Their Story Their Voice

The challenges of growing up with a mother who identified as a lesbian in the 1980s

June 17, 2022 Season 1 Episode 3
Their Story Their Voice
The challenges of growing up with a mother who identified as a lesbian in the 1980s
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

How does a child comprehend that people are not always accepting of those whose lives don't fit what society has deemed the norm.  Emily shares her story and through these experiences how it helped her grow.


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Emily:

And we're going on a plane and saying goodbye to your dad forever the next day and that's it it's quite traumatic.

AO:

Welcome to ChatAholic. This is Emily story, leaving the life she knew as a child to face a whole new one on literally the other side of the world. How does a child comprehend that people are not always accepting of those whose lives don't fit what society has deemed the norm. Emily, currently lives in New Zealand, but she used to live in the the UK and Emily and I became friends because we went to the same school, and in my head bearing in mind, this is a seven year old memories, but in my head we became friends because of our mums, our mums became friends because they were both the only minorities So I had my mum only black mum and Emily's mom was the only person with a partner who went to our school. And when I say partner, female partner. Hi Emily.

Emily:

Hi Ad

AO:

Emily question Am I allowed to mention names? Because I don't want to mention names if you don't want me to mention names because I was going to say your mums.

Emily:

Oh, maybe don't maybe we shouldn't, I don't know the answer to that.

AO:

Okay. We're not going to mention names. So Emily's mum whose name we're not mentioning is, and was a lesbian. And in the nineties, at least in the UK, that clearly was something that the other mums in the grammar school, private school, thought it was okay to talk about. Anyhoo going to introduce Emily Do you want to say a bit about you and whatever you want to share.

Emily:

I'll keep it simple. I guess I yes, I live in New Zealand now. I have a husband and two girls, five and eight. Lived my whole life torn between, England and New Zealand and I have family that's still in the UK, like my dad and my brother and my sister. And and then of course there's me and my mum and her partner here in New Zealand.

AO:

Okay, do you know why I wanted you to share your story?

Emily:

I guess, cause I grew up a little bit different to most of my peers in the eighties, nineties today, I probably still struggle sometimes with my story.

AO:

I'm going to obviously have to start with your mom. Do you know why your mom decided to move to literally the other side of the world other than it's pretty

Emily:

It is pretty, I am pleased that she made that move, my mum obviously had a partner. My parents split up when I was two or three. I'm still yet to find out at the age of 40 what the true story is, because for some reason, I don't know why, but no one wants to tell me the truth about the breakup so I guess, my mum met a New Zealander, she moved in with us and we lived together in London. She probably was getting homesick and I know that her father was quite old and she wanted to go back to New Zealand and spend some time with him. So, I mean, I was always told that we were moving because she was moving back and obviously my mum and her were in a relationship, and so that was it. We were moving to New Zealand, but of course there were child custody issues because I was currently doing, every fortnight weekend with my dad up in Cambridge. So there was a bit of a custody battle over it, he went to court and everything and tried to fight to keep me to stay, but yeah. And so I was basically convinced to, I guess maybe to save the court some hassle, I don't really know this is a child's perspective, but I was asked to let's just entertain the idea for one year. You come over for 12 months and then you can stay with your dad because I wanted to stay in England with my dad. He just had a new and new baby with his new wife who by the way was my, daycare kindie teacher I wanted to stay obviously, because now as an only child, I'd suddenly become a big sister, and rightfully or wrongfully, probably wrongfully, I guess if I'm honest, there was an allure to that normal life, maybe. I don't know, and I didn't really get along with my mum's partner at all. So I wanted to stay, but to avoid any hassle or heartache. And because I like to always please people, I, was convinced that I would be promised to come back to England and live with my dad happily ever after, after 12 months in New Zealand. Now that I've had a children myself I realized that, you know, 12 months in another country making new friends, well, that's going to be really hard to convince that child to move again. After having just moved. So that was me set in stone. I was saying in New Zealand,

AO:

I can't, I don't remember the, I always say this. I don't remember you going, I don't remember anyone saying, Emily's going now, say goodbye I don't remember.

