37 | Generations of Queerspawn

Meet the Guests:

Jamie Bergeron (she/her) is a consultant at Ernst & Young, LLC in the Diversity & Inclusiveness Center of Excellence. Serving internal and external clients, she regularly presents, plans and consults with organizations, communities and universities throughout the New England region. A long-time social justice advocate and educator, she spent over a decade working specifically to support queer students and students of color in school/university settings. Jamie is originally from Central New York, a daughter of two lesbian moms, and granddaughter to two lesbian grandmothers. Currently a Family Equality Council Board member, she has been involved with COLAGE for the last 20 years as a youth participant, Family Week volunteer facilitator, and Chapter Leader for Greater Boston COLAGE Chapter and is passionate about creating strong intergenerational bonds between queer folks. 

Emmett Dupont (they/them) is fourth-generation queerspawn, and a first generation college student graduating from Hampshire College in May, with a degree in public health education. As a lifelong unschooler, Emmett has pursued a wide range of interests, which has most recently led them to teaching high schoolers about political engagement. Emmett, who is entering their sixth year on COLAGE staff, is an adult with a disability, which makes them extra excited to be working with COLAGE this year as the COLAGE Family Week Adult Accessibility Lead Intern! 

Further Reading:

Episode Transcript

Emily: There are some important things that I learned from my moms that I hope to pass onto my children someday. A passionate commitment to social justice, an open mind, the love of reading, the ability to never get sick of the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack and the safety and support to understand and embrace their gender identity and sexual orientation throughout their lives. Some queerspawn carry with them generations of LGBTQ identities - their own, their parents, grandparents, and beyond. To really dig into the experiences of families with multiple generations of LGBTQ identities, I have two amazing queerspawn with me today. Welcome Jamie and Emmett! Jamie, who is in your family and how was it formed?

Jamie: So in my family are my two moms, Lynette and Sharon and my brother Casey, who's 10 years younger than I am. My parents used anonymous donor insemination to have us both. And in addition to my parents, I have a number of aunts and uncles. I have a grandmother and grandfather on one of my mom's sides. And on my other mom's side I have two grandmothers, Nina and Chrissy.

Emily: And Emmett, who is in your family and how was it formed?

Jamie: So my immediate family is my mother and her wife and my older brother. My family was created through the divorce of a heterosexual relationship. My birth mother and my father were married until I was six and then they got divorced and my mother got with Renee, my second mom. So that's kind of our immediate family. There are some issues in Renee's family with acceptance of LGBT folks. So she has parents that are my grandparents, but we don't have a very close connection. And then on my biological mom's side are my grandmother who passed away a few years ago and my grandfather who is gay. And then I have a fourth generation of queer family who I did not know, my great grandmother who passed away before I was born. We really only know about her queer identity from her writings that she kept her journals. That's my queer lineage, but for my immediate family it's just my brother and my moms and me and our four cats and turtle.

Emily: Great. So I know we're going to use some terms throughout the episode and a lot of these we've used in previous episodes, but it's always good for a nice refresher, especially when I've got some amazing activists to help me in the ever evolving definitions we use within the LGBTQ community and the queerspawn community. Either of you could answer this one. How do you define queerspawn and what does that term queerspawn mean to you?

New Speaker: I would define queerspawn as anyone who has an LGBT parent or caregiver. What the term means to me is a lot broader and deeper than that. For me, learning about the term queerspawn and the identity group that was behind that and realizing that other people had this experience meant that I was able to really connect with folks for the first time in my life who also had experiences of being raised by LGBT folks and who knew what it meant to be culturally queer. Even before I had that word, I had that experience. And so I was able to use the umbrella of queerspawn to connect with other people who had that shared culture and those shared experiences.

Jamie: I would agree completely with all of that. I second all of that. And the only thing that I would add is that the word queerspawn to me really showcases the history and evolution of our community, of people with LGBT parents speaking up and sharing our voices within the movement for the first time, naming ourselves, owning our identities, owning our experiences as being culturally queer, as Emmett mentioned, in the late eighties by really self-defining. And that history is wrapped up in that word for me. And it's so important and it's so different than generations before us So it holds a historical meaning to me in addition to all of the personal identity related meaning in the community, meaning that I hold around the word too.

Emily: Yeah, absolutely. I'm nodding my head very vigorously. I completely agree. What about another term that I hear within queerspawn spaces, the term 'bothie', which I love. What is a bothie?

Jamie: Bothie is someone who has gay moms and gay dads. Typically it's most usually referencing someone who has a pair of lesbian or bisexual moms and a pair of gay and bisexual dads. But it could also be someone who, let's say, has a mom and a dad that divorced and both turned out to be gay or queer. So the family formation isn't really necessarily part of the word. The family could be formed in any number of ways, but it's that both sets of your parents are queer.

