In many cultures, the name Jessica means ‘God’s gift.’ And while my parents aren’t religious or worshipers of a higher power, one could label my conception the work of a divine entity. After finding the sole doctor in Utah that would inseminate a lesbian couple in the late ‘90s, my mothers ultimately decided the name Jessica was fitting.
Our life in Salt Lake City was short-lived. At age three, my moms moved our family of three to the warmer climate — both in temperature and politics — of San Diego, in hopes that my childhood and education would be better lived, a decision I’m fervently grateful for.
While in elementary school I, like most children, grasped the concept of gender but hadn’t yet faced the term’s social significance. I remained unaware that my family differed from others. My friends had two parents and so did I. The gender of anyone I came into contact with seemed less important than their capacity for kindness. Or their ability to make chicken nuggets.
However, my carefree state I had previously occupied came to a rapid halt as I began middle school and my parents’ sexuality and gender were outed.
Attendance had been called and my P.E. uniform donned, as I stomped up the stairs with the rest of my sixth-grade class to start our weekly mile run. Basketball and other classes occupied various areas of the upper-field, though students goofed off in attempt to convince their teacher that the assigned activity was not something that required their participation. Huddled with the rest of the class, I patiently waited for our instructor at the field’s entrance. Likely prompted by the lack of adult supervision, my attention was quickly directed to a boy calling my name in front of the entire class and yelling, “Do you have two moms?” Having never been asked this before, I found the question strange. I traced the dozens of faces awaiting my response and the truth that originally pressed against my tongue rapidly changed courses. Bathed in silence, I circumvented their stares, replied no, and spent the rest of the class period locked in a bathroom stall with a stomach mangled by dread. While at the time I didn’t comprehend that my choice for self-disclosure had been taken away, I knew this was indubitably the beginning of a pivotal change.
To my horror, an avalanche of interrogations and lingering stares ensued over the next three years. Despite vehement proclamations, dispelling rumors of homosexuality within my family, my peers’ questions persisted and grew. My sexuality, adoption status, and father’s existence were broached on numerous occasions. While kids often reduced their remarks during class periods, the questions were still inescapable. During my K-12 education, I was the only student with two moms in each of my classes. Word problems referencing a family always depicted a mom and a dad, which also carried over into sex-ed. My differences felt apocalyptic, which might sound exaggerated, but anyone that’s experienced the dramatic age of twelve can acknowledge the statement’s sincerity.
Bravery embraced me in high school and I welcomed its necessary approach. The lies stopped altogether once I witnessed students forging their own paths into the LGBTQ+ community. Inspired by their courage, I matched the ignorance of others with candor and as opportunities to inform.
On the night of my first high school party, I was presented with the dilemma many teenagers have often experienced: choosing an outfit. Grappling with the weight that my clothing selection would likely determine the direction of my future, I selected an outfit ensured to dazzle the masses. While in attendance, my peers drank and danced as I sat on a couch with the host of the party. After commenting on my amazing outfit, our discussion quickly changed when she abruptly asked, “You have two moms?”
“Yes?” I replied, my voice also upturned with a question mark because we both knew the answer.
“So, which one is your mom and which one is your dad?”
I could recognize the absurdity of such an inquisition, but she was serious, as was my answer.
“They’re both my mom.”
My parents received equally shocking questions. A personal favorite: “Are you going to raise her to be a lesbian?” was met with an eye roll from both my moms and a retort of, “We’re going to do our absolute best.”
When getting to know my lab partner during my second year of college, we started covering the basics of our families and upbringings. Shocked by my family’s logistics, he questioned whether I had planned to follow in their “trend.”
“Here’s to hoping,” I said.
Possibly the most appalling interaction I’ve had with another occurred at my place of work that same year. I politely corrected a customer, that despite his assumption, I did not have a mom and a dad, nor could I recall how the conversation came about during our forty-minute interaction.
“You have two moms?” he asked.
“But you’re so normal.” Pressing my tongue to the inside of my cheek, I walked away.
Humor is undeniably present in many of these scenarios. My parents and I can laugh at the stories now, but at the time, my choice for self-disclosure was completely absent. While most of these situations were prompted by curiosity, the endeavor of learning should never detract from the physical or mental well-being of another. Had these questions been constructed differently and with the consideration of my consent, I would have happily responded and educated those interested.
Despite the presented challenges, my parents supported and advised me to their greatest ability. And then some. But like most experiences, there was no manual. Twelve-year-old me was ultimately just a girl who loved her moms and desperately wanted the world to, as well.
Jessica (she/they) is an LGBTQ+ freelance writer and monthly columnist based in San Diego. She covers topics that include art, culture, local communities, small businesses, LGBTQ+ storytelling, and everything in between. When not writing, they are likely engrossed in a fantasy series and a cup of peppermint tea. You can read more of her writing on her website.