LGBT History Month – Featured Families: Pauline Kirby (Pols80)

I haven’t followed Pauline for as long as other LGBT families but when I did I wish I’d done it sooner. 

As someone with little to zero knowledge of transition, I’ve followed not only with great interest but with huge admiration. 

Their journey together as a couple and a family has been a roller coaster but something that’s definitely made them stronger. 

Introducing, Pols80…

*taps* Is this thing on?

Hello! I’m Pauline, and I’ve been asked by my lovely friends at LesBeMums to tell you a bit about myself, and what LGBT History Month means to me. I’ve been with my partner Jessica for almost two years, and between us we have five children aged between 3 and 20. When I first met Jess on Twitter in 2012, she was living as male having been assigned male at birth. Jess is transgender, and officially embarked on her transition 14 months ago when she began living full time as female.

With four of our children still at home (my sons, my daughter, and my step daughter), our house is noisy and busy and joyful and stressful! They all spend half of their time with their other respective parents, and the quiet can be unnerving when they’re not here. It’s a joy and a privilege to guide little humans as they grow to full size humans with personalities and characters of their own, and also a massive responsibility. Raising children requires patience and courage and a bottomless food cupboard!

Our own circumstances are unlike those of any of my friends, and our same-sex parenting has an added twist. We spent every hour of every day worrying about how to deal with Jess’ gender dysphoria, worried about how transition would impact the children. I think we forgot to give credit to our children for being resilient and open-minded, and also to ourselves and our children’s other parents for having raised courageous and principled kids. It hasn’t been all roses in the garden but, a year down the line, we have a well-adjusted family and we’ve settled into our new normal.

For me, the biggest challenge of our rainbow family has been the way we’ve been catapulted into a vulnerable position; we’ve never experienced homophobia or transphobia while out with the children, but it was something I was hyper-aware of in the early days. I suspect our larger-than-life horde means few people take much notice of us parents! I didn’t start my family as part of a same-sex couple, but I imagine it could be a daunting prospect. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how accepting most people are, and I’d hate to think there are potential parents out there being kept from their dream of being a parent by fear of persecution. I think if I was starting my family now, I’d look at finding support right from the word go: people who’ve been there, and can share their experiences.

My three children were born into a family with opposite-sex parents, but we both modelled attitudes of equality to our little ones, and I’m definitely reaping the benefits of that now! The older kids have all had friends over to stay, and there has never been so much as a raised eyebrow or a long stare. My biggest challenge with the children has been addressing use of the word “gay” by my boys as an insult; its use so deeply engrained in our society that I don’t think they even stop to consider what they’re saying. I can only imagine how hearing language used in this way affects young people who aren’t yet “out”. As someone whose own identity has been challenged at the age of 33, I can understand how difficult it must be for young people questioning their sexuality or gender identity in a school environment.

I really hope we reach a point where “coming out” isn’t even a thing, because we stop making the assumption that everyone is straight and cis gender unless they tell us otherwise. Until then, I’d urge young people questioning their identity to reach out for support. Stonewall Youth offers invaluable support to LGBT+ young people, and the realisation that you’re not alone is a huge relief. I don’t really feel qualified to offer advice, because I’m relatively new to this experience, but I do know that finding others with similar experiences gives you a safe place to chat and work through how you’re feeling, whether that’s online or in person. My own experience is that the expectation of how people will react is much worse than the reality, and our society is slowly and steadily improving its awareness of, and attitude towards, LGBT issues. That doesn’t mean that you’re wrong to be wary, though: persecution of members of our community is a dreadful reality, and it’s one that most of us have experienced at some point. Please remember that Hate Crime is exactly that, and by speaking out we help protect ourselves and those who will walk this path behind us.

LGBT History Month is important, not just for the recognition of how far LGBT rights have progressed (and I’m proud to live in Scotland, the most LGBT-friendly country in Europe), but also for the reminder that we are the future of LGBT History. Everything we do, whether we address international conferences or just get up, show up, and try not to give up, matters. Every tiny change we make, and every voice we add to the conversation about equality, counts. I’m so grateful to those who went before me and challenged homophobia, and stood up for transgender rights, and fought tirelessly for equality whether in their everyday lives or through leading a revolution. I hope that by adding my own solitary voice, I’ll make the conversation just a little bit louder.

I’m no expert, but I’m always happy to share experiences and offer support to those in a similar position to me. I’m on Twitter @@Pols80, or you can find my blog at pols80.wordpress.com.

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