Personal Column: A parent comes out

Anna Carlsson was nine years old when, in the 1980s, her mother's partner moved in. She soon learned not to tell people that she had two mums
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The Independent Online

I can't remember wishing my mum was "normal", but then normality never worked for me anyway. At school I was a bit of an outsider: I wore glasses, I was keen on my schoolwork, and I was a bit of a bookworm, so my mum being a lesbian became just another thing that made me slightly different.

My mum came out when I was nine. It was three years after my parents' divorce, which I think probably helped because for a lot of people the trauma of divorce gets combined with a parent coming out, which is a lot harder on the children. There was no big discussion about it: all that happened was that a woman moved into our house and my mum's sexuality became part of life in quite a natural way. I got on with Helena from the beginning, it may sound strange but the fact that she was a woman just wasn't an issue. The change was seamless. Perhaps it was my age.

Initially I was quite open with people. I would say things like "my mum lives with a woman now", but it quickly became clear that it could cause some teasing so I became a bit more circumspect. Telling people was a bit like coming out myself, only I was nine, 10, 12 or 15, at the time - and it's not yourself, it's your mum. Every time I told somebody it was a bit of a jump because you never knew how they were going to react. I talked about this with a guy who is HIV positive and he said he felt the same. Like any invisible stigma: you have to make a mental leap then wait for the tense silence.

As a teenager, how people react to what you say matters a great deal, so in the end I learnt to play the "pronoun game". I would just refer to "mum's partner", rather than saying "she" or "Helena" because I didn't want my mum's sexuality to become the subject of the discussion. No teenager likes their parents walking around holding hands outside, but in our case we had the extra stigma of two women walking hand in hand. You feel as though you're in the closet even though as a family you're the same as any other.

When I started high school, everyone in my class was given five minutes to speak in front of the class about anything they wanted, so I decided to speak about being the child of a lesbian. It was a bit tense for five minutes, but I told everyone in my class and by extension everyone in my school, which made things easier in the long run. Nowadays I just slip it into the conversation, and I'll talk about my mother's partner as "she" when I tell stories about my home. The only negative reaction I remember was when I walked past a group of boys who I knew and overheard one saying "her mum's a lesbian", and that felt negative at the time, but in hindsight that might have just been teenage paranoia. Most people are just genuinely interested.

Our home life was just like anyone else's, except it was two women heading the household. You still have the same teenage arguments about who's doing the washing up and the cleaning, and the only real difference is how the outside world reacts to your family. At home, things were a little bit less rigid at my mum's house when it came to gender roles and who did what. My mum and Helena shared the cooking depending on who was at home, whereas at my dad's house it was mainly my step-mum - his new partner - who cooked and cleaned and my dad did the stuff in the garage. At my mum's, if the bike needed fixing we'd all have a go and if we couldn't do it we'd wait until somebody could do it, so it was more of a case of "try it" without caring so much about whether you're supposed to or not. I always called Helena my "extra mother" because that's exactly what she was.

When you are the child of a gay parent there is always the added pressure of having to be a good child, to be perfect, because otherwise you've proved that lesbian and gay parents should not be allowed to have children. It's not obvious, and this is certainly not something that my parents ever told me, but it's something that creates a funny tension. I often get the question "so what about your own sexuality?" and even though the question is well meant, there is the sense that if you don't say "I'm straight" then it will reflect badly upon your parents.

I was a very late developer, and didn't feel I had a "sexuality" until I was at university, so it was a strange question for me. I didn't have a sexual orientation but because I was constantly asked about it, of course I said I was straight, but in reality I just wasn't interested. Recently I have done a lot of thinking about my sexuality and I'm open to the possibility that I may, one day, fall in love with a woman, but on the other hand, I may not. The fact of my mum being a lesbian has not had any effect on my own sexuality, but it has had an effect on the ways I think about my own sexuality, in that I'm more aware of it. If I'd grown up in a straight household then I might just have thought, "that girl's very pretty", and not "perhaps I fancy her", but because my mum's a lesbian I am open to the possibility that I could be attracted to that person. It has made me far more aware of what it's like to be the victim of prejudice, but it's also made me far more open-minded about the way I live my own life.

The drama 'Mum's Gone Gay' is on Wednesday at 10.30am on Channel 4

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