Two hours after I vowed to spend the rest of my life with husband, I kissed my first girlfriend.
We were playing that ubiquitous wedding game: a guest stands up, clinks a wine glass and models the kiss they want to see from the newlyweds.In this case, we were each instructed to find someone of the same sex. My husband planted one on his best friend from camp. It just so happened that seated to my left was one of bridesmaids — my first love and high school sweetheart. She and I exchanged a small peck that belied our storied past. And although this round of the game was simply meant as a nod to queerness amidst a heteronormative ritual, I love that my own queer identity had a place at my wedding.
As a teenager, I imagined that if I got married, it would be to a woman. But as I twirled around the dance floor on my wedding night in a haze of taffeta and champagne, delirious with the joy of spending the rest of my life with my best friend, my sexual orientation was far from my mind. I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I was twirling into one of the most heteronormative institutions: a monogamous, mixed-sex marriage with kids.
I spent the first part of my marriage basking in the comfort of privilege. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing — I thought I was just living my life. There was no need to come out to our friends, who knew I dated both women and men right up to the months before I met my husband. But after our first kid was born four years ago, I started making many new “mom friends” who assumed I was straight.
I was unsettled by how often other parents assumed I had a husband before I even mentioned him. I thought: I never assumed I would marry a man — so why should you? At a playgroup, I was once asked if I worried about how my son would “turn out,” simply, because I put him in rainbow leg warmers that morning. I often get told that my daughter’s blue eyes “will break the boys’ hearts.”
My privilege bubble had burst. The hetero honeymoon was over.
I want my kids to know the whole me and to understand that I’ll accept them in their entirety as well. So, when I’m around other parents, I’ve started coming out, again. This time, it’s to the other parents in my community. Sometimes I just mention an ex-girlfriend casually, or state my bisexuality and queerness point-blank. I’ve been working to get a local LGBTQ2 non-profit off the ground, one attempt amongst others to do good work, bypass the privilege of being in a mixed-sex relationship when I can, and expose the fault lines of heteronormativity.
Still, sometimes I fear I’m not “queer enough” to be a card-carrying member of the community, which is an echo of how I’ve felt since coming out as bi many years ago. Being in a mixed-sex marriage with kids has felt like culture shock. To be fair, parenting always feels disorienting as we fumble through a fog of sleep deprivation and foreign responsibilities. I’m still queer — sexual orientation doesn’t disappear into a cloud of rainbow smoke after saying “I do” to a guy, but I can’t shake the feeling that by marrying a cis man and having kids, I’ve stumbled into a Norman Rockwell painting.
I remember one summer, years ago, looking for a bed and breakfast to stay at with my then-girlfriend while at the Stratford Festival. Out of the approximately seven thousand B&Bs in this touristy Ontario theatre town, we found only one that was gay-friendly; although we were grateful for shelter, we were also pissed off. We felt invisibilized, invalidated and inconvenienced. We just wanted to feel normal — mainstream — and were reminded instead of our marginalization.
In contrast, when my husband and I booked a hotel for a kid-free night away, I was startled to notice a rainbow at the entrance. I was taken aback not because it was there, but because I realized that I don’t have to look for it anymore.
The ease of this life is nice, of course. But it also leaves a film of guilt as I reflect on my years as a young, queer woman. I don’t have to agonize over trying to find a queer-friendly doctor. I don’t bee-line for the LGBTQ2 section of the video store — not that there are any video stores left — and I no longer feel unsafe holding hands with my partner after nightfall. Still, these experiences of having been invalidated live inside me like whispers of another world.
My four-year-old has a book he loves called Zen Ghosts, which tells the story of a woman living two lives. One of her selves is in a coma, while the other has started a family. Upon waking from her coma, the two selves meet. In the book, readers watch the selves merge into a single person, and the narrator asks: “are they two, or are they one?”
What happens when we take a path in life that supports one identity at the expense of others? For a while, I inadvertently pushed my queerness into a coma. But my sexual orientation is more than just who shares my bed — it informs my experiences with self-doubt, rejection and resilience. It’s shaped my relationship with my parents and extended family. It’s cost me friends, but has allowed me to create a chosen family. It taught me empathy for the outsiders, queerdos and misfits. It fuels my fight for equity.
So my children will continue to wear rainbow leg warmers. If they’re lesbian, gay, bi, trans or queer, I hope they’ll never have to “come out” to me because I assumed they’re heterosexual or cisgender to begin with. I use the word “partner” so people don’t take it for granted that I’m married to a man. I emphasize the need to create safer spaces, even if my personal safety is no longer threatened on a daily basis.
I am not two — but nor am I one. It turns out that living in a way that honours my overlapping identities is messy. I might never reconcile the many selves that persist as whispers beneath the diapers and sippy cups. But in the same way that this life asks me to love my partner and my kids however they show up, I’m learning to do the same for myself.