I’m A Queer Mom In A Straight-Passing Relationship, And I Want To Be Seen
I’m married to a man, but I still long for recognition in the LGBTQ+ community.
“Are you making new friends at daycare?” I asked my daughter Mia, looking down at the milk I was pouring. “Like… Riley?” I paused and pretended to study the milk carton casually, as if it didn’t matter either way.
But earlier that week, as I scanned her daycare class email list, I couldn’t help but notice something that sparked my interest: “Anna — Riley’s Mom” and “Jennifer — Riley’s Mom.” We’ve got ourselves another queer family here people, this is not a drill!
As a bisexual woman married to a man, it’s usually easier to let people assume I’m straight. OK, not usually, always. Rarely are your first words on the playground, “Oh, I’m Mia’s mom, that’s right, the little girl in the unicorn shoes. What’s that? Oh yes, I’m also attracted to women.”
It didn’t really bother me at first, but as time’s passed, it’s started to wear on me that I don’t feel like I can fully be myself around other parents. Straight parents assume I’m straight, and queer parents assume I’m…also straight. I started to feel like a fraud; it became exhausting.
I longed for a connection with queer parents. We shared something special, an understanding that can only come from the awkwardness of hiding in high school, or breathlessly coming out to your parents, or claiming the picture of Penelope Cruz in your locker was because “she was a really great actress” and not because you had a crush on her.
Would every other LGBTQ+ parent care that I’m queer? Maybe not. And I had to be OK with that. But after years of hiding, some part of me yearned for that recognition of my queerness, no matter what their response was. The dream was too tantalizing of being included in this community, being able to make safe and emotional connections, and truly be myself.
What a relief it had been in the past, when I managed to come out to new LGBTQ+ friends. I loved catching that flicker of excitement in their eyes upon realizing that we had that connection. It wasn’t enough to be in their company if I was in disguise; to be truly happy I needed them to know I too was queer and be recognized for who I was.
But LGBTQ+ parents are a rare sighting for me. One time, I met a dad walking in the neighborhood with his toddler, who introduced himself, saying, “I’m gay!” I was extremely excited, until I realized he had said, “I’m Gabe.” Then, there were the two moms who had an older kid at our daycare, and a couple at a friend’s pool party, but there was never a way for me to communicate my queerness to them. I was left once again to feel like an outsider.
Until the day I saw Anna and Jennifer on the class list, and a spark of hope lit in me. I didn’t know anything about them, and had no idea if we would actually work as friends. But something in me was excited for the possibility of community, a community I sorely missed in my life. I couldn’t help but wonder, what would it be like if we were friends…and I had the chance to fully be myself with other parents?
But Mia’s answer was no. She wasn’t friends with Riley. It was probably for the best. What would I even say when I met them to let them know? “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice you are lesbians. Boy, do I have some exciting news for you!”
Then, one afternoon, as I walked Mia home from daycare, she exclaimed, “Riley has two mommies!”
“Oh wow!” I exclaimed, trying again to be casual, but instantly turning our stroll into an after school special. “Isn’t that amazing? There are lots of different ways to make a family!” My voice was in a whole other register, my eyes manic with runaway pride. I was just about to burst into a magical song when:
“Mom?” Mia asked, her big eyes wide, searching mine. This is the moment, I thought. She’s wondering if being gay is OK. She wants to know how two women can get married. “You can ask me anything,” I assured her. She narrowed her eyebrows at me. “You forgot to give me water today.”
So I may have overdone it on the Pride lesson. But it turned out she and Riley were now friends, thanks to their shared love of unicorns, and they wanted to have a playdate.
A week later, I stood outside Riley’s door, clicking my phone on and off in my pocket as Mia held my other hand. But as soon as the old wooden door swung open, my nerves faded. Sure, I had never met Anna before, but we had a common language, even if she didn’t know it yet. She flashed a big grin at me as Riley slipped around the side of her legs, pulling Mia in. “Come in!” Anna exclaimed to me, as the girls ran to Riley’s bedroom, giggling.
Anna told me Jennifer was upstairs, and just hearing her say “my wife” gave me a sudden pang of jealousy that I wasn’t expecting. It was so effortless for her to be queer, and I longed to have something about me that would make others understand instantly who I was.
Of course, I knew there wasn’t anything effortless about it. Being married to a man, I’ve never had to worry about what the other parents would think seeing “Mia’s Mom” twice on the email list. Never thought about what would happen to my child at daycare when she announced she had two mommies. I don’t worry about disapproving looks at a restaurant, or whether or not my parents would reject my spouse. Anna and Jennifer carry a burden that I will never fully understand.
But I too carried a burden hiding in plain sight, and I was ready to make a change.
A week or so later, my husband Julien and I stood chatting with Jennifer at the playground, watching the girls chase each other through a tunnel. As we talked, I couldn’t stop thinking about how she must see us: another run-of-the-mill straight couple. Other than being queer, I really didn’t have anything in common with Anna and Jennifer. Our lives couldn’t have been more different: I worked in TV, and Anna and Jennifer were…an accountant and a different kind of accountant.
The subtlest way I had come up with to drop my sexuality into the conversation was to reference the LGBTQ+ improv show I regularly performed in. So once there was a pause, I asked, “Do you go to any shows? Like for example, and this is just off the top of my head… comedy shows?” Jennifer shook her head. “No, but we did go to a great talk at the 92nd St Y the other day..” “Right, right… but comedy shows, no?” I could tell Jennifer seemed a little ruffled as I steered the conversation back to me, but I was unstoppable in my quest to come out to her, so I bulldozed my way through. She sighed and patiently asked, “How about you? Do you go to a lot of comedy shows?”
“Why, yes!” I exclaimed, as if it hadn’t occurred to me until this very moment. “I actually perform in an LGBTQ+ improv show,” I said, staring at her to see if it landed. I may as well have winked. “So like, all of the people performing are queer… And I perform in it.” I was veering so far from subtlety that it was like I had painted “I’M QUEER” on a big, white card and showed up at her door. But her smile widened, and I caught that familiar flicker of excitement in her eyes: You’re one of us!
I don’t know what I thought would happen after I came out to Jennifer. Maybe that we would paint our faces and hoist the girls onto our shoulders at Pride, or sit together front row at the next Drag Queen Storytime. But in reality, we remained pretty good acquaintances who had girls in the same daycare and happened to be queer. Nothing changed between us; we laughed a lot, trading funny stories about our lives and our kids. It was life as usual, except for the silent understanding I felt passing between us when we were together.
Just like my impromptu pride lesson on Mia’s walk home, I may have overdone it with my hopes for the friendship. But knowing that Anna and Jennifer saw me for who I was made me feel understood. I could relax a little more, happy in the knowledge that I didn’t have to hide who I was anymore. I was finally holding onto that community I had stood looking in on for so long.
Erin Hug is a freelance writer as well as a video editor/producer at Dodo Kids. She was a Telefilm Canada New Voices Award recipient in 2018 and has written several award-nominated short plays. In her free time, you can find her performing improv or storytelling onstage.