It was a gray afternoon when my two childhood friends were getting ready to be picked up by their mother after our afternoon play-date had formally come to an end. They were a pair of fraternal twins who lived in a Center City mansion just a few blocks away from the apartment-turned-condo that I used to call home: Locust Point.
We weren’t able to go to the park down the street that day due entirely to the awful weather that had snuck up on us in a matter of minutes. The inclined, bending street just outside of the glass lobby doors was flooded with massive puddles of rainwater, and in the distance one could see the Schuylkill River was on the rise. So, we did what kids do best and made use of the various toys and instruments that were available to us in the expanse of my apartment.
Our afternoon consisted of drawing “masterpiece” works of art, watching Nickelodeon while snacking on Cheese Curls (clearly the *best* snack), and playing old school video games until we got sick of losing against each other. When our legs became restless, we raced up and down the maze-like hallways on the fourth floor, giggling like maniacs.
Perhaps the climax of our playdate was unsuccessfully playing hide-and-go-seek, the game failing because the only places to hide were within the concave foyers in front of each apartment’s front door. A hider was merely playing on borrowed time, and unless he or she could manage to outrun the seeker, they’d find themselves snatched by the shirt with sticky kid hands.
Regardless of the silliness of our activities, my friends and I had nothing else on our minds but making the most of the hours of freedom we had away from our parents and the normal lives we lived. So when their mother had walked through the doors in her rain poncho, you can image the pouts on our faces and the “aw mans” we whined when we knew it was over.
A married woman and a successful surgeon, the mother of my friends chatted with my lawyer mom for a few minutes about “various adult things” and scheduling another playdate sometime soon. The rain showed no signs of letting up, so the mother ushered her children along in an effort to make it to the car without getting drenched.
Outside of the mail room near the lobby doors was a stack of local and national newspapers. Now back in the early 90’s, before the convenience of Web 2.0, adults had these things called newspaper subscriptions that basically allowed for papers to be delivered straight to people’s doors. And since my apartment contained many people, it also had a wide variety of newspapers delivered and stacked in the lobby for people to pick up and bring back to their homes.
So when one of the twins dreaded the idea of getting soaked in the rain, he smartly thought of using one of the newspapers to cover his head. Indiscriminately grabbing a paper, he began to unfold it and drape it across his head and shoulders like a tipi.
And that’s when things took a turn for the awkward.
“Take that paper off of your head. If you came home with that on, your father would get angry. He doesn’t approve of that.”
At the moment, what my friend’s mother said didn’t strike me as particularly odd. Then again, I probably wasn’t paying much attention. But some years in the future, when I had become more aware of my family situation and what other people thought about it, I understood exactly what my friend’s mother really meant.
The paper that my friend had on his head was the Philadelphia Gay News.
‘What’s the big deal?’ you might be thinking to yourself. It was just a newspaper, so why did his mother make such a fuss over it? After all, didn’t she just let her kids come over and play at another child’s household that happened to be run by lesbian parents? And since that’s the case, why would she say such a thing in front of a lesbian mom? Talk about insensitive, right? Ouch.
The answer to those questions can be summed up with this simple sentence: I didn’t tell anyone that my parents were gay until I was in the eleventh grade.
Before you start jumping to conclusions, no, it wasn’t because I was ashamed. In fact, as a child, I didn’t really understand why other people considered it “wrong” in the first place. In pre-school, I developed a crush on a friend (a girl) that I had promised to marry, along with other children of various genders. You could totally say that I was an advocate of gay marriage starting at the age of five.
It wasn’t because I was afraid I wouldn’t make friends or that I would lose them. To be honest, I didn’t have a lot of friends to start with and none that were too valuable to lose. I have carried my loner tendencies with me to this day. ‘Being liked’ and having society’s approval has never been at the top of my list of priorities (so punk rock).
It wasn’t because I was heavily encouraged not to by my parents. The only time they ever explicitly told me not to say anything was when it was in front of their coworkers or openly homophobic people. Usually, I would just nod and remained confused, asking myself ‘why can other people talk about their parents but I can’t say anything about mine’?
It wasn’t as if anyone didn’t know either. Imagine showing up to school events, meetings, and get-togethers with two women that were apparently part of your family, looked nothing alike, and you had to refer to one of them as “mom” and the other as “aunt”. There’s a good chance that at least one person is wondering what’s up.
