Photo: Getty Images. Posed by model
Families can be maddening in all kinds of ways – some of them we’re all familiar with, some are unique. But for those of us who grew up in same-sex families, one of the most frustrating experiences is having our own families judged and found wanting. Uncle Harold’s interminable boarding school stories are one thing, but Auntie Vera’s tales of cross-dressing in 1970s Berlin might be quite another.
In an age of fierce struggles over same-sex marriage, we ‘gaybies’ (children of same-sex families) get sick of people speaking for us, telling us our families are deficient and ignoring our voices to the contrary.
When you’re a gayby (‘queerspawn’ is also acceptable, thank you very much), you get used to people watching your family – like the time I was in kindy and my teacher wrote a report attributing my shyness (now long gone) to my ‘non-conventional family background.’
But sometimes watching and judging isn’t satisfying enough, and people have to ask straight up. Like the mechanics of how I, a kid who had ‘test tube baby’ yelled at him for the first three years of high school, was brought into the world.
But the same people might be a bit alarmed if I were to casually inquire, “So, were your parents in the missionary position when you were conceived? At a 60s key-swap party? Swinging from the chandelier?”
As a boy with lesbian parents, the questions you constantly get asked is this: “How can you have a family without an adult man? Didn’t that mess you up?”
The truth is, kids need all kinds of role models. Boys need men around, and they need men who show them how to do masculinity in ways that aren’t (only) about sport or rough-housing – how to be empathetic and tough without being callous or violent.
Hey, I played with Barbies and with He-Man. In our society, those kinds of role models are in short supply – but they don’t need to be found in the one person whose biology magically matches yours, or in some Don Draper stereotype of a father.
As English novelist and poet Philip Larkin famously wrote: “They f-ck you up, your mum and dad…” The same could apply to “your mum and mum”, or “your dad and dad”, or any one of a hundred other family arrangements. As Freud would tell you, no-one emerges from childhood unscathed. It’s called being human. Larkin’s next line, “They may not mean to, but they do,” is the one we should pay more attention to.
In any case, is the mum-dad-and-three-kids family really so ‘traditional’? The nuclear family, splendidly isolated in its suburban stronghold, is actually a relatively new invention – think of polygamous European monarchs, or of sprawling households full of grandparents and lodgers, maiden aunts and bachelor uncles.
These and all kinds of other families were typical of Western society until recently. My ‘non-traditional’ family might be more traditional than most people know – or want to know.
One way or another, we’re happy to make our own traditions. Despite the defeat of the same-sex marriage bill in the New South Wales parliament, and the imminent challenge in the ACT this thursday, gaybies continue to live our own families, where biology matters not a jot. If you’ll allow me a soppy moment, the material we make them from is love.