Tara Brock, (34), a nurse, and Mary Rockford, (38), a physiotherapist, living in Toronto’s cabbage town district, are not what some would call the lipstick variety of lesbians, and they are more likely to be seen wearing jeans or khakis than skirts or dresses.
They have known for a couple of years now that their adopted daughter Ellie’s no-frill clothing choices are a part of something bigger than just her wardrobe. There was no sudden shock — it was more of a growing awareness — that there was something different about Ellie.
“In pretend games with her adopted step-sister or with her friends, they could over hear Ellie choosing a male persona for herself (“I’m the dad” or “I’m the big brother”). Ellie plays Little League baseball, where she’s always the only girl on her team, but she disdains the very concept of girls’ softball.” Says Mary.
Tara tells us “ Ellie and I haven’t shopped in the girls’ department for two or three years now; a three-piece pants suit we once agreed to buy her has turned into a full-blown boy’s wardrobe. Ellie wears her hair chin length, in a vague style that could pass for either a boy’s long cut or a girl’s short one. With her unisex hair and boy’s clothes, she’s routinely mistaken for a boy — and she likes it.”
Mary says we’ve negotiated every step of the way: “Yes to the boy’s parka, no to the buzz cut. We’re in uncharted waters here, and we’re doing the best we can to avoid the rocks under the surface.”
Tara’s father once opined that it was psychological, that Ellie was trying to fill in for the man who was missing in their family. But Tara told her father, “This is who Ellie is, it’s not about Mary and I, or about a “missing” man.”
Except that every time Ellie put on a suit, the couple felt themselves wanting to explain it to people. Were they falling victims to what lots of other LGBT parents have worried about — that something they had done was “making” Ellie this way?
Both Mary and Tara needed for it to be clear in their own thinking that their being gay didn’t have anything to do with what’s going on here — this is about Ellie. They both knew from the very depths of their souls that their child is who she is, and that they were not driving her to be something she isn’t. So why did they care what people thought? They absolutely believed what they had told Ellie, that there were lots of ways to be a girl and that they loved her no matter what kind of girl she was. Mary says.
According to Tara’s thinking it is much easier now than it was 20 years ago to be gay, but easier doesn’t mean easy. It can still hurt Ellie, prick at her very sense of self-worth.
Marry believes that to be a parent is to love another human being so much that you can hardly stand it. But being gay has taught her that failure to conform to social expectations is a surefire way to bring on scorn, and she knows what may be in store for Ellie. She’ll march to her own beat, and the world just might make her pay for that.
“I know my job is to help her build the confidence she’ll need to withstand the pressure to conform. I so want her to withstand it, because the only thing more painful than the thought of anyone hurting her is the thought of anyone making her change.” Says Tara.
The couple believes that if “the boy thing” turns out to be a passing phase, we will be right there beside her as she changes and grows. But we want her changes to come from within, not from any outside pressure to conform. And if she doesn’t change, if she continues down her gender-non-compliant path, well, that’s OK, too.