Being of mixed ethnicity, most people either assumed that my “aunt” was on my father’s side of the family or that I was adopted by a white mom. Most times I didn’t bother correcting their assumptions. “I don’t have a father” is what I normally said, which is both inaccurate and impossible. But back then, I didn’t know my father. I didn’t even know his name or what he looked like until I was in middle school and I didn’t meet him until two years ago. This fact was and is neither sad nor infuriating. It simply was, and remains, the truth.
Lots of people “don’t have a father”. Single parent households are quite common in the United States, especially among African-American and mixed race households. Still, that doesn’t stop some people from taking notice and expressing their opinions on the matter.
Case in point, the Roman Catholic priest that baptized me as an infant gave my mother a hard time because of her “unnatural” choice to raise me as a single parent.
Father’s Day was always awkward. My kindergarten teacher wouldn’t let me make a decorative clay bowl for my Pop-Pop because “we’re making these for fathers only”. Needless to say, my mom called up the school and, in what I like to call her “lawyer voice”, made them allow me to make one for my uncle instead.
I can remember hand-drawing holiday cards for my “aunt”. She was my “other mother”, who was just as much a part of my life as my biological mother was. Although she wasn’t the main family provider, she provided for me in another way: by being my best friend and motivator to pursue my creative passions and to stand up for myself. In some ways, she understood things that my biological mom couldn’t – racial adversity, my love for the arts, and friendship struggles.
It wasn’t until recently, until I started thinking about the memories of growing up in a lesbian family, that I came to understand how difficult it must have been to be told by society that you weren’t a child’s real parent.
My mother used to belong to the board of directors of the daycare I attended before I was enrolled in school. When initiatives came up that required a vote from each child’s parent, the board wouldn’t give my other mom a vote because they didn’t consider her a parent.
You know, because other people can totally determine who is and who’s not someone’s parent. I mean, they do it on Maury all the time! (Cue the pre-recorded laughter)
In a more innocent scenario, when my other mom came with my mom to pick me up from pre-school, one of my peers shouted to her own mother in a teasing manner, “Alixe has two mommies! Alixe has two mommies!” and was promptly told to be quiet. She shouldn’t have been silenced. Rather, it should have been me who was shouting like that, because of how proud was to have two loving parents that were determined to raise me regardless of what anyone else thought.
Now if that’s not punk rock, then I don’t know what is.
In retrospect, the reason why I didn’t open up about my family to anyone was probably because I didn’t see what there really was to open up about. Really, the idea of “opening up” is rather fishy in and of itself. Am I required to confess my family situation like a Salem witch tied to a stake? The children of heterosexual families don’t go through life feeling obligated to tell everyone “my family is straight” like they have a gun to their head, do they?
Whether or not I do confess to my “crime” of having two mothers, there will still be individuals who want to (hopefully metaphorically) burn me alive. That’s the way society is currently, even with legislation being written that allows gay couples to get married and obtain the same federal benefits that straight families are entitled to.
Often, the children of these gay couples get forgotten about because the focus is on the parent’s orientation. Unless, of course, it is to make the argument that children raised by gay parents will undoubtedly grow up to be pedophiles and murderers. Yes, people actually think this along with other ridiculous untruths.
A potential reason for my invisibility might be due in part to the idea that straight people don’t consider a child raised in a gay household to be the child of both parents, for scientific reasons. In short: two women or two men can’t have babies together, therefore they can’t have kids.
Yet, lots of gay couples have children through artificial insemination, adoption and from previous heterosexual relationships. Talk about utterly destroying the popular saying “blood is thicker than water”(which actually is used wrong entirely and means the opposite – how about that!). Personally, I was planned and conceived the old-fashioned way, though my blood ties with my non-biological mom are much thicker than those with my father. And even though my mother isn’t currently with “other mom” anymore, those ties remain tighter than ever.
Being raised by lesbian moms isn’t much different from being raised in a straight family. However, something unique that it does allow for is the perspective that “people are people” (love that Depeche Mode song). That isn’t to say that the children of straight parents aren’t capable of recognizing that everyone deserves basic human rights and treatment. But when your experiences are ignored and practically invisible to the government and you have to fight to be recognized as a family, the concept of egalitarianism is innate.
Today, I dare anyone to tell me that I was raised wrong, because I’ll show them all that I’ve accomplished and all the adversity that I’ve overcome. I’ll tell them the stories that I’ve told you and about how much my mothers have done for me not only as their daughter, but as a human being.
Maybe then you can pass on The Tale of Girl-With-Two-Moms.