Join us as we chat with Jadyn, a 21-year-old college student with LGBTQ+ moms in Ohio. Growing up a mixed-race daughter of two moms in a right-wing suburban neighborhood, Jadyn had to learn to advocate for herself and her family at a young age.
In this episode, we discuss how she navigated being an LGBTQ+ family in a conservative town and extended family, what it felt like to watch her moms get married, and how her experiences shaped her unflinching advocacy today. At a time when anti-LGBTQ+ policies are being touted by politicians as “protecting children,” her story shows us that the kids really are alright — and love, more than anything, makes a family.
Listen above as we embark on a journey of courage, empowerment, and unity in the midst of adversity, featuring stories that inspire us to stand firm and create a brighter future for all.
Many of the anti-LGBTQ+ narratives we hear are often framed as, “Think of the children!” But, what about the children? We are not hearing from these kids. Today, we’re going to do just that. Not only are we going to hear from a child of LGBTQ+ parents, but we’re going to get into the very important role that allies play in our community and the power of chosen family. This is Shining Through the Clouds, an exploration of the resilience of LGBTQ+ families in America. I’m your host, Eric Fleming. Meet Jadyn, not a kid anymore, but truly one of the most delightful humans on the planet.
Hello, I am Jadyn. I use the pronouns she/her/hers. I am 21 years young. I live in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I go to the University of Cincinnati.
Jaden grew up in Anderson, a suburban neighborhood outside of Cincinnati. A place she describes as…
There was just a lot of right-wing politics and viewpoints, which is totally okay, but it makes it a little tricky when you’re raising and existing in a really diverse family. So I jokingly say that we’re the most diversity you can get in Anderson. Two moms raising a mixed daughter, and those were identities that we owned, I think very proudly, but also owned them in very specific pockets of space. I don’t remember us being the family that just was outwardly proud about their identity. But, it also wasn’t that we were shamed, if that makes sense. [It was] just kind of was knowing the lines and trying not to step on toes while also existing and trying to take up space as a way to educate other people.
I just want to note the complexity of the situation at the level of emotional labor that Jadyn is highlighting here. We as queer people frequently have to make decisions about who to come out to. When is it safe to? Am I okay to wear these clothes? Will I be gay bashed? How loud and obvious can I be? All in the sake of making other people more comfortable. We have to do this emotional gymnastics every day. An additional layer that I like to note here is Jadyn is a mixed-race kid in an all-white right-wing community. There’s this additional nuance of isolation and otherness tied into the safety that children of color have to face that doesn’t get brought into the conversation enough. Race plays a huge factor for children of color who are adopted and move into communities that don’t reflect their ethnic backgrounds. I just want to name that. Let’s pick back up with Jadyn as she talks about her earliest moments of her family coming together.
I don’t really remember a lot of that time. To me, I really don’t think much of my early life of my mom being a single mom, but I think it is important part of my upbringing and her story. When I was about four years old, my mom met her wife Chris, and because I was so young, she really became my second mom. Not my second mom. She became my mom and grew into our family very quickly and put up with a lot from myself as a young four-year-old and my mom. I just learned recently, which I think is really cool that — I don’t remember how we got onto the topic — but my mom was I think 22 when she had me and Chris was 23 when she came into my world and being someone who is almost those ages, I am beyond grateful that they stepped into those parental roles at such a young age.
I couldn’t even for a second fathom being a parent at my age and in this time that we’re living in, it’s the last thing I think of. So they really showed up and showed out for me. This is kind of funny, but Chris is definitely the “dad” gender norm if we want to play into that. She’s the one who’s like, “Make sure you text me when you get home. Make sure you’re doing this. Are you sure you needed to buy Starbucks for the fourth time this week?” She’s the very, I don’t even know. She’s just the one who’s making sure I’m doing the right thing or being the best possible person. My biological mom, Dene, she’s definitely the fun one. I think she was also the hard one. She was always the one who we would get into arguments and she would put her foot down.
I don’t know. I don’t think that, I know I said Chris kind of played the dad role, but I really don’t think that there were gender roles or ways that those dynamics played in our relationships with one another either. In terms of soccer games and musicals and prom and everything. They were there for every single thing and both of them were there. I don’t remember them ever arguing over who took me to practice or who picked me up, who came to what musical. They were always there and almost all the time they were there together and if one was not there, the other was definitely there. It’s a blessing. Even now, I’m lucky that I went to college in the same city that I grew up in, and for almost all of my performances, they’re still there and both of them are there. When they’re not there I’m sort of like, where are they?
