It was love at first sight for me. Well, first memory anyway. Natalie suddenly seemed to appear in my publishing office one day, clutching some sample cover designs for a garden guide. My favourite, and the final cover, was resplendent with red tomatoes and retro-style type. I thought, ‘She’s creative’. Tick. ‘She’s beautiful’. Tick. ‘She’s shy, but kinda intense’. Tick, tick. I liked her. And I needed to find out more.
It didn’t take long to discover she was heterosexual. As a gay person, you tend to take that possibility as your starting point when considering a love interest. Normally, it would be a deterrent, but for some reason I didn’t let it put me off this time. And, anyway, events conspired to throw us together as we were matched on one intensive creative project after another.
After one of our major projects had gone to print, we went out for a celebratory cocktail or two. It was a date, but not a date. ‘Roz, it’s not a date. She’s straight!’, my friends reminded me. But it was a date and we were both nervous. Alcohol blurred the edges of our nerves and lubricated our conversation. Twilight quickly turned to midnight, and the tables were being cleared and wiped around us. It was now or never. I went in for the kiss.
Back at the office, we became more brazen. It was a sizzling hot summer. We’d meet at lunchtime under the gigantic conical office Christmas tree that we’d dubbed the ‘Cone of Silence’. But it wasn’t silent for long. We’d soon be discovered in an uncompromising position at the office Christmas party by a guy from IT. By the following Monday, it has gone off through the office like an errant firework. We’d gone from clandestine to cliché.
Nowadays, Natalie is my life partner, my business partner and mother to our daughter. But she’s not my wife. She’s not a lesbian either, by the way, she’s just ‘in love with one’.
In her mid 30s by the time we met, Natalie was starting to question her choice of man. They’d been together for years. Why wasn’t she married? Why didn’t they have kids? Was this messy relationship with him, cluttered by years of bickering, filling space where there should have been a future? The truth is she never felt completely comfortable bringing a child into that world.
A testament to her character, Natalie never agonised over her love for me, never made anything of the transition that was expected – in the eyes of society and her friends – to enter into a serious relationship with a woman. But then, we didn’t experience a single negative reaction. Everyone was thrilled for us and most of our women friends, especially after a few drinks, were curious as all hell. Natalie didn’t mind what anyone thought, so long as they didn’t think she had been living a lie for years. She hadn’t. She just hadn’t met me yet.
Needing space between the recent past and our new life, we ran away together, and set up a publishing and design business in the hinterland near Byron Bay. The dream of having our own family resurfaced in this new environment, and, perhaps surprisingly, the physical challenges of getting pregnant proved nothing compared to the heaviness of heart that had accompanied the thought of having a child in a bad relationship. Despite the challenge of distance – our donor was in Sydney – it wasn’t long before we were pregnant. Sadly that pregnancy ended in miscarriage. It’s devastating, and it happens to one in four pregnancies. We picked ourselves up and tried again. It took a while the second time, but 20 months later our daughter, Dexie, was born.
After the marriage equality referendum in Ireland, one long night as I was rocking Dexie back and forth in my arms, the story of Phoebe popped into my head. I imagined how a ban on her mummies getting married might seem from a child’s point of view, how she’d barrel on in and try to fix it for her mummies, just as Phoebe does in the story ‘Mummy and Mumma Get Married’. Natalie picked up the reins of my vague idea and brought it to life, crafting the story, adding humour, narrative and sweetness.
If Natalie and I were married, it would provide reassurance to Dexie that her family was just the same – just as valid – as others. But, more importantly, it is symbolic. It sends a message to children that it’s not okay to discriminate. This will help to shape the views of an entire generation. It will change our world. And that’s why it matters.
When Adrian Piccoli banned the screening of the movie, Gayby Baby, in all schools in NSW recently, he sent out the opposite message: same sex families are not normal and it’s not right for children to learn about them. Shame on him because in doing this he is damaging my child’s future. He is sowing seeds of doubt and difference in young and vulnerable minds. But Piccoli is on the wrong side of history. Witness the response of the high school kids in Burwood, on Thursday morning. Such beautiful kids expressing simple beliefs about respect and tolerance. Their parents must be so proud of them.
It was Natalie’s idea to make a bigger mission of our little book. What if we could find a way to get this book into every primary school library in Australia, where it could make a real difference to the 6000+ children like Dexie who grow up with same-sex parents? How wonderful for those kids to see their families reflected, and for this book to provide a way for all kids to talk about same-sex families.