen to and communicate with (and this allowed us to assess for ourselves those positive attributes we thought healthy men should enact; a glorious pick ‘n’ mix gender toolbox).

When I was about eight and Reuven five, we ended up getting a male childminder, Michael. Michael would collect us from school and look after us until our parents got home from work. In the intervening hours he’d entertain us with visits to the park or swimming pool, the cinema or the library.

Michael was great. My absolute favourite game was when he pretended to be a lion and we all got to rough & tumble in a happy heap.

I recently asked my mum, Leah, if my parents had chosen Michael because he was a man – so that Reuven and I could spend more time with a male figure (and bearing in mind that we managed to get through several childminders throughout our childhood, the rest of whom were all women – clearly we must have been too much trouble!).

Leah’s answer surprised me, as I’d always assumed that had indeed been the reason. She told me that they’d placed an advert and that Michael had happened to respond. At first they’d been unsure, but he had glowing references, having previously worked looking after two little boys of two gay men in America for three years. His gender didn’t really come into it: he was the best of the bunch, so got the job.

Reuven and I ended up with Michael in our lives for a year or so. Was it good that he was there? Sure. Was it necessary? No. Many children have fathers that they live with, but barely ever see, because they’re always at work and home after the kids are asleep. What was so interesting about Michael, was that the role he performed was a caring one, one that has traditionally been seen as belonging in the female sphere. Reuven and I got to spend time with a gentle, nurturing man, who showed us that a man’s relationship to a child need be no different from a woman’s.

Michael was probably the man whose influence in our lives was strongest for the shortest period, because we spent so much time with him during that year. If he hadn’t applied for the job though, my parents wouldn’t have gone looking, specifically seeking, a similar male role model. Why? Because in a society like ours you’re surrounded by male and female figures anyway, some positive, some negative. It’s not the gender that matters, but the individual. For positive male role models, we had our grandpa and uncles, male teachers and sports leaders, fathers of friends. More importantly though, we had parents who showed us that everything a man could do (with the exception of a few biological functions!), a woman could too. Feel free to ponder this notion whilst listening to some music from Aretha Franklin & the Eurythmics: Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves

Reuven has grown up into a wonderful young man, secure in his masculinity. Among his many achievements are the following: piloting planes; winning gymnastics prizes; marching annually across Holland; being a blackbelt in taekwondo; salsa dancing; a masterful knowledge of Chemistry; cooking a really great curry. Why should any of those be because of, or in spite of, his gender? He is the fabulous person he is because he has watched, listened to, and taken inspiration from all of the good people in his life, whether male or female, and decided who he wants to be using his own skills of discernment.

Reuven didn’t need a father to take him to football, because his mothers were happy to do so. And he wasn’t pushed into football either, but given a choice of activities, and chose gymnastics, later replaced by the Air Cadets, later yet replaced by martial arts and dance. We are all too hung up on the idea that some activities and some behaviours are intrinsically male or intrinsically female. I don’t feel like I missed out by not having a father. Rather, I feel like no opportunity was denied to me on gender grounds, no conversation labelled off limits, no way of being insisted upon. Our mothers didn’t try to make up for the lack of men in our life by finding others; they instead brought us up with an emphasis on people being defined as individuals, and not by their sex and gender.

Reuven and me at a civil partnership party, 2010

Reuven and me at a civil partnership party, 2010

Coming out as a member of an LGBT+ family

One of the things that people often forget, is that coming out never happens just once. You don’t decide to take the plunge, and bang, that’s that (well some people try to get the whole thing over in one facebook post, but Grandma may not be on facebook, and certainly the new colleagues at work twelve months down the line may need to learn afresh). Instead, coming out is a regular experience, repeated frequently in all sorts of situations and to all sorts of people.

There are lots of reasons why it may not always be necessary to come out in every situation. It really is down to the person and context. You can’t gauge the reaction you’re going to meet with – and when the threat of violence or discrimination exists, it is perfectly within a person’s rights not to reveal their sexuality. Much as I think it’s important to have proud, out LGBT+ role models, not everyone is in a safe position to be out, and it’s understandable that people may not want to risk their income, that chance of promotion, or their safety.

I’m in the position where I sometimes need to out my family’s status. It can be a funny balance. I don’t necessarily want to be shouting it from the rooftops the first time I meet someone (firstly, because it seems a little arrogant – that person may not care less), but equally, it feels weird that I can be close to people and they may not know, because it’s not every day that a relevant conversation starter comes up and so I may not have had a chance to break the news.

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When I was little, the problem was handily solved by the fact that everyone at school knew. My parents would always explain the family set up to any new school, and my class teachers were fully on board. I guess that when I was five I also assumed that there was nothing particularly abnormal about my family, and the questions I in turn faced weren’t so lengthy, so ‘outing’ my family was a relatively quick and painless process that didn’t lead to debates over the Sochi Winter Olympics or gender roles in modern families.

