Growing up in a non-nuclear family Every child needs a Mum and a Dad. Does this sound familiar? It probably does, because it’s the catch phrase of anti-marriage-equality and anti-adoption-equality rhetoric throughout the world. In fact, Australian anti-marriage-equality organisation Australian Marriage Forum has “think of the child” plastered all over their website as their motto, as if it is somehow a justification for their discriminatory views. Ok, Australian Marriage Forum, let’s think of the child.
I was five when Mum and Dad broke up.
Mum and Dad sold our house, split the money both ways, and we moved into another house that was just for Mum, my brother Rory and I. However not long after we moved in, the short-haired female real estate agent from the sale of our old house was there too and I wasn’t quite sure why. Her name was Tricia and she was sleeping in Mum’s room and helping her pack our school lunches. Despite my cluelessness, I figured she wasn’t really going anywhere.
I was seven when Mum first explained to me what a “lesbian” was.
I was too young to realise that there were entire movements out there dedicated to condemning and shaming people based on which gender they were naturally attracted to. I was too young to realise there were governments across the world criminalising these relationships and refusing to grant legal equality to these couples. Even now, I can’t possibly wrap my head around the fact that people would hate others based on something so arbitrary, something so harmless, and something that blatantly has nothing to do with them.
I went to primary school in the early 2000s. It wasn’t actually very long ago; but the world was considerably more homophobic than it is now. Despite my initial ignorance, it didn’t take long for me at all to realise that the other kids at school (and unfortunately, some of their parents too) thought that we weren’t normal. It forced me into the awkward and arduous task of hiding the details of our family dynamic.
I had friends come over frequently. I would consistently hide the fact that “the other woman”, who really is a woman because women can wear men’s clothes and have short hair too, was actually Mum’s partner. Some days I’d tell people she was simply Mum’s ‘friend’. Some days she was Mum’s ‘work colleague’. Some days I’d just awkwardly skirt around the subject when people asked me if Mum ‘had a boyfriend’. When I was eight, Tricia and Mum had split up and Mum’s new partner Kelly moved in later. Kelly was a bit younger than Mum was and was often mistaken for being a man, and even sometimes, Mum’s son.
When I was about nine, I had a best friend who would come over all the time and I wanted to finally tell her about my gay mums. I remember trying to test the waters by asking her “what would you do if your mum was actually a lesbian?” “I would call the police and get them to take her away,” she said. Ok never mind, abort mission.
This unnecessary nonsense went on till I was about fourteen. At this age, I met some new friends at school who were more open-minded than anyone else I had met at school. After hearing them talk so freely about gay people, I decided to tell them about having a gay mum. They thought it was cool. Cool?? I couldn’t believe that I was lucky enough to find some friends who were not afraid to say out loud that they openly support queer people and are allies in their struggle.
From that moment, I decided to be more open with my beliefs and join the movement against homophobia. Any time I encountered homophobic comments, and at the time it happened a lot, I did not hesitate to call people out on how offensive it was. In my eyes, being silent in the face of homophobia is simply not good enough. To be honest, I think life got better at that point. I learned that unashamedly expressing your views and standing up for what you believe in would always help you end up with the right people in your life.
Kelly and I, 2004
Our family situation exposed Rory and I to social and political issues at a very young age, issues we probably would not have taken such an interest in otherwise. The older we got, the more interested we became in law, policy, progressive politics, equality and gender issues. It is probably no mere coincidence that as a 20 year old, I am now studying law and sociology, hoping it will lead me to a career in public law and policy one day. It is also probably no mere coincidence that as a 21 year old, my brother lives just down the road from Parliament in Wellington, the most political city of New Zealand, finishing off his political science degree. He has a tendency to entertainingly end up in a dress when he gets to a certain point of intoxication.
My mum is a fierce woman. She started a seafood business at 23 and two decades later was employing 25 staff and her business was the largest wholesale seafood provider in New Zealand. After our Dad left, she was up at 4am every morning and at the fish factory by 5am. She has a truck driver’s licence and can drive a tractor exceptionally well. As a strong, independent queer woman, she has been nothing but the perfect role model for Rory and I.
Having gay mums also steered Rory and I away from buying into any traditional gender roles. He’s now doing an arts degree and I’m hoping to be a lawyer. While growing up, Rory would borrow Mum’s t-shirts and sometimes I would borrow his; but more importantly, we never cared about what was ‘girly’ and what was ‘manly’. We watched our Mum own a business and raise us mostly on her own and never for a second did either of us doubt the fact that women can do absolutely anything.
I didn’t see my Dad a lot as a child, but as a teenager he became a big part of my life. Despite everything, I have a strong and fairly ‘normal’ relationship with both parents. I am so proud to openly fight against homophobia and from my own experience; I wholeheartedly believe that queer people make beautiful families. I have a Mum, a Dad, and two non-blood-related women called Tricia and Kelly who are supportive, caring, and treat my brother and I as if we are their own children. Rory and I are very spoiled that there are so many adults who love and care for us so deeply. However despite my happy and well-supported childhood, queer families are still far from being equal in the eyes of the law.
It’s 2017, but gay couples still can’t marry in Australia. Gay couples can’t adopt children in every state, the age of legal consent is unnecessarily higher for anal sex than vaginal sex, and gay men still can’t donate blood in fear of HIV transmission, regardless of their sexual history. It’s 2017, but according to Australian criminal law, if you kill someone due to an unwanted gay sexual advance, your charge will be downgraded from murder to manslaughter as it’s considered sufficient provocation for an attack and can be used as a legal defence. It’s 2017, but according to the Australian Human Rights Commission, LGBT Australians are understandably three times more likely to experience depression and approximately half of them hide their sexual orientation or gender identity in public in fear of violence or discrimination. It’s 2017, and you know what? It’s about time we all grow up and stop treating people like they’re less than us just for being different.
The thing is, Australian Marriage Forum, there’s a rather serious flaw in your argument. Every child does not need a Mum and a Dad. Every child needs a family – whether it’s a Mum and Dad, just a Mum, just a Dad, a Mum and a Mum, a Dad and a Dad, grandparents, non-blood-related caregivers or an older sibling. It could be one parent, five parents, or any sort of obscure combination you can think of. As long as they are safe, they’ll be just fine, I promise.