The first time I realized my family was different, I was about five years old. It was a beautiful summer day. My grandmother was in the kitchen rinsing fat, red strawberries. I watched as she used a paring knife to snip the green tops from the berries before slicing each one into eighths. The berries leaked their pale pink juice on the bottom of the bowl she had tossed them in. As my grandmother sprinkled white sugar onto the fruit, she asked me to go and see if my mother wanted some strawberries and shortcake. With a big grin on my face, I ran from the kitchen, heading for the staircase which would take me to the second floor where my mother’s bedroom was.

Although it was early in the afternoon, the second floor was as quiet as a tomb…and dark, as if it were deserted. A little startled by this, I shook an uneasy feeling from my stomach and proceeded down the dimly lit hallway toward my mother’s bedroom. I imagined the tangy sweetness of the sugarcoated strawberries and the soft yellow cake with the generous dollop of whipped cream I knew my grandmother would have waiting for me back in the kitchen. My fingers touched the cool surface of my mother’s wooden bedroom door. With an unexplainable nervousness rising in my chest, I pushed my weight against the door until it slowly eased open. There on the bed lay my mother and her friend Elaine. They were both fast asleep, their semi-nude bodies tangled in the sheets, close to one another. Even to my five-year-old mind, something about the picture looked odd. So odd, that I didn’t bother to wake them up to ask about the strawberries and shortcake. As quietly as I could, I tugged the door shut and crept back down the stairs. I don’t remember what answer I gave my grandmother, but I didn’t tell her, my mother or anyone else what I had seen. Somehow, I thought I might be punished for seeing something I was sure was probably classified as “grown folk’s business.” But it’s an image that my mind has never forgotten.

My mother sat my sister and me down a few years later to talk to us about her lifestyle. I think she thought neither of us had a clue, and while my younger sister Prentesse probably didn’t, I had already figured out that Elaine was more than just my mother’s best friend. I didn’t know the name for it, but I knew that she and my mom were close to each other the way I saw men and women on TV get close during love scenes that caused grown-ups to make me turn my head or leave the room until I was told that the coast was clear.

“Mommy is a lesbian,” my mother gently told us when I was eight years old and Prentesse was six. “Mommy loves Elaine and Elaine loves Mommy,” she said in a way that let us know that we were now one big family. Prentesse and I began calling Elaine “Mommy Elaine” and her five grown children–four sons and one daughter–became our “aunt” and “uncles.” You see, Elaine was 18 years older than my mother so her children were all around my mother’s age. Elaine’s daughter, Stephanie, was also a lesbian and had a son my age whose name was Terrence. To make matters more odd, Elaine’s youngest child, Darryl, and her oldest son, Charles, were gay as well. And in the late 80s, long before the scandal of “Down Low Men” (men who are married to women but secretly have sex with other men) Elaine’s oldest son, Charles, lived as a Down Low man. He was married to a woman, with whom he had three children, but he had male lovers in the shadows. He also held an important position at his church (I’m not sure if he was pastor, deacon or if he had some other role), but he eventually died of AIDS in late 1989. I’ll never forget his death because I was in the fourth grade then and I didn’t dare tell a soul outside of our “family.” Elaine’s third youngest child, Lionel, finally came out and admitted that he, too, was homosexual and that he’d been hiding it for years. This meant that all of Elaine’s children–Charles, Stephanie, Lionel and Darryl–were gay, except for one: her son Will.

As a matter of fact, from the time I saw my mother and Elaine in bed together when I was five, until my sophomore year at college, I never told a single person outside of our home that my mother and much of our new “family” were gay. I just didn’t think anyone would understand and I can’t say that I understood it myself. These days, in the age of gay rights, the fight for legalized gay marriage and TV sitcoms like the now canceled, but long-running show Will & Grace, it’s far more likely that children will show understanding toward a kid who has gay parents or even look at it as normal. But back then, I felt that my mother’s lifestyle was something other kids had never heard of and, if it were explained, they would simply write us all off as weird and perverted. I’d heard kids use the word “gay” in conversation to express extreme disapproval and disgust as in:” Ew, why are you sitting so close to me? What are you gay or something?” Or, “Look at how he walks; he’s so gay.” I even had a sixth grade math teacher named Mr. Braxton whom all the kids laughed at because it was evident that he was gay. I’m sure the teachers and other adults had no idea that we children knew that he was homosexual, but his effeminate mannerisms and a certain habit gave him away. Mr. Braxton kept a yellow, plastic bucket half-full of water by his blackboard. Each time he finished writing notes on the board, he’d carefully rinse his enormous hands in the bucket, sponging them down thoroughly, then go straight to a large bottle of lotion he kept on his desk. Exchanging knowing looks, my classmates and I would watch him as he pumped globs of lotion into his palms, carefully massaging it into his thick fingers. Yes, we could tell that Mr. Braxton was very gay. And among us kids, there was not a kind word said about him. So there was no way I was going to tell other kids my mother’s secret. Before long, keeping her secret became my secret.

