(This is a slightly edited version of the post I ran last NCOD, to favorable response.)
Today is National Coming Out Day (NCOD) in the U. S. Instead of offering advice on coming out (ably covered by HRC), I want to flip things around and offer a few tips to people who may be unsure how to react if lesbian moms come out to them. (Most are also applicable to gay dads, with obvious changes in terminology.)
- Don’t assume that just because we’re lesbians, we’re completely different from other moms. We change diapers. We fix scraped knees. We worry when our teens start to drive. We comfort, we care, we discipline when necessary. We make mistakes like anyone else. We try to learn from them. Above all, we love our children.
- Don’t assume that just because we’re lesbians, we’re exactly the same as other moms. We sometimes get strange glances when we’re in public and our child calls the two of us “Mommy” and “Momma” (or “Mama” and “Baba,” or any other variants). We have to meet with each new school and daycare to ensure they will treat our families with respect. We often went through a different, costly process to have our children and ensure our legal relationships to them. We face additional financial burdens married couples do not (paying taxes on employer-based medical insurance for a stay-at-home partner, for example).
- Don’t ask “Which of you is the real mom?” We both are. Maybe one of us bore the child in her womb. Maybe we both adopted the child. Maybe one of us donated an egg that the other one carried. It doesn’t really matter. Both of us are raising the child and committed to her or his well being. That makes us both real moms.
- Don’t ask “Who’s the father?” Maybe there is a known father whom we wish to acknowledge, and maybe there isn’t. Don’t assume there has to be. (And simply donating a chromasome does not a father make.)
- Lesbian. Say the word. If there’s a need for this term in conversation, use it. (As in the question, “Do you find people around here are accepting of lesbian moms?”) Don’t euphemize with “your type of lifestyle,” “people in your circumstances,” “women like you,” or similar.
- It’s always safe to refer to a lesbian couple (especially one committed enough to have kids) as “partners.” They may prefer another term–spouses, lovers, wives, etc., and will likely tell you if they do–but “partners” won’t offend anyone. Don’t use “friends,” which trivializes the relationship.
- Don’t let any of the above keep you from inquiring respectfully about our families. Asking “What do you feel are the differences in being a lesbian mom?” for example, indicates you’re comfortable with the topic, and that’s comforting to us. As with moms of any type, most of us enjoy talking about our children.
- When conversation fails you, tell us how cute our kids are. Yeah, we’re suckers for that, too.
- Remember that no two lesbian couples are exactly alike, and may approach discussing their families in different ways.