Emily:

I do. I remember the last day of school and primary school and going up to the corner cafe up from the Cavendish. I honestly think I finished school on the Friday and flew out on the Saturday, but honestly, and so it wasn't like I got to say a proper goodbye to anybody. It was just, okay, well, school is finished and you finished school forever, like primary school forever. And you're saying goodbye to all your friends forever. And we're going on a plane and saying goodbye to your dad forever the next day and that's it it's quite traumatic.

AO:

I was going to say that is very traumatic for a child.

Emily:

It was, uh, it was, I would honestly describe it as a big trauma and a broken heart and I've never healed from it. I would honestly say I've never, I've never been, I've never dealt. I've never probably dealt with it properly.

AO:

Have you ever said this to your mum?

Emily:

Oh God, no, I can't talk to her. Not really. I've told him multiple times that it was quite traumatic and it was not that I wouldn't do it to my own children. And she always says she throws back at my face. Well, you wouldn't have met Wayne, your husband. And I'm like, I don't, I don't believe that.

AO:

And also, does she think you're being dramatic?

Emily:

Don't know, but I don't think she has the right to take that away from me. Cause she would never know what it's like to A, to have divorced parents because her parents were together forever. B be unsettled because your mum is in a you know, a lesbian relationship

AO:

Back then, it was a big deal

Emily:

And it a big deal, but it didn't impact on me too much in London. It impacted me a lot in New Zealand, but you know, then my dad has married my kindie teacher and I've moved to the other side of the world,

AO:

Kindie teacher, just so everyone who is not in New Zealand slash America slash other countries that use kindergarten.

Emily:

Nursery, nursery, nursery daycare.

AO:

That's it.

Emily:

Then I was leaving my best friend you, but I was also leaving my other best friend who, he had been part of my life since he was a baby because his mum had died. When he was only a year old and I was like two and our moms were best friends. And so it was kind of like leaving all your staple, solid people for a land that I'd never ever seen. My mum had seen it. She'd gone on a holiday prior to, to visit it and to check it out. But I had never seen it. I had no idea what I was going to other than it's like neighbors, but not, cause it's not Australia. It's New Zealand.

AO:

So I was doing some research and I mentioned this to you before. I'm just going to mention it again and wonder if now that you know, but in 1988 the conservative party, who were the majority party at the time, and that's where Margaret Thatcher she was the prime minister and the leader of the conservative party, and she introduced, section well was a law called Section 28, basically local authorities shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or published material with the intention of promoting homosexuality or promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretend family relationship, basically in short, because I feel like I really messed that up, but what it meant was there was a law that was a law saying schools, teachers, books, they were all banned, they were all banned Lesbian and Gay people were vilified and condemned. And talking about homosexuality in any maintained, which I guess this means mainstream school. That was actually illegal and this was a law. And this was not appealed until 2003. And that actually happened in our lifetime whilst your mum was in the UK. So I wonder if, her and her partner saw how things were going in this country and actually just Thought no. Why would we stay here? Because actually from section 28, a lot of things then came after other than the uproar, rightly so These are that at least began the change of how people viewed it in the UK and I wonder if that was partly part of her decision.

Emily:

Yeah, I think, I mean, I haven't talked to my mum about it, which may surprise some people, but I've never got to a place where I can talk quite honestly, about more meaningful and deep things. And I didn't know that I didn't realize that that had actually been a thing when, you know, when I was growing up and when we moved to New Zealand, so I will take that and ask her because I'm, I'm interested to know what actually happened and whether that impacted on their decision.

AO:

The other reason I mentioned that is because when, obviously I looked that up and then I said to you, when I looked up what the law was like in New Zealand and New Zealand had the homosexual law reform bill, which was brought out in 1986, which was basically the polar opposite of what was going on in the UK.

Emily:

And I did know that I I've always known that. I know that, cause the only way we were allowed into New Zealand was by, mum and her partner disclosing their true nature of their relationship. and we were, we were allowed in because we were defacto family members. So I always knew that I always was told, That we were probably one of the first to come in on that law, on that defacto lesbian relationship, factor. Like I I've always grown up knowing that. So I wonder when I think back I go, well, actually, maybe they, you know, what was happening in the UK really did impact on some of their choices because they made a point of highlighting that fact for the move to New Zealand.

AO:

I can't believe I never knew that that's a big deal.