Where’s my family? And it’s just because they’ve been so unbelievably present in my life, which is something even your best of parents don’t show up to every soccer game, hate to sit through the two-hour musicals and all that stuff, but they were always there. And they made time for it amongst working full-time jobs, going to grad school, the chaos of life, and then being an adult. I had no perspective of it 10 years ago, but I have perspective about it every single day. When I come home and I think, okay, I need to start a load of laundry and I need to cook and I need to make sure that the light bulb gets changed or whatever it is, and then I think about having a kid running around. I couldn’t do it, and so they’re really saints in my eyes.
Something that’s really common for kids of color and folks of marginalized identities is that we have to advocate for ourselves at really young ages. We’re pushed into activism much earlier simply because of who we are, because of our identities. Picture it, Sicily…only in this case, Sicily is the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the year is 2002. I was a freshman in college, and I can’t even tell you how many times I had to teach white students about affirmative action and talk about race relations. More often than not, creating an opportunity for these people to sit with these ideas and topics for the first time in their lives. It was truly every day. And, I’m not being hyperbolic every day. I had to prove to someone that I deserved to be there, why I was good enough, and why I belonged. It was exhausting and traumatizing.
I was doing extensive DEI work before DEI was a thing just because of my identity. Now imagine if I had been able to just be a kid without that weight and trauma on my shoulders — the weight of educating others and making them comfortable with me being there. I wasn’t able to just be. My identity forced me to be an activist and an educator when my white counterparts didn’t have to worry about any of that. We see with Jadyn, this passion at an early age to let people know who she was, who her family was, and that they deserved acceptance. This marginalization pushed her into a position of advocacy that had a significant impact on her community. Let’s hear from Jadyn.
There’s this story that my mom tells sometimes about how I asked a teacher — I don’t remember the grade — but I had asked a teacher…We were doing Mothers’ day gifts, and I wanted to make two and having to ask for that and them being like, “Well, no, we only have supplies for one” or “Do you have a stepmom?” And the answer was no. I have two moms, and that is part of my identity to me. I guess I never thought of it as different or problematic. It was just unique. It was just part of my family. When I was in the sixth grade, I did a project on LGBTQ rights, and I remember that being the first moment where I really claimed my own identity as being a child of LGBTQ+ parents, and there’s this picture of me. I’m wearing these red suspenders and this shirt with the outline of Ohio and it says, “love is love,” and it was a very big deal to me to be a sixth grader and you could pick any topic you wanted to present on, and that was what I picked. And I felt very strong about it and was of myself that day for standing in front of my, what, we’re probably 10 or 11-year-old peers and saying, this is me.
This is part of my identity. This is my family’s identity and being really proud of that.
“Love takes off the masks we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” That’s a quote from the brilliant James Baldwin. I think about this often when I consider coming out and identity. Masks provide us with a sense of safety, but there are limitations. I often think about what the cost of hiding is, of what we’re losing by masking parts of ourselves that deserve to be loved and acknowledged. We give credibility to harmful ideas by hiding. In this next clip, Jaydn talks about the difficult position her mom, Chris, was put into time and time again of being misidentified and masked, so to speak, by other people. There was this lack of willingness on the behalf of other people to see Chris and her full identity. This mask ultimately imposed a type of harm, a lack of acknowledgement and invalidation really of Chris’s role and importance to her family. In this case, the love of Jaden’s family allowed them all to live without those masks that other people would impose onto them. This love allowed them to understand that they shouldn’t have to live within that harm and limitation
Within just the three of us, the immediate family, I mean, there was no question of if it was right or wrong, but I think the second we stepped out into my grandparents’ house or other bigger extended family members spaces, there was kind of this mask put on of “This is my mom’s roommate” or people wouldn’t consider Chris to be my parent or have the responsibility of being my mom. I never thought that she was anything different or anything unlike a mother to me. Just because I didn’t call her mom didn’t mean that she had that place or space in my heart. I think it was challenging though in school settings, not feeling like I had recognition from older adults or teachers in my life that I really, I hate about our education system, that we put this binary to families.
I have to acknowledge the impact that this is having on me. Imagine not being recognized as a family for nearly two decades. Imagine being called your partner’s roommate and not their significant other. Your own family, not even being willing to acknowledge you and now, all of a sudden being able to shed that weight. Ooh, that must’ve been monumental. Jadyn is about to tell us about her parents’ wedding and how emotional it was for her. Get your tissues ready. Okay. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, but she goes on to talk about a part of them being able to publicly take those masks off when they got married, and it makes me think about all of the things that they were able to shed and how unfair it was that they even had to carry it in the first place. Here’s that story now.
