When Mum's girlfriend comes to stay

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Earlier this month an Appeal Court awarded a lesbian mother custody of her two daughters after ruling that her lesbianism did not make her an unfit mother, and that her children would have a more normal life with her than with their father.

In July this year a High Court awarded two lesbians in Manchester joint parenting rights to a 22-month-old boy.

More and more lesbians are now choosing to have children by donor insemination. At the same time, increasing numbers of women with children are choosing to leave their male partners for female partners. So, is lesbian parenting so very different from heterosexual parenting? Beverly Kemp talks to three children of lesbian mothers.

IT'S BETTER NOW THAT DENISE IS LIVING HERE

Nicola is 10 and lives with her mother, Teresa, 41. Two years ago Teresa's partner Denise, 36, moved in with them. Teresa had been married twice before. They live in Hampshire.

Whenever the word 'gay' or 'lesbian' is mentioned at school, everyone goes 'Yuk] Who'd want to be gay and kiss a person of the same sex?' I either go pale or bright red and then people ask me what the matter is. I just say nothing. I don't think about Mum and Denise at school. I try to concentrate on my schoolwork.

I was nine when Mum told me. Some boys at school had called a girl a lesbian for kissing her best friend and I didn't know what it meant, so I came home and asked Mum. She explained that it was when two women fancied each other. The next night we were all sitting watching telly when Mum said: 'Nicola, I have something to tell you. Denise and I are gay.'

At first I cried. A tingle ran right through my body. It felt horrible and I was really frightened and nervous. Mum told me that because she and Denise loved each other, they wanted to be together. I just kept thinking that there would never be a man in our house again. That felt funny. But by the time I went to bed I was really happy. Mum and Denise cuddled me and made me feel safe. I told myself: 'She's still my Mum and always will be and I still love her.' I loved her a tiny bit less that night but by the morning I loved her just as much again.

I've never told anyone at school and I never will. Mum asked me not to because she was afraid that I might get teased. I know that if I told my best friend she would only tell someone else and eventually all of my teachers and my headmaster would know that my Mum was gay. I pretend that Denise is Mum's sister and call her Aunt Denise.

Mum tries hard not to let any of my friends see that she and Denise share a bedroom. Whenever my friends stay, we make sure all the upstairs doors are closed and I only let them into my bedroom and the bathroom. The ironing board is always up in the spare room, so it's obvious that no one sleeps in there.

I'm glad Denise lives here because I feel safer somehow. I didn't like it at all when Mum was married to David. He was so big and frightening, especially if I met him on the landing at night. He never shouted at me or anything, but if I saw him in the dark it really scared me. It's better with Denise living here. She brought the dog and it's another person for me to talk to if I'm feeling upset.

We've only ever had one proper argument. I went up to my room and wrote 'I hate Denise' on a big piece of paper and stayed up there for two hours. But usually she's good fun. She messes around a lot and never tells me off.

But I do feel the odd one out sometimes. I'd like a friend who also had a gay Mum. It would be someone to talk to and I could get things off my chest. Sometimes it feels like a room that is locked in my brain and won't open.

If I had a choice, it would just be me and Mum. I wouldn't have a Dad, either. Sometimes I do feel jealous of Denise because I feel I have to share Mum with her. When I asked Mum who she loved most out of Denise and me, she told me it was me, but that she loved Denise in a different way. I think my Mum only became gay because she wanted to be with someone and Denise was her best friend.

LIFE WOULD BE MORE BORING IF I HAD STRAIGHT PARENTS

Samantha is 14. Both of her parents are gay. She lives with her mother, Ann, 39, and her mother's partner, Louise, 30, in London. She spends alternate weekends with her father and his male partner.

I like having gay parents. It's more exciting somehow. I feel a lot older and more mature than other girls of my age. I know I have a very different family to the rest of my friends, but it's nice to be different. I've got two Dads and two Mums. If Mum was still with Dad, she'd be really unhappy and I'd worry about her all the time.

Louise came to live with us when I was 11. At first she would come three nights a week, but she used to phone and tell Mum how much she missed her. One night Mum and I were sitting in a restaurant and she asked me how I would feel if Louise moved in. I began to think it would be all right. We could leave the toilet door open and talk more freely if there wasn't a man in the house. Besides, I missed Louise when she wasn't there as well.

