To be quite honest, I think I was a disappointment to my mum in many ways. I think she desperately wanted a little girl – a petite feminine, little thing, with gorgeous hair that she could put in bows. I couldn’t stop her trying; I have many memories of screaming while my hair was put into rags to turn me into Shirley Temple over night. It just wasn’t me; it never has been me.
I’ve never actually come out to my family. I’ve always lived out, but I’ve never had that “mum I’ve got something to tell you” conversation. But I think she knows: I remember, going back about 15 years, my mum was on the phone to my brother’s ex wife. My mum told me that this woman was being particularly nasty that day, and these were my mum’s exact words: “then she tried to tell me what you are... But I told her, I already know”. That is the only conversation, to this day, we have ever had about my sexuality.
So, my mum doesn’t seem to have any issue with my sexuality, but she really struggles with my faith. I’m now a minister for the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a denomination specifically started for the LGBT community. She really doesn’t understand why I wanted to be ordained, or why I go to church. When I was young I would pester my mum to go to Sunday school, because she never wanted to take me. It was only when we moved to a property with a church at the end of the road, that she allowed me to go by myself, when I was about 7 years old. I have no idea where it came from, I just don’t know a time when I haven’t been in love with God.
People often say I have a maternal instinct; I laugh and say, “no, it’s a paternal instinct.” Any young children I meet, they seem to recognise a kindred spirit in me. I think I just haven’t grown up, they realise that I’m really only three years old. There was a time when I was trying to get pregnant through artificial insemination, a friend providing a donation, but I was never successful. And now it’s biologically too late. So I’ve provided that care to foster children instead.
I’ve now fostered 4 children. Fostering is challenging; you have to remember that they are not your birth children, and the state is ultimately responsible for them. So there are some things you might do normally as a birth parent that you can’t do as a foster parent. You can’t pop into the hair dressers to get their haircut, without permission. You can’t go sit in their bedroom without the door open, and somebody else in the house. You no longer have any privacy, you become public property.
It’s difficult to know what role I was playing, obviously they had a mother, so was I their mother? Or their father? They just called me Sharon. But I do remember a time with one of the boys, I’d just taught him to drive and he’d got a car which needed a bit of bodywork doing to it. He had all his mates helping with the car one day; I walked off to the kitchen and I heard one of his mates say “I know the other lady’s your mum, so who’s Sharon?” I wondered what he’d reply, and he said “that’s my dad with tits.” That stuck for years.
What does motherhood mean to you? These tales and portraits were collected by two Faith Fellows working with Proshanti, a charity set up in response to the need for health facilities for mothers and families in Bangladesh.
Originally exhibited at the V&A Museum of Childhood in London as a pop-up 'Museum of Motherhood' (no link to the wonderful M.O.M. in New York) we're delighted to be sharing these diverse stories as part of our travelling exhibition: Story of Mum: mums making an exhibition of ourselves.
To find out more about Proshanti's work or donate, visit www.Proshanti.org.