When Queer Moms Come Out: A Flashback

A sense of humor is essential for good activists.

This is an updated version of a post I originally published on Open Salon in September of 2010.  In thinking about the things I’m grateful for this LGBTQ Pride Month, it occurred to me it was still very timely.

I posted it again in 2012, when things had changed a lot. And now I find I’m reposting it again, partly as a reminder that we’ve come a long way, and partly as a warning that if we are not vigilant in preserving our progress, we may be back there someday, heaven forbid. Here’s my 2015 version.


I came out in 1988, just after a rancorous divorce became final. A very nice woman asked if I’d ever tried kissing another woman, and a few minutes later it was clear to me that I’d been barking up the wrong tree all my life.  It was a moment of great joy, followed by sheer panic.

I had two little boys, ages 4 and 6, and nothing, absolutely nothing, was more important to me than the two of them.

Was I going to mess them up for life?  Was I going to lose them?  Should I just declare celibacy and give it up?  I wrote to  an acquaintence who had been “out” many years, with two daughters from a previous marriage, and poured out my fears.  She wrote me back with the phone number for the National Center for Lesbian Rights saying, “Call them.  Do whatever they tell you.”  Then she said my kids were going to be fine.

I did, and they are. But there’s much, much more to it than that.

The attorney to whom NCLR referred me informed me that for the umpteenth time in my life, I was the Queen of Dumb Luck. My divorce had become final in one of the very few counties in the United States where my orientation alone was not grounds for taking my kids from me in 1988. My best bet was to come out of the closet completely, so I did.  On March 17, 1988, I phoned my ex and told him. To his credit, it has never been an issue.

I told the boys that I had fallen in love with a girl. They liked her. Unlike their boring mom, she was good at catch and knew everything about baseball. Sure, fine, and what’s for dinner?

The kids were in kindergarten and first grade, and there I wavered. Surely this was my private business. Surely it wasn’t appropriate to phone up the principal and say, “Hi, I’m a lesbian.”  So I waffled along for a while, hoping for the best. And that’s where I went wrong.

Aaron began getting into fights at school. The teacher called. I went in to chat, and it turned out that he was out there defending my honor.  The words “gay” and “fag” were favorite schoolyard epithets (in first grade!) and whenever someone used them, he took it personally on my behalf. He told them to take it back, and then two little boys would roll on the ground, fighting.

I outed myself immediately to the teacher, explained that this was a young man defending his mother — and please, could we just ban those words on the playground?

“You are what?” she gasped,  and when I repeated it, she said she’d have to take it up with the principal. Over the next few weeks it became clear that the words “fag” and “gay” were a lot more acceptable than a lesbian mom and her spawn, and we needed to find a new school if my kids were going to feel remotely safe in class.

Finding a new school where we could be out as a queer family turned out to be quite the project in 1988, even in the liberal East Bay of the liberal San Francisco Bay Area. Initially I was hopeful: “diversity” was a big buzzword. So I went from school to school, asking directly if “diversity” included “lesbian parented children.”  I was privileged to have the means to check out every school in town, and I was hustled out of most of their admissions offices like an unwanted peddler.  [All those places now trumpet the fact that they love queer families, and all I can say is, hallelujah.  I am not naming names, because the guilty parties have mended their ways.]

God bless St. Paul’s Episcopal School. When I asked the admissions director, Laroilyn Davis, if a lesbian family would be welcome at St. Paul’s, she said, “It’s time we included a family like yours.” In the years to come, the administration there always had our backs: individuals might find our presence distasteful, but there was never any question that we belonged.

But the damage was done. My children spent far too long in a situation where they knew we were a second-class family, where we were the objects of open disgust. I am well aware that my younger son is a social worker partly because he has a special affinity for children who don’t feel safe. His older brother will still offer to punch you out if you use the word “fag.”

And as for me, I am torn between gratitude for being the Queen of Dumb Luck, who came out in the most liberal area in the country, who had the means to seek out a safe place for her children, who had legal support and moral support and two courageous sons — and fury that any of that was necessary.

Things are much better for LGBTQ families in California now than they were in 1988. We are kidding ourselves, though, if we think that Marriage Equality fixes everything. There is still a long road ahead for employment rights, immigration rights, and for the simple safety of transgender persons. We are not done.

When we discriminate against any group of people, we are all the less for it.  When are we going to figure that simple fact out?

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi based in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, mom, poodle groomer, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at https://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ as the Coffee Shop Rabbi.

11 thoughts on “When Queer Moms Come Out: A Flashback”

      1. Hope you and the family are having a great weekend! Our Shabbat service at the Temple yesterday was very energetic, especially due to the decision of the Supreme Court in the morning.


  1. Mazel tov to you all. I noted that when I clicked on “Reader” to see what was up with the blogs I subscribe to, there’s a rainbow header across all of WordPress.

    The Episcopalians don’t care as long as you don’t do it in the road and scare the horses. They’ve had gay married clergy for years. The joke is that the only thing that’ll get you excommunicated from the Episcopal Church is using the wrong fork.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had no idea you’d been at St Paul’s! Our kid was there for middle school, probably somewhat after your boys, and we absolutely loved it. We led her class in Tashlich one year, and I think Carol Luther, the chaplain in our time there, is one of the coolest people on the planet.


  3. Yay Rabbi Ruth. As another woman who has raised kids in forward thinking California, I recognize that struggle. In my case, it was a skin color thing and a divorced parents thing. The school was unwilling to step into the fray, ever. At one point, I was able to lead a class in “being different”. It was very helpful. Kids are open and when they are not actively pushing each other around, they tend to want to understand their world and be a force for good.

    Ever onwards ever forward. The way to full acceptance and unity is convoluted and teacherous. you are a shining light along the way.


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