They got married in 2019. 10/19/19. It was the funnest day. Thinking about it just makes me get emotional. They got engaged when I was, I think in eighth grade, so maybe 2014 or 2015, and so obviously that’s four or five years, so quite a bit of time. And it was a beautiful, beautiful day. It was a beautiful ceremony. There was about a hundred people, maybe 150, but it was filled with a lot of love and people that wanted to be there that had been a part of their story and their creation since the beginning when they first met. It was just a lovely day. Watching them be able to express their love was unlike any marriage ceremony I’ve ever been to. I think it meant a lot more because for so long they couldn’t get married if they had wanted to, they couldn’t, and I can’t even imagine not being able to marry the person that I love.
I couldn’t imagine not being able to marry the person that I loved without everyone else I loved around me. My mom, her parents did not come to the wedding. So my grandparents. And that was really hard. I hated for them, for my mom specifically, that they didn’t show up. If my parents never came to my wedding, I would never forgive them, and I know that they’re not alone. So many people in the community, their parents don’t acknowledge their existence. They can’t tell them that they love the person that they love or that they’ve created a life together or have families or kids, whatever it is, and yeah, I’ll never forget that day because of the immense amount of love that was there, but also because deep down I know that even though it was the happiest day, it probably gutted my mom to not have her parents there and other people in her family who didn’t come because, because of the same reason.
I think for context, it’s also important that you know, my mom was raised very Mormon. We have a very large Mormon family. Even though it’s not my lived experience to be a member of the church, it’s her lived experience, and so my extended family still is practicing in the religio. And, when you live in a family dynamic that again, like we had talked about earlier, is really patriarchal and built off of the belief of the Book of Mormon and of God creating these rules about how you live and who you love and your norms. It’s very hard to identify as anything but the Molly Mormon, as they refer to it as.
I sang Can’t Help Falling in Love. It’s obviously the Elvis Presley song, but I sang a different arrangement of it. I love that song. Ingrid Michaelson sings it, and it’s so…her cover of it is just so beautiful, and that was the arrangement that I did.
It meant a lot to sing at my parents’ wedding. I hate singing in front of people I know, and as you can imagine, when I love people, I cry and feel emotional about it, and so it was terrible. I hated…that’s one of the performances I hated singing because I was so, so emotional and felt so worked up about it. But that song just is so special. The lyrics are, “Wise men say only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you.” I think there’s more lyrics that go on to talk about the struggle of being in love and the turmoil that brings love, that pushes love back and forth into this game or this action, and I think it’s really symbolic to my parents’ experience of being in love and also then having various barriers that prevented them from proclaiming their love to their loved ones, to their family members, to the community, to the world, not being able to legalize their love and make it something that’s binding in a legal document.
To me, that stuff is frivolous, but it’s frivolous because I am privileged to be heterosexual, so I don’t think about that. It’s not a privilege to people in other countries or people with families who have very conservative religious beliefs or just conservative beliefs in general. Marriage is a privilege. If it had been legal to marry that, they would’ve been married years and years ago. I’m 21 probably sometime when I was 10: 11 years ago. I don’t know. I just can imagine that it was very different. I remember pride parades looking very different. People protesting in a very different way. Those festivals being a place of activism and demand for change. They look different now in a more celebratory way, or at least the one in Cincinnati I feel like does. But yeah, they would’ve gotten married earlier, and it would’ve been a totally different world. Who knows, I could have been legally adopted by my other mother. I think there’s a lot of factors that could have gone into play, had marriage been legal from the start.
In this next segment, we chat with Jadyn about the idea of being an ally. Jadyn says allies are a big part of the community that sometimes gets overlooked. Let me tell you, there were so many straight girlfriends of mine that were a safe space for me when I came out that truly saved my life. I love that Jadyn brings this up as a form of activism. We hear so much about suicide rates of queer youth and kids running away from home, but I think sometimes fail to consider that the first safe space and sometimes the only safe space that young people feel is with their friends. Allies like Jadyn do the work at a young age and go on to be leaders and creators of safe spaces. For marginalized folks like me, here’s what Jaydn has to say.