I disliked being raised in a gay household for two reasons: I was afraid of what other people thought about it, and I resented that my father was long gone and that Mommy Elaine had tried to completely replace his presence. Growing up, I always felt my father’s absence like a deep crater scarring my insides. No matter how many nice “family” outings we went on–roller skating, picnics, bike riding, amusement parks, aquariums and museums–I always felt like our “family” was something freakishly weird and deformed, like a hunchback or a three-legged dog. I’d look at other kids with their heterosexual parents, and then I’d look up at the two women who were rearing me and hoped that it wasn’t evident that they were lesbians. I mean, people will believe that they’re sisters who have decided to live together and raise kids, right? I’d ask myself.
It didn’t help that Mommy Elaine had a manipulative side. While she was the more feminine one in the couple and the one who styled our hair and made delicious home cooked meals and desserts for all of us to enjoy, she didn’t love us with a mother’s love. It seemed that she merely tolerated Prentesse and me in exchange for having our mother in her life. For years, I had the distinct feeling that Mommy Elaine was trying to turn our mother against us. Occasionally, she instigated arguments between us and our mother, throwing gasoline onto my mother’s rage until Mom was worked up enough to spank us. By the time I reached my pre-teen years, I nursed a white-hot hatred for Mommy Elaine. I hated the sound of her voice, the way she laughed and the sight of her face. Each time she spanked me, I plotted on the day when I would snatch the belt from her and hit her as hard as I could.

Fortunately, by 1994, after ten years together, Mom and Mommy Elaine decided to go their separate ways. For the first time in our lives, Prentesse and I got to have Mom all to ourselves. We enjoyed not having to share her with crazy Mommy Elaine and her three-ring circus of gay kids, but we did miss Terrence whom we’d come to think of as our brother during the ten years our mother had been “married” to his grandmother.

It seems my mother never considered how her decision to be a lesbian parent would affect Prentesse and me. I suppose she felt her happiness was priority and that we were just as pleased about her decision as she was. Not until we became full grown women did Prentesse and I tell our mother how deeply we had disliked Mommy Elaine and how glad we were when she was gone from our lives. My mother was shocked and saddened to hear how unhappy we had been. She told us that she’d thought she was doing the right thing by giving us a two-parent home with two incomes, which meant that, although our father had left us, we’d been able to have everything we needed. But she failed to realize that one very important need did go unmet: our need for a close connection to our mother. We’d felt emotionally pushed to the back burner by our mother as she worked to cultivate her relationship with Mommy Elaine.

It may surprise most people to discover that, even though I was raised in a same-sex household, I don’t support gay marriage. I can’t speak for other children of gay couples, but I felt very uncomfortable about being raised by lesbians and was always afraid people would find out and treat me as an outcast. I don’t think that same-sex couples should make their children bear the cross that they have chosen for themselves by putting their children at risk for scorn and ridicule. While gay parents have chosen their lifestyle, their children have not made this choice yet are subjected to paying part of the price by facing public disapproval.

I also think that children should have the opportunity to be closely bonded to both biological parents. Little girls need their fathers just as much as they need their mothers; and little boys need their mothers just as much as they need their fathers. Fathers teach their daughters what kind of man she should select for herself and are often a girl’s first example of how a man should treat her. A father’s love also strengthens a girl and fortifies her against falling for all the cheesy one-liners spoken by horny teenage boys and sleazy men trying to get into her pants. In short, a father’s love polishes off a daughter’s development and all the teachings she has learned from her mother by adding that final boost to her self-confidence. When a child has both father and mother, it is like a balanced equation that adds up. (This is not to say that some mothers and fathers aren’t better off splitting up if they don’t get along, but fathers and mothers each contribute essential components to the healthy growth of their child.) Although Prentesse and I are now adults living happy lives, we didn’t feel that having lesbian parents was a fairytale experience. But we made it through and I guess that’s all that matters.

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  1. Shalenadiva on May 23, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    Kesha, would you feel differently about same sex parenting if it was more socially accepted as it is now? Just today I saw an article in Essence about a married lesbian couple who were raising four children. Many would say that two loving parents albeit homosexual parents are better than two unloving heterosexual parents. What do you think about this?

