Dec 7, 2022 • 12M

#26: Authenticity Arena – No. 11

‘M’, 40, bisexual, white British, woman (cis), married to a woman with whom she has two adopted children, Greater Manchester

 
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Privilege. Proximity. Parity.
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[Image description: Text: ‘Authenticity Arena No. 11’ on a navy blue background with a lilac paintbrush stroke highlighted segment]

Almaz note: Please do listen to the audio extract, while simultaneously following the text transcription, as it makes for a richer experience.

Content note: This interview briefly refers to childhood self-harm, but does not describe any specific details.

The audio recording (above) and transcript (below) represent 11 minutes from the beginning of a 60-minute chat I had with ‘M’ who’s a bisexual, white British, cis woman, who, at the time of interview in September 2021 was 40, married to a woman with whom she has two adopted children, and living in Greater Manchester.

‘M’ shared with me her relationship history which included a previous marriage to a man in which ‘M’ had other secret relationships with men and women on the side. Our chat also covered the complex adoption process that ‘M’ and her wife went through, and how the coronavirus lockdowns meant that their same-sex relationship became more visible to their local community.

Almaz – 09:24mins
I’m just looking at the survey. Do you have children?

‘M’ – 09:26mins
Yes, we’ve adopted two.

Almaz – 09:29mins
Oh, lovely. If you’re happy, would you be able to share a bit about that experience?

‘M’ – 09:39mins
Yeah, so when I was married to a boy, we tried to have children and couldn’t, so we went through all the fertility tests and everything.

Almaz – 09:46mins
Mmm-hmm.

‘M’ – 09:46mins
And they said I’d have to have IVF and then that was the point that I, kind of, went “Hmmm, I don’t actually think I want to have children with you and be married to you.” So, I knew that me getting pregnant probably wouldn’t happen. She… We did try with a sperm donor; a friend. But it didn’t work. But then at that point, she was kind of 42-ish, summat like that, maybe. So we gave that a couple of goes. And then we just said… Well, we knew wanted more than one child. Because I’m one of four, and she’s one of three.

So we said, “Well, let’s look into adoption.” So we went to an open day thing. And they said, “If you think…” You know, if… Because we knew that the house we were in wasn’t big enough to have children in…

Almaz – 10:29mins
Yeah.

‘M’ – 10:29mins
 …really. So they said to us, “If you’re thinking of moving house, you need to move house and get it ready, and be settled. You can’t adopt…

Almaz – 10:36mins
Mmm.

‘M’ – 10:36mins
… and then up the kids and move.” So we said, “Oh, okay.” So we got the house. Did it up. And all our family and everybody helped because we knew we were having this… What do they…? It’s like a ‘house check’ that they do.

Almaz – 10:52mins
Oh yeah.

‘M’ – 10:53mins
And we thought we had a year to do it; the work on the house. But we didn’t; we had six months. So we had, like, a massive DIY weekend where everyone came and helped us out. And then we got in touch with the social workers and said, “Right, we’ve moved, we’re ready.” So yeah, then we started the whole adoption process. And it took about six months.

And then we got approved for two or three children. And then we got matched with our two pretty much straight away. And then we got… So you go to panel again. And then we got approved. And then so it was about 12 months…

Almaz – 11:28mins
Mmm-hmmm.

‘M’ – 11:28mins
… right from the beginning to them coming to live with us. And that was… when was that? That was March 2016.

Almaz – 11:40mins
Great!

‘M’ – 11:41mins
Yes, so they’re now… They were one and two when we got them, and now they’re seven and eight.

Almaz – 11:46mins
Nice. So you’re well in the swing of things now?

‘M’ – 11:50mins
Ye-es. Yes, yes. Well, it’s all gone and got a bit complicated, because I actually left my wife yesterday.

Almaz – 11:58mins
Oh! Oh!

‘M’ – 12:00mins
[chuckles ironically]

… So I’m at my friend’s at the moment. And yeah, so it’s all a bit up in the air. But yeah, it’s been really, really, really, really, really tough. The children have got a lot of issues.

Almaz – 12:11mins
Mmmm.

‘M’ – 12:11mins
And so they’re under ‘CAMHS’ and stuff. So it’s been a nightmare. It’s not been the wonderful, rosy…

Almaz – 12:19mins
Mmmm.

‘M’ – 12:19mins
… you know, the image that you see on the back of buses that tell you to adopt kids.

Almaz – 12:24mins
Yeah.

‘M’ – 12:25mins
It’s not been that, so it’s… Yeah, it’s kind of… it’s kind of broke us up really.

Almaz – 12:29mins
Oh. I’m really sorry.

‘M’ – 12:31mins
That’s alright.

Almaz – 12:32mins
You mentioned ‘CAMHS’. Is that an acronym?

‘M’ – 12:35mins
Oh, sorry. Yeah, that’s ‘Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services.’

Almaz – 12:41mins
Ah, okay.

‘M’ – 12:41mins
They’re… My son, they are now treating for ADHD. But he’s very… he’s quite violent…

Almaz – 12:49mins
Mmm.

‘M’ – 12:49mins
… and physical with us. And just, like self-harming and stuff.

Almaz – 12:54mins
Mmmm.

‘M’ – 12:54mins
… and he’s only just turned seven. So that’s quite difficult. And then… what else is the thing… sensory processing… something.

Almaz – 13:04mins
Yeah.

‘M’ – 13:04mins
He’s… Let me get this right. He’s over-sensitive, and she’s under-sensitive. So they’re very… they are like chalk and cheese.

Almaz – 13:12mins
Mmm.

‘M’ – 13:12mins
So she… so they don’t know some of these issues are from attachment stuff from being adopted. Or they don’t know if it’s from substance abuse in pregnancy.

Almaz – 13:21mins
Mmmm.

‘M’ – 13:22mins
 Or they don’t know if it’s, like, genuine autistic traits or whatever.

Almaz – 13:26mins
Yeah. Yeah.

‘M’ – 13:27mins
 I don’t know. So yeah, so he’s under… they’re both under mental health services.

Almaz – 13:35mins
And how do you see different types of families and relationship structures… How do you… What’s the word? Sorry [scoffs], let me get my words.

‘M’ – 13:54mins
It’s alright.

Almaz – 13:55mins
How do you feel that having, maybe, a non-normative family structure… How do you think that society portrays that kind of thing?

‘M’ – 14:16mins
Urm. I don't know. Because we are lucky that there was a lesbian couple that lived behind us and their daughter went to the same… is in the same class as our daughter. And she has a “Mummy” and a “Mama” and mine have a “Mummy” and a “Mama”.

So we were lucky in that sense in the school, were already… because their child had gone through reception and things so they, kind of… They were very accepting, even though it's a Church of England school.

Almaz – 14:40mins
Mmm-hmm.

‘M’ – 14:40mins
… and as for society. Sometimes you see people kind of look… Because, like, my son will come out of school. And if we ever go and pick him up together, he’s like, “Oh, my Mummy and Mama are here.” And you can see the kids kinda go. “Oh, you know, I think he’s lying when he says he has two Mums”, you know, whatever. I don’t know what society makes of us. Yeah. I don’t ask.

Almaz – 15:07mins
Yeah.

‘M’– 15:07mins
[chuckles]

Almaz – 15:08mins
Yeah.

‘M’ – 15:08mins
I think they do sometimes, like, if we’re together out at, you know, like, a farm or something.

Almaz – 15:16mins
Mmm, mmm.

‘M’ – 15:16mins
And they hear that, but then that because they call [REDACTED], “Mama” and me, “Mummy”. I don’t know if they just… people presume were friends that have got children…

Almaz – 15:27mins
Mmm, mmm.

‘M’ – 15:16mins
… or, and then because when we’re not…we’re not massively openly affectionate.

Almaz – 15:34mins
Mmm.

‘M’ – 15:34mins
We will do, but I think you still feel that, like, you still get comments and you still get looks and stuff. So I don’t think they tend to put two and two together, I think they just think we’re friends.

Almaz – 15:45mins
Yeah.

‘M’ – 15:45mins
And but I think what was interesting in lockdown was because you had to be in a bubble, didn’t you? You had to be in a family unit. ‘Cause you could see people kind of going, “hang on, you’re in a car together. And so that must mean you live together.” But I just let them make their own assumptions really.

Almaz –16:01mins
Mmm.

We haven’t really talked much about sexuality; we’ve been talking all about families. Would you like to tell me a bit about Judy Blume…

‘M’ – 16:22mins
[chuckles]

Almaz – mins
… and your experience reading that and the feelings that you had in your body then?

‘M’ – 16:28mins
Yeah. Well, my mum is very religious. So sex is just for marriage and sex is just for a boy and a girl.

So Judy Blume… There was, like, this big thing when I was a teenager about this book, and the library wouldn’t let you take it out. I think you had to be over 16…

Almaz – 16:46mins
[chuckles]

‘M’ – 16:47mins
… you know, to take this book out. Like, it’s ridiculous! But somehow this black market version was going around the school. Because it details her first sexual experience. And I think that was the first time it ever occurred to me that that is what happened. Because I went to a Catholic High School as well, so the sex education there was rubbish.

Almaz – 17:08mins
Mmmm.

‘M’ – 17:08mins
But I remember being attracted to another girl in, like, in high school, but just thinking it was that really intense, you know, friendship the girls have.

Almaz – 17:19mins
Yeah.

‘M’ – 17:19mins
And, kind of, not thinking anything of it, really. It wasn’t until I was, like, 18 that I kind of really realised I liked girls. But yeah, Judy Blume was like… Oh, and More magazine was the other, like, contraband that used to go around. And it had, like, ‘Position of the Fortnight’. But my mom would have killed me if she ever knew I was reading any of that. See, I started being interested in it. But probably in a very childlike way really.

Almaz – 17:47mins
That’s really interesting. When you say “a really childlike way”, what do you mean, specifically, by that?