Emily:

and, but what's ironic is that I never thought I was really different, different growing up in London. Like I used to go on the train. My dad would put me up on the train and, I mean, maybe it was age and I was pretty oblivious, but I was going the train with my dad to go up to Cambridge. I'd just be chatting away with all the people on the train, cause all the commuters that would, you know, it was a Friday going up to their homes and the weekends Cambridgeshire way. And, apparently I would always tell everyone, get into chats with all sorts of people on the train and tell them, you know, I was going away to visit my dad for the weekend. and my, my, you know, my daycare teacher or my kindie or my nursery teacher is there to, it's really exciting. She's there too but I've left my mum and her girlfriend at home.

AO:

I was going to say, I can't, you may not have noticed, but I can't imagine every single person that every commuter that you felt needs to talk to you as a child. Cant imagine that back then. People thought, oh okay this is cute. Now I suspect people wouldn't think anything of it

Emily:

My dad and my stepmother would tell me that people would be quite shocked apparently their faces would, their jaws were just drop but polite, you know, the English are always very polite. When we moved to New Zealand, it was almost, I mean, we never did. I don't know if it was ever talked about, but we just never disclosed what home life was or who I lived with or who my mum was partners with or what kind of relationship she was in. I mean, and why would you need to

AO:

Thats what I was going to say? Was it because it wasn't a big deal in New Zealand?

Emily:

No, it was, I mean, it was a great big deal for my experience. I mean, I struggled with friendships for, six years, five, six years of schooling because of it. Because every time I disclosed that, my home life was with my mom and her girlfriend. I would have friendships that would either end over it, or I would be allowed to stay for sleepovers at their house, but they would never allow to stay for sleep overs at my house. And that would be because of their parents. And they were quite open and honest and seemed to be okay with saying that to me. I would come across friends that, I would learn to just not tell them about my home life. But of course, as you get older, you can't, you know, there are all those sleepovers. There's the birthday parties. You can't really hide that from anyone and it would impact on circles of friendships. And there's only so many groups that you can go through in your year. Who you are in the same school with, for five years that you can actually, I mean, I think I went through pretty much every single group I could possibly go through. One of the groups of friends that I had that I went through and had these awful experiences when I disclosed about my home life. And then who was my mum that was picking me up or dropping me off and was a friend invited me to her beach house for, I think, a week over the school holidays. And my mom was like, oh, this is great because I've got to go and do this somewhere else she was actually clearing up, you know, her, her partners, dad had died and he was like a grandfather to me, or he was a grandfather to me. Absolutely, and he had died and so they were clearing out his farmhouse and I conveniently got invited to go away with a friend for a week. My mum grabbed that opportunity, drop me off and, carried on her way. And I think it lasted about a day and the parents asked me to leave and I was really confused. I was like, why are you asking me to leave? And I was really upset. And basically what transpired was my friend had decided that she may be gay. That apparently that was my fault and that my mother had to come and get me to take me away because they couldn't possibly have that influence on their child any longer and so that was it. I was, and then the friendship ended there because she actually didn't make it back to school that following year, because she was taken to a special school so that she could have it taken out of her, this evil beast of this possibility that she might be lesbian. She didn't return to school till the last year after she'd been, I don't even know what you call that

AO:

oh, I should know it's called cause I saw it today about transgender people and the parliament was supposed to reverse an act, which they haven't. And I can't remember what it's called and that's very annoying.

Emily:

I didn't actually make any good friends until I came across. One girl, who I still, as one of my bestest friends and she had moved across from Ukraine and, and had escaped overnight and made it to New Zealand with her family and she didn't speak a word of English. And that was one of my first proper, proper friends I definitely do make friends with individuals. And, I'm definitely still more of a one-on-one person, not a big group kind of person. And probably because I make friends with those random people, who are a little bit different themselves, but I love different maybe. And I think that's probably comes from where I've come from.

AO:

Something else that was crucial in your experience in New Zealand, that also made it hard and it was to do with the fact that your mum, your mum being French.

Emily:

Yes. Honestly. Yeah. Okay. So dialling, back to, arriving into New Zealand and for me personally, I was clearly different by the way. I sounded, I was clearly different by what my home life was. And I would also tell people that I was half French because my mother's French who clearly also sounded very different. And I didn't realize at the time, but, New Zealanders didn't like the French at all.

AO:

I'm still very confused why everyone seems to have an issue with French people. Okay. Other than I understand, I know the history between obviously England and France. I get that. I don't get it, but I know where that came from. I never knew about New Zealand and France.

Emily:

it was the sinking of the rainbow warrior, which was the retaliation for protests by Greenpeace against French nuclear testing. So French protestors came on board. The rainbow warrior, which I think was when it was moored in Auckland and sank it now the moored Auckland bit, I may be completely wrong about I'm not going to lie,

AO:

I like to be as neutral as possible, but on this one to be with them, I have to be with the Kiwis.

Emily:

Ah, no undoubtedly, but it's that whole, you know, one small group impacts a whole nation. Like it's, you know, it's like, even to the say, one person tells me something bad about another person I'm never going to listen to that person. I'm always going to take on my own experience and have my own judgment on someone's character. Instead of listening to someone else. Guess I say not all Russians are awful. Should I say that? I mean, we can't think that all Russian people are awful given the current climate. New Zealanders is hating French people and I'm new to the country and I'm not talking like this. Wasn't just a blanket, you know? Oh, you know, we don't really like the French, you know, just talking to someone, you know, at school or, you know, people would come across or meet. Now, this was a big deal. Like there was a, the seven o'clock, the seven oclock current affairs show in the evenings, on prime TV, even a aired. Ridiculous show where they took around a baguette and had went out to the crowd and asked the public to show using the baguette, how they felt about the French people. Literally, they said about the French people, not the people that sunk rainbow warrior, not, you know, no one who's doing nuclear testing out in the Pacific. No. How they feel about French people and the public grabbed the opportunity and just would rip these baguettes in half Chuck them on the ground, stomp on them. And I've, I mean, this was the country in the world that I was was a part of we'll meet to embrace or taken as my new home. And I can't fit in because of the lesbian parents. I can't fit in because I've got the English accent and I definitely can't fit them because I'm French. And apparently they hate the French. So I really wasn't quite sure what was so great about New Zealand, to be honest.

AO:

What did you, did you ever say to your mom? Okay, so we're here, we're in New Zealand. I'm struggling with this whole finding a friendship group. And also I suspect people don't really like the French was this every conversation, especially with your mum, because she's, she is so French and proud to be French

Emily:

So much so I could, I mean, everyone else is an idiot. If they don't like the French I don't know. I think, it's all hindsight, right? I mean yes I really struggled, with my friendships but were they really good people to get to know you know? No, is the answer I guess you just have to keep persevering. I mean we circulated around with other lesbian people and families, no one that I actually went to school with though that was a bit hard. Cause there was no one I could relate with but I did know a few teachers at my school who did know my mum and her partner outside of school. And that did cause some issues as well. I mean, one teacher was nice and open, but she was she was out. Cause I guess we haven't really talked about, you know my mum and her partner weren't out they were both teachers in New Zealand and they didn't disclose or share. They absolutely should not need to disclose, they did not share really what their home life was. They left it for other people to interpret.

AO:

Did they, when they were in the UK?

Emily:

No, they didn't actually. I mean, my mum probably was my mum probably was out but she wasn't a teacher then. Her partner wasnt out and was a teacher and did work in a Catholic school so I can understand why she didn't. And then that, I mean, the world that they came from, I mean, this is what you're trying to explain to my husband now, because sometimes they can be quite. To this day, they can be quite hard or closed and not, and prejudge what how they're going to be interpreted. And I think it's because they lived in a world where it wasn't accepted who they were. And so they did have to hide. They did have to be very careful about their actions or, or what they did. And that would be a really hard world to grow up in, or be a part of while the rest of the world's moved on or, or can be a bit more accepting, particularly because being a lesbian or being gay is quite boring these days in comparison to you know there's way bigger issues like transgender. And I mean, probably things I don't even understand myself cause I don't I mean, there's probably way more out there and I can't get the LGBTQ.