By the time I was at secondary school, deciding who to discuss my family with was more of a complicated choice. The first time one friend came round to my house, I deliberately sought her out to explain my family structure, so that she wouldn’t be surprised on arrival. I remember having to do a presentation in German on ‘Meine Familie’, complete with a photo. I pulled a friend aside to ask what I should do about grammar. She suggested I describe one of my mums as my au pair. Hell no. I was ready to go to battle with my German teacher, should he fault my ‘Ich habe zwei Mütter’ as a simple mistake.

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First day of term

What always felt weird, was not knowing who did know, and who didn’t know, precisely what. At a post-party sleepover, aged sixteen, with a girl in my year group whom I’d never been particularly close to, I was surprised to find out that she didn’t know about my family. She said the only thing she knew about my family was that we scraped the butter rather than dug at it (really? Is that gossip worthy?). Somehow I’d imagined that my situation was prime gossip, and that the news got around (I’m not sure I can be blamed for thinking so considering that when I was younger kids I didn’t know would sometimes shout to me about my family from across the street or in the park).

That my family wasn’t prime gossip, could be put down to a number of reasons. Perhaps my friends didn’t find it that new or exciting – it simply wasn’t worth talking about. Perhaps they didn’t know how to talk about it, or they were a little embarrassed even. Maybe some of them hadn’t fully grasped the concept, it was so alien, and they had assumed that one of the women in my life was an au-pair or aunt.

Certainly there were lots of times when people only saw what they wanted to see. When I was sixteen I was invited along to my own parents’ evening for the first time, and I decided to take both of my mums. We were sitting in front of my History teacher who was discussing my performance that year. She looked up, “Who’s mum?”. Instantaneously, my parents answered “We both are”. She blinked a few times and continued, stuttering a little (this same teacher apparently told my brother she thought I was Native American…so…).

When I went to Germany on my German exchange (and after my exchange partner, Lise, had stayed for a week at my house in England), Lise’s mother picked up a photo of my family and pointed to everyone asking who was who. When I repeated ‘mutti’ twice, she couldn’t accept it. My German wasn’t advanced enough to push back much when she authoritatively declared ‘Tante’. She had insisted on identifying the carrier of both my brother and I; to this day I don’t know what she fully made of the family.

During my twenty-five years, there have been times when I’ve been fierce in describing and, when need be, justifying my family. There have also been times when strangers enquire about my ethnic background (quick hint: don’t do this to the person sitting next to you on the bus – she will think bitter thoughts), a conversation which will end up ‘So is your mother or father Indian?” to which I will mutter ‘father’ through clenched teeth: it’s not always easy or appropriate to explain the particulars of your family to someone you’ll never meet again.

Similarly, when a colleague asks about my weekend plans, I might say that I went to an exhibition with my ‘cousin’ or ‘friend’, as shorthand for describing my half-brother’s brother, Conor. The reason why? If every time I mentioned him I described our exact familial link, that’s what the conversation would become about. Sometimes I’m alright with that, and happy to explain our connection. Sometimes though, I just want to discuss the exhibition, or the cocktail bar, or the birthday party, without necessarily being sidetracked into a more complex conversation with someone I don’t know that well, and in that case, it’s easier to describe my relationship with Conor using a term that does justice to the strength of our relationship and that is understood by my colleague but need not be further questioned. On a little side point, Conor’s term for me, his half-half sister, is one I find adorable!

I often try to use language in a way that will signify my non-traditional family to those who are more aware of the particular significance of my chosen words. An example is my avoidance of the word ‘dad’, substituting for ‘parents’ when necessary. For instance, I frequently find myself in group situations when people will discuss what their parents do, naming jobs, before asking me what my mum and dad do. I’ll answer “Well one of my parents does X, and the other does Y”. This is my attempt at challenging the assumption that I have a father, without having to outrightly announce that I have two mothers. This is in much the same vein that many lesbian and gay people will respond to a question about their husband or wife by responding with the gender-neutral “partner” – it’s a subtle hint for those who will be (positively) receptive, and enables the conversation to continue without fully sidetracking it, while allowing room for someone who is more curious to ask for more information should they so wish. In a way, it’s leaving the ball in the other person’s court.

My family are mine and I could not be more proud of them. That not everyone I ever meet and converse with knows of my lesbian mothers, does not mean I am any less proud (heck, I’ve decided to become an online ad for LGBT+ families). It simply means that some stories require a little time, or a little intimacy, to be fully appreciated, and when I discuss my family with someone, I always want to be able to do their wonderfulness justice.

Five reasons why having lesbian mothers can suck

  1. When you yell “mum!” two people answer back from opposite ends of the house
  2. Menstrual cycles within the household are in-sync, so for 7 days out of every 28, nobody will take you swimming
  3. Mother’s Day cards inspire anxiety: it’s hard to find one without the competitive superlative ‘best’ or ‘no. 1’
  4. When cold callers ask for your mummy, you shock them by asking “which one?”
  5. When friends ask if your parents are divorced, you have to explain they’re merely separated…because they were never allowed to get married in the first place

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