Here’s the next post in my Family Voices series. This phase of the series is in partnership with Stonewall Communities, an organization dedicated to creating residential, educational, social and supportive opportunities among older LGBT people. I’ll be posting the stories of LGBT grandparents (and the occasional grandaunt/uncle) once a week for the next few weeks.
Sarah describes herself as a “long time out lesbian feminist activist.” She and her partner have 11 grandchildren between them, including two who are of mixed race, making them a diverse family in more than one sense. Enjoy her story.
Tell us a little about your family. Who is in your immediate family?
I have a son and a daughter. My son is married and has two children, a boy 11 and a girl, 15.
My daughter has two girls, ages 9 and 18 (about to leave for college) as well as a stepson from a previous marriage. She is divorced and currently in a long term relationship with a man. The father of her two daughters is Jamaican and so my granddaughters are mixed race.
Do you live together, nearby, far apart? Did you have to come out to them, or has your orientation/identity always been a part of their lives? Anything else you’d like to share about yourselves?
My daughter and her family live in Cambridge, about 5 minutes from Watertown where I now live. My son and his family live in Needham. They’ve known that I was bisexual and then lesbian since around 1976 when my daughter was 12 and my son 19. I am a long-time out lesbian feminist activist and my daughter and I were part of a feminist lesbian community in Hartford, CT and later in St. Louis, so she grew up knowing many gay women. The mothers of her two best friends also came out during the 70s.
My partner is also a LGBT grandparent and has six grandchildren.
How is being a grandparent different from being a parent?
Loving a child combined with freedom and independence. Greater maturity than when I mothered young children.
What has been the most challenging thing you’ve faced as an LGBT parent? What about as a grandparent? How did you handle these challenges?
My children’s reactions to my lesbianism at different times such as discomfort with lovers or telling their own friends. Having to manage a widening circle of people (in-laws) to come out to. Some threatening behavior by an ex husband, but no real custody threat. My children’s preference for his “normal” new family (second marriage) was hard. My grandchildren’s reactions to my coming out.
I handled these challenges with as much honesty as possible and insistence that this was the life that made me happiest and how I wanted to live. I’m outspoken about prejudice and remarks about gays.
How, if at all, do you think things have changed for LGBT parents today vs. when you started your family or came out to your family?
Visibility: Lesbian and gay families are now more common. They have children as LGBT as compared to many lesbians in my generation who had children in heterosexual families.
In your view, are there any special resources or advantages that come with being an LGBT grandparent?
Yes. It teaches children respect for difference and to challenge cultural norms. It expands their world.
What advice would you most like to pass on to other LGBT parents? To other LGBT grandparents?
Recommend openness and honestly. Model comfort and pride. Children do pay a cost (different than peers, can be worried about parent’s safety), but learn to value and respect difference.
Why did you choose to become involved with Stonewall Communities?
I am new to Boston. Or rather have been away from Boston for about 15 years. I wanted to become politically and socially involved with my age group.
How else, if at all, are you involved in your community or in LGBT activism/politics?
For the past 20 years, mostly as an out university teacher, psychologist, and writer.
Please share a favorite memory of being a parent or grandparent.
Being part of a lesbian community along with my daughter and her becoming an avid Meg Christian fan.
My youngest granddaughter goes to a progressive private school in Cambridge. When I told her I was gay, she said, “ So? My teacher’s a lesbian and so is her girlfriend.”