When I learned what it meant to be gay, I was four years old and sitting on the floor in front of the television. It was a wedding show that my mother liked to watch, and I’d played with my dolls or Legos while countless episodes had played in the background. Except this one was different. Instead of a man and a woman, like I was used to, this time it was two men.
I was confused. I asked my mom why there were two men holding hands. She turned the volume down a little and said, “Well, sometimes two men fall in love just like Daddy and I did and want to get married.”
Oh. Well, is that all? I don’t remember exactly, but I’m pretty sure I went back to playing with my toys relatively unscathed because that was love stuff and love was for grownups.
I had a pretty cookie-cutter upbringing, probably because my parents had a pretty cookie-cutter love story. They met in a bar in the early ’90s. My mom was from a small town in Nova Scotia and had moved out west to live with her brother when she was 19. My dad was a West Coast boy, born and raised in British Columbia.
They met, he said he would call, and then promptly left town without telling her. She was pissed, and then resigned herself to the fact that he was a jerk. Until he did call, with some excuse about having been out of town visiting his parents, and the rest was history. BAM, instant love story, and a great one to tell the kid (me) one day to instill the virtues of patience when it comes to men. (Nny of my numerous ex-boyfriends will tell you that it didn’t work.)
They got married in ’93, and had me in ’95. We were the typical nuclear family, and everything was pretty boring and happy.
When I was 11, my dad died. He had a heart attack and was gone within a few hours. I was such a daddy’s girl that it completely rocked my world. My mom was gutted. Everyone who knew him was. The next few months were difficult. My mom had to adjust to being a single parent. I had to adjust to losing the person I loved most in the world. It was rough.
But then, after a year of the two of us barely scraping by emotionally, my mom started spending more time with her friend Debbie. The two of them had been casual friends before my dad died, but now they were inseparable. Within the next year, I asked my mom if she was a lesbian three times. The first two times she vehemently denied it, but the third time, over pancakes one morning at our kitchen table, she told me that yes, she and Debbie were together.
I won’t pretend like I just nodded and went on with my breakfast -– I freaked. I was angry that my mom was with someone other than my dad, and in my 13-year-old brain, it felt like she was trying to replace him. But it was never about her being gay. When you love someone, you don’t give a crap about which sex they’re into. The way I saw it, my mom was still going to be the person who would make me grilled cheese sandwiches just the way I liked them. That was good enough for me.
Pretty soon after my mom and Debbie were open about their relationship, they decided we should move back to the same small town in Nova Scotia where my mom had been born and raised to run a bed and breakfast. I was pissed. I did some research. There were 1,138 people living in the town limits. I would be going to the local school, where every kid from the surrounding area was bussed into, and there were still only 400 kids from ages five to 18. It was a rural town, small and quaint, and it was my new home.
On top of figuring out how I was going to fit in at this new school (spoiler: I didn’t), I had to figure out how I was going to answer when people asked what my parents did. Well, my mom owns a bed and breakfast, and my dad lives in a pine box in the back of her closet, I thought. That just wouldn’t work.
I needed to come right out and tell people that my mom was a lesbian, and the woman who lived with us wasn’t my aunt or our live-in cleaning lady, but her girlfriend. I remember the very first time someone found out. I was 14, and two friends had invited me to go see the second Twilight movie with them. We were waiting in line for tickets, and I just blurted out, “You know, my mom is gay.” They looked at me and stared, and one of them just said, “Good luck keeping that a secret here.”
I got a lot of different reactions while I lived in that small town. Some people were shocked. Some would get really angry, and try and convince me that since my mom had been married to a man long enough to have me, she couldn’t really be in love with another woman now. I never really understood why who my mom happened to love had anything to do with these peoples’ lives.
My all-time favourite reaction came from a girl in my class. She overheard me mentioning something about Debbie to another girl, and turned around and had a loud conversation with a group of her friends about how I had probably made up the story for attention. Because surely people can’t actually be gay, right? Gay people are merely figments of the imaginations of bored high school girls who don’t have much else to say about themselves, so they invent these weird gay characters to spice things up.
Then there were the questions. They came from adults just as often as they came from high school kids. Some of them were asked to get me flustered, or to try and make me angry. They would ask me questions, and instead of listening, would snicker as I tried to answer them. Popular inquiries included:
“So does your mom only let you date other girls?” I was 14, my mom didn’t let me date ANYBODY.
“So are you, like, adopted?” Nope, if you ask Mom she’ll tell you about the eight hours she spent in labour (sorry, Mom).
“Were you made in a petri dish or something?” See above.
“Do they kiss in front of you? Is it weird?” I don’t care if you have a mom and a dad, two moms, two dads, or any other configuration you could imagine, it is ALWAYS weird when your parents kiss in front of you. Always.
A lot of times people will ask me something along the lines of, “So did she just lie to your dad the whole time they were together?” I always answer with this: Sometimes, you just fall in love with a person, and it doesn’t matter what their gender is. It just happens, and you accept them no matter what.
My mom was in love with my dad for 15 years, and now she’s in love with Debbie. It doesn’t make what she had with my dad any less meaningful because now she’s married to a woman. It doesn’t make what she has with Debbie any less meaningful because she used to be married to my dad. We don’t always get to choose who we fall in love with, and I think that’s beautiful.
Human sexuality is such a fluid thing. If you love someone’s laugh, and decide that that’s the laugh you want to hear for the rest of your life, does it really matter whether the laugh belongs to a man or a woman, or someone who chooses not to identify as either? I don’t think so.
Being a teenager is a pain. Being a teenager in a brand new small town where you’re already on the outside is worse. My mom was there through every rough patch I ever had (and I count my entire time in high school as one big long rough patch, so she had a lot of being there to do) and she never for a second stopped supporting me, loving me, or believing in me every step of the way. And she happens to be gay. Or maybe she isn’t gay and she just happens to have fallen in love with a woman. Does it really matter?
It doesn’t to me, and for the most part, it didn’t really matter to anyone in that tiny little town I called home for five years. Sometimes you find acceptance in the strangest places. Sometimes you just get really, really lucky.