Yon the summer of 2020 I left London, where I had lived for 14 years, and returned to my hometown of Hull. My family is there, and my husband and I want to be parents; the only way we’ll have even the slightest chance is to live somewhere with cheaper rents and start saving money in a serious way. If we go the surrogacy route, it can cost over £50k – and the tumultuous and lengthy adoption process isn’t necessarily any easier.
Amid all that uncertainty, another draw was that the prospect of family life in Hull felt familiar. My parents had me young, when I arrived in the 80s, they had just turned 21 and 23 years old respectively; Mom, a gorgeous new romantic, Dad, the spitting image of Morrissey. As a kid, I discovered that I could earn cool points by telling new friends about my young, hip parents. Then, as I got older, I appreciated that we had shared interests, like getting drunk and loving Placebo. That’s the kind of father I wanted to be: someone who defined the conventions.
I also wanted to have small children, but it has not turned out that way. We don’t know if it will ever happen to us or if it will happen within the next 10 years. We’re both in our late 30s now, and while we’re incredibly privileged as cis men to have no immediate concerns about our body clocks, we never really saw ourselves as “older” dads. I’ve always looked to my parents as role models for parenthood, but aspiring for the cis-straight “ideal” is never going to happen for us.
And so my aspirations to be like my parents have faded. It has been hard to bear, but I have stopped wanting the impossible in favor of building my own idea of what a family is.
I stopped aspiring to be a young parent and I think I’ve found peace with that, mainly because I’ve become more confident in who I am as I’ve gotten older. Looking back, I can see that being a young parent was very difficult for me. They always made me feel incredibly safe and loved, but they didn’t know themselves; they had no real sense of identity. Who does it at 20?
Meanwhile, the legacy, that is, leaving a biological one, is something that humans are conditioned to think of as an absolute necessity. I look like my parents: I have my father’s smile and my mother’s warm, half-closed brown eyes. Legacy and the importance of having a lineage have always been things that interest me deeply. I’ve always loved history, and genealogy in particular: I love talking to my nana about my family tree, and I get to watch countless back-to-back episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? and not get bored. Seeing the length of a person’s lineage is intoxicating – imagine being related to a member of ancient royalty! (Which, according to my mother, I am.)
But leaving a biological legacy may never happen to me, and the never-ending social emphasis we place on it is detrimental to anyone who can’t have a fully “traditional” family: cis-straight people struggling to conceive, queer people , for the children who need to be adopted so desperately. My husband and I may never be able to afford a surrogate, and we may decide that the only option for us is adoption. I can feel my legacy mindset resisting that, but I’m concertedly trying to distance myself from it.
What is a queer family like? Many LGBTQ+ people despise traditional gender roles, I know I do, and we plan to teach our children that there is a wide spectrum of colors of the rainbow in which they can dance to their heart’s content. Many queer people have had to overcome a lot just to believe that we are worth something. Perhaps as a result we are empathetic and passionate about change because we know what it is like to be undermined and marginalized.
My husband and I expect our kids to be nice, sassy, and totally badass who don’t take bullshit from anyone, because we’ll tell them not to. We will be a family that does not label or judge others. Children can be whatever they want to be.
I know it sounds like a utopian ideal. Maybe you think I’m naive. But isn’t that hope the root of all parenthood? That we want the best for our children and we believe that we can try to give it to them? That our family could contribute, in some way, to creating a better world, instead of just repeating old patterns? We need to believe in the possibility of being the parents we know we can be, that the specific journeys we’ve been on as queer people have equipped us for this monumental task.
I’m glad I stopped aspiring to be my own parents, and cis-straight people in general. Will we ever have children? I’m not sure, but we will try, and when we do, it will be in our own radical way.