I look up to Louise because she is so successful at work. She's very bossy but she's also a good laugh. I've been able to do a lot more things since she moved in. Mum doesn't drive but Louise has a car and she takes me to loads of new places. We play board games and she's teaching me volleyball and badminton. Mum is quite different now, too. Before she seemed sad a lot of the time. She laughs more these days and has even stopped smoking.

It was such a shock when Mum first told me she was gay, though. My mind went round in circles. I remember going into my bedroom and thinking: 'My God, my Mum's a lesbian]' I was so used to her being straight and Dad being gay. It had never crossed my mind that Mum might want to be with women.

It was different with Dad. I'd grown up knowing he was gay. We used to all go on holiday to our caravan and Dad would go off during the day to see his partner then come back to us at night. I just accepted it as totally natural. You don't question things like that if you grow up with them.

My friends knew about my Dad when I was in primary school. I never actually used the word 'gay', but I told people my Dad was with a man and no one said anything nasty back. But I didn't tell any of my friends about Mum for six months. By then I was in secondary school and everyone knew what the word 'lesbian' actually meant. Most of the girls in my class are very anti-gay.

The three friends I have told are all fine about it. They stay over at my house and because Louise is younger, they find her good fun and feel very relaxed with her. My friends who do know about my Mum and Dad always stick up for gay people if someone makes a horrible comment in class. They'll tell the other girls that they are really stupid because they don't really know what they are talking about. Sometimes I speak up too. Other times I just keep quiet.

Mum and Louise used to go to PA meetings and Mum would introduce Louise as her partner. A few of my teachers seemed a bit gobsmacked at first, but none of them have ever said anything to me about it. They treat me the same as everyone else.

I think my life would be more boring if I had straight parents. Right now I have the best of both worlds in many ways. I see Dad every other weekend and get on really well with his partner. We go shopping for clothes and watch loads of videos. Because Dad is a teacher he seems to have a younger brain than Mum. I can talk to him about anything. He's happy with his partner and Mum and Louise are too. I wouldn't really want to be gay myself because I've had a couple of very nice boyfriends. But I'm sure I'll be fine about it if that's the way it turns out. At least I know I would never have a problem telling Mum and Dad]

I CAME OUT, AND MY MOTHER SAID, 'GOOD]'

Rachel, now 28, was 13 when her parents divorced. Three years later, her mother began living with a woman. Rachel is also a lesbian. She lives in London with her partner and her father.

My twin sister and I had no idea that our mother was gay until the day we moved house. The removal van stopped en route and picked up another woman and all her furniture. There was a slow realisation that this person was coming to live with us.

The biggest shock wasn't the fact that my mother was having a relationship with a woman, but that she hadn't said anything. That really hurt.

We were never a pretend family. It was very much my sister and I and Mum and Tricia. We got on well but kept ourselves to ourselves. They had their space and my sister and I spent a lot of time in our bedroom. I can't remember us all sitting down to a meal together.

I never took schoolfriends home. There was always this awful feeling of 'What if anyone finds out?' Neither of us told a soul that our mother was a lesbian. We were scared that our friends would think we were lesbians too. The last thing you want as a teenager is to be different from your friends, but you know there is something that makes you very different indeed. You automatically assume people will judge you on the basis of your mother's sexuality. The good thing was that my sister and I had each other to talk to about it.

It was only after my mother split up with Tricia that she talked openly about being gay. By then I was in my twenties and it was hardly a revelation. We've never been the kind of family who find it easy to talk about our feelings and although I did feel angry at Mum for a few years in my teens, I've never thought there was much to be gained from raking over the past.

It must have been difficult for my mother and I admire her for having the guts to accept her true sexuality. Being a lesbian myself, it makes it much easier for me that my mother is as well. I came out to her when I was 23 and she just said, 'Good]'

Now I feel we have something important in common. I can talk openly to her about my own relationship and she is 100 per cent supportive.

It makes me angry when people assume that if you are raised by a gay parent you stand a higher-than-average chance of being gay yourself. I had feelings of attraction towards other girls as far back as I can remember, and long before my parents split up. There were crushes on other girls at school and female TV stars.

I had one long-term relationship with a boy from the age of 16 to 18, but I always knew there was something missing. We were good friends but there was no real feeling apart from that. The sex was just sex. I was simply trying to fit in by doing what all the other girls of my age were doing. Maybe that is why I can understand what my mother went through. Perhaps she just tried to fit in for longer.

All the names in these interviews have been changed.

(Photograph omitted)

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