Phil: Hey, this is Phil, aka Corrine.
Alex: And I’m Alex Berg. And you are listening to the I’m From Driftwood Podcast.
Phil: I’m From Driftwood Podcast. A quick favor to ask our listeners before jumping today’s episode, take a few seconds to leave a five star rating on the I’m From Driftwood Podcast. More ratings and reviews help the podcast appear in recommendations, which means more people who need to hear all these queer and trans stories will be able to find them more easily. It just takes a few seconds and will make a big difference. All right. Now, on to today’s episode.
Alex: On today’s show, we are talking about children of queer parents. And I just got to say huge appreciation just for the honesty of kids and when kids just say it exactly how it is. On that note, one of the stories we’re hearing from today is from Julia.
Julia: So when I was 10 years old, the summer before my third or before my fourth grade year, my mom came out as gay and my parents got divorced. And at first it was really hard for me. It was like, “No,” but I got over that, it didn’t take that long. And I got a lot of questions from people at school and they were like, “Wait, what’s gay? What does that mean?” I wasn’t really equipped to answer the questions coming from other people. I was very uncomfortable through that whole thing. And then I left that school and I switched to public school.
And at first I didn’t really tell anyone that my mom was gay because I just sort of kept that hush hush. Because I didn’t know what the environment was like at this new school, I didn’t know how accepting people were. And slowly it became common knowledge, and it wasn’t really ever a big deal until a few years ago, my mom got married to my stepmom. That’s when the next wave of questions started to come. And it was like, “Oh wait, so you have a stepmom and a dad and a mom? So is your dad remarried? Wait, I’m confused.” So all of my friends are… they’re well aware of how my family works, but I have some people who are like acquaintances, they’re not as good friends who are still confused several years after my moms have been married.
So one day at lunch, I was eating lunch with my friends and this guy came up to me and I mean, I know him, we’re not close, but I do know him. He goes, “Are you gay?” Just out of the blue. And I was like, “No.” And he goes, “But your mom is gay.” And I was like, “They both are actually.” And he goes, “Wait, how are you not gay then?” And I was like, “Well, she just produced a child. She didn’t produce a gay. She actually produced a straight.” And they get very confused and like, “Wait, so it’s not like brown hair?” And eventually people started to sort of come to terms with, “Okay, she has a stepmom, then a mom and a dad. And they’re all a family. And I don’t quite know how, but that’s how it works.” And then 16 months ago, my baby sister was born. And so my stepmom gave birth to her, but my biological mother is equally her mother. And that’s when, sort of the next wave of questions came and those questions haven’t stopped. And it was, “Wait, hold on. How did that happen?”
It was as if people thought that there was no other way to acquire a child other than a man and a woman mashing their genitals together or adoption. Those are your two options. Which box do you want? For instance, one day I was walking down the hall and this girl walked up to me and I’m following her on Instagram. I know her name and that’s pretty much all I know about her. And she walks up to me and she goes, “You have a baby sister.” And I was like, “That I do.” And she’s like, “I saw a picture of her on Instagram.” I was like, “Cool.” She was like, “But don’t you have two moms?” I was like, “Yes, I do.” And she was like, “How did it happen?” And I was like, “Ah…” and that was the first time I had gotten an explicit your mother’s sex lives question. I was just like, “I’m really uncomfortable right now.” And I was with one of my friends who was very good at taking weird questions and making them funny. And he goes, “Yep, pretty much.” And we both just walked away.
It’s gotten to the point where I just think it’s funny and I find humor in it because otherwise I would just be mad all the time. And so, if someone says, “Oh, where did your baby sister come from? Target?” “We found her on the shelf, by the cereal.” Or like, “Oh wait, how did that happen? I don’t get it.” “Well, imagine a turkey baster.” It makes people super uncomfortable. Or when people are like, “Wait, but you have two moms. I don’t understand how that happened.” I’m like, “Well, what position were your parents in where you were conceived,” and people’s… their eyes get really big and their face go white and then they just walk away and I’m like, “Bye.” And so I’ve just gotten to a place where I do find humor in the whole… It’s the way that I deal with it.
So I think when my parents first got divorced, I was… I mean, I was mad at them a little bit. I didn’t know how to answer the questions. I didn’t know how to address just even the questions about divorce. And as my mom got married and then Vivian… I mean the questions became more and more frequent and more and more personal. I think for someone who has questions, it’s not a bad thing to be curious. I mean, we’re all curious about things we don’t know about. I would say first ask the person if they’re okay answering questions, be like, “Hey, can I ask you about your family?” That feels awkward, but that person will appreciate it.