  2. Kesha Lane on May 24, 2010 at 10:13 am

    A loving parent is a beautiful thing, whether it’s a biological parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle or some other loving guardian. Even so, I think every child deserves to have access to the love of a good father and a good mother. There are life and relationship lessons that only a father can give his son or daughter and life lessons that only a mother can give. Together, each of these halves are more likely to result in a more balanced parenting. No matter how loving or well-intended two lesbian parents are, they cannot fully teach a boy how to be a man or how to be a husband. He will need mentoring from another male for those lessons. Similarly, two lesbians can teach a girl how to be a woman, but they will not be able to teach her everything she needs to know to some day be a wife who is able to wisely handle the delicate yet headstrong male ego and how to understand the unique perspective men have and the challenges they face. The girl will have to be mentored by a woman or man who can fill in the information gaps for her about the male outlook. My “mothers” parented my sister and me with a perspective that was female-biased as in: most men are no good so women have to do for themselves. I refused to buy in to that philosophy and sought a different perspective by finding happily married womem to mentor me and I even reconnected with my father, and his advice about love and relationships expanded my mind even more. I firmly believe that a mother and father are each equipped to give their children teachings the parent of the opposite gender can not. Moms and Dads are each uniquely valuable to a child amd they each possess “vitamins” the child requires. But are two loving gay parents better than two abusive straight parents? Absolutely. But two loving straight parents trump two loving gay parents any time.

    • Lexie on March 1, 2011 at 10:26 pm

      So, you are saying that a child needs a father and a mother so they can raise their child to be heterosexual?

      Despite what some other commenters say, lesbian and gay parents DO teach their sons how to treat a woman. They do teach their daughters how to pick a good man.

      Difference between them and heteros is that they do this only after they know their kid is straight.

      If the kid is gay, they give him/her gay relationship advice. If the kid is straight, they give him straight relationship advice.

      Lesbians are not female-biased, they are simply attracted to females. They are also not man-haters, many have lots of male friends, and they are simply teaching their kids that women deserve the same rights as men. They don’t have to be a wife. They can grow up, get a well paying job, and be straight, gay, bi, trans, or whatever they are. And homo parents don’t want to change that. If anything, homos teach their kids to have an open mind so that they don’t spend years in denial and self hatred if they realize they are gay like many of us were not fortunate enough to have taught to us.

      Homo parents are a gift, not a curse, and you should see it as such.
      They are no worse than hetero parents. They might even be better, as they have a wider spectrum in relationship experiences that heteros don’t get. Heteros were always told they were going to be straight, and that straight was normal. Homos were told as a kid they were going to be straight, even though they werent going to be, and they had to discover this themselves. Btw to any homos reading this, I do not say homo as an insult, as I am a homo.

  3. Devon Greene on May 25, 2010 at 7:30 am

    This is a powerful story. I also believe that every child should have a mother and father and I feel that sometimes women can very selfish when it comes to this. Its all about breaking the cycle, meaning that just because you had a bad expierence with a man does not mean that your child will and most men are screwed up because they were raised by a screwed up mother (they don’t teach thier sons how to treat a woman).

  4. Kesha Lane on May 25, 2010 at 9:21 am

    Devon, thanks for reading my piece and thanks for the supportive comment.

  5. Donte on May 29, 2010 at 9:46 pm

    Hmm. Interesting. I think many kids will feel this type of resentment when being raised by parents with something obviously different. I know that this is a weird comparison but when I was in elementary and middle school my mother was really overweight. I hated when my mom came to school because everyone would see how fat she was and relate it to me. I remember thinking at the age of 10 that there should be a law that fat people should not be allowed to have kids because of the stress it places on their kids. Now being older I’ve changed my mind of course, after having who is a child of a interracial couple and he had several of the same issues. I guess i say that to say that although the situation is unique “lesbian parents”, the shame associated of kids feeling that the need to keep family differences secret is not.

  6. Shay Olivarria on May 31, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    IMHO it all depends on the unique relationship of all the stakeholders involved. I have felt the same resentments towards my mother and her choice of men. I don’t believe that homo or hetero makes a difference, but I do believe that parents need to have a close, open, and trusting relationship with the adults in their lives.

    Thank you for writing this article. I’m glad that we have a forum to talk about these things.