‘M’ – 17:54mins
And that I wasn’t… it’s not like I was interacting with the opposite sex having sexual feelings about them, or even my own sex. It was more of a… it felt more like naughty sex education. So I don’t remember having any real feelings; as in finding it, sexually, like, a turn on.

Almaz – 18:17mins
Hmmm.

‘M’ – 18:17mins
From what I can remember. But I think my… because I remember thinking, like, something going into something else? How can that be enjoyable? Surely just like putting your finger in your ear. And, like, I genuinely just didn’t have a concept of all your nerve endings…

Almaz – 18:34mins
Mmmm.

‘M’ – 18:34mins
… and all the different things you could do with sex because it was just a completely taboo subject in our house. I think it’s probably the Church thing. Probably. I dunno. I switched everything off. And then you weren’t allowed.

I remember our youth leaders when I met my husband and I was 16. I remember thinking, “Oh, right. Okay.” Oh, because I’d already had sex before than, but it wasn’t very good. It was like, you know, the first time which is awful [scoffs] , and then, like a one-off. And I remember thinking, “Right, okay, I do think I want to have sex with him.” And our youth leaders were just like, “You know, we waited ‘til we were married. And if we can do it, then you can do it.”

I remember thinking, “Yeah, but I don’t wanna wait” [chuckles]. You know. And if I had… If God didn’t want me to have these feelings, then surely he would have stopped me having them. And it was at that point that I, kind of, like, stopped going to church and my Mum gave up hope.

[both chuckle]

And I was a heathen. And then she found my contraceptive pill. Yeah. And told me that I’d “ruined my life”. I was “sold goods”. “Nobody else would ever want me” and “what did I think I was doing having sex” with my boyfriend. I was like, “Oh, thanks for that, Mum”.

Almaz – 19:52mins
Oh dear.

M’ – 19:53mins
And then she wonders why we weren’t close for, like, the next 10 years.

Almaz – 19:56mins
Mmmm.

‘M’ – 19:57mins
And then when I got with [REDACTED], she didn’t speak to [REDACTED] for about four years. So… She’s come a long way. She’s fine now. But, you know, she’s very much… Pride. She’s like “What have you got to be proud of?”

Almaz – 20:13mins
Interesting. And so what do you think made her have that reaction when she found the contraceptive pill? Because, obviously, finding the pill shows that you’re being responsible about it.

‘M’ – 20:31mins
Yes. Now she said that: “Am I supposed to be grateful that you’re not gonna get pregnant?” And I was like, “Yeah, you should, Mum, really.” And she didn’t know that I’d had sex with anyone else before that. So as far as she knew he was my first. And it’s like, “but I love him.”

Almaz – 20:44mins
Mmmm.

‘M’ – 20:44mins
“Why is that so wrong?” So all it meant was I spent more and more time at his, and yeah. Yeah, she didn’t appreciate the fact that I had sourced my own contraception. I, kind of, think that’s why I went into sexual health nursing just to piss my Mum off.

Almaz – 21:12mins
D’you think?

‘M’ – 21:13mins
Yeah, because there was a bit of me, that is, like, “You know what, I was so clueless.” And it became… why we link it with religion? I don’t know. And there’s so much shame involved in it.

Almaz – 21:16mins
Hmmm.

‘M’ – 21:16mins
That I’m just… I just think, actually, I don’t think God cares what we’re doing with our genitals, or other people’s genitals. You know, and I really believe that you fall in love with the person, you don’t fall in love with their genitals.

Almaz – 21:27mins
Mmm.

‘M’ – 21:27mins
And I think he’s got bigger fish to fry them worrying about, you know, somebody having a wank…

Almaz – 21:33mins
[chuckles]

‘M’ – 21:34mins
… or a shag.

[CONVERATION CONTINUES FOR ANOTHER 40 MINUTES]

[Image description: White speech box with black border shadows. Black text ‘As part of my research for my book, I’m running an anonymous online sexuality survey’. Dark orange text ‘bit.ly/ao_sexsurvey’. Black text ‘Anyone over 18 can fill it in, wherever you are in the world.’ Picture of coloured rectangles placed at angles with black border shadows. White text ‘Do you have guilt or shame around desire, sex or pleasure? Why/why not? Do you support compulsory sex and relationships education?’ on top rectangle]

The sexuality survey is still open, so in the meantime please do fill in/share it as all of the responses are helping me make connections between the ways in which we’ve been socialised and our relationship to sexuality.

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I’m Almaz Ohene, a Creative CopywriterFreelance Journalist and Accidental Sexpert.
Follow me on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook

Recent work:
– For dating app Badoo’s digital magazine ‘The Truth’, I wrote some tips and text templates for how you can gain clarity on a situationship, or end a romantic connection without ghosting.

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This content is free, but it takes time to create and upload each piece. I know that hundreds of you open and read these mailouts month after month, after month (as Substack provides stats reporting), so if this project is something that you value, please consider becoming a paid subscriber of ‘She Dares to Say’.

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You can also show your enjoyment without spending £££, by liking, commenting or sharing 😃