CHEYENNE, AN ADULT CHILD OF LESBIANS:
By Reader Request
Readers had kept asking how I decided to have a child, and there seemed to be an unspoken question about how it happened, so I asked Cheyenne, “Are you okay with me telling about the story of how you came to be?”
“Like my conception? Yeah.”
This really was my part of the story, so Cheyenne had been right, as usual. I had to decide, not what she was comfortable telling, but what I’m comfortable telling.
Two things had caused me to feel for many years that I didn’t want to have children. First, as the eldest and only girl (after my sister Trudy died) with seven younger brothers, I did a lot of childcare. As a young adult, I felt I had done my share of parenting.
Second, after my mother’s heavy condemnation of me as a sixteen-year-old lesbian, I put tremendous distance between her and me. When I thought of having children, I was afraid they might grow up feeling toward me the way I felt toward her. The best solution to that, I thought, was to not have children.
However, when I was twenty-nine, and I’ve since learned that this is a watershed age for many women, biology or something undefined took over, and I started to actively want to share my life with a child of my own. At the time, I was still with the woman whom I referred to as Neale in To Drink from the Silver Cup. Neale was not interested in bearing a child, but she was on board to become a parent. Because she was black, and I was white, we began looking for a black man to be the father—no easy task in Albuquerque with its tiny black population. When Neale and I broke up, I was grateful that we didn’t have the complication of having had children together.
When she was in high school, one of Cheyenne’s close friends, JoJo, was black. Cheyenne often spent time in the home of her friend, who lived with her grandmother and her grandmother’s lesbian partner. One afternoon Cheyenne was chatting with the partner, and said, “I almost was black.”
“Say what?” Alondra exclaimed.
Cheyenne explained about my relationship with Neale and that we had at one time looked for a black sperm donor. She and Alondra both laughed then. To me the story said something about Cheyenne’s sense of a person’s essence.
It turned out that circumstances came together for me to have a child while I was living in Denmark with Irene. She was enthusiastic about having children, and she asked Jan, a longtime friend, if he would be willing to help in the endeavor. He was single and childless at the time, and we all agreed that he could have as much or as little involvement as a parent as he chose. In retrospect, Cheyenne and I have concurred that that might have been a setup for him to disappoint her. But we also acknowledged that some parents–most often fathers–choose minimal involvement within conventional families also.
I didn’t get pregnant before Irene and I had to leave Denmark. We settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Jan joined us a few months later. I got pregnant in January of 1985. Shortly after that, Jan went to Alaska to do commercial fishing. Irene and I moved to New Zealand, thinking that, as a couple from two different countries, a third country would be a neutral place for us. Cheyenne was born there in October in a small bungalow in the Ponsonby neighborhood of Auckland. Shortly after her birth, we moved to women’s land in Northland, on the North Island of New Zealand. When Cheyenne was six months old, we moved back to the Bay Area because of immigration problems in New Zealand.
After I asked if she was okay with me telling about the circumstances of her birth, Cheyenne turned the tables and started asking me questions. “Why do you think I was so comfortable and confident about myself even in high school when most of my friends were going through all kinds of insecurities?” she asked. “How did I make it through unscathed?” Before I could answer, she said, “I don’t know that wanting to tell my story has been specific to my parents’ sexual orientation. I think that what’s more different—what I was thinking more about—was the transcontinental aspect.”
I ignored her statement for the moment and went back to her questions. I said, “I was determined to let you be who you were, to not try to mold you into someone I wanted you to be.”
“Do you think you ever did?” she asked.
“Well, you already know that it was a challenge for me to know how much or how little to push you in school and extracurricular activities. There was a bit of a tendency toward laziness on your part.”
“Duh,” was her immediate response. She added, “I have probably not realized my full potential, but I’m okay with that. I think I’ve done pretty well and gotten to where I needed or wanted to be. Minus the no job yet.”
Our conversation was taking place a few months after Cheyenne’s graduation with her MLIS. Not yet having a job in her chosen field was not for lack of trying. I said, “I think I push you more now than I did when you were younger. Like about the job thing.” Then I asked, “What do you mean when you say, ‘How did I make it through unscathed?’”
“Most of my friends had serious or semi-serious self-image issues, and I never did. I still have people tell me that I’m a great role model for them as someone who’s comfortable with myself.”
I said, “Well, in part because of how condemned I was, I was determined not to do that to you. To be accepting of you just as you were.”
“But I’m not completely okay with giving you all the credit,” she said. "I am my own person, after all.”
