There’s no doubt my mother wanted me. I was brought into this world via a turkey baster filled with the sperm of an unknown man. It was England 1984 when sperm donor services for lesbians were practically unheard of. Instead, my mother got her opportunity from an unofficial source—a group of kind-hearted men, persuaded to donate by an LGBTQ-friendly friend.
When I tell people my mum is a lesbian, they always assume she must have once identified as straight for my existence to even be possible. Although she did have a couple of casual boyfriends before coming out at 20, my mother personifies the theory that some people are born queer. As a child, she dressed up as a gun-toting outlaw and spent her weekends pulling pranks with the little boys from the neighborhood. She never showed any interest in dolls, frilly dresses, or looking pretty, and says she felt different from other girls.
I always thought my mother secretly hoped I’d be gay, as I knew she never really understood or connected with straight women. As a child, I was encouraged to play with gender-neutral toys, whether it be a mini tool kit or a chemistry set, but all I ever wanted was My Little Pony and one of those freaky severed doll heads to practice hairstyles on. When she downright refused to buy me the latter, I resented her reluctance to let me be girly. Looking back, I can see why she hoped to install slightly more practical interests in me, but at the time I staunchly resisted her attempts to push me towards anything I considered masculine. What I would give now to be able to put up a shelf or rewire a plug without getting myself in a flap!
The void between our interests and understanding continued to widen as I grew into a young woman. Rather than raising a “baby dyke” as I thought she’d wanted, what my mother ultimately got, whether through nature or my will to rebel, was a daughter as femme and straight as they come. While she wore biker jackets and regularly got mistaken for a man, I dyed my hair blonde, wore mini-skirts, piled on makeup, and stuffed my bra. While she was unwaveringly suspicious and avoidant of men, I threw myself at them, my sense of worth dependent on their attention and admiration.
After a particularly earth-shattering heartbreak—my first love dumped me the day after I gave him my virginity—I subconsciously punished myself by embarking on a relationship with an abusive and chauvinistic man seven years my senior. Although she didn’t know he was abusive, my mother instinctively recognized that this man was no good. She struggled to accept my decision to stay with him and I resisted her attempts to break us up. As far as I was concerned, my mother didn’t like my boyfriend because she was a man-hater. As far as she was concerned, I was persisting in the relationship to spite her.
Needless to say, my teenage years, particularly the two spent with this older man, were fraught with confrontation, anger, and intolerance. Like many hormone-addled mother-daughter relationships, we had regular shouting matches, complete with door-slamming, plate-smashing, and declarations of “I HATE YOU” cruelly slapped across the face of my well-meaning mother. This is nothing unique, but looking back, I think a lack of emotional touchpoints made our fights particularly hard to navigate and diffuse.
Although I grew up without a dad, there was no “parent gap” in my life when it came to practical needs—my mother can plumb in a washing machine as well as she can ice a cake. But what we lacked was the almost sisterly companionship of some mother-daughter relationships—one in which a mother can empathize with and advise her daughter in times of turmoil having gone through similar experiences herself. There was no sympathy when I didn’t want to go to school because of my acne (she told me to stop wearing so much makeup), there were no mother-daughter shopping or spa sessions to make up after our fights, and I detected a palpable sense of “I told you so” when I finally found out my boyfriend had cheated on me. I now suspect it was this lack of shared experiences and not necessarily our polar-opposite sexualities that prevented us from being as close as we could have back then.
As may be expected, things radically improved once I moved away from home. My mother has also since retrained as a child therapist, the irony being that she now has a much better set of tools by which to communicate and reason with my angry and confused teenage self. I’m sure her turbulent experience raising me has both inspired and informed her in her new line of work, and it makes me happy to think those now long-forgotten and forgiven conflicts may help other parents and children navigate the inevitable teenage rebellion more smoothly. In a recent, candid conversation with my mum, I learned that she never wanted me to be gay, and though she hoped I would grow up to be a strong woman with no inferiority complex to men, she loves the fact that I am femme as it’s allowed her to experience a lifestyle she always felt so far removed from.
Like all parents, I know my mum worries that she could have done some things better, but I also know I used every ounce of the manipulative powers, selfishness, and lack of conscience that only the young truly possess to push her to her limits. I have endless admiration for the incredible lesbian woman who loved, raised, and strived to understand a girl so different from herself, and when I write in her Mother’s Day cards each year that she’s “the best mum in the world,” I mean it wholeheartedly.
I’ll never be able to say, “My mum is my best friend,” like some women, but I can say that she’s the strongest, most talented, and most interesting woman I know. I am immensely grateful she chose to have me, and if I had been able, I would have chosen her, as well.