LIVING ABROAD - Two Moms, Swahili Style

by Kelsey Rae

What if your love of adventure and international travel clashed with your personal life? In our July-August 2012 issue #83 Gay Parent magazine features the story of a lesbian couple with a young son learning to live within the homophobic society of Tanzania.

Read the following excerpt of Two Moms, Swahili Style by Kelsey Rae. Read the article in its entirety by ordering our July-August 2012 issue #83.

At the very beginning of the school year, Finn comes home saying his Kindergarten class is making a video called “Why I am unique,” to be viewed at an upcoming assembly. Here in Tanzania, having lesbian parents is definitely the most obvious crowning factor on what makes Finn unique. However, here in Tanzania, this is not information we want announced at an assembly, since being gay is illegal.

Finn attends an International School, with teachers and students from all over the world. His two teachers this year are from South Africa and Tanzania, and we decide we need to gracefully come out to them quickly, before this filming takes place. We craft an email, using words like “non-traditional family,” careful and still private, in case his teachers are homophobic and would like to see us in jail (which could be arranged).

His teacher responds, “Oh yes, we know. Finn is very proud of having two mothers and although some of the kids seemed confused when he mentioned it, they all seemed a little jealous after I said that he's a very lucky boy, because he must then get a LOT of mommy hugs and kisses!”

So that was that. Knowing no reason to hide anything, Finn already outed us, and we are safe with this year’s teachers.

All American by birth, we moved abroad when Finn was four. As a family we have since done some travel in other parts of Africa and in Southeast Asia, but so far spent most of the last two years living in Tanzania. There are at least a thousand things we love about life here and raising our child in a developing nation. Finn has relationships and role models with people of every skin color, religion, and economic level. He sees how hard Tanzanians work to survive, finds it normal to squeeze onto a city bus that is packed beyond its gills, and knows that more than one language is expected of him. He has no television, makes many of his own toys, and appreciates that he got a polio vaccine. At his International School, he has friends from every corner of the world, and as such, an internal culture that celebrates diversity is implied, because everyone is different.

Our experience living outside the U.S. as a family with two moms exists in two very separate spheres. On the one hand is the local community. With a few rare exceptions, any gay life is completely hidden in this culture. We get the sense that Tanzanians would find the idea of a same-sex relationship strange, but largely benign. Like downhill skiing, it is a concept not even on their radar, and so most people have simply never really considered it, much less developed an opinion. As such, the majority of people probably do not even realize that homosexuality is against the law.

This detail of the legality, however, makes coming out a risk we are not terribly eager to explore. We have only had two Tanzanians spend a significant amount of time in our house, and one of them ended up filