Growing up, my mother had always suffered from crippling depression and anxiety. The perfectly symmetrical scars on her arms were a constant reminder of her fragility. She said she fell in a rose bush, an utterly romantic story that I didn't believe for one second. By the time I reached the ripe old age of 7, we stopped leaving our house, except for the occasional pilgrimage to the Church of Latter-day Saints or the Hardee's drive-thru.
It had been her and me always: two life-weary women against the world, and every waking moment was dedicated to two screens -- her eyes fixed to our old desktop computer, and mine to the television where I would view anything my spongy brain could absorb. Technology was our escape, and unbeknownst to me, our eventual salvation. While I was developing a slightly unhealthy obsession with Party of Five and Demi Moore films, my mom had found love in an AOL chat room for lesbians.
I didn't speak to her for two days when she came out to me. That's 48 hours, or 2,880 minutes, or 172,800 seconds, which is an eternity when you're trapped in an air-conditioned Florida ranch with a heartbroken partner in crime.
And then it happened.
The pair became a trio. Tammy, a.k.a. EricaE1998, a.k.a. the woman who stole my mother's heart, had arrived through the tone of dial-up. She burst into my life with a jovial spirit, an excellent memory for song lyrics, and a mullet -- two of which she still has to this day.
In August 1997, we left Florida behind, and 2,500 miles later, arrived at the place that would become my home: a lovely, quiet town in upstate New York with a giant hand-painted sign that reads, "Where Life Is Worth Living." The irony!
It's a funny thing to experience an awakening of identity with a parent. My ma was finally discovering who she was. And since we had been irrefutably linked for so long, so was I, if only by association. To me, the gay community has become like a warm waterfall or a fresh set of sheets flapping in the wind like in those commercials. It's where I feel safest. The gay world is one I understand, and it's where I first saw my mother feel true happiness. I will be grateful to softball players and gorgeously glam guys in heels until the end of time. With that being said, growing up with lesbian mothers was extremely difficult at first.
Perhaps if our family had existed as the ideal alternative family of today's media standards -- two gorgeous, fit, feminine mothers with an electric sense of fashion, musical talent, and glamorous locks -- things would have been easier. But the cutoff sleeves and spiky, gelled hair made it apparent that wasn't my reality. Twenty years ago, I was the only kid in my town with gay parents. As if the incessant teasing about my casual attire and slight Southern drawl weren't enough, I possessed not one but two "gay-with-each-other" moms! The gossip spread around fourth grade like wildfire. Children were rarely allowed to sleep over unless Mom Number 1 and Mom Number 2 agreed to a strict no-kissing policy in front of their innocent eyes. In case you didn't know, flannel-wearing butches are apparently jackrabbits.
I turned more and more to television as an escape. When I wasn't losing myself in the magnificence of early millennial storytelling, I began studying people. I knew better than anyone how deep words could cut. So, as a defensive maneuver against bullies, I would find their emotional weaknesses to use against them in case of attack.
It was a brilliant plan, except for one thing: The minute you understand someone is the minute you no longer despise him or her. I developed a horrendously inconvenient disease called empathy.
These children -- the same ones shouting "dyke" as we drove by, the same ones proudly exclaiming that the women raising me would roast in hell for all eternity -- were people. The alienation they had made me feel from bullying had given me the spectacular gift of insight into the human experience. It ignited within me a fiery passion to explore people's lives and why they did the things they did. A baby isn't born an optimist, a pessimist, a playwright, a diva, or a bully. They're a compilation of their experiences.
By the time I reached high school, my parents were everyone's favorites. My mom worked security there, and kids would rush over to give her hugs or high fives. I blossomed. We had all been together nearly 10 years, and I had figured out how to work the system. Always ask Tammy to do something first or risk getting stuck in the never-ending cycle of "ask your mothers." When in trouble, tell Mom because she was quicker to slather on the pity. But if things were serious, ask Tammy's advice. There was never a lack of tender and rather robust bosoms to rest my head upon if I was sick or back rubs if I was stressed. I also won every argument of "my mom can beat up your dad."
Each summer, we explored the gay haven of Provincetown. I watched ladies holding hands down the street, their matching female-symbol-rainbow-tattoos baking in the sun. Cher look-alikes on electric scooters would zoom around us, while older men pulled their collared partners into pizza joints. I was taught the beauty of accepting all people, as long as they were not harming others. I could see the world through gay-colored glasses. It really is wondrous.
My odd, sometimes tragic, and always ridiculous life has made me who I am today: a woman, a gayby, a writer, and now, at long last, a filmmaker. I believe deeply that had my mother never met the love of her life, had I never straddled the line of belonging to both the gay and straight worlds, had I never felt mortified by my family and later pride because of it, my life would be lacking. I wouldn't understand people and embrace their eccentricities. I wouldn't have discovered my passion for storytelling and have the creative means to do so.
Thank you, Wanda. Thank you, Tammy. Thank you, television. Thank you, bullies. Thank you, gays. I couldn't have done it without you.
JAZ MOORE is a writer and director living in Los Angeles. She is an associate producer of the award-winning Logo series Eastsiders and is set to direct the comedy-horror film Ranger Danger.Donate to the Kickstarter project here.