This week, as part of LGBT History Month, we’re listening to Kaye. If you would like to read last week’s story, you can do so here.
I’ve followed Kaye, their wife, and their son Silas online for quite some time now. Not only are they Potterheads, but our boys are around the same age (I think!). Plus, they lead a fascinating life on a small island where there was once only one gay bar on the island.
I will always cherish being able to see other families just like us.
I vividly remember being 16 years old, lying in bed and trying to decide whether coming out as a lesbian was worth it, because I would also have to give up my dream of being a mum. In my sixteen year old brain, the two simply could not co-exist. There were other considerations of course, together with an underlying fear of rejection, but this was one of the biggest hurdles to me. I grew up and still live in small island community and cannot recall ever seeing any gay couples in public, until the age of 17 when I discovered the one and only “gay bar” on the Island.
In 2002 when I was 16, the BBC adaptation of “Tipping the Velvet” was advertised and I watched the episodes in my bedroom, turning over the channel the second my mum came in. I was so enthralled to see a lesbian relationship portrayed on TV, even though it was of course tragic and dramatic. The only other lesbian character on TV I ever saw as a teen was Laura Innes playing Dr. Kerry Weaver in ER; there was one episode which predominantly focused on her coming out, which I watched and re-watched. Towards the end of her character’s story, she ended up having a child with her long-term girlfriend who shortly after, in true lesbian fashion, was suddenly killed off. That was the extent of my knowledge of lesbian relationships at that time – absolute joy, beautiful romance, followed by tragedy.
When I fell for a girl in Sixth Form at the age of 17, I had no real idea what I should or shouldn’t be doing, having never been in a relationship before, but knew that it felt right. My feelings towards her cemented my belief that I was gay – I wanted to spend as much time as I could with her and did where possible. However, she never allowed any display of affection in public, so I learnt a degree of shame about it. There was one evening though when we went out with friends and she put her arms around me as we watched fireworks together, then held my hand on the way home and it was one of the happiest nights of my teenage life. When she ended our relationship a couple of months later at school, I was totally heartbroken. My mum, who I usually shared everything with, knew that I was unhappy but I could not tell her why. I withdrew from my family and the few friends I had, worried that my mum would find out I was gay from another of the parents and scared about what would happen. There were no other openly gay or lesbian people in school that I knew of. Eventually, my A-level English teacher, Mrs W, pulled me aside one day and asked me if I was ok. I blurted out everything that had happened, all the confusion, worry and isolation that I felt. Mrs W was so calm and so reassuring – she listened carefully and then told me to go home that evening and tell my mum. She told me to find her the following morning and let her know how it had gone, though having met my mum at parents evening, she had no concern that she would react badly.
With Mrs W’s reassurance, I did tell my mum, who was only upset that I had been upset. Admittedly, she was concerned that I would be subject to prejudice, but her calm and loving response as she returned to washing the dishes and asked what I wanted for dinner made me realise that the world wasn’t going to stop turning. A few months after coming out, and having had the obligatory short haircut, I was standing in the “gay bar” on my own, despondently thinking that I would never meet anyone on this Island. At that point, a woman with a megawatt smile slid up to me and asked me to look for her friends. We chatted and danced – she asked me how old I was and when I said 18 she responded “Oh shit…. I’ve got a friend over there who’s 21, maybe you’d like to meet her?” I declined and thankfully she decided that despite the 8 year age gap, she wanted to be with me. Initially, she too refused to hold my hand in public or show any kind of open affection towards me. It was one of the first arguments we had – I maintained that far from trying to make the “political statement” she thought I was, in fact I actually just wanted to hold the hand of the person I loved and I didn’t see why I should have any shame about doing that any more. I also said that if anyone questioning their own sexuality saw us in public and realized that it was ok, that was even better.
A few years later, we got engaged and she categorically stated that children were on the cards for us. It took a little while for me to get used to this, having dismissed parenthood so early on as something unattainable to me if I was openly gay. I was also very shocked to receive negative comments in my workplace many years ago, from a now ex-colleague who stated that “people like you shouldn’t be allowed to have children”, said that we would “make children gay” and that “any child [we] had wouldn’t be happy”- all purely on the basis that we are a lesbian couple and not a heterosexual couple. However, 12 years after meeting, we welcomed our wonderful son into the world. The five year fertility journey to getting him wasn’t easy, but has proven worth it a million times over. We went to the second ever Pride parade carrying the secret that I was pregnant, and at the third Pride celebration we proudly walked hand in hand, with our son strapped to my chest.
I’m proud, open and vocal about our relationship and our family – we have been featured in the local paper for our wedding and as a two mum family, and although of course there are still some ignorant people in the world, the vast majority respond positively. The local legislation still needs to be changed so that my wife can be on our son’s birth certificate, as we always lag behind UK law, but this is hopefully something which will change soon. I am so lucky to be surrounded by a wonderfully loving and supportive family and circle of friends; a circle which is widening as we meet new families, of all different types, and our son is loved beyond measure. He is also a very happy little boy, which I took great pleasure in telling my ex-colleague when we bumped into each other last year.
So, 15 years after first meeting, my wife and I are preparing to renew our wedding vows in 2020, the year of our 10 year wedding anniversary. I have most things already arranged and one of the aspects I am most excited about is our celebrant; years after retiring from teaching and leaving the Island, Mrs W now works as an independent celebrant and last week she happily agreed to conduct our vow renewal ceremony.
I am so grateful for my wife taking a chance on me at 18, for the numerous people before us who marched, protested and shouted for us to be seen and heard, and continue to do so. But also for our allies, who stand with us, love us and sometimes unknowingly set in motion a wonderful path with their acceptance and kindness.