    Shay Olivarria

  7. Paris on June 5, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Interesting story Kesha. I’m wondering what you relation status is? Are you single? You seem to be homophobic. Did you seek counseling in your adult life? So you have children of your own? You seem very paranoid as if your mother’s lifestyle was going to be yours.

  8. Kesha Lane on June 8, 2010 at 7:12 pm

    Paris – to answer your queries, I am happily married and have not taken the step toward parenthood as of yet. I don’t consider myself homophobic as I do not fear homosexuality, but as I stated in my article, I am opposed to same-sex parenting. I missed my father with a pain too deep to convey to you, but because my mother chose to sever ties with him in favor of her relationship with Mommy Elaine, my sister and I suffered. We, the children, were deprived. Adults need to separate parenting from sexual politics. Children should not be deprived of a relationship with their dad for their mother’s convenience. All children deserve a loving mother and father because afterall, a sperm and egg brought them here, not an egg and egg or sperm and sperm. There’s a reason why I longed for my dad for those many years…I am just as much his daughter as I am my mother’s. His blood runs through my veins. When I look in the mirror, it is his complexion and features I see staring back at me. I am his child. This issue has nothing to do with homophobia and everything to do with parents NOT making their children suffer as a result of their decision to parent while gay. Children are not message boards for their parent’s sexual politics or agendas. When you are a parent, it is NOT about you anymore, your duty and responsibility is to your children. And children should not be deprived of either parent’s love.
    LOL – thanks for inquiring about whether I’ve had therapy. The answer is that I have not. Prayer is stronger, and my spirituality is what heals the wounds. Thanks for your concern about my psychological/emotional wellness. Lol

  9. Kissy Denise on March 31, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    WoW. I have a gay friend and her son is fine. This is an interesting article though. I guess she should of been taught that people truly can’t help who they love. There was nothing to be embarrassed of. Easy for me to say though. I wasn’t raised like that.

  10. Alice Beatty via Facebook on December 27, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    I am so glad she shared her story.. You never hear the down side of these types of situations, and without BOTH sides, one is inclined to believe this is somehow “better” than a hetero famly or single-parent household. I admire this lady’s bravery, as you know the LGBT community is dangerously adamant about pushing their agenda, to the point of promptly SILENCING those with an opposing view by any means

  11. via Facebook on December 27, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Thank you for reading this Alice Beatty. I appreciate all viewpoints in any situation. Some people criticized the author for her views, but I always say that her views are based upon HER experience. It’s easy to sit back and render an opinion based upon theory when one hasn’t walked in her shoes. It also made me wonder how much parents take their children’s feeling sinto consideration. THIS WAS AN EXCELLENT!

  12. Alice Beatty via Facebook on December 27, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    It was, and as I said before, BOTH sides of an issue need to be provided..Too often, we are socialized into detrimental thought pattersn due to lack of information, and propoganda.. This America has gone SO far away from the Amendment protecting speech.. I know that I am not going to like or agree with everyone’s viewpoints, but people have a right to express themselves repectfully, and we can agree to respectfully disagree.

  13. via Facebook on December 27, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Right on Alice Beatty!!!! That was eloquently stated.

  14. Zandra Smith-Grant via Facebook on December 27, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Wow!!! I can’t picture myself seeing what she saw at such a young age. I think that should have been revealed earlier. I can’t say how i would have accepted this due to the way i was raised under such strict upbringing in a home full of strict religious views and having a dad who is the pastor. Seems like through it all they both are still strong minded adults.

  15. via Facebook on December 27, 2011 at 3:50 pm

    Thanks for reading Zandra Smith-Grant!

  16. Jennifer Jordan via Facebook on December 27, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Well written….from the heart….there is power in writing I believe.

  17. via Facebook on December 27, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Still waiting for your story Jennifer Jordan

  18. Jennifer Jordan via Facebook on December 27, 2011 at 6:43 pm

    I am ready:) I was recently interviewed by the newspaper about my story of transformation I’m so excited to read what was wrote. You on my mind often and at the time I wasnt ready but GOD has removed my fear and has again shown me all things are possible through him.

  19. via Facebook on December 27, 2011 at 7:19 pm

    I’m waiting Jennifer Jordan

  20. Kali l The Liberated DIVA via Facebook on December 28, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    Very enlightening. It was great to hear another perspective on this topic especially from someone who actually experienced it. While I agree that having a father/father figure around is important, I am curious to know if her views/experience might have been different if “Mommy Elaine” was more loving.

    Thanks for sharing the story.

  21. via Facebook on December 28, 2011 at 5:22 pm

    Great question Kali l The Liberated DIVA

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