I Show Up for the World As I Am So My Kids Will Too
As a gay mom, writer Nikkya Hargrove explores how being open about her sexuality and identity teaches her kids they too can be comfortable in their own skin.
- Written By
- Nikkya Hargrove
- Violeta Noy
I hope we all know what it feels like to be seen–the feeling that comes with being acknowledged, respected, and embraced as we are, for who we are, wherever we are in our lives. For my kids' sake, as a gay woman, as a gay mom, I show them who I am, flaws and all, but namely, I don't hide my love for their mom. We show affection in our household; we hold hands in public. We talk about sexuality and identity. I feel lucky to have the love and foundation my wife and I have built for our family, especially our kids. We leave space for each of us to be and live as we are, including embracing our kids for who they are. What does it mean for our kids, family, and the world to truly live in the skin we are in? Showing our kids who their moms are and living our authentic lives means we also teach our kids an invaluable lesson about self-worth.
I came out by accident at fourteen. Like a game of adult telephone, when one person in my family found out I was gay, it spread like wildfire. What started this wildfire was that I accidentally dropped a note intended for the first girl I ever called my girlfriend one morning on the kitchen floor as I rushed off to school. That note, in many ways, became how I saw myself in the world, needing to hide pieces of myself in fear of what others might say, including my family. Over time, I'd share with people on a need-to-know basis about my sexuality, about who I was. A recent anonymous survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that teens between 15-17-years-old increasingly identify as "non-heterosexual," from 8.3% in 2015 to 11.7% in 2019. Teens are showing that they feel comfortable sharing more about who they are—coming out in ways that feel right to them. Then I didn't exactly see it as hiding. It wasn't until I had kids of my own that I truly understood the importance, the necessity, of showing up just as I am no matter what.
Joe Belisle, an LGBTQ expert who is the outgoing director of the Lighthouse Program, a Connecticut based safe haven for LGBTQ youth, shares that the stigma affects kids in fundamental ways, "What it does to LGBTQ youth, is make them feel alone and oftentimes, they go inward, and they close up. They see family and friends in heteronormative relationships and think "something is wrong with me" or wonder "what is wrong with me." We have all kinds of research that kids get depressed and anxious over this very subject. COVID made for the perfect storm; kids weren't getting the mental health services they needed, and most kids were at home during COVID, which made for very difficult times. I can tell you firsthand at Lighthouse. I saw very depressed kids. Being out is important. Every LGBTQ person in the community, it is important that you're out, and be out to yourself, be out to friends, and family because that is a lifeline to LGBTQ youth. Whether or not you think you're a role model, if you have any LGBTQ youth in your life, let them know that you are out; it is important that people know the real you."
Embracing Who We Are
It wasn't until June 2015 that my now wife and I had a marriage recognized on the federal level, thanks to President Barack Obama's call for marriage equality. By that point, we'd been married for four years. In 2021, we stood in front of our family, friends, and God to renew our vows, in part, because we wanted to show our children that love always wins. They were a part of our vow renewal ceremony in every way they wanted. This act of recommitting to showing up as we are, for who we are, taught our kids to do the same. In the United States today, there are over 543,000 same-sex couples, according to a 2019 U.S. Census Bureau report. Same-sex couples are living their lives in the most authentic way possible - out loud. Jaime, mom of teenage twins and wife, Jaime, who lives in Connecticut, shares, "Our kids were born in the mid-00s before same-sex marriage was recognized, and we wanted them to understand. They were well aware long before Connecticut state acceptance and then federal recognition - that legal/political aspect of it was important to us, more so than any actual details of our sexualities."
Let's be honest, it's not always easy to live out loud, but as parents, we must. If we are good at what we do in raising our kids, we want to encourage them to live boldly in their own skin, embracing who they are. For instance, my daughters put on clothes, tops, bottoms, and shoes that often do not match. When I ask them to change so the colors they are wearing align a bit better, they say to me, "I like it." And it's really that simple. When we embrace who we are and live fully in that reality, we do so because we love, appreciate, and like who we are as queer parents. Joe, 60, lives in Connecticut with his husband and teenage daughter, shares about his own family, "It's not always easy, as an out gay man, living in heteronormative suburbs, it's tough. I am met with judgment; my family is met with judgment. We are an LGBTQ mixed-race family. We live in an all-white, heternormative community, and it is tough being the perennial outsider. It has lasting effects on me, my marriage, our daughter, and our family as a unit. In some ways, it's made us stronger–it's forced us to soul search. It's forced us to be our more true authentic selves."
Recently, I was the mystery reader in my child's first-grade class. I purposefully chose a book with a family that most resembled our own - a family with two dads called What If Wilhelmina. The class looked on as I turned every page. They were engaged with the story and were more concerned with the main characters - Wilhelmina and her cat. Not one child said to me, "Why does she have two dads?" Kids don't care (mostly). But it was important to me to choose a book that would remind kids that we are all alike in more ways than we are different. I showed up in my daughter's class as her mom, not the gay woman walking the halls. Wife and mom of teenage twins, Jamie Johnson, a Texas transplant who now lives in the New England area, shares that being an LGBTQ family matters because, as she notes, "It's about honesty and authenticity. It's about acceptance of ourselves. It's about not judging or devaluing others. Our children are also multiracial and non-Christian (we're Buddhist UUs), so it really has been about embracing a diverse community."
Being Out Everywhere
Being a gay person is sort of like playing a game of Hide-and-Seek. We are both "it" and the one who needs to be found, the one trying to uncover who we are around every corner, under every table, behind every door, searching for the confidence to be who we are in the space we are in, even when people (looking at you Florida, and Texas) try to convince us and others that it is not ok for us to be who we are. But I am here to remind us all that we are who we are! My family and I are always on a journey to show up as who we are out, brown, and living fully in our skin. I cannot speak for all lesbians or all queer people, but I can share a bit about my journey to say, living fully and confidently in my skin did not happen overnight. It took time, lots of failed relationships, eventually a marriage, and three kids later, for me to look in the mirror with all the love, acceptance, and abundance that my life has given me.
My kids teach me every day about the beauty of what it means to step out into the world with confidence and live wholly in my own skin. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation says it best, "No matter who we are or whom we love, all of us deserve the right to live out our lives genuinely, completely and honestly." Whether it's because of the purple JoJo Siwa bow they are rocking which they've opted to pair with a heart printed dress and their pink flats, they feel good in their skin. Our kids are great teachers as they remind us to show up in the world as they do - out and proud of who they are, pink shoes and all. And when we are found, it is the greatest reward of all, to be seen.
Nikkya Hargrove is a writer and Lambda Literary Non-Fiction Fellow. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Taproot Magazine, Parents, Scary Mommy, and others.
In her forthcoming memoir, Mama: A Black, Queer Woman's Journey to Motherhood, I share the complicated story of my mother and me. After she died in 2007, she left me not only with so many questions about who she was but also with a baby boy named Jonathan. My journey as a Black queer woman hasn't always been easy, but we all have a story to tell, and this is mine.