My Mother’s Good Gay Daughter
By Hannah Malina
When I was five, I got lost at a Pride Parade.
It was the kind of day that Pride always is, blindingly sunny, and I lost track of my mother within the sea of redback boots and straight-leg jeans, carabiners hanging from belt loops, and wandered off following a person in a cowboy hat and bubble-wrap chaps. Within two minutes, I was whisked onto the stage by a kindly older butch, and my mom ran up to claim me.
From the backseat, later, I heard her say to her girlfriend, “at least she got lost there, somewhere safe, where people would watch out for her.”
My mother’s girlfriend hadn’t wanted me to come to Pride in the first place, or anywhere with them, really. I never knew why she didn’t like me, but I assumed, at the time, that it was the femininity that I performed, the bags I would bring on all our excursions packed with Barbie dolls and fairytale books about evil stepmothers and happy, heteronormative endings. After she and my mother split up three years later, I never heard from her again. I passed her on the street sometimes as I walked past her office on my way to high school and always pretended she didn’t recognize me. She probably didn’t.
By that time, my mom was married to my stepfather. She no longer spent her weekends at Sierra Club meetings with her short-haired friends, and neither of us had set foot near a Pride Parade since my first little adventure. I spent my weekends at my boyfriend’s house. At parties, I would always somehow find my way into games of truth or dare that inevitably ended with me kissing some female friend. No one really took notice, and I tried not to think about it. My only memories of the queer community were of what I saw as its rejection of me--my mom’s girlfriend laughing scornfully at my childhood dress-up clothes, telling me I needed to toughen up and joking that she’d send me off to boarding school. Despite spending my childhood around queer women, I’d never received the message that I might grow to be one of them.
But as it turns out, I am! I went to college straight, and, as happens so often, came home the summer after sophomore year decked out in bisexual flags, hair freshly cut, nose freshly pierced.
I was fortunate to have a family who asked no questions--in fact, I received no reaction at all. I was bursting to announce my new-found queer identity, but my family did what so many wish theirs would--treated me exactly the same as they always had. The morning of Pride that summer, I skipped into the kitchen wearing rainbow eyeshadow.
“Mom,” I said, “it would be awesome if you came with us! Our little queer family!”
She scoffed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve been married to a man for eight years.”
I shook my head. This wasn’t what Good Bisexual Literature told me. According to my Supportive Queer Community, your identity remains intact no matter who you date. “But you’re still--”
“And anyway,” she cut in, “lesbians hate us.”
I’d never thought before about why my mother’s circle of friends had vanished so abruptly from our lives, or realized that it had coincided with a period in which she’d started dating my stepfather. I’d heard people talk about biphobia, but it wasn’t really something I’d experienced--that wasn’t the case for her.
I’m so lucky to have a family that doesn’t care about my sexuality. I am, actually, so lucky to have a mom who changes the subject as soon as I talk about any women I’m dating--she could react in ways that are so much worse. In two weeks, I’ll walk across the graduation stage wearing my rainbow stole from lavender graduation. My grandparents will be there, they’ll send pictures to my aunts and uncles, and I can express my identity in front of them because my mom already did--she brought her partners home for Christmas dinner in the 80s, she did all the explaining, and now I won’t have to. I want her to be able to enjoy the world she helped make. But while she created a space of acceptance in our own family, she was rejected by the queer women she was closest to.
Now when she sees my graduation stole, my mom will roll her eyes and tell me for the hundredth time that I shouldn’t make being gay a part of my identity. it shouldn’t be something that I talk about all the time. For her, this identity is one that can be revoked at any moment. And I worry sometimes that she’s right, and that my continued sense of belonging will morph into performing an identity that doesn’t fit. At Pride this past year, I watched people yell ‘ewww!’ when a speaker on the stage said the word ‘bisexuality.’ But for me, experiences like that are the exception, not the rule.
I’m wildly lucky to have a community here, at school, who understands queerness as a spectrum. I feel that my belonging is still intact when I date cis men, and regardless of my fluctuating expressions of femininity. That’s the queer community I know. I wish my mom had that too.