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My mama was born in a tiny town in West Virginia. So tiny and insignificant I’ve never put its name to memory. Her mom, my grandma Bittenger, was a verbally abusive and hateful person. She told my mother her entire life she was ugly and worthless. My mom could not wait to move away from home.

At nineteen years old she met my father at a party. They quickly became friends, then lovers, then parents, and finally husband and wife. A few years later, they had me, and we became a traditional looking family, one with a mom, a dad, a girl, a boy and a mutt dog all living in a house with four walls.

I always appreciated the fact my mom never treated me the way her mother treated her. But I did get the sense my mom didn’t like me. I was too girly for her. She didn’t like wearing makeup or dressing up or fixing her hair. My father was the one that would convince her to wear a dress, or to put on earrings or try frosting her hair. My mom made me feel as if my femininity was a facade. Something I did to win favor with men. Even when I was five. Not necessarily in a sexual way, but in an innocent victim way. She criticized my “baby voice” and the fact I was too weak to properly clean the tub. In her opinion it took some elbow grease, and I didn’t have any.

I’ve never wanted to feel bad about these things, or mention them to her because I wasn’t sure if she was right. Was I a fake? Also, in comparison to anything my mother went through, it seemed insignificant.

My parents divorced when I was eleven, because my father came out as gay. Although she knew at one time he was gay, I think they both thought it was a phase. She kidnapped my brother and I and moved us to Texas. Even after that, I sympathized with her. While I didn’t yet know the nature of their divorce, in most circumstances, I knew she was somehow the victim.

She worked hard labor jobs and probably didn’t make more than minimum wage. She slept on a couch so my brother and I could have our own rooms. She told me once there were times when she went without eating, so we could have enough.

In my teenage years, I was ashamed of her. She was often mistaken for being a man. I didn’t understand why she didn’t try to look like a woman. I knew that was wrong of me to expect that of her. It seemed that was what my father expected of her too. And it made her angry.

I’ve always sided with her, even when it was not fun to do so. Because she had a hard life. She’s practically Jesus Christ. But as an adult, I have wanted to look at what her hatred of my femininity has meant to me. And what it even means to be feminine? Is it a privilege? How important is it?

For better or worse, it is a part of my identity. I’ve always looked to her to be a “mom”, but for most of my life she has been what most people consider a dad. Quiet and emotionally distant. I’ve looked to her for so much that I’ve been taught by society to want from a mother only to come up empty handed. And while I know it is not her fault, it something I’m glad I have finally come to terms with. I often think about the ways my father’s sexuality has effected me, but sometimes I think questions around my mother’s gender expression has effected me more.

Elizabeth Collins was raised in the South by gay men. She now lives in Los Angeles and performs stand-up comedy. You can contact read all of her Gay Dad Project posts here. You can also contact on herwebsiteor follow her on Twitter& her blog.


The month of May is dedicated to our moms and the straight spouse perspective. You can read all of our posts for this month HERE.

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  1. Laura Hall says:

    What a powerful, heartbreaking, and life-affirming post, Elizabeth. Knowing this legacy of hardships you endured and subsequently rose up from, I admire you even more so as the funny, loving woman and mother you’ve become.

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