Rainbow Families: Raised On Pride
My granny Marian came out as gay in her 50s in rural Scotland. She left her marriage—after 25 years, five children, and took to the winding roads of Australia, America, and the United Kingdom. It sounds poetic when you put it like that but I often wonder how her children must have felt about their mother’s seemingly recent revelation.
Do you feel like an outsider?
“Not sure about an outsider, but different YES!
Or am I? In 1959 I married at 24 years of age, in the next 9 years I had 5 children. When they were adult in 1987 I came out to myself, and to them as ‘GAY’. These 5 children produced 9 grandchildren… Here I am, Monday 7th November 2005, Marian, a Mum, a Gran and today a Great Grandmother.”
I, on the other hand, have always viewed Marian as a warrior; strong during a time when women were encouraged to be anything but. In her writing, she talks about travelling around Australia, volunteering at women’s centres for addiction, about what feminism meant to her in the ‘60s, and about loving women. My mum told me about Marian finally having a reckless youth–smoking joints and sleeping with women–while her children were having their own.
My mum had me at 26 when she was still at college, so Marian moved to Dundee to look after me for a year. As I got older she was my first pen pal, the first person I’d exchange writing with, and tell about my new favourite book. She’d send me postcards from Glasgow Women’s Library, where she was volunteering, or from London where she spent weekends at book fairs on the Southbank. My dad’s twin sister, Jenny, was based in London’s Soho, and they’d hit up Candy Bar together, or go for a drink in Dundee along Perth road.
“What I really needed was to know there was another eight-year-old, another twelve-year-old, another sixteen-year-old going through the same thing. My heart always aches for the oldest child.”
But by the time I was old enough to have a drink with Marian, Alzheimer’s had kicked-in. This piece of writing isn’t about Alzheimer’s but I can’t talk about her without giving it some space. Over the course of the ten years that Alzheimer’s crept over my grandmother, I like to think that her spirit spread through my sisters and I. We cherish her memory in all that we do; in writing, living creatively, celebrating queer culture, and really, the queer relationships that our family hosts on both sides.
Of course, having such a diverse family and friendship network, and strong queer role models, made coming out for me a lot easier. I instantly had people who understood, accepted and knew how to support me. But mostly it meant I had no qualms about being my truest, proudest self—just as I’d seen my Gran, Mum and aunties do. I followed suit.
‘I had never seen so many people who were Lesbian and Gay, and all in in one place. I didn’t belong, did I? I still remember the breathless feeling as I took a step towards the pavement where people were standing watching. Teetering on the edge of the road I took my specs off so I couldn’t see anyone and stepping into the road I reached out and said, “Can I join you” . A voice said, “Where’ve you been, we’ve been looking for you all morning, come on love”. With his arm around my shoulders, he walked with me smiling while others called out greetings.’ – Marian Thom.
My parents split up when I was eight because my mum fell in love with someone else; someone who happened to be a woman. I have had some comments from people who think my mum used my dad to have kids and then ‘turn lesbian’. People look at my family history and see sexuality as a very binary thing but I think it really shows how fluid we all are.
It was never something we discussed out of the house. My mum felt she couldn’t shout about her sexuality on marches or from rooftops like Marian had done. She felt, in her own words, like ‘the only gay in the village’. This was not only alienating for her individually but for us as kids of a queer parent, and as members of a rainbow family.
It has taken me years to deconstruct these elements of loneliness; as an eight-year-old realising your parents are splitting up; as the oldest protecting younger siblings from your parents’ separation; as a young child trying to understand the changes in your family dynamic, and not having anyone to relate to. What is interesting is that there were queues of adults to talk to–aunts, uncles, friends of the family, my parents’ partners–but what I really needed was to know there was another eight-year-old, another twelve-year-old, another sixteen-year-old going through the same thing. My heart always aches for the oldest child.
I sensed my mum didn’t want to shout from the rooftops–something,for that period in my life, passed on to me. She had relationships with women throughout my childhood but it wasn’t something I talked about until I was 18. Maybe it was because I didn’t have the language or maybe I felt I wanted to protect my sisters, who are younger than me. If word got out at school I imagined the name calling to be a lot worse than the silence my sisters and I shared. At the time, in the late ‘90s, small town Scotland, didn’t seem to acknowledge or know how to welcome rainbow families whether that be same sex parents, single parents, trans parents, grandparents who parent, or foster and adoptive parents.
Despite not being ‘out’, my mum was never ashamed of who she was or of her relationships. Now she’s civil-partnered to a Minister, and they’re happily and quietly living their lives. My dad began dating someone when I was 10, and she has remained consistently in our lives. My sisters and I are lucky enough to have one mum but three maternal figures. To quote the book, Women Who Run With Wolves:‘You are born to one mother but if you are lucky, you will have more than one. And among them you will find most of what you need’.
Both Marian and my mum made sacrifices to live their true lives, and to be their best selves for their families. This t has inspired me. I volunteer with LGBT Health and Wellbeing with its Rainbow Families project, and I’m an independent panel member for TACT adoption and fostering. Both of these roles mean I get to see and support families in every form, to help nurture diversity, and spread the feeling of belonging. Ultimately I get to hug eight-year-old me and say; ‘where’ve you been, we’ve been looking for you all morning, come on love.’
Brought into the world by a mother and father, but raised and shaped by three maternal figures, a creative and caring dad, and an ever-growing network of rainbow aunties, uncles and cousins—my sisters and I were raised on pride.