03/07/2013 03:51 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Queer Mom at the Roseville Mall

I'm an incognito queer, living with my husband and my three kids in Roseville, Calif., a town known more for its wealthy residents' plastic surgery than for the diversity of its population. It's also well-known as a retail center, replete with big-box stores, high-end boutiques and the now-infamous Westfield Galleria at the Roseville Mall. Roseville, which is a bedroom community outside Sacramento, the state capitol, is characterized as the natural habitat of yoga-toned, pony-tailed blondes who drive enormous SUVs. But this week the shiny façade came crashing down thanks to what might be interpreted as a minor incident. Was baked-in bigotry lurking behind that façade all this time?


Our son, Z., riding the Westfield Galleria's famous carousel (Photo by Tara Baxter)

There's the stereotype of Roseville, which is now spreading far and wide with all the national attention on the mall story, and then there's my family. We live in the shabby part of town, over by the railroad tracks, the area that real estate agents gently steer investors away from. We've got chickens in our backyard, a tattoo artist living across the street and a neighborhood filled with progressives and creative D.I.Y. types. I'm a bisexual mom with three kids, a husband and an ex-partner with whom I co-parent.

About 18 years ago my ex Mimi and I decided to try to have a child. It took nearly five years of monthly donor inseminations, lots of tears, some false hopes and one heartbreaking miscarriage before we successfully conceived and delivered a little girl. That's how my family started. I spent years walking hand-in-hand with my partner, raising our little girl together in a very visible way. This was in the Bay Area, and although I remember vividly the rare times that someone's disgust at our family structure became obvious to me, mostly people would smile wistfully at us, the happy threesome.


My daughter, R., doing her homework at the mall (Photo by Tara Baxter)

Time passed, and elements of the relationship changed in ways that didn't seem fixable. We endured an amicable separation that became permanent. Over the ensuing years my natural bisexual inclination led me to the arms of the man who is now my husband. We gave my oldest child two new siblings, and when they were still young, we decided to move to Roseville to facilitate easy co-parenting with Mimi and her long-term partner Patty.

We threw in our lot together, knowing that our struggles and successes would now affect all of us. We became a family group, very alternative and quite "queer." What had been new to me in my relationship with my husband was knowing that if I walked down the street with him and our children, no one would know that I wasn't just your average heterosexual suburban wife. I resisted wearing a wedding ring, feeling a twinge of betrayal to my gay tribe, who don't get to enjoy that legal luxury. I (reluctantly, perhaps) identify as part of a more standard, "normal" type of family, but in my heart I know I'm not like the other moms at kindergarten pickup. I'm patently bisexual and have been from the moment I developed crushes. I was essentially married to a woman for over six years. I brought a child into the world in the context of that relationship. I am queer.

So the situation that unfolded at the Westfield Galleria, in which a gay couple was asked to leave for "excessive" PDA, has me feeling confused and sad. I'm permitted the dubious ability to "pass" as straight in this town where alternative families aren't common. I can and do spend lots of time at the mall, filled as it is with children's diversions such as a carousel and several playgrounds. They've got areas for comfortable breastfeeding (even marked as such!), bathrooms where dads can change the diapers too, and a rollerskating rink in the winter. The thought that this pleasant haven is a place where my ex and her partner would be discouraged from holding hands and kissing sickens me.


Most of us sitting on the floor near H&M at the Roseville Mall (Photo by Tara Baxter)

That's not the Roseville I know. I demand a lot from this town, and it always rises to meet me. Our family is known for our colorful eccentricities, and our home is a center for the kind of cozy connection that defines the word "community." I really hope that what occurred at the Westfield Galleria was an outlier event, a mistake by security guard who has some self-examination to do in regard to how he perceives love and affection and the types of families that he may not even realize exist, tucked as we are in the disguise of normalcy.

At 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 9, throngs of people -- gay, straight and everything in between -- are demonstrating at the Westfield Galleria in favor of love -- human love -- in all its iterations. We want to remind Roseville, the Westfield Galleria and the nation that we're here, we're queer, and our dollars matter, but more than that, our rights matter.