Maya Newell (above), "As the child of same-sex parents, I stopped counting how many times I was asked: “Do you miss not having a father?”
When I was a baby, my non-biological mother, Donna, would carry me on her hip on outings and strangers would invariably come up to us, assuming that Donna was my biological mother. “What a cute baby!”, they’d beam. “Yes, we’re very proud of her,” Donna would reply, or words to that effect. Then noting that I looked Japanese and Donna didn’t, they’d remark, “She must take after her father”, to which Donna would smoothly answer, “oh no, she has a strong resemblance to her mother”. Even after many long seconds passed, the confused looks rarely resolved into a “oh they’re lesbian parents” realisation.
It’s extraordinary just how much fun one can have in the company of other people’s assumptions.
As the child of same-sex parents, I stopped counting how many times I was asked: “Do you miss not having a father?” How can you miss something you’ve have never had? Even now, if someone asked me that question, I’d just as likely reply, “Do you miss not having two mothers?”
Maya and her two mums, Donna and Liz.
Somehow it seems like the wrong question. A better question might be:
What is a father, after all? And what exactly have I missed without one? I mean, we’re not talking about cabbages here, are we?
Maybe a father would’ve taught me to be a bit more gruff and strong, rough-and-tumble; or perhaps he would’ve taken me out and spoiled me every now and then with ice cream. Maybe dads tell good bedtime stories and carry you on their shoulders at the beach (assuming he is the strongest in the family). A dad would have taken me fishing, and taught me how to cut a fish‘s throat or maybe get us lost on camping adventures (because of course mums hate that outdoor stuff).
Maya with her mums Liz and Donna, promoting her documentary project, Gayby Baby.
Maybe there is an advantage to having someone around the place that wears pants all the time and who takes masculine short hair-styles in their stride. Would I be better at throwing and catching balls if I had a dad? Or maybe dad would’ve made sure my boyfriend was a good bloke before we went on a date. And who knows, maybe he would’ve even instilled his own, good work ethic! Or maybe not.
I have never in my life seen Donna wear a dress, and she has always styled a short curls. So that’s two down. Donna has taught me to fish… well, we go and sit out on the rocks and wait, usually in the wrong place, at the wrong tide, and argue endlessly about who’s fault it is that the fish aren’t biting. When I brought my first boyfriend home I thought Donna was going to boot him out. She was that tense and watchful, one could be excused for thinking she had morphed into the perfect, overly protective father.
And Liz, my biological mother, she’s great at wrestling, not to mention tickling, torture and trampoline, which was a favorite game of mine growing up. Out of the two, she is my beach ride ‘shoulders’ of choice and would always cave to the after-school ‘Golden Gaytime’. Liz works harder and is more passionate about her work than almost anyone I know and makes ace vegetarian lasagna.
Kids need a mother and a father only so long as we keep those roles quarantined and artificially separated into rigid, airtight compartments. In this day and age it is safe to say that dads have resilience that enables them to do what mums do, and vice versa for mums. As I have grown older, I have come to see the wisdom of men like my uncle who was a stay-at-home dad, and always loved to do the cooking.
Fortunately, in my house, family is not defined by biology or gender stereotypes. I have learned this from two mothers that have taught me that women can be whatever they want to be, and that there are countless, exciting and powerful ways to ‘do’ femininity.
Whatever prejudices and misunderstandings gather around the same-sex family debate, one of the sustaining influences of such intolerance is a scarcity of stories. With this in mind, I got together with a friend, Charlotte Mclellan and we began making a film Gayby Baby - the first feature length documentary on this topic.
For me, family is the community you create. It lives in the simplest acts, like laughing at the dinner table, or being pushed up to the sky on a swing so that you think you know what it means to fly. It is being forced to do the washing up, crying because you don’t want to go to bed, and the frustration of having your nose blown for you.
In the end, I guess the only real downside to not having a father is having to answer lots of questions about not having a father.
To watch the trailer of GAYBY BABY and to find out more about how to make this movie a reality, go to:pozible.com/gaybybabythemovie.