Image: Nikki and brother Yarran at Wild Foods party by Big Fag Press.
Rainbow Babies – kids with same sex, queer, trans or intersex parents – are often told by conservatives that their families aren’t ‘normal’. With the same sex marriage laws getting attention from the media and parliment, there have been a lot of dissenting voices, most notably towards the recently released Australian documentary Gayby-Baby This is a lightly edited transcript of my chat with Nikki Mikhailovich about being a grown up Rainbow Baby.
What is a Rainbow Baby?
To my knowledge the term comes from the (LGBTIQ) mardi gras in Sydney – that’s the name of a particular float for children with lesbian and gay parents.
And trans and intersex parents?
Yep, children with trans and intersex parents would certainly be a part of that as well. The float is for kids who’ve grown up in families with LGBTIQ parents to show that we already exist and that there is strong community support around us. I’ve walked with you as my partner, my brothers and friends, as well as my parents. It’s obviously a very inclusive event. It was important for me to demonstrate that we [the children of same sex parents] are doing just fine as adults [and to] walk publically against the misconceptions and misinformation put forward by conservative factions of our society who assert that we must be damaged goods. Like we must be harbouring deep resentments that we didn’t have an atomic, cookie cutter upbringing… yeah right.
So it’s about pride?
Once you’re in the parade it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of it – once you’re in it and everyone is cheering, you do feel pride. The march can be very affirming for people who walk in it – so yeah, it’s definitely about pride.
Coming back to the term Rainbow Baby, I don’t know if it’s used more broadly outside of the parade. I usually say that I ‘grew up with same sex parents’, or that I have four Mums, but I guess the term Rainbow Baby is probably more fun to use.
What is your family like?
My biological mother’s relationship with my dad ended before I was born, with my father deciding that he didn’t want to be part of my upbringing. My mother went on to have two long-term relationships, both of which have been with women. The first lasted for five years, during which time her partner had my brother (now 23) with the help of a donor. After their separation my biological mother found love again with her current partner of 20 years, who went on to conceive my sister (now 15) with the help of another donor. My biological mother’s first partner also went on to find love again and they have kids who I consider to be my siblings. So now I have 4 mums, as they have all played a part in supporting me to grow up. And then I have other family members like my grandma, uncle, aunties, and cousins.
My definition of family is based on love, time spent together and ongoing support that you can depend on. There are other people who also already exist in society, not just children of same sex parents, for whom this concept of family is also important such as children with step-parents/siblings or adopted children. I held my brother and sister on the days that they were born, and the idea that we weren’t ‘family’ was never a question.
So to me, family is not just about blood in that sense, family is more about whether this is someone you love and care about. The good thing about that is that you can grow your family over time because you’re not just bound by notions of blood ties.
Some people say that kids with same sex parents are missing out on having a mother or a father, what do you say to that?
From the outside looking in people might say that, but from the inside it doesn’t feel that way. In my situation my biological dad wouldn’t have been in my life anyway, and that is a reality for a lot of people. Many other people have had parents who have left or passed away, not just people with same sex parents, this is real life we are talking about. People who don’t know their biological parents can grow up to be normal, happy members of society. This shouldn’t even be a talking point really, but I feel drawn in to the discussion because that’s where the conservative factions place their emphasis – on the seemingly dire consequences of not fitting into the atomic mould. So when someone says that children need both a mother and a father then discrimination is being extended to people in a whole range of situations.
As I grew up I obviously had people in my life who are both male and female that were an influence on my development – other family members, my friends and their parents. I saw first hand what both heterosexual and homosexual relationships are like. Turns out, they are the same. Breakfast, school, homework, arguments, sibling rivalry, family vacations, love, the lot.
Many children with same sex parents know both their biological parents anyway, right?
Yes that’s right. All my siblings know their biological fathers, and they all have contact and ongoing connections with them. A lot of children of same sex parents have contact with their donors – as it’s not an anonymous donation in a lot of circumstances – the donor is often a close family friend and they decide together that they’re going to have a child. So for a lot of same sex children both the mother and father are around, and they do spend time with both, even co-parent, but the structure is a little different. And I think that this is something that people looking in from the outside might not know.
Now that you’re thirty and you’re old enough to reflect on growing up as a Rainbow Baby, what insights do you have now?
There are people who want to tell society and you that you’re not normal, or that your family is not normal, and your family is incomplete or something like that. And so, in a way, you also have to come out to society as somebody who is from a non-hetero normative family. And children don’t necessary want to stick their head out there, or don’t have knowledge about how to do that, but as I got older I became more comfortable and confident when I saw that I just have a normal, wonderful life, and I see that I do what everyone else does, I’ve just grown up and gone through uni and got a job and I’m living happily.
Rainbow Babies are faced with a kind of discrimination, you see it in the media hype around the same sex marriage debate – where other people have a platform to tell society things that are not true about your lives. I think that as we get older we can create our own platforms, not just in mass media, but in everyday life and conversations to share our experiences. People can plainly see that you’re a normal adult even though you’ve had an upbringing outside the hetero-normative family mould.
What does it mean for you to be in a heterosexual relationship but also part of the queer community?
There are benefits to growing up in a ‘Rainbow Family’ from my perspective. For example, as I grew up around people within the gay and lesbian community so I feel comfortable within that community – regardless of my sexuality, which isn’t of concern. I feel that I got a lot of practice in being non-judgemental about people’s sexuality as well as other diversities through my upbringing – which is a trait I’ve also observed in other friends with same sex parents.
There is a really fun alternative queer community up in Sydney that I am a part of, and I often head back up there to go to parties that are put on by the LGBTIQ community. I’d say that there is a political aspect to being a part of that queer community in terms of being comfortable standing up for diversity and supporting culture that the mainstream media and politics may deem to be weird. Queer is taking weird back, it’s okay to be weird and different and we’re proud of that.
You’ve often said to me that your family feels normal, can you comment on that?
For me I think that growing up with same sex parents is just another kind of normal. Because I think there are many different kinds of upbringings that occur for people in Australia and the world that are different but normal for those people. People come from different backgrounds, cultures, subcultures, ethnicities or religious backgrounds that all have unique aspects to their upbringing. But in the end, they all produce people who are a part of our society.
The hard part about my childhood wasn’t having a different family structure, the difficulties come from people on the outside who have prejudices – that’s what I’d like to see change.
A really interesting article – it would be great to get something like this into the mainstream media – Current Affair, Who do you think you are? etc -SBS or ABC preferably. With Domestic Violence so in the news and relevant- it would be great to explore the stats on whether this appears in same-sex families at the extent it does in others – not sure if they are even recorded- and they should be! (A Current Affair subject maybe?)
Wonderful interview, thanks