Emily: Thanks. And what we're really talking about today is the generational aspect. And another term is "second gen" or second generation queer spawn. What does that mean?

Jamie: So second generation queerspawn is just a term that we use to identify folks who are themselves, some form of queer or trans and also have some form of queer or trans parents. So people who have that history of being within the LGBTQ community in their personal history. Whether or not that is biological family.

Emily: Excellent. And in your families, you identify as fourth generation queer spawn and Jamie in your bio, you identified yourself as third generation queerspawn. So what what does that mean?

Jamie: So third generation queer spawn means that there are three generations of queer/trans people in my family, that we know of. And in particular it's one after another. So it's not just that there are three people of varying generations that are queer/trans, but it's that there is a direct lineage. And so for Emmett being fourth generation, it's one generation after another, four times in a row that there's been a queer/trans person in their family. And it could go on and on. But I just want to also recognize that there's so much we don't know about the people that came before us and their gender identities and their sexual orientations. So to Emmett's point about knowing about their great-grandparent only through her writings and journals - I mean, that's such a gift that Emmett's able to have that knowledge. Many of us don't have that kind of knowledge about our great-grandparents, our great, great grandparents. So it's likely that there are more third, fourth, fifth generation queerspawn that just don't know that lineage, don't have the resources available, didn't know the identities of their family.

Emmett: Yeah, absolutely. I feel so lucky to have that resource. It was actually discovered after she passed away, hidden in a literal closet under linens. It wasn't that she identified with a particular label. I think probably that that language was not accessible to her in any way. It was really more through erotic writing actually, that we were able to do sort of interpret her identity as at least bisexual. And really we don't know what word she would have put to that if she had existed today and been able to have access to the same kind of community that I was able to have access to. In every generation in my family has come out younger, which I think is also really an amazing gift to. As our society's language and culture has evolved, people in my family have been able to find the terms and fin community at younger and younger ages. And unfortunately that wasn't something that she got to experience before she passed away. But I feel so sure that she would be very excited to know that she is part of this lineage of queerness that came after her.

Emily: That's such an interesting and very important piece that within our own generation being out first and then being able to parent, which was certainly not the case for most of history, there weren't legal protections. The ability to foster and adopt and the technology to have children biologically wasn't there. And you also brought up at the term "culturally queer" and actually I'm really interested in talking more about that - how that lineage changes so much. Because I think of myself, my own identity as culturally queer and my parents being out, and us living together as an out family. The queer culture that they existed in and that then therefore I was brought up in, is so important but also so different from previous generations. So it makes me think that our current culturally queer identity is so different from that of your parents, grandparents and beyond. Do you think that continues to grow and develop - that culturally queer identity? Or is that something that is more unique to our generation?

Jamie: So I think that that's a good point, Emily. And I definitely think that, you know our generation, so I'm in my mid thirties I would say queer spawn in their mid thirties early to mid forties definitely have a different understanding of what it means to be culturally queer. Then for example, my mother who is also a queer spawn because she has a lesbian mom. Although I think, I think there are some similarities. I think what one thing that is really special in my family was that my grandmother came out right around the same time that my mother came out. So my grandmother already had four children. She was divorced from my grandfather by that time. By the time my mom came out, but my grandmother was in her early forties and my mother was 19 and they came out right around the same time. So a lot of the queer identity development for both of them and participating in LGBT events, learning LGBT language and tradition, building a chosen family, getting involved in what was happening in their cities. Both really involved in AIDS activism and building community strong communities of of lesbians with strong feminist ideals. They were sort of doing that in parallel and they shared friends. They both are two people who always have had many friends, much older or much younger and across generations. And I think in queer community that's pretty common. And so my grandmother and my mother sort of built that together in a way that my mother and I, with my mother already being out by the time I was born and then me coming up and needing to come out. We didn't really share that learning process together. So I think her culturally queer orientation, um, was developed alongside my grandmother. And having a lesbian mom at that time to walk side by side was a special and unique experience. But I definitely think for our generation there's just so much more exposure. I mean, lucky for us, we don't have to build everything for the first time in the same way that some of our parents and certainly our grandparents had to do. We are, we have a much more accessible life that we can lead as as second, third, fourth generation queer correspond to access people who have shared experiences or to just access queer, queer cultural content in easier ways. So I think we're much more privileged in that way.

Emmett: And I totally agree with all of that. And just to build on that, I think a lot of what you're talking about is the foundation of queer culture and who came before us historically and used their lives and bodies to build on the queer culture that we have now that all queer people benefit from. I think it's a little bit of a different perspective when you know that those people and that activism is in your family. There's maybe a greater gratitude or understanding for where some of that work came from and how it informs queer culture today for all of us.

