Redefining gender roles and raising upright kids: The struggles and wins of queer moms
Mothers come in different shapes and sizes. There are moms who are protective and strict, others who are more lax, single moms who raise their kids on their own, and let's not forget, moms who identify as LGBTQ+.
Kids who have queer parents are often brought up in a "rainbow family" where there might be two moms or one LGBTQ+ parent. While these families might look different from traditional ones, theirs is just as full of love as any.
A queer mom, however, might experience more struggles than a cisgender heterosexual mother. On top of the usual challenges motherhood brings, they also need to face prejudice because of their sexual orientation.
Not a lesser mother
Lesbian filmmaker Cha Roque's daughter Kelsey was bullied after she posted a photo of her rainbow family at a pride parade when she was eight years old.
"Jinoke siya ng classmates niya about it na parang, 'Ay dalawang mommy, walang daddy,'" Cha told PhilSTAR L!fe. "Yung wrong part dun is the teacher said to Kelsey, 'Think before you post.' Like hello? Family photo namin 'yun, I don’t think she’ll say that to a cis-hetero family."
Cha herself has heard harsh comments about her SOGIE after writing an open letter to Eat Bulaga in 2015, but she shrugged these off.
The letter she wrote was in response to a segment where a host told a gay man with a family to go back in the closet so his kids won't be discriminated against. The filmmaker felt that she too was invalidated as a mother because she was just 18 and was separated from her child's father.
Meanwhile, actress Sandy Aloba, who adopted her son Liam with her partner Ida, shared that she's been "made to feel lesser" as a mother because she's a lesbian and didn't give birth to her son.
"One time, I was told [by a mom at Liam's school], ‘Siyempre, you won’t love your son as much as dapat, kasi he didn’t come from you 'di ba?’ I remember I couldn’t say anything, I was just dumbfounded," she said.
"It was an attack on adoptive parents and children but I think she wouldn’t have been so brave to say it if we were a hetero couple."
Meanwhile, University of the Philippines Mindanao literature professor and award-winning author Jhoanna Lynn Cruz said she was more judged by people who called her family "broken."
After marrying a man and having two kids, the writer realized that she wasn't happy being in a heterosexual relationship. She goes into detail about her coming out story and her journey with motherhood in her memoir Abi Nako, or So I Thought.
"The term broken family is oppressive to us. It’s discriminatory. That’s something I had to talk to my children about. We’re not a broken family, we’re just a different one, an unconventional one," Jhoanna told L!fe.
Redefining gender roles
With same-sex partners, these queer moms have heard people throw comments like "your children need a father figure" or "who's the dad in your family"—something single moms also hear.
"There’s kind of an internalized homophobia that was at work initially when I was refusing to raise my children in a rainbow family, like I had to give my son a male role model because I had that misconception myself around the kakulangan ng queer parents in terms of helping the children develop holistically. Yun yung kailangan masira," said Jhoanna.
"It’s so archaic. Wala naman talagang tatay so why will I play tatay?" remarked Sandy, noting that she took her son to traditionally masculine hobbies like sports. "That’s not playing dad, taking your son to a ball game is not playing dad, it’s just being a parent."
As a queer parent and a young mother, Cha finds it easier to understand her daughter whenever she's going through different forms of crisis.
"We understand each other and are very open. 'Yung mga taboo topics na parents try to avoid talking to their children about like sex, having boyfriends, going out, pakikibaka sa kalye. I understand it and we talk about it a lot," she said.
Robbed of the opportunity to come out to Kelsey on her own terms, Cha reimagined her coming out story in a film titled What I Would've Told My Daughter if I Knew What to Say Back Then.
For any mother, hearing a child face prejudice and judgment because of something out of their control is upsetting. Her instinct would be to protect their child.
"Siyempre masakit sa akin noong nabully si Kelsey kasi parang she had to endure judgments of other people. It’s very different from being the person [being judged] yourself. Medyo strong kasi yung personality ko so wala naman akong paki pero when it’s Kelsey that’s being attacked, masakit 'yun sakin," said Cha.
"Whenever you get into a situation where you think it might get ugly, it’s always, 'Say what you will about me but don’t you f*cking say anything about my kid,'" remarked Sandy. "This little precious gem of a child has the whole world at his feet and no one should be thinking about daring to break his spirit."
But moms can't always shield their children from the harsh realities of the world, so queer mothers like Jhoanna, Cha, and Sandy do their best to equip their kids for anything.
"The truth will never hurt you, that’s what we taught him and that’s what we tell him even now," said Sandy.
For her part, Jhoanna empowers her kids to protect themselves. "What I’ve done as a mother is to prepare them to protect themselves from bigotry, from discriminatory thinking. When we have open conversations about various topics, they learn how to reason out on their own and how to make their own judgment from situations," she said.
Meanwhile, Cha provides an open space to talk about any issue with her daughter. Kelsey, who is now 18, has her own activism and advocacies, which Cha is proud of.
"Maganda kasi at an early age, nagkakaroon siya ng wide understanding about different issues. Sa pagprotect, di naman sa I don’t care, it’s I let her be and support her. May sarili siyang activism and advocacies, I’m just there for her but of course, there’s always fear," the filmmaker shared.
Having a child has taught me everything I need to know about love, and it teaches me every day something about love.
The joys of motherhood
All the struggles aside, Jhoanna said she has learned everything about love from her kids.
"Having a child has taught me everything I need to know about love, and it teaches me every day something new about love. Everything I need to know about love, I’ve learned from my children," Jhoanna said.
"And that’s a privilege that I would never exchange for all the bad days, all the hard times. It’s hard, I’m not romanticizing motherhood, it’s f*cking hard, especially being a single parent," she added.
Sandy, on the other hand, loves watching her now 12-year-old son Liam grow before her very eyes.
"I love that he’s still a baby sometimes but you see little glimpses of the wonderful person that he will be or already is, that he will blossom into even more," the actress shared.
Brought up by an abusive mother, Jhoanna wants to serve as a counterexample for her kids. She didn't want to do what her mother did and instead hopes her kids know that they are free to be.
"In the 70s, there's this iconic book 'Free to Be You and Me,' and it had to do with the gender issues that every child is free to be who they are. That's what they hope they learn from me," the writer said, adding that she wants her kids to know they don't owe her anything.
Meanwhile, Cha and Sandy want their kids to grow up with empathy and care for others.
"Nung graduation [ni Kelsey] nung Grade 6, each parent pinagsalita sa mic, tapos ang sabi ko dun sa message, ang gusto ko lang sayo ay maging mabuti siyang tao at mamamayan," the filmmaker said.
"Yung laging sinasabi ko sa kanya and something she’s also learned on her own through her paglubog sa masa is her achievements are nothing if it’s not shared, if siya lang yung makikinabang. Okay, matalino ka and maganda grades mo, pero sana nababahagi mo rin siya to help people in need and raise voices na nangangailangan." she added.
In Sandy's household, their family emphasizes the importance of empathy, kindness, and respect.
"If you have these three things, you can’t go wrong in the world. You will leave this world a better place than when you got here. I hope he cares about everything and everyone else more than we are striving to be right now. I hope that what we’re trying to be as people, he already is and will continue to be when he goes out to face the rest of the world," she said.