“Touché. So why do you think you’re so much your own person?”
“Because you were such a good mother, clearly.”
We both laughed, and I said, “No, really, a lot of it is your personality.”
“Do you think personalities are genetic at all?” Cheyenne had moved from being brief and matter-of-fact to being rather reflective. “Because people compare me a lot to Daddy, the good things about him, how open, loving, and listening he was.”
“Yes. For sure. After you were born, I realized in a way that I never had before, how much of a person’s behavior comes riding in on the genes.”
“Are you talking about just physical behaviors?”
“No. Personality traits, too. I’ve witnessed it in other people too, since.”
“Do you think they’re all just from Daddy? I mean, if Irene introduces me as her daughter, no one questions us. I have features of her, too. I have a rounded nose, space between my two front teeth, a rounded face.” I smiled. The space between the front teeth comes from me genetically, but obviously it contributes to Cheyenne being mistaken as Irene’s biological daughter when I’m not present.
I asked, “What about behaviors? Have you gotten some of those from Irene?”
“Probably. We’re both quite stubborn.”
“Quite?” We laughed again. Anyone who knows Irene can’t help admiring her tremendous willpower and also being frustrated by it at times.
Cheyenne came back to her transcontinental upbringing, which really began as soon as she was born because I insisted that we speak Danish at home. “She’ll learn English by default,” I said, living as we did then in New Zealand and as we would later in the US.
Over time, Cheyenne has found several friends that grew up in more than one country. “But of the friends I grew up with,” she said, “that wasn’t a thing. I traveled almost every year to Denmark and have immediate family there.”
“How did transcontinental living affect you?” I asked.
“Mm. I think it made me more of a well-rounded individual.”
“In what way?”
“I experienced two very different cultures in my upbringing.”
“I would say more than two.” I was thinking of the fact that when we lived in Cuba, Cheyenne had had what I consider an invaluable experience for a member of the majority culture—living in the minority because of the two other cultures that dominated the Cuba area—Navajo and Hispanic.
“Yeah. I’m thinking more too. But something that really shaped me is how much trust and freedom was available to me as a child in Denmark. Mostly because it was a safer country than the US. And public transportation was better. When I lived there in 8th grade, I could stay out until 11 pm, and it was no problem. That could have been because I was living with Irene, but it was really true for all of us—so much more trust of teens. You’re trusted to act like an adult much earlier. I’m not saying you didn’t do that in the US, but I wasn’t allowed to be out on my own after dark. But there, especially in winter, we were out after dark. Friends here had curfews, even though they had cars.”
“Do you think being able to negotiate more than one culture successfully has anything to do with your self-confidence?”
“Maybe. I never thought of it as a factor. It’s just so natural, I don’t think of it like that. I’ve always had another culture, so I don’t know anything different. It’s not like I picked up this other culture halfway through my life and I had something to compare it to. But probably, just as everything in my life, it has an effect.”
“So you’ve had a richly varied life.”
“Haven’t I though? Hahahaha. I’m hilarious. People who read this should know that. Well, look…Mom being so serious.” I’m sure she was referring to me as the serious one. “Lesbian parents, a father who was “open, loving and a drug addict and severely unstable.” Cheyenne’s father died when she was sixteen of a heroin overdose.
Continuing with how having lesbian parents might have had some effect on her, I asked, “Do you think having a lot of LGBTQ friends has anything to do with your parentage?”
“In what way?”
“Well, I suppose growing up with lesbian parents has made me more open and accepting of other people. But I don’t feel like in the current state of things that my LGBTQ friends are another group.”
“You mean because there’s much more acceptance now.”
“Yeah, perhaps, definitely they were on the outside, and I know there’s so much more to be done, but it’s so different now.”
“Do you have more LGBTQ friends than your straight friends do?”
“Probably. Yes.” When she was still living in Albuquerque, Cheyenne had a group of lesbian friends who got together once a week for movie night. I asked if she had been the only straight girl in the group. She said no, that there had been one other.
My last question, as usual when I interview people was, “Do you have anything you want to add?”
She became the model interviewee then. “Thanks for your patience. I hope you can get something out of this. Do you think you can?”
“Oh yes. It’s what I do. It’ll be a lot of fiction.”
“Well, you can’t put my name on it if I didn’t say it.” Giggle, giggle, giggle. Cheyenne, as all of my interviewees do, had the opportunity to read, comment on, and approve this story.
©Anna Redsand 2016 All Rights Reserved