What Fred Nile could learn from my queer family

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Maeve Marsden

The horror of partying with your mums.

The horror of partying with your mums.

There's been a lot of anger from the LGBTQI community this week after conservative politician Fred Nile was booked to appear on a Q&A special discussing our rights. I kept my own commentary on the panelist choice moderate, in part because I was convinced he would do a fine job of showing himself up. And in part because, you know, 'they need to produce good television and appeal to a broad audience'.

But actually sitting in the live audience on Thursday night, the anger hit home when it was my question he was misinterpreting, my life he was criticising, and my rights he was claiming to understand. The camera pointed at me and I said:

I am incredibly proud to have been raised by lesbian mothers. When I face hardship, it's my parents' bravery, pride, intellect, humour, love and care that I draw on for strength. Much of the discussion around families like mine is about whether same-sex parents can offer children 'the same' quality of life as heterosexual parents. But I believe that queer and alternative family structures have unique and positive qualities that mainstream society can learn from. What does the panel think that the LGBTQI community can teach our straight friends?

Fred Nile on <i>Q&A</i>.

Fred Nile on Q&A. Photo: ABCTV

My question was – very purposefully – not a question about whether or not same-sex parents should be allowed to have kids, whether or not those kids turn out alright or whether or not kids 'need a mum and a dad'. In fact if you read closely, it's not even about just families. What I want to hear, and the discussion I want our society to have, is about how difference can be good, why queer families are unique and what can be learnt from families like mine.

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Funnily enough, I don't define my childhood by what gender roles my parents played. With nostalgia, I remember it by thinking about how often I was allowed to watch Degrassi before I did my homework (not often), about Easter Egg hunts with clues worthy of a cryptic crossword, and about whether my parents would crack out the Dolly Parton or Dusty Springfield cassette tape in the car on the way to basketball.

But in hindsight I define much of my childhood by what I would call my participation in broader queer culture and my early understanding of queer politics, one that grew before I even knew what my own sexuality would become.

"What I want to hear, and the discussion I want our society to have, is about how difference can be good, why queer ...

"What I want to hear, and the discussion I want our society to have, is about how difference can be good, why queer families are unique and what can be learnt from families like mine." Photo: Supplied

I believe growing up in queer culture offered me unique and positive experiences that children from heterosexual families may not experience. For what it's worth, studies show that children from same-sex families do as well or better on most measures. But these are still measures set by a heteronormative society. I want studies that throw out the rulebook and delve into how alternative families can benefit children.

It is incredibly hard to write about families without generalising – but that hasn't stopped conservative commentators doing it, so with the benefit of actually growing up in and around queer families, I'm giving it a go. 

In my experience, children who were born into queer families tend to be strong communicators. Having to explain my family unit from day one meant I developed the ability to tell a good story and reason with people from an early age.

Children from queer families often have a powerful sense of their parents' love. For those of us born in the early '80s, we grew to understand the hardships, discrimination and challenges our parents faced just in order to bring us into the world. We knew we were wanted.

Children raised in queer families often have a strong sense of human rights, empathy and community. We marched in Mardi Gras when it was a protest not a parade. We attended candlelight vigils for those our community lost to AIDS. We knew the value of community love and shared experience. And we appreciate difference in others and empathise with people who suffer discrimination or are excluded.

We tend to be feminists; the men I know who were raised in queer families respect women and are true allies and advocates in the struggle for gender equality.

In many cases, children raised in queer families understand sex, sexuality and bodily functions earlier than our peers. I believe explaining sex and sexuality to young children is empowering and important. You remove the shock factor of finding out about the birds and bees during puberty, and you ensure young children know what is and isn't appropriate behavior from adults. We seem to be afraid of being honest with children, of just telling them how the world works. In my house, our parents valued education and our young minds absorbed complex facts and ideas, engendering a passion for learning and debate that continued into adulthood.

Now, aged 31, I have really beautiful and distinct relationships with my two mothers, my brother and my sister (not to mention our extended family, both biological and chosen, made up of aunts, uncles, cousins and friends who all helped me to grow and develop). I choose to spend time with them, regularly, not out of familial duty but because they're excellent human beings. They're hilarious, clever, warm and thoughtful. My mothers are unendingly welcoming and generous to my friends, supporting their career endeavours and, in more than a few cases, taking them in as lodgers when they needed a place to stay.

Our family unit is not a static thing that began when we three kids were born and nor did it cease to exist when my parents ended their romantic relationship in 2005. We have adapted to change; we continue to care for and respect each other, to call on each other in times of struggle and to celebrate each other's achievements. And we still listen to a lot of Dolly Parton and Dusty Springfield.

I want my community to stop asking for acceptance by saying we're 'the same as' the straight community. Some of us are, some of us aren't. Diversity is good. My family is not the same as Fred Nile's family. But our differences don't negate our rights. I have the right to participate fully and equally in society and, loathe as I am to admit it, he has the right to hate me, hate my parents' choices and hate the way I make love to my partner. But he doesn't have the right to pontificate on what children like me need. He doesn't share my experiences, he doesn't listen when people like me speak and he clearly isn't interested in reading peer-reviewed research.

Last night Fred Nile answered my question by saying that children have the right to a mother and father. Mr Nile, with all due respect, what I had the right to was a childhood free from discrimination by people like you.

 

Maeve Marsden is a freelance writer, director, producer and performer. She performs in feminist cabaret act, Lady Sings it Better, consults on education outreach campaigns and collaborates on various creative projects.