Phil: Shout out to Julia because the way she handled it was pretty incredible. I mean, to think about being a kid in school and these kids coming up asking questions that are really, really inappropriate, very personal questions. And we’re not even talking about friends, people who were friends of hers, these are people that she just knew in passing. She said, one girl she knew from Instagram and the girl walks up and is like, “You have a baby sister. How did that happen?” We’ve done other stories where we talk about, it’s important to have a place where kids can ask questions and they can be curious and they can want to explore things, but this is a bit much.
Alex: I feel like it’s different when kids are in a peer group with each other and their questions are actually kind of badgering and just straight up again, inappropriate and also just odd. But one of the things that I really appreciated about Julia is that I feel like when I was a teen, if I was constantly subject to questioning like that, I would probably have cowered a little bit and I would’ve shrunk myself. I would’ve avoided it. I maybe would’ve bought into some of it. And I just was like, “This kid is a badass because she is not backing down.” And she gets it. She understands that these questions are not okay. And she understands that the problem isn’t her and her family, it’s these other kids. And I just think that’s so amazing to see in a young person and props to her parents for instilling that in her.
Phil: I think we do have to give credit to her parents because you’re like, “How does this kid know how to be this way and know how to answer in this way and to use humor and to just…” I think that you’re right. I think most people would have cowered because this is… I mean, you’re hearing this from kids as a kid, she just handled it so well. And I think you’re right, maybe that’s about her parents and her parents having conversations with her and saying, “We’re still a family.”
Alex: With her story, it made me think about times when I was in middle school and elementary school, when I actually… I remember seeing kids with same-sex parents with gay parents or lesbian parents, I remember seeing them really viciously teased for having two same-sex parents. And I remember one instance in which there was this girl I went to school with and she had two moms. And I remember this kid, he was just a relentless bully at all times to everyone anyways. So everybody was just very over it with him. And I just remember one day she had had it and the other girls in the class had had it with him. And even though I think we were in fifth grade at the time, just couldn’t even articulate why we had had it with him. But I just remember, he was cornered in a hallway or something and got a mouthful about why everybody was just so done with him being such a jerk at all times. But I remember his family was actually okay with it, when it got back to his family. They were [crosstalk].
Phil: You see, that’s a problem.
Alex: Well, no, no, no. They were okay with the girls confronting him. They weren’t okay with him. They were okay with people confronting him about it and telling him it wasn’t okay, which makes me think about how people are, in some ways kids are so melded into their views by the adults around them. Which I think perhaps from Julia’s background, one of the reasons why she was so upfront about her family is because that’s kind of learned. And it just made me think that, especially the next story we’re going to talk about, it seems like kids really do absorb a lot of the views of the adults around them.
Phil: Right. Well, and with that, let’s go to the next story. So the next story is Cathy.
Cathy: I guess it was maybe 2006. My daughter was in first grade or so. We lived in Long Island. We had a house there. We had an apartment also in the city, but mostly we lived in our house. Well, we sent her to school in the West Village. So we used to make exceptional plans, do play dates and that stuff, because she couldn’t do the after school playing time with the kids generally. So this one weekend we had all her little girlfriends come and sleep over and she was very excited and we had air mattresses everywhere and all this crazy foods that they liked to eat. And we made them smoothie margaritas and plastic glasses with sugar on the sides. And they were all very excited, having cocktails with each other and all of that stuff. It was very lovely.
We get to the house, we walk in and her friend, Sophie proceeds to take all her clothes off. So I called her father and I told him what was going on. And I just felt, I told him, “I don’t have an issue with it, but I think that you should know that Sophie’s done this.” So he said, “Well, try to ask her why,” but he thought, and he wound up to be right, that it was because she lives with all men. Her two dads and she had a little brother. So I asked Sophie and she has, “I’m here with all girls. And I feel so free. So I just want to be free.” I’m like, “Well, you go, girl, you be free.” She spent the most of the time without her clothes on. So they start this conversation about religion. And I have to remind myself that it is a table full of six, some of them are seven-year-olds, because the conversation was pretty adult for this age group of kids.
And this one is Jewish. And that one doesn’t believe in anything. And this one was Christian and Jackie, my daughter, didn’t know what to answer, because we’re somewhat Christian, but we’re not extremely religious and everything. So they got over that and they laughed about how different the table was, full of different kinds of religions. And one of the little girls, Julietta, I think it was, she goes, “What about parents? What kind of parents do you have? I was adopted. I have a mommy and a daddy,” and Jackie’s friend, Sophie, the naked girl, “I have two dads, Jackie. I have two moms.” This other little girl at the table says, “My parents are divorced. I only live with my mom,” and so on and so forth around the table. I was amazed at this conversation. It proved to me that if you give children a bandwidth to explore themselves and you don’t restrict them with all these rules around who you’re supposed to be, that the options are limitless.
