I came out well before I became a parent, but even being out from day one of parenthood doesn't mean visibility is easy. Here are a few things my experience has taught me.
It has become something of a truism in LGBTQ parenting circles to talk about how having kids means being out to everyone -- teachers, plumbers, cashiers at the grocery store. Kids, as any parent will tell you, can't keep closet doors closed. One "Hey, Mommy and Mama!" across the produce aisle, and your cover is blown.
For me, however, the problem is not being outed, it's assuming everyone knows I'm a lesbian when in fact, I tend to blend in with my mostly straight suburban neighbors. (The fact that many of my clothes come from boys' departments doesn't seem to register.)
Even when I try to be open about it, people hear "Alan" when I talk of my spouse "Helen" and miss my use of pronouns. My son once received an invitation to the birthday party of a new school friend, and Helen and I got a double-take at the door because one of the friend's parents hadn't realized we were a two-mom family. Sometimes I think it would be easier if I'd gone to all of the school's beginning-of-the-year events wearing an "I'm a lesbian" t-shirt. It would save us from those awkward moments and the "Who are you?" questions.
The other problem is that as a matter of overall identity, I'd rather be known as my son's mom, not his "lesbian mom." The commonalities of parenthood far outweigh the differences of sexual orientation. More importantly, I want my son to be known for his own qualities, not for the fact that he's "the boy with the lesbian moms." Yes, his lesbian moms will always be part of his identity, but I want us to be a piece of a much richer whole, not a leading indicator. I hope he never wants to hide the fact that he has two moms, but I also realize that as he gets older, he may want to come out about his family in his own time and in his own way.
Coming out is often described as an ongoing journey. As parents, it is a journey we take with our children. Sometimes they will want to be more out about our families than we are comfortable with; sometimes less.
Visibility, however, has its perks. It may motivate my son's school to be more inclusive in its materials and curriculum. It may open his classmate's eyes to the fact that families come in all kinds of shapes and sizes.
Being out as a parent is therefore more complex than just dressing our infants in "I love my mommies" jumpers or being outed by our toddlers at the supermarket. It raises issues we may not even have thought of when we started our families. And for those who come out after having children, the issues are different yet again.
For the moment, I will continue with my quiet but firm visibility. Around our son's school, I do not want to make such a point of being a lesbian that he feels defined by his parents' orientation, but neither do I want him ever to see me hide who I am, or what our family is. I know our visibility can do much good, not only for him, but also for other LGBTQ and other non-traditional families.
It is a fine balance, and I may not always get it right. This National Coming Out Day, however, is a good chance to remind myself why I have to try.