I’m not the type of person who likes to keep secrets. I grew up in a house where secrets floated in the air at all times, and I never liked to keep track of who knew what. But when I realized at the age of sixteen that I was a lesbian, I suddenly had my own secret to keep track of. I did eventually come out to my old world Greek immigrant parents. Some years after that, my conservative relatives back in Greece found out when CNN broadcast footage of my partner and I getting married at San Francisco City Hall in 2004 when Gavin Newsom allowed same-sex marriage for the first time. I never intended to keep any secrets from my children, so imagine my surprise to find that my children don’t know I’m a lesbian.
When I met my partner in 1995, we found home within a community of interracial butch/femme lesbian couples. I was femme identified and my partner was a mixed Asian transgender-identified butch. We dreamed of a life together that included creating our own family and traditions. As we grew older, we stopped going to clubs and started trying to have babies.
With our first child, we suddenly found ourselves with a new set of questions to answer. What should our child call us? While my partner Willy had not medically transitioned at that point, we knew with certainty that he didn’t want to be called mom. It worked out well for me, because I secretly harbored a selfish wish to be the only person the babies called mama. We toyed with titles for Willy for some time, but in the end it was our son who finally named him Dada. Even as a baby he identified the parental label that best fit Willy’s gender identity. And when our son started preschool and the other kids said, “You have two moms!” he would calmly respond, “No I don’t,” and look at them with some pity for their confusion. In our son’s eyes, he always saw Willy as his dad.
All three of our children have attended San Francisco LGBT Pride parades, as well as our hometown Oakland Pride parades. They’ve heard us talk about the Proposition 8 campaign when some of our neighbors turned against us with their hateful marriage rhetoric. They see the equity in same-sex marriage and we rejoice as each new state affirms the right to marry. Every year we attend the APIQWTC (Asian Pacific Islander Queer Women and Transgender Community) banquet, one of the largest gatherings of queer Asians I have ever seen. We openly discuss that we used a sperm donor to conceive them. Our community is queer, transgender, but admittedly much more straight since we have entered the elementary school culture. I know that since Willy’s full transition to a male presentation I often get read as straight, but in my mind and in my heart I still identify as a lesbian.
Recently I was sharing some updates about an ex-girlfriend with my partner, and my son asked, “Who is she?” I paused, because the idea of having ever been with someone besides Willy seems strange to me now. I said, “She used to be my girlfriend, before I met Dad. I used to date her.” My 8-year-old son, who’s always been rather contemplative, stopped for a moment to think. “What do you mean? You dated girls before you met Dad?”
As I let this question sink in, I struggled to comprehend what I was hearing. “Yes, I dated girls before I met Dad.” I suddenly found myself coming out to my own child, and was quite honestly flabbergasted that this was something he didn’t know about me. It never occurred to me to discuss old girlfriends with my kids, or that omission only reinforced my invisibility as a lesbian.
Even though Willy and I make our intellectual and emotional home in the queer community, to our children we must appear to be a heterosexual couple. True, Dad is now a man and I am a feminine woman. I suppose we look like the families of many of their friends. But how many of their friends have stuffed animals that are transgender? How many of their friends saw their parents mourn the passing of Leslie Feinberg?
I realize that being a femme lesbian has always come with some level of invisibility within the LGBT community, and certainly in the straight world. But I never expected it within my own family. So the next question is, how do I teach my children about my identity without telling them bedtime stories about Mommy’s ex-girlfriends?
Visibility as the femme lesbian partner of a trans man can be hard to achieve, and in most circumstances it’s not my goal. But in my home and with my children I want to be all of me–the mother and partner I am today, as well as that young girl who found excitement and acceptance when she walked through the doors of a lesbian bookstore. I want to bring all of me into this venture called motherhood, even when the very nature of motherhood is to lose yourself in your children. I want my children to know that I had to struggle to find acceptance in my family and culture, and that no matter what, you should strive for pride.
So maybe I won’t tell stories about my ex-girlfriends. But I will tell them stories about coming to know myself, accepting myself even when I knew it might mean losing my family, and finding the courage to be my true self. And I can teach them about loyalty and loving someone through all the challenges and joys. These are the lessons that I can teach my children about being a lesbian, and lessons that will serve them well.