The conversation went on to discuss whether or not they felt one way or another because they didn’t have whatever it was in their family’s dynamic that they were missing. And the outcome was, the girls came to this conclusion again, seven and eight-year-olds that as long as they have love, it doesn’t matter. I, first of all, I cried of course. But second of all, I was just so taken with the idea that these kids were so free. So the girls get ready to leave. And we take everybody home because of course, because we live on Long Island, we have to drive everybody back into the city. Most of them lived in the West Village area.
So after we dropped them off, we were on our way home. And Jackie, our daughter, says to me, “Mom, I have a question for you.” I was like, “All right, sweetheart.” I do my best to answer whatever. She says, “Mom, Sophie has two daddies and Clara’s parents are divorced and I have two mommies. And I understand Sophie had a surrogate mom, and I know what that is,” which was pretty amazing to me considering her age. “But how did cousin Larry get here?” And I was like, “What do you mean?” “Well, he has a mom and a dad who are not divorced. So how did he…” I was like, “Oh boy.” And it’s our first story about the stork. So I explained to her in very clinical terms, how natural, we’ll call it, conception happens. And she looked at me, she says, “Mommy, that’s disgusting. I’m never going to do that.” So after I got over the initial laugh, I told her, “Come back when it’s not disgusting anymore, and we’ll talk about it all over again.” And she has since then, of course.
Phil: I love this story because it’s just… First of all, who are these kids? And second of all, they take on what they’re taught. They take it on. And so you have to see what’s happening with this group of kids. They must have come from very well adjusted parents, that let them ask questions, that told them things, that let them explore and get curious. And it’s so crazy to me.
Alex: I feel like it kind of drives home just how crucial it can be… How kids… the social dynamics that they learn and witness and the values that they witness. Oftentimes they perpetuate a lot of those values as well. I mean, what a moment to just be overhearing a conversation where these kids… what great common sense. You just think about it and you’re like, “Well, damn, I wish that other adults actually were thinking in that way too.” There was a piece of the story where I think Cathy mentioned that also they were talking about extreme religious views and their own religious views that’s – and discriminatory religious views. And just so smart and emotionally intelligent of these kids to also be able to identify how being discriminatory because of your religion is hurtful and harmful. And just how amazing to have a group of kids that are so perceptive in that way.
Phil: Yeah, I think it was the fake cocktails that she gave.
Alex: Oh, yes, that’s right.
Phil: I think that’s what really upped their game.
Alex: I also love that piece of the story. [crosstalk].
Phil: Where they’re just sitting around with little martini glasses being… Fake little cocktails talking about some really adult themes here. And for them to know this at six and seven, it just makes me wonder, “What are they like now? What are these kids like now?” And this is where they started. What kind of adults came out of those conversations? That’s pretty incredible.
Alex: Do you remember when you first learned about LGBTQ people? Did you have friends who had parents who were LGBTQ? Do you remember when you learned about it? Do you remember what you were taught about it?
Phil: No. I felt like I learned about it way later than I wish I had, first of all. And it was not really with parents of friends, it was friends themselves. To me, it was just okay. I mean, I was good. I was totally fine. I will say this though, I remember being like maybe I… We talked about com… compartmentalization a little bit in another episode, but maybe I was also doing that because I think people were waiting for me to come out and I was like, “What are you talking about?” Like, “I don’t know what you mean.” So I feel like my…
I wish I had more exposure to it than I did. I had a friend here, a friend there, and it wasn’t necessarily appreciated or something that people were supportive of at that time. But I wish I had more, I wish I had more people. And I think this is what we talk about all the time, we talk about visibility and how important it is. Because it, sometimes it prods you to be like, “Wait a minute. It’s not me. Hang on, wait, hang on. Hello.” Just like, “It’s not me.” You know what I’m saying, right?
Alex: Yes, I know exactly what you’re saying.
Phil: Yes. It’s like you see it. It’s weird how that works, it really is. There’s some part of you that wakes up, I think.
Alex: I love that idea of how it wakes up a part of you, because I think that’s so true. But then also one of the things that you said is you used the word, having an appreciation for these people who would be in one’s life. And I think for me, I knew… I have two aunts who are lesbians and a really central story my family is about how when they came out, it was really difficult to come out as a lesbian. I think I didn’t have an appreciation for it as a kid. Of course, you’re a kid, but now I think about, “Oh my goodness, how important that was, how formative it was for me to also just to be exposed to gay people from such a young age.” But I think at the time it was just very much a part of my world.
