CHEYENNE, AN ADULT CHILD OF LESBIANS:
By Reader Request
The first readers of To Drink from the Silver Cup frequently asked that the story of how I decided to have a child be included in the book. Obviously, because I’m a lesbian, it was something that required more thought and planning than most straight people who want to be parents have to engage in. The requests continued when To Drink from the Silver Cup was serialized on this website. My answer was always, “It’s Cheyenne’s story to tell if she chooses to.”
I told Cheyenne how interested people were in her story and how I had responded to them. “Yeah, she said, I’ve thought of writing about it.” I was surprised because, although Cheyenne is an excellent writer, she doesn’t enjoy writing and avoids it whenever possible. For example, she was exempted from her college’s English composition requirement by virtue of her ACT scores. Her advisor encouraged her to take a writing course anyway, and she persistently refused, to the very end. It’s understandable, then, why I didn’t believe she would ever really sit down and write her story. When we were planning my visit to her home in Denver this past Christmas, I suggested, “Maybe we could write your story together while I’m there.”
I was surprised again, and pleased, when she responded enthusiastically. Nevertheless, I knew that if it were going to happen during our two weeks together, I would have to bring it up and that timing would be of the essence. I would be flying out of Denver on December 29. True to form, we sat next to each other on the couch in Cheyenne’s basement apartment on the 28th to write her story. During the two weeks prior, whenever I brought it up, she kept saying, “I don’t know how to do this.”
I persisted in suggesting, “I’ll interview you.” And that’s how it eventually happened. My first question was, “When I said that this was your story to tell if you ever chose to, you said you’d been thinking about writing it. What prompted that?”
“I’ve always thought about writing it,” she said. “People always say I have an interesting story. And what if we can make a lot of money off of my story?” We both had a good laugh. On a serious note, her comment brought home how much Cheyenne’s student debt has been on both our minds since her completion of a master’s degree in Library and Information Science this past June.
Despite the fact that Cheyenne said she had often thought about writing her story, what follows initially is a conversation that she made me work for. She almost seems obstructive in the beginning. That made me wonder all over again why she’d ever considered writing it.
I tried again. “What do you think interests the people who ask about your story?”
“That my story is different from theirs, that I grew up in a different kind of home than theirs. I think it’s also particularly interesting to my gay and lesbian friends in a positive way.”
“What do your gay and lesbian friends ask you?” I wanted to know.
“I don’t know that they really ask me. But I’ve heard from people that I’m the first grown child of gay or lesbian parents that they’ve known, because it wasn’t ‘normal’ when I was conceived—the way is now. Most of my friends are my age, and some of them are thinking about having children. So it’s interesting to them to meet an adult child of lesbian parents. Most of my gay and lesbian friends, as well as my straight friends, are doing that now. Having kids.”
“If you were writing this yourself, where would you start telling your story?”
“At the beginning,” she said. I looked up from typing her responses to see a glint in her eye. Yes, she was definitely going to make me work for this.
I soldiered on. “What do you perceive as the beginning?”
“When I was born.”
“What would you say about that?”
“I was born.” Of course I thought of the title of David Copperfield’s opening chapter, "I Am Born." Cheyenne was in good but increasingly frustrating (to me) company with her statement.
“What’s interesting about you being born?”
“Nothing. Except other people’s perception that it’s interesting that I was born to lesbian parents.”
I decided to shift away from parentage. “How did you happen to be born in New Zealand?”
Here we started to get to the bottom of the difficulty. “You and Irene wanted to move there. My feeling is that it’s not really my story; it’s your story told through the birth of a child. I’m just a person. The only thing that makes it interesting in the way that you want to tell it is you guys. I understand wanting to write this story, but the point to me is that there is no difference, so why is this a story that needs to be written?”
Cheyenne has what seems to me to be a healthy indifference regarding the circumstances of her birth. And yet, she’d told me that people asked her questions and had opinions, some of them negative. So her reluctance didn’t fit with what she’d told me before. I went back to the people who found her parentage interesting. “What are some of the questions people ask you when they find out that you have two moms?”
“What’s it like to have two moms?”
Both of us had laughed quite a bit by this time about how difficult this was being. I started to wonder if my original feelings about not telling Cheyenne’s story might be about something deeper. Maybe it wasn’t time to tell it. I didn’t get the sense that she was purposely being difficult, nor that she was trying to be especially helpful. I persisted, however. “In what context do you usually tell people that you have two moms?”
“I just tell people sometimes. If I’m telling a story, and Irene comes into it, I just say, ‘Well, I have two moms.’ I don’t think about it that much. I just say it. I don’t really care what people think.”
