By Camille Aubin
Last weekend was Mother’s Day and May 17 is International Day Against Homophobia, which is why I want to share with you a little bit about where I’m from. My hope is to help break some of the prejudices that still persist around same-sex couples and homoparental families, because my mothers and I have lived very normal lives. You read correctly: I was born into a so-called non-traditional family, with two mothers. Let me share with you their touching love story and the hardships they had to go through in order to live it fully.
Both come from a small village called Mont-Laurier, located a few hours north of the big city of Montreal. They lived typical childhoods for their time, ones in which working on the farm, household chores and French Catholic masses were part of their daily life from a very young age.
My mother Louise Aubin was born into a farming family of five, not to mention all the other children my grandmother took care of as a foster parent. My second mother Josée Lafantaisie was the youngest in a family of 13 children. Both were born in the 1960s, and as I mentioned about religion was a big part of their young lives.
“I was 15 years old when I first saw Louise sitting on a church bench surrounded by her family,” says Josée. “I would see her in school and during sports. I made friends with your mother’s twin sister in order to be closer to her.” This is how my moms’ story began.
They soon became good friends after playing together on the school volleyball team. “My own mother often reminded us how common we were. She told us often. I imagine she was seeing something that we thought was hidden,” says Louise.
Each of my moms approaches their homosexuality from a much different perspective.
“I didn’t care at all,” says Josée. Louise, on the other hand, was afraid that her special relationship with Josée would be revealed, as she knew her family was not ready to confront this taboo.
Given the rural small town environment and the social mores of the time, it was only a matter of time before someone was going to discover the truth. And indeed, eventually, their coming out did occur, and it was not by their own choosing.
It’s Josée’s mother, Rachel, who surprised them first. One day Rachel was at home and was surprised to find my parents physically too close together to be ‘just friends’. “Oh oh!” Rachel exclaimed. And although Rachel didn’t make a scene, she was dreadfully afraid that Josée’ was surely going to straight to hell. “It’s an illness, it’s going to be all right. We’ll get you treated,” said Rachel. Of course, ‘treatment’ was not needed, and never happened. My grandmother believed that not intervening in Josée and Lousie’s relationship would be held against her in heaven, but still something convinced her she shouldn’t prevent Josée from living her life, and falling in love. Rachel didn’t interfere, but she didn’t want to know anything more about the relationship either. I suppose that having 12 other kids kept her busy enough.
At the end of that same summer, Louise’s family learned about the relationship. “One evening we went to look for the cows, and Louise’ mom rummaged in my bag and read my diary, in which I wrote everything about my daily life, my thoughts and my poems. Later in the evening, we were doing the dishes, and Mamy said to us ‘I have to talk to you in the swing soon.’ We knew straight away that she was not in a good mood. Later that evening, she told us she knew about us, and it had to end now. Our heads down, we said ‘okay’,” said Josée.
After that, Josée was forbidden to come to the farm. My grandmother hoped that this teen love affair would fade with time, as many teen relationships do, and wanted to keep it secret from my grandfather, thinking it would cause him pain.
My parents used to hang out at school, covertly here and there, keeping it all as secret as possible. Louise’s mother and her older sister, who had also discovered the truth, repeatedly brought up to relationship with Josée, making Louise promise them that it was over, that she had cut off all contact with Josée. Louise told them it was, and she had, but in her mind, in her heart and in fact, it was not over at all.
Louise moved more than two hours away from the family home in order to start cégep (a post-secondary, pre-university educational establishment unique to the Quebec school system). There things changed. At first, Louise went back and forth every weekend to reunite with her family and help out on the farm. But one day, she decided to take her freedom in her hands. She had had enough of pretending to be someone that she was not. She’d had a small taste of being away from home, and seen the possibilities. She resolved to live life her way. Louise told her parents that she would not be coming home for the weekend anymore. She packed her suitcases, left the family home despite her parents’ apparent sadness, and moved into Josée’s apartment.
It took a long time — a long long time — before my mother Louise and her parents rebuilt their relationship. They called each other sometimes, but the conversations were cold and short. Then one fine day, something was different. My grandparents came to realization that it was not worth losing contact with their daughter over her choices. Slowly, very little by very little, they let Josée earn her place in the family.
