It was sometime in March that I came out to my parents and sister, in the Tesco Café in Fratton.
The fact I felt the need to do it somewhere public – for my own safety – tells you a little of what I expected. Many homophobic comments filter through my childhood memories and although their reaction that day in Tesco was initially fairly calm, I later realised, after dialling 999 on my enraged father as he raised a hand to me and my two year old a week later in my own home, that I had indeed made the right decision.
I haven’t had contact with him since, despite pressure from my mother. I have enough self-love these days to feel OK about not putting myself in the company of an angry homophobe with a short, violent temper and I certainly won’t have him around my child.
My sister and mother later both told me they thought I had mental health problems, not seeing the massive irony or how much my mental health had vastly improved since I’d come out. My sister told me that I was putting my child at risk by not getting help, and so that became another (already rocky) relationship that I stepped away from.
I wanted to tell my Grandmother myself – we’re close so it felt right – but my mum ‘outed’ me before I had a chance. But out of them all, the 86 year old was the most accepting by far. (And when I had my waist length hair cut into a short crop, she loved it – something that makes me smile every time I think of it.)
My husband’s reaction was also difficult but how could I expect anything different, he was hurting. He was as understanding as he could be, a lot of things made sense once I came out to him, sobbing my way through the words as I let them fall out my mouth like atom bombs. He knew it wasn’t that I was trying to hurt him, I was just doing what was right, at last. But however understanding he was, it was clear he saw himself as the only victim in it all, using the word literally and reminding me that he “didn’t ask for any of this” – as if I did. Many others in our lives followed his same way of thinking.
But by far the most painful part of coming out was knowing that now, I wouldn’t get to have as much time with my little one. Their dad had always been very involved, but mostly it was me and my baby for most of the day and often for long weekends when my husband worked away.
The first night I spent apart from my little one, my heart broke deeply. It breaks every time I drop them off to their Dad’s house for the afternoon and night, knowing I won’t see them until the following afternoon. They usually cry, reaching for me and I have to go before I cry myself. They love having time with their Dad and I’m both very grateful and aware of how important their relationship is, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less. I hope as they get older, they’ll understand that Mummy will be back again tomorrow and feel secure in the time we have apart from each other.
I said at the start that my experience as a lesbian mum is different to that of being perceived as a straight mum, but that change didn’t just happen from the reaction of those close to me.
The one place I can say has not treated me differently, is my little one’s nursery. The staff there have been supportive throughout and never treated me any differently. I hope that continues as they move through school in a couple of years time, but based on other reactions I’ve had, I wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t.
I’ve realised homophobia often comes in the subtlest of ways.
It can be a look from a bus driver, clocking the pride badge on my coat and my appearance that is now not the gender stereotype of a woman. There’s no “hello” as there used to be when I get on the bus and it pulls out from the bus stop with a jolt, before we’re safely sat down. Of course this used to happen occasionally before, but there’s a marked difference in how often it occurs now. It’s the same in shops, being served wherever I am, trying to cross the road, trying to start a conversation at toddler groups – there is a subtle but significant hostility felt wherever I go. Some friends have stopped responding to my communications. It’s surprised me and shocked me. I was naive.
More overt examples have been asking if I am my child’s mother, when we’re out – something I was never asked before and then there’s looks I get when we’re with my girlfriend, although I’m usually too blissfully happy to care. And then there are the times when people are easy and natural around us and I’m so grateful, but how absurd that is – to be grateful to be treated normally.
I’ve felt judged. I’ve felt hurt. I’ve felt disrespected and unfairly treated and this has to stop.
It is 2017. There should never have been prejudice against any individual living their truth, against same-sex couples, against trans parents or anyone that questions the hetro-normative model that society purveys. And yet there always has been and still is.
So what do we, as parents, as individuals do?
My heart tells me to keep going, keep wearing my badges, keep holding my girlfriend’s beautiful hand in my hand and my child’s hand in the other, keep loving and keep putting myself at risk of hostility or worse. Maybe I’m still being naiive but that is what I feel I must do, that and support other parents and families out there and that is why I’ve written this, why I’ve shared my raw, painful, vulnerable story to strangers on the internet. I want people to know they aren’t alone and have the option for us to support each other and a place to always come to, where we feel safe and accepted.