Allies are a big part of the community that sometimes I feel like as an ally we get overlooked and we’re the biggest supporters. So, I think I’ve been an ally obviously as soon as I could really understand the term, probably starting at about that sixth grade year of my life. But I grew up going to Pride parades and doing Pride Night at King’s Island and being around people who were transgender or seeing drag queens and thinking nothing was wrong with it or out of the ordinary. I think that as I’ve gotten older and as I have grown into a different lens and perspective about the discrimination that LGBTQ+ folks deal with and the oppression and the ways that our government seeks to hurt them, I only have grown stronger in my allyship, and because I am a child of two wonderful moms, I can appreciate it from a very different perspective.
Although I don’t identify within the LGBTQ+ community, it doesn’t mean I’m not a part of it. I know people all around me that choose to identify as transgender or non-binary or they’re bisexual, pansexual. Those are my friends, those are my community. That’s my family. I don’t treat them any different, and I think that I’ve learned over the years how important it is to protect them and create spaces where they feel safe. And just the same as someone who identifies as cisgender or straight that they feel safe. I think because I grew up around people who identified as queer, I would always be able to recognize or spot when one of my young peers was going to identify as gay or come out as lesbian, and they might not have realized it, but I was the first person they came to when they identified as gay or queer, whatever they chose to identify as.
I have friends that have transitioned and have gone through that process, and I hope to think that we’re still friends today. We may not talk, but in third grade, I knew I was a safe person for them. I think that those people now in our young adulthood are more likely to stay in touch with me or be connected to one another because we shared that mutual understanding of identity. Even if I didn’t identify as gay, they knew that I existed in a safe family for them. I have a wonderful friend who is very out and proud, but four years ago, if you asked them what they identified as, they wouldn’t have told a soul except for the few very close friends. I feel lucky to be a part of those individuals journeys — that they could be safe with me anytime. That a person within the community is experiencing discrimination…we should all feel offended. We should all feel angry and upset and want to do something and take action. Just to be a safe person is to be an activist, to know that someone can come to you that is activism. It may not be the type that everyone thinks. You’re not out in the streets protesting and wearing regalia, whatever it is, but you exist and you are an activist.
Something that I love about being queer is how significant chosen family is. There’s something so empowering about identifying how we need to be loved and supported, and then finding people that will show up for us in those ways, particularly when biological family won’t. I talked with Jadyn about the power of chosen family in her life. She then goes on to talk about how the LGBTQ+ community can be a unified chosen family for each other.
As I mentioned when I was telling the story about my parents getting married, chosen family I think is everything. When your own blood and biological family doesn’t want to acknowledge your identity or your personhood, you can’t be alone. There is no such thing as humans being alone or secular in themselves. We can see it from evolution and really scientific stuff that’s just way over my head, but people need community. I have my fair share of guncles and people in my life that are not biologically my aunties or my guncle, but that they are family and they would be the people that I think of immediately if I need support that I can’t get within my immediate family. I think that chosen family gives us a sense of belonging and a place, a safe place when our own blood won’t take us in and doesn’t give us the space or acknowledgement of personhood within a larger community.
I think that it’s really important that the LGBTQ+ community creates a unified chosen family, that there’s no bias or shame towards individuals in their own identity journeys. I think we have a lot of discrimination towards trans individuals who want to identify as an identity that they weren’t maybe biologically born with, but we don’t provide them with the resources or accessibility to wear the clothes they’d like to wear or bind if they’d like to or offer healthcare in the way that they would like. So I think we have to remind ourselves that the community is chosen family, and it’s a safe space for all people to explore and identify however they want and look, and then it looks different for each person, and it’s on their own terms. We can’t discriminate within the community.
What we can hear from Jadyn is that when we are talking about LGBTQ+ people, that includes their family, their children, and their communities. It’s bigger than what we think a couple should look like. Our opinions impact votes, votes impact resource distribution and access. Access or lack thereof impacts children. So if our key concern is truly the children, then again, I ask, what about the children? If we’ve learned anything from Jadyn, it’s that when kids grow up in diverse resourced communities surrounded by love, they have the power to change the world. Thanks for listening. This has been a Joy Channel production in partnership with Family Equality. As the leading national organization for current and future LGBTQ+ families, we’ve worked to advance equality through advocacy, support, storytelling, and education to ensure that everyone has the freedom to find form and sustain their families. Our executive producer is Luna Malborough. Sound designed by Sean Braley. Music designed by Will Clemens of Ill Will Rhythms, Inc. Story production and hosting by yours truly, Eric Fleming. You can follow us on socials at Find Your Joy Channel. Don’t forget to rate, subscribe, and review this podcast that helps us out a lot and spread the word. Send this to your friend, send it to your mom, and now take good care, y’all.