AO:

I get it. I get that. They lived through a time when it wasn't how it is now. So how do you, how do you shape that? it's very hard to shake a label that has isolate in some sense they were isolated. Yeah by society. It's fine. They're not now, but they were, I say to my partner I'm black, I'm female and I'm left-handed he looks at me and he's like, oh whatever

Emily:

And I, you know, if anyone listening to this may joke about like, laugh off the whole left-handed thing, but we were treated as like second class citizens. Do you remember? No, it's absolutely true. Like we were, I mean, if you look at my dad's age group, he was left-handed originally, but he's now right-handed, but he was forced to learn to write right-handed. We went to a similar school in the sense that it was, you know, Catholic primary school. They're a little bit stricter. I mean we were, you know we weren't allowed to sit next to anyone. We wanted, like everyone else, we had to sit at the end of the row because we couldn't possibly disrupt or make someone a right hand. Someone who writes right-handed have to deal with the left-handed person's elbow in their way. Unlike the rest of us that have to actually just get on with it and cope.

AO:

I can't believe that my dad was left handed as well. I'm never going to forget that. And he was, well, different culture, but he was, they beat him. They beat him until he learnt to write with his right hand. and I'm not sure if I'm making this up. I don't think I am, but I think in some cultures being left handed is the sign of the I dont know. Being are of like the devil or listen, there's nothing good that is okay. There is now obviously, because we're living in a different time, quite frankly, when I was a kid, I'm not really sure I wanted to be left-handed because, oh my God. Did, did you want to make any more of a big deal about the fact that I had to sit at the end of the table?

Emily:

I was never allowed to sit next to you. I just remember you were always in front of me or behind me, but never next to me. And so I'd sit behind you and admire what your mom had done to your hair that day.

AO:

I remember my dad used to say, no, you need to try and learn to write with your right hand. And it's just, my mum was like, no, it just, just leave her.

Emily:

And that was so cool that she did that.

AO:

It's so bad. We lived in that time your daughter is now fully left-handed, she's not like us because we write with our left hand. But actually we do stuff with our right hands because we were made to feel that being left handed was an inconvenience. I hope that little people now who have two moms, Have two dads or transgender parents. I hope that hope life is a little bit easier for them because I hope that we just maybe a bit more accepting.

Emily:

My girls, you know, they talk really proudly that they have two grandmothers, right and they've, their friends who say, yeah, we've got two grandmothers too. I'm waiting for the day where they connect and go oh, but yours, live in the same house, you know, like everyone that, you know, traditionally everyone has two grandmothers, but it's just where they live. But of course my husband's mother died before my girls were born. So they've never had three grandmothers. They've only ever had two. So for them, it's like, yeah, we have two grandmothers to when their friends are like, I've got two grandmothers and they're like, we have two too. And I'm just waiting for that next part of that conversation that goes, that live at home in the same house, but they I mean, I hope that, you know, I've always taught them to be proud of or to understand that, there are no rules, like with limitations to be fair, hang on, there were rules parental, but there are no rules on who you love, who you want to live with. and they think it's really sad that my mum and her partner are not married. and they think it's really unjust that they didn't get married because there was a time where two women or two men could not, were not allowed to marry. But I don't, I don't actually focus on what is okay. just in in New Zealand, because I think if they, I don't want them to not understand that what is, okay, what is legal in one country may be different than another and I just, I'm kind of trying to encourage the fact that there are always going to be different ways and different, you know, different ways of living in general, different people, different circumstances, different lifestyles. and there's no, they shouldn't have an expectation or, or a, closed minded, ideal of what way something should be.

AO:

Emily. Any final words that you would like to end this on.

Emily:

Thanks Ad I really loved that opportunity to be able to talk about, I guess, my childhood and how that's really impacted on me and my life and, my family. And all I really want is that we can all live true to ourselves and never fear what others think about us and that we're always embraced and appreciated for being different and not being the same, because the same is boring.

AO:

Thank you so much for agreeing to do this. Just wanted to say, thank you so much for listening to another episode. Please, please, please. Can you rate from wherever you listen to podcasts, Spotify, apple, there's others that currently arent, in my head, but thank you. Thank you for allowing me to take up half an hour of your time. It's much appreciated and just another thing, if anyone gets a chance. I would encourage people to look at the YouTube video that I have, put on the show notes. It's about the section 28 law that was introduced and a lady who was a teacher at the time. Just telling her story and what impact it had on her life. It's worth watching. If you have time, I would recommend it. Thanks

(Cont.) The challenges of growing up with a mother who identified as a lesbian in the 1980s

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