How My Parents’ Non-Gendered Relationship Influenced Me

How My Parents’ Non-Gendered Relationship Influenced Me

My parents have been married for 28 years, and have nothing in common.

My mother works for a bank in the control dispersing department (I don’t know what it is either), and my father is a professional opera singer and florist. Mom loves professional wrestling and pinball, dad loves HGTV and Barbra Streisand. Dad could strike up a conversation with a concrete wall, and I’ve had friends who have known me for years and have never once heard my mother speak. According to my parents’ marriage, opposites attract.

But their differences aren’t the only thing that makes my parent’s marriage a little unconventional. As a kid, I would stay home and play dress up with my dad while my mother went to work. Her salary from the bank was enough to support us and my parents didn’t want to put me in after school care, so for them, the decision was obvious. However all throughout grade school, my peers pointed out to me how odd it was to them that I had a stay-at-home dad.

My parents have never put much stock into what other people think. My mother was raised with six brothers on a farm in rural North Carolina and practiced for her driving test on a field tractor. She doesn’t wear makeup, doesn’t own any dresses besides her wedding dress, and skipped prom to hang out with her friends in an old abandoned barn. Once, my grandparents tried to give my mom a baby doll for Christmas, and she threw it into the fireplace. She met my dad at 26, when he showed up on her doorstep with an overnight bag in hand and asked if he could move in with her (she tells me that in retrospect, telling a man she just met to move in with her probably wasn’t her best idea). Being unconventional is kind of their thing.

My dad on the other hand is the king of music theatre. He knows every cast album from the past 25 years by heart and has sung in venues all over North Carolina. He was raised in poverty and spends every waking moment trying to give back so no one else has to have the same experience. Because of his job and his love for songbirds like Cher and Liza Minnelli, people often question my dad’s sexual orientation. However, not once in my 22 years of being his daughter, have I ever heard him get offended or even refute these questions. When I was a teenager I asked him why he never defended himself when people made comments like that, and he simply told me that it didn’t matter to him if people thought he was gay. He had a family that he loved and that was all that he cared about.

My parents never cared what people thought about them, but I did. At 15, having your classmate tell you your dad was gay on a daily basis was horrifying. I started to resent my parents’ relationship because of it. I wanted to be normal. I wanted my dad to go to work and my mom to braid my hair. I wanted my mom to be the one teaching me cheerleading moves, not my dad. I wanted us to look like every other family did. I wanted us to fit in.

It wasn’t until college that I realized how lucky I was to not have a “normal” family. Being raised by two people who had no concept of gender roles encouraged me to think for myself about my own identity and what I could do with it. My parents never pressured me to be anyone I didn’t want to be. My dad constantly reminded me that they would love anyone I brought home, no matter what gender or ethnicity. They told me to stick up for myself, especially if I felt disrespected or unsafe. I learned to treat other people with kindness and to forgive as often as I could. At home, these weren’t just lessons I was taught, they were ones I lived.

Perfect parents doesn’t exist. My mom and dad are human beings, and like everyone else, they make mistakes. But at the end of the day, having parents who didn’t believe in traditional masculine and feminine roles shaped me into the person I am today. Society is full of images of what a real man or woman is, however it was easier for me to question these ideas because of how I was raised. I don’t have children and I have no idea how hard it is to be a parent, but I do know how hard it is to be a teenage girl surrounded by images that tell you that you aren’t good enough, mentally or physically. Having parents who fought to prevent that kind of thinking made my own journey to self love so much easier.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be a mother, but if one day I do have children, I hope that I can influence them to be kind, patient, empathetic humans in the way that my parents did me.

Cover image courtesy of Getty Images.