Jamie: I totally agree with that. And I would also say as queerspawn, I think we have this shared experience of how do we talk about our families. When do we bring it up? What do we leave out? What do we add in that is a culturally queer experience? I know that my mother and my grandmother also have to stop and think about and consider, what coming out, whether about their own identities or our family identities, will mean in a particular context - in that fear or worry or sense of isolation or whatever emotions surround the experience of coming out. I know that across these generations, we share that in a similar way. So I think about that a lot. I think about the ways that we share those experiences and how different our lives have been as queer people across generations.

Emily: Yeah. And, and growing up I witnessed and participated in the paces where my family was out or wasn't out. Just as you mentioned, one of my moms was out at work and the other was never out at work. So when I would visit her, I knew even from a young age what to say and how to be closeted. You kind of had to learn that because fortunately I existed primarily in a space where we were out and so I had to learn how to not be out and when to gauge situations. Were you also then witnessing your own coming out experience as queerspawn and as your own additional identities, and seeing spaces where your parents or grandparents were out or not out? What kind of role did the closet play in your family? Or not being out or in assessing the safety situations? And were you witnessing those different generations of decision making?

Emmett: Yeah, that is definitely something that I witnessed. That's a great way of putting it, of different generations of decision making. My mother and her wife are very out. I can't really think of a context in my whole life where they were closeted or asked me to be less open about the composition of our family. That was not really something that came up. I think a lot of that was that my birth mother spent so much of her life being closeted. She wasn't out until she was over 40. When she did come out, I think she was pretty excited to share it with the world. But my grandfather, there are a lot of complicated pieces to his story. In the area that he lives, he has experienced a lot of violence related to his identity from vandalization of property to drive by shootings. Some pretty intense discrimination based on him being openly gay. So there are definitely a lot of situations where he was closeted. And that was something that I knew and that I was always aware of. So I definitely, even as a child, was holding the complexities of the pride and ability to be out about my immediate family. That my mom was especially eager to build in me this lack of fear and this ability to go out into the world and to feel proud of saying that I have two moms and to be able to express that without shame or fear. But also holding that her own father was not in the same position to do that. And looking back on it, that's something that I kind of admire about the way my mother was able to navigate that situation - what it was like for her growing up having a closeted parent, not being able to talk to anyone about it, feeling very ashamed of that experience and holding respect for his position even as an adult, not wanting to be out and in many circumstances while also trying to raise me with that pride that she didn't experience.

Jamie: Wow. I'm, I'm soaking that in.

Emily: Yeah. I've been reading more and seeing more conversations around trans-generational trauma, especially within the context of communities of color and also people experiencing PTSD. But I think some of the ideas and some of the general theories coming out of that may somewhat apply to our experiences within queerspawn communities and especially within families with those legacies. And that direct lineage, which I love that term Emmett, that lineage of queer identities. We've all mentioned how we saw our family members not being safe, when we were closeted and we internalized that. I know I have, my parents have, and I know that it's generational for many - that trauma, that homophobia, transphobia and the bi phobia that can exist even within a queer family. As queerspawn, the youngest generation in our families, do we carry that or do we not? Is that something that we take on for ourselves?

Jamie: I definitely think I carry it. I think all queerspawn carry that. Whether they're second, third or fourth generation queerspawn or not. I think in particular for heterosexual or straight queerspawn, it's sort of a different conversation about the way that they hold that generational trauma and I think that's something we don't talk enough - about straight queerspawn. But since we're talking about third and fourth gen queerspawn, I think for me as third generation, I carry the stories of my mothers and grandmothers with me all the time. And I constantly feel their experiences inside of me and with me as I'm having my own experiences and constantly comparing my life to theirs and wanting to both make them proud but also undo some of the things that I was taught about how to live my life as a queer person. In terms of the closet and and how I think about my own safety and trying to figure that out for myself, it's different than my mother's way of being out.

Jamie: One of my grandmothers also has two brothers that were gay and died of AIDS. For me and my family, that matters a lot. That experience matters a lot to me. I think comparatively to LGBT people my age who do not have LGBT elders in their life or older family members in their life, there's a disassociation with the history of our community. I think because I hold this intergenerational trauma around that it becomes infuriating to me. Their apathy around the history of our community using the example of the AIDS movement as one, but there are many topics like that that hit a traumatic nerve for me among my LGBT peers in the communities that I'm in, when thinking about who we are as queer folks. I just have a much broader understanding of who we are and where we've been and how I think we should connect to our culture.

