Recently, I had the privilege of meeting Zach Wahls, the young man who became famous after delivering a riveting speech before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee, in defense of his lesbian mothers and in support of gay marriage. As a queer mom to a four-year-old, I found the core message of his story very important: "The sexual orientation of my parents has had zero effect on the content of my character."
But he also had a more sobering message that he addressed to me personally. He looked first at me, as my daughter slept on my chest, then at my partner, who is an obviously transgender woman. Then he said soberly, "Your daughter's going to get bullied. It's not an 'if.' It's a 'when,' and she'll need you to be there for her. I wish I could give you some advice that would make your life easier as a family, but I can't."
Only tolerance can make my daughter's life easier-- and that's not something I can guarantee she'll have among her peers. Right now, we stay in the closet about my partner's gender identity and my daughter stays mum about the fact that her "daddy" identifies as a mommy and is transitioning to become one. But we're left in an extremely difficult situation as we confront the challenges our daughter will face growing up. We have several ways that we could try to protect her from bullying, but none of them are ideal. Here are, in short, our options:
1. Hiding who we are.
My partner is a transgender woman, meaning she is male-bodied and in the process of transitioning to female. We'd talked a lot about the possibility of postponing (or never pursuing) transitioning, so we can continue to pass as a straight couple, but there are two problems with this. One is that transitioning isn't really optional: trans people who stay in the closet have extremely high rates of suicide. My partner would put herself through that to protect our child, but I'm not sure I could let her enter the spiral of severe (and likely terminal) depression that the decision would cause. My daughter and I both love and need my partner, and we need for her to be a happy and fulfilled individual.
The other problem is that, whether we pass as a straight couple or not, we're still the family we are. I'll never be a makeup-wearing, high-heel-donning soccer mom, and my partner will never be a burly, manly dad. We're noticeably different from most couples, and that can't and won't change any time soon. Even in the best of circumstances, in which we look more or less like a "normal" family, bullies will still be a problem. Another option is...
2. Putting her in a bubble.
We've talked about moving to an area that is famously friendly toward GLBT families, like Berkeley, California or the Castro district of San Fransisco. We could also, in theory, send her to a liberal private school where homophobes aren't nearly as likely to be a problem. Art schools and girls-only schools tend to be much more opening and accepting toward students from GLBT families, so she'd be safer from bullies if we sent her to one. But a few factors stop us from putting our daughter into a queer-friendly bubble: we can't afford the cost of living in a gay-friendly area, we can't afford the hefty tuition for a liberal private school-- and we can't spend her whole life shielding her from the real world, as brutal and cruel as it can be.
Zach Wahls told me that his moms didn't try to protect him: he went to public schools and was a member of Boy Scouts, a notoriously homophobic organization (though he said his local chapter was very accepting). As for whether he was better or worse for having dealt with unfriendly environments as the son of a gay couple, he said he wasn't sure. He did say that he knows the real world would have caught up with him eventually, so he needed to be prepared to face bullies regardless. Which leads to our third choice, which is:
3. Accepting that bullying is going to happen.
Our third, and perhaps most upsetting, option as a queer couple is to simply "allow" our daughter to be bullied because of who her parents are. This is probably the most painful choice to make, but it also seems to be the most realistic. No matter what happens, where we live, who we befriend, or how much we try to hide our identity as a family, my daughter is going to struggle. And we'll spend her entire childhood knowing that she's struggling because of us.
I've had to resign myself to the idea that my daughter will, one day, come home from school in tears because someone found out that she's got two moms, and that one of her moms is a "tranny." I know she will, at least for a time, hate both of us for it. My only reassurance comes with the knowledge that my partner and I love our daughter unconditionally and will do our best to comfort her, to strengthen her, and to love her when the hard times hit. And, if we're lucky, the steadfast love we have as a family might be able to conquer the hatred and bigotry that plague schools, playgrounds, and neighborhoods all over the country.
I can't change who I am and I can't indefinitely protect my daughter from the people who hate me for it-- but I can provide a pair of warm, loving arms for my sweet child to come home to after a bad day. I can only hope that it will be enough to make the hard times more bearable.
Have your kids had to deal with bullying because of the kind of family you have: gay, single-parent, adoptive, grandparent-led? Share your advice on how gay couples can protect their children from bullying.
Related Work by Genevra Reid