And I knew other kids who had parents who were in same-sex relationships. So it was seen in my circle, it was just seen as every day regular. Yes. But I don’t think that I had the appreciation for it. That piece that you mentioned. And so I don’t know, like these kids, if I was having these high-falutin’ conversations, definitely wasn’t drinking a mocktail, wish I was, but…
Phil: You weren’t drinking mocktails at six or seven, really?
Phil: What’s going on with your parents? What were they thinking?
Alex: It’s amazing now, I guess kids have that ability to wake up because they get to see so much more, they’re exposed to so much more information and-
Phil: Thank goodness for that.
Alex: [crosstalk] internet and everything.
Phil: I mean, that is so awesome. Having your two aunts that were a lesbian couple, was there any part of that, that unlocked something for you?
Alex: I think for me, I knew it was a possibility. But actually the bigger narrative in my family, the story that my family always told was just how it could be upsetting or how it could be disruptive to your life if you came out. How much my aunt had to sacrifice, how difficult it was, that was always a story. It was never ever the one, I think that, I would see it as, which is how amazing that she self-actualized and decided to take this huge risk to live her life as who she was, she could have gone on and remained closeted and… So I see it as this extremely admirable story actually about self-actualization. But the story that my family told growing up was different. And I think that’s obviously aligned with homophobia and just how social values have changed over time. So I don’t even know if… I think what I internalized was like, “If this is your life path-
Phil: It’s a sad story?
Alex: It’s going to be tough.
Phil: I mean, that’s intense because it could have gone either way. But it went that way. And so of course you’re going to be like, “Okay, maybe I don’t want to travel that road. That sounds like not fun. There’s nothing fun about that.”
Alex: I also think so much has changed. I think thanks to the internet so much has changed, and because I wasn’t presented with so many different options of being LGBTQ because that was the one example I had and it didn’t exactly fit for me. I don’t think that I identified with it in that way.
Phil: That makes sense. That makes sense. Actually, you make a good point. That’s a really good point. This is again, why we have to have as many shades, as many colors… We need as many people to be out and doing their thing because you just don’t know who’s seeing you and is like, “Oh my God, that’s me. I see myself in that.”
Julia: I think if someone were in my position, but maybe me six years ago or even me three or four years ago, I would want them to know you’re going to get questions, some of them are going to be super awkward and super weird. Just expect that. Just learn how to answer them, learn what you’re comfortable with. Don’t think that your family is less of a family because of the structure or the dynamic there, it’s still a family. It still works the same way. We still get up and eat breakfast and scream at each other and go to school and eat dinner, go to sleep, repeat. I mean, it’s the same basically, there’s just a lot of boobs.
Cathy: When I look back on the story, I really see how well all the parents of all these kids did in giving their children diversity. And the idea that what most of society considers the norm was no more important than the other different types of families. To me, it was beautiful and amazing. And I wish that all families could be that way.
Alex: Do you interact with any kids on a regular basis?
Phil: I don’t. I have a nephew and he’s 20, so I wouldn’t call him a kid. I actually don’t interact with kids very often.
Alex: I have two nieces. I have a niece who’s 17 and I have a niece who’s seven. One of the things that we’ve been tried to be intentional about is just again, being upfront with those questions about sexual orientation and gender identity and just having them, those conversations from a very young age and just being upfront with it all, I feel like so that our niece has information. I feel like more often she has more information than us at this point in her life. Because she’s teen, we’re just not cool.
Phil: She’s like, “You’re behind the time.”
Alex: Yes. A million trillion bazillion percent.
Phil: She’s like, “I don’t want your [crosstalk].
Alex: [crosstalk] not cool.
Phil: She’s like, “I don’t want [crosstalk].
Alex: Yeah. Now she’s on TikTok. Everything is explained on TikTok. I feel like you can find out… You can go into whatever piece of queerness you want to go into, it’s all on TikTok. But it just made me think, I feel like it can be so important just to have be honest with kids about what’s going on and to have those conversations because then they can sit around with their mocktails and just keep saying really lovely things.
Phil: The mocktails have come out to be the huge piece of this story, the mocktails and saying lovely things. I love it.
Alex: That’s it. [crosstalk].
Phil: Make margaritas and lovely things.
The I’m From Driftwood Podcast is hosted by Phil aka Corinne
Alex: And Alex Berg and is produced by Anddy Egan-Thrope. It’s recorded as a program of I’m From Driftwood, the LGBTQAI+ story archive.
Phil: It’s mission is to send a life saving message to queer and trans people everywhere. You are not alone.
Alex: I’m From Driftwood’s founder and executive director is Nathan Manske. Its program director is Damien Middlefehldt.
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Phil: This program is supported in part by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
Alex: In partnership with the City Council.
Phil: Additional funding is provided by the Humanities New York SHARP grant with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Federal American Rescue Plan Act.
Alex: Thanks for listening, y’all.