Emmett: Yeah, I definitely agree with all of the, I think for myself and maybe this is just kind of where I'm at right now, but I do feel hesitant in some way to label that experience as intergenerational trauma. Both because I know that term is was coined in and utilized by communities of color and I feel hesitant in some way to claim that experience. I agree with aspects of what Jamie was just talking about, like carrying that knowledge within you and having that connection to queer elders and to our history. Although I think that it can in some times and in some contexts be trauma and there can be harmful messages that we might've gotten growing up. But it can also, I think be a euphoria and a really incredible experience. I feel really lucky to have that. Many of my queer peers just have no one to relate to and don't have those role models and really don't have that way of looking to the past and seeing what their own future could be. I think that's been something that's really important for me is that I have representations of what it looks like to be an adult and be queer and have a family and be happy. And a lot of what I've noticed, especially even being at a college that has a very large queer presence. Most people haven't really seen a representation of what it might be like to be an adult and be queer. For a lot of people, the oldest queer person they know is 25. I think that can be challenging for people in realizing their own identity and being able to imagine their own future. Though I have these other aspects of that lineage that, as Jamie was saying, can be traumatic and can be a burden in some ways to carry. It can also be a joy to carry. I don't want to label it too much as one or the other because they are so for me, just intertwined in that experience.

Jamie: I agree with you, Emmett. It's both for me and like you're saying about how other queer people who are not second or third gen or fourth gen, aren't able to have those relationships in those role models. I see that with people my age who don't know anyone who's queer that has children and they're thinking about family planning. don't know any queer people that hold a multitude of jobs or leadership positions. I mean just thinking about my parents' friends and all the different people in my life who were queer professors, queer house cleaners, and queer airport workers and truck drivers. I knew what being a queer woman in the world could look like for me and there were many, many variations and I could pick from those examples what I thought would work for me. I think for me, in terms of gender expression, as a very femme person, I didn't have any femme role models as a young person. But I feel really blessed by the broad range of what femininity looked like in my life. And so I do think it's both. I think for me there is an intergenerational awareness of the trauma that being queer means and what it is. And I think we hold that and that euphoria. I do agree completely Emmett, we hold that privilege and euphoria of being able to look back to people before us and see these amazing role models.

Emmett: Yeah, absolutely. I completely agree with what you had just said. Beyond your parents or your grandparents, it's all of the people that they kept company with. You were lucky enough to have grown up in a queer home where your parents had a lot of friends around. I am the first generation that we know of in my family to identify as trans, but I always knew trans people growing up. I never had a moment where I had to, like many of my trans peers, discover that language for the first time or discover what that meant for the first time because that had always been part of my awareness through my parents. But not directly, just through the multitude of experiences and lives and individuals and identities that I was exposed to growing up. Which I think really kind of ties back to the experience of just cultural queerness and what that means.

Emily: What are some of the ways that your parents and grandparents have supported you and your own queerspawn identity and your LGBTQ identity? So thinking about how can older generations be supporting the younger folks in their lives?

Jamie: One of the things that older generations can do is remain open minded to the ways that our generation is taking what they created and renaming, redefining, rethinking, and reworking queer identities. I think particularly around gender expression, non binary identities, and trans identities. I think what older LGBT people in particular can support us by allowing us to continue to build out the culture and to continue to create the community in a way that does actually reflect us and how we think of things and how we're building on to what came before us and have fewer boxes. I think that that's one thing I would like to ask of the older generation, but I also think that as younger generation we have a responsibility to older folks through the transition of life and sort of be a conduit to the community in a lot of ways.

Jamie: There are a lot of older LGBT people in my life who feel somewhat disconnected from a broader queer community or or from younger queer folks that feel that they're not welcome in queer space, things like that. And I think as a third generation queerspawn, I see myself as a bridge and that way for folks to be able to continue to find community among generations. MFor any second or third generation queer spawn or queer spawn listening, my best advice would be to have conversations with your family members about your queer identity and about what culturally queer thinking means to you. I think that we so often remain only in our own community and I know as a third generation queerspawn that the stories of my mothers and grandmothers influenced who I am in the world. So whether you are generally multi-generationally queer or not, I think we need to hear from the stories of people around us continuously so that we don't get caught in single linear thinking about what it means to be queer and we stay attuned to such a broad diversity of ways to think about our identities and how to be supportive of one another.

Emily: Thank you. Emmett, do you have any final thoughts before we end as well?

Emmett: There is honestly nothing that I could add to Jamie's answered to make it any more perfect than it already was. Everything that she just said.

Emily: This has been such a really nice conversation that highlights what grounds this podcast and grounds our community and our movement, which is the love and the joy in our families across generations. While still absolutely having that still center us, knowing that it is not always simple and it's not always easy. It's not always clear and there's harm that happens within our families but also that's put upon our families by the outside world.