Lizzie Fierro is a high schooler in Austin, Texas, and is one of Rewire’s youth voices.
I used to be self-conscious about the fact that I have three moms. I worried no one would understand my experience of having divorced biological parents, both recently remarried to beautiful women. I didn’t see my family reflected anywhere. Around every corner were religious institutions and politicians and media outlets condemning half of my family while praising the other. Nobody bothered to ask me about my experience growing up with three female role models—rather, they made assumptions about how I felt. In fact, I simply wanted to know that others had grown up with similar experiences.
By sharing this story, I hope I can make other families in similar situations feel represented.
As a child, I read stories about traditional nuclear families, the Holy Grail of juvenile literature: a man and a woman, deeply in love, with a son and daughter who adore and despise each other in equal measure. I watched films about blended families, like Cinderella: well-to-do father mourning his first wife, wicked stepmother marrying for wealth, two nasty stepsisters to boot. Mainstream media made room for single parents, too: frequently a deceased mother or father, à la Beauty and the Beast, occasionally, as in Gilmore Girls, the honest truth that parents aren’t always newlyweds, that pregnancy does not always precede happily ever after. There were orphans (Oliver Twist, Harry Potter) and runaways (From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)—children being raised by relatives and strangers alike. I saw plenty of family types, but none of them were like mine.
And though it was rare, I did hear about families with same-sex parents—never from books and films, but my elementary school best friend had two moms and a hyphenated last name. When I was 12, the first family I babysat for had four adopted children and a pair of loving fathers.
I’m lucky to have the family I do. Not everyone recognizes it—I’ve certainly read my fair share of articles about the alleged horrors that having same-sex parents means for a child—but I truly am lucky. For me at least, more parents means more shoulders to cry on, more voices to phone, and more love to give and receive. Having triple the maternal presence that most children get instilled in me a deep appreciation for motherhood—I have three women in my life who managed to turn down the volume on all the expectations that come with that role, and instead focused on doing what is right for them.
Yet, doing what was right for them wasn’t always easy. When my parents decided to remarry, for example, my dad was able to legally marry in Texas, half an hour from home. My mom and her fiancée, by contrast, had to drive 22 hours to Minnesota last summer to get their marriage paperwork signed—and their marriage still isn’t official in the State of Texas.
That is just one example of how my family gave me a different social experience than many other children. Though I’d like to say I’ve always spoken unabashedly about my family, in truth throughout middle school my mom’s girlfriend was always her “roommate” or her “friend.” Looking back, I am ashamed that I ever let my own unfounded fears of being made fun of for my home life take precedence over my love for my family, but to a seventh-grader, the voice in the back of your head that sounds like your teasing classmates is much louder than any voice of your own. I don’t doubt that there will always be an inkling of that voice when I talk about my family to new people: How will they react? But I’m not in seventh grade anymore, and I’ve learned not to listen to it. My family may not be what some consider “normal,” but I’ve learned that it is normal under the real definition of family: looking out for each other. It doesn’t matter that my family doesn’t look like a “normal” family; we love each other just the same.
And now I can only think, “If this is how I feel when mentioning my parents, imagine how my mom must feel when mentioning her wife,” and I realize that, for all the fighting I’ve done on their battle lines, I’m not the one being most directly attacked. All I can do, then, is hope that I’m helping to advance the victories in some small part. When I hear about triumphs like the Supreme Court refusing to hear cases that seek to overturn rulings by lower courts that have found same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional, I know that we are moving forward.
Increasing societal acceptance only reinforces my experience that most people, at least in Austin, don’t even care that I have same-sex parents. Despite my concerns in middle school, I’ve never actually encountered a homophobic reaction to my home life; nobody has voiced any disapproval, at least not to my face. I suspect that this experience would be different had I grown up outside this city, or perhaps had I been brave enough to mention my moms when I was younger, when children are blunter and more susceptible to repeating their parents’ opinions. As it stands in my daily life, much more often people are confused rather than disapproving when I talk about my family: Your mom is gay? Don’t you have a dad though?
Perhaps as same-sex marriage and parenting become more commonly perceived and more celebrated, and as children begin to watch films and read books that reflect the vast diversity of family units, the public can begin to more openly discuss the erasure of sexualities that encompass attraction to more than one gender and this erasure’s role in the typical family narrative.
In the future, I hope that other children will see their experiences growing up in unconventional families as something to be shared, rather than hidden, and their feelings about their experiences to be spoken about, rather than assumed.