by Katie McKee
EDITOR’S NOTE: Katie is an area teenager about to enter her senior year of high school. She is an all A student, excels at sports and music and says, “I have a great family and friends and although it’s no-one’s business, I date boys.”
I sat outside my locked and dark first hour algebra class waiting for Mrs. Bird to arrive at her usual 7:15 am – coffee in hand and breathless from the curious habit she developed of speed walking wherever she went. Our greetings were routine – almost robotic – to the point of hinted insincerity. On hearing a faint voice and shuffling footsteps down the desolate hall, I looked up to offer my habitual “good morning Mrs. Bird,” only to find a strange girl I had never seen smugly gape upon my greasy prepubescent seventh grade face. “I heard about your mom,” she snickered. The seemingly empty hall quickly filled with an ever-growing herd of annoying girls congregating behind her, their faces condescending like the implied inflection in her tone.
I didn’t think anyone knew. I desperately searched for some beacon – some awful joke I could use as a distraction, the school’s bell ringing to herald the beginning of class – anything to diffuse the situation.
“So, like are you gay then?” The shame and the humiliation radiated throughout my body like a seismic wave through Earth’s crust.
“No.” Embarrassment enveloped my usually carefree persona.
“I thought since she was gay you, like… were too. But, I mean, I guess it’s good you’re not. Like that would be so weird.” The episode concluded and the crowd dispersed after a few moments. A few lingered with disgusted and concerned expressions, who were – prior to the event – unknowing of mom’s “alternative lifestyle.”
Acquaintances approached me with questioning looks.
“So, are you adopted then?”
“Yeah, like why did your parents divorce?”
“OMG! Did your mom cheat on your dad is that why they got divorced?”
My peers’ newly developed inquisitiveness was overwhelming. Taking refuge in the closest bathroom, I assured myself I was somehow still above them all – untainted by the bombardment of sensitive family questions. But I still could not shake the bleak reality that I was now going to be “that kid.” The “weird girl.” The one known not for her sense of humor or her achievements, but as the one who had a real dyke for a mom. In a sense, I felt branded – like I had a permanent blemish on my life that everyone felt entitled to comment on, that I could not mask or hide. The realization that I had zero control over the sensitive family information now being scribbled on sticky notes and whispered into neighbors’ ears permeated the tough façade I worked diligently to keep up. In that moment, the only control I had was over how much time I allotted myself to cry before returning to class.
I have never known a conventional family lifestyle. At three years old, my parents divorced with the intention of making their kids’ lives and their own less complicated – free from overwhelming dysfunction and dissatisfaction. During this transition, my dad accepted both paternal and maternal roles of raising kids alone while my mother struggled to accept leaving her husband and kids to pursue a truth she had to live. At the tender ages of three and ten, my brother and I were introduced to a lifestyle of being schlepped from city to city every other weekend to see our mom. It was normal to us then, choosing not to adapt to the new lifestyle was not an option.
But as both of us matured, and started to realize that not everyone had a gay mommy, we became private and ashamed about sharing this touchy fact – afraid people would attack the family strictly because our construction was different. There was no lack of love in our family – no real negatives that came from being raised in a divorced household other than the occasional scheduling inconvenience when Tyler and I would have to cancel plans we looked forward to for weeks to visit our mom on a weekend we’d forgotten about.
But why did people we didn’t know approach us in school asking about our lesbian mother they knew nothing about, or discuss behind my back what “went wrong” in my parents’ marriage that they were so sure about? The awkwardness – the series of inappropriate questions that routinely followed – the judgment – why were these things standard procedure whenever anybody new discovered her lifestyle? Why did my mother’s life choice have such an impact on me socially, when in reality I had no personal control or connection over her being gay?
The answer simply is that my mother’s identity is part of my mine. In the years I spent toiling to conceal her lifestyle and questioning whether or not I even accepted her, the triviality of the situation finally hit me.
It shouldn’t even matter.
People are not one-dimensional. Relying on labels to categorize a person – how they think, feel, love, and experience pain – cannot ever encompass their individuality and it strips their identity.
I love my mother and I accept her. She is much more than a label. I no longer think of her as a brand on my life, but a symbol of strength – a symbol representing the need to split in order to stay together.