Posted Thursday 3 February 2022
As part of LGBT+ History Month celebrations, Christine Budhan-Mills, Senior Lecturer in Education at Kingston University reflects on what belonging to a family means to her as a LGBTQIA+ mother, wife and academic.
This very personal piece of writing is to let you in to my story and my queer journey so far. Its aim is to make anyone else who finds belonging difficult to see how I made my own interpretation of what belonging to a family means to me
I am a daughter of two immigrant parents who came to the UK in the Wind Rush generation. I grew up in Kingston, live here and I'm proud to work at Kingston University.
Being a Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) girl wasn't a challenge for me in this borough. I wasn't bullied for being different but accepted and included. My friends wouldn't see my colour or ethnicity, they just liked me for who I was.
My parents were proud of their Guyanese heritage and gave me a lovely balance of an Anglo-Indian and a West Indian upbringing. Not having any BAME role models for me, other than my parents and older siblings was hard for me and I guess part of the reason I chose to come back and work in Kingston.
My mum and dad were also religious folk, but this was not who they were –hey just lived by a set of good values that they instilled in all of us. For all my childhood and for most of my early twenties I lived a straight lifestyle.
Becoming a wife and mother
I met my wife Katy when I was in my late twenties. This was an exciting yet frightening time for me. Like many gay people, I worried what my family, friends and work colleagues would think. Would they still treat me the same? Would I still belong to my family? The answer is, yes.
Meeting Katy was the best thing to happen to me. I found love. Katy could have been anyone on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum, but it was Katy who I fell in love with, not a label. All my friends, family and work colleagues could see how happy I was. In the words of someone I hold dear to me, ‘no harm ever came from love'.
Katy and I got married in 2018, once gay marriage was legal in the UK. We are very fortunate as this is not the case in every country. We embarked on making our own family and now have two wonderful sons.
My LGBTQIA+ family
This is a special kind of family I belong to. Since being married and having kids, I wanted to find other families that had different set ups. I now belong to a wonderful network of extraordinary people who have some amazing stories to share. It's nice to be able to relate to other folk and connect on a level that is safe.
It was important for my wife and I to join this network of LGBTQIA+ families. We wanted our boys to be surrounded by diverse family set ups, so they feel a sense of belonging.
I would strongly suggest that anyone who has not had a positive experience with feeling like they belong should join LGBTQIA+ networks and groups where you can feel safe.
My work family
We spend, probably on average, more time at work than with our own families. I've never felt the need to let anyone know about my wife and children, but I'm asked by colleagues when I first meet them – what does your husband do? I feel like we still live in a very heteronormative society and there is still a long way to go with true inclusion in the workplace. I want to live in a world where people just see me for me and accept that I have a family like them and do the same things as they do.
Do I feel like I belong to a family?
I've had a very positive experience of being a gay woman. I do feel like I belong to several families. Could my experience have been different if I didn't live in London, if I didn't have such a wonderful family, if I didn't have a great bunch of friends and work colleagues? I guess I'll never know the answer. What I do know, is that people love me for just being my true authentic self.
Both my parents have passed away now. My dad passed away when I was 17 so he never got to know me as a gay woman. What I do know is that he loved me and I'm sure he would have supported my life choices, if he knew it made me happy. My dearest mum, who met Katy almost ten years ago, saw how I changed and how I became who I was meant to be. The best thing my mum said when I told her I found Katy was, "so does that mean I have another daughter?" My mum was a legend. She made Katy belong to our family.
Both my parents are Guyanese and currently it is outlawed to be LGBTQIA+. I feel it's important to mention this as I'm aware that my story and queer journey so far has been positive, but not everyone has a positive experience or feels like they belong to their family.
Anyone that knows me, knows I like a good chat, RuPaul - the American American drag queen, singer and actor, and sharing stories.
In the words of RuPaul, "As gay people, we get to choose our family." I love playing Elton John's Chosen Family to my sons. I recommend you listen to the lyrics.