But my parents weren’t done breaking down barriers. They wanted to start their own family. Many people told them it was impossible; biologically, it takes a mom and dad. Well, obviously, the naysayers were wrong about that too.
After discussing the matter with an acquaintance who happened to be a doctor, they learned that an idea that seemed far-fetched in the eyes of others was indeed feasible. “We asked him if we could have access to insemination, and the answer was yes,” says Louise. Louise and Josée embark on their new adventure, and a few months later Louise found out she was pregnant. The same pre-coming out doubts resurfaced: “What are the others going to say? What are Mom and Dad going to think?”
One evening, they went to dinner with Louise’s parents to tell them the news. After they finished eating, it was time for the big announcement. And then… not a sound. How could their daughter be pregnant when she was dating a girl? Louise and Josée needed to explain how medical insemination works. My grandparents were overjoyed with the news after learning the explanation. Soon, they would welcome another grandchild into the family.
A few months later, Louise’s oldest sister called my mother to tell her that a celebration would be held for their parents. My grandparents had been named ‘parents of the year’ in Mont-Laurier. It was going to be a special event, and every one of their children had to be present with their spouse and their own children — this time, no more hiding. Josée and Louise, whose belly was so prominently, mistakably pregnant, walked hand in hand in front of a crowd of people. To everyone’s surprise, the applause was intense as my mothers passed by. It was a relief and a milestone for my grandparents. After the ceremony, some people came to see them saying “One of your twins loves women? Well, me too!” And another one exclaimed “My nephew loves a man too,” explained Louise. Suddenly my parents were no longer alone, and neither were my grandparents. Others, like them, had relationships hidden from the eyes of others.
Not very long after this joyful event, I saw my first light. I was born into a family where the parents are two mothers, and if you’re not convinced yet, let me tell you straight up that I am doing very well! I was fortunate to be surrounded by a loving family, who today accept each other for who they really are.
Certainly, since the beginning of my parents’ love story, the opinion of Canadian society has changed a lot. The evolution of views and social mores has led to the development of new laws. Welcome laws they are indeed, and the only thing to regret is that most of them are quite recent and that it took so long to implement in them in the first place.
You may be surprised to learn that it was not until 1990 that homosexuality was taken off the list of mental illnesses by the World Health Organization. In 2002, adoption by a same-sex couple became legal in Quebec. In B.C., things happened a bit more quickly and adoption for same-sex parents was legalized in 1996. And it wasn’t until 2005 that marriage became legal for same-sex couples in Canada. My parents had already been together for 24 years at the time!
Louise believes that coming out is still very difficult for some people today. Depending on a person’s personality and the openness of parents, family and friends, the fear of being judged or even of disappointing remains present.
So what can we do to de-stigmatize homosexuality? I sincerely believe that it is by discussing it openly as I do through this story. It is also by having better representation of the diversity to be found across our society in Canada. We as a country may be at a moment not altogether different than the moment when my whole family — my parents in particular — were nervous about walking down the aisle at the Parents of the Year celebration for my grandparents. Canada as whole, I’m certain, need not be nervous. After the ceremony was over, my grandmother was pleasantly surprised by the number of open-minded people she met that day. Suddenly they weren’t alone anymore. Suddenly, diversity was all around them. They learned and evolved. This is the path our country has begun to take, is in the process of taking, and must continue to take if Canada is to match up to the ideals it espouses for itself. It has to happen everywhere: in big cities like Toronto and Calgary. In small towns like Mont-Laurier and in Invermere. And in all the places in between.
The more we do to include diversity in our lives, in our media, in television shows, in politics, everywhere, the more people get the opportunity to learn and a chance to open their minds.
My same-sex parents do not blame their extended families who once opposed their relationships, nor do they blame those who thought it was unhealthy to have a family with two mothers, or two fathers. Why? Those people simply did not understand what they rejected. The unknown is scary. But we can move past scary. That’s what makes humans so awesome, our ability to learn from experiences and evolve. We are opening up to new possibilities and learn about many wonderful new realities.