Monday, December 2, 2013

"Mama, are we gay?"

A question asked by my six year-old daughter the other day.

The first thing I did was ask her if she remembered what gay meant. Mostly she did (when a girl has special grown-up friendships with girl and a boy with a boy), though I did have to remind her that sometimes people have special grown-up friendships with boys and girls.

Then I told her that I am gay and when you’re a girl and you’re gay you’re called lesbian. I am a lesbian but that doesn’t make us a gay family because lots of families are made up of people who are gay and straight.

As for her, well, some people get a sense of whether they are gay or straight when they’re little but many others don’t figure it out for sure until they are adults. I assured her that whenever she figured it out is fine, whether she turned out to be gay or straight is also fine, and if she changes her mind that’s okay too. She didn’t have to be gay to be in our family. We’re not a gay family. We’re a family.

With her position in our family established, now my Montessori-educated kid went into one of her favorite pastimes. That is, categorizing things to understand them better. She started asking about people we knew. Was this person gay? What about that person? Turns out her gaydar is pretty good, if a bit over-sensitive. She didn’t peg anyone as straight who is gay but there were a couple of people she had a difficult time believing were not gay. Luckily, none of them will be offended if she shares her mis-identification with them.

In the moment, I was just kind of bemused but later after she was in bed I got to thinking. The question, “Are we a gay family?” and the implication that if we are a gay family then I must be gay to be a part of it makes me think, did those of us who grew up in straight families assume that we must be straight to be a part of the family, to belong? Straight was the default and gay was the deviation from the norm. How many deviations do you get before you don’t belong anymore? I’d already used up a bunch of mine on just being very different from my parents, and frankly, weird. I wasn’t ready to add another deviation to the list by coming out as gay until I was nearly middle-aged.

Because my daughter is adopted and black (I am white) it’s important for me to reinforce the fact that she is part of our family no matter what. For that reason, I don’t want her to feel like she needs to come out as straight anymore that I want her to come out as gay. I hope that one day (about ten years from now!!) she can just walk in the door holding hands with Isabelle or Jack and introduce them as her girlfriend/boyfriend and that it never occurs to her to come out as anything.

Alison Aucoin is the happy single (not co-parenting) lesbian mom of a six year-old daughter she adopted from Ethiopia. She runs her own consulting firm, Two Birds One Stone, that provides low-cost fundraising and grant writing services to non-profit organizations around the country. She has her own blog at Ende beteh yemhone yelem and might get back to writing for The Nervous Breakdown any day now...