“Where or how do you talk about your dad in the mix?”
“I say that he was a family friend, and my moms wanted to have a child and he helped them with that. People ask if it was artificial insemination, and I say, ‘No, they did it quick and dirty like they did it in the good old days. This was 1985 after all, and artificial insemination wasn’t as prevalent as it is now.”
Things were loosening up some. I asked, “When did you first realize that your family was different from other kids’ families?”
“I guess the first time I can think of is in Cuba.”
Cuba is that tiny northern New Mexico town at the foot of the Nacimiento Mountains, that town we moved to when Cheyenne was nearly eight, ready to go into third grade. We went there so I could take a position as a clinical counselor at the medical clinic there. With the surrounding villages of La Jara and Regina and the rural areas in between, it numbered about 3,000 at the time.
I asked how it happened that she realized her family was different.
“That’s the only place I didn’t ever talk about my two moms. That’s probably when I started calling Irene my godmother. I don’t remember if it was you who sort of told me to be careful about that or if I just knew. Do you remember if you told me to be careful about that?”
“I don’t.” But then I asked if she remembered the family picture she drew in Ms. Lopez’s class. It showed Irene, Jan, and me, Cheyenne and her three stepsiblings. Everyone in the picture, except Cheyenne and I, lived in Denmark by then.
“I don’t remember it,” she said.
“I wondered at the time how Ms. Lopez would perceive it. But I think I decided not to say anything to you. I’m pretty sure I would never have told you to be careful because I wanted you to experience your life as good and normal, not something that had to be a secret. Plus, I probably figured Ms. Lopez would see the other people as part of a stepfamily. Why do you think you started to call Irene your godmother?”
“Everybody in Cuba—all the kids—had that idea. Most of them were really close with their godparents. It was always, ‘My nina this,’ ‘My nino that.’
“Was that an easy solution?” I asked
“Yup. It was easy.”
“I think you came up with it on your own.”
“I think I did. I don’t think I started calling her my nina until middle school. I think I just didn’t talk about her in elementary school.”
“Did that bother you?”
“Not that I remember. Also you can kind of look at the whole story as, ‘Did I really grow up with lesbian parents?’ Because you two weren’t ever together in my conscious memory.”
Irene and I had broken up as a couple when Cheyenne was two, although we stayed living in the same house for another year. We thought it would be better for Cheyenne not to have to move back and forth between us. In retrospect that was probably a mistake.
I mentioned, "When I've listened to the children of lesbian or gay parents, they often show greater maturity and perceptiveness than their peers and are unusually articulate." I asked if Cheyenne thought any of those characteristics applied to her.
Her reply seemed tangential, but I went with it. She said, “I would say that I definitely befriended outcasts more than others might. I don’t know if that was because I was an outcast too. I was friends with everyone, but my close friends were outcasts.”
“How were you an outcast?”
“In Cuba I was in the minority. I wasn’t born there, and I didn’t have generations of Cuba people backing me up. So I was on the periphery.” Cheyenne was also white in a community that was mostly Hispanic and Navajo.
At her eighth grade graduation in Cuba, two things happened that made me incredibly proud as a mother. First, Cheyenne had been selected to escort a classmate with Down syndrome up the aisle and assist her throughout the ceremony. Her friend could be quite disruptive if she was stressed, and after the program, the girl’s mother said to me, “When I saw that Rachel was with Cheyenne, I breathed easy because I knew she’d be all right.”
Second, one of the teachers always gave one student a citizenship award of $25 at graduation. I was taken completely by surprise to discover that she had chosen Cheyenne. As she made the award, she referred to Cheyenne as “a friend to the friendless,” and I was moved to tears.
After Cheyenne’s ninth grade year, we moved to Albuquerque because I realized that, while her elementary and middle school experiences had been excellent, Cheyenne wasn’t getting the instruction she needed at Cuba High School. I asked if she continued to have outcasts as friends when we moved to Albuquerque.
“Yeah. Autumn was an outcast. Jojo (one of the very few black students at Sandia High School) and Andie (with a single-parent father) were my friends. I kind of stop being friends with people when they get popular. They find their own group then. I feel like I’m a bridge for people. Renee was a little weird, too.”
“Do you think being a bridge has anything to do with your different home? Did you see differences differently from how others see them?”
“Maybe. But you just raised me to reach out to people. Maybe I’m just that wonderful.”
We laughed. “I’m not really aware of differences," she went on. "I like people for who they are, and they may have been outcasts for various reasons, but perhaps other people just don’t see past those superficial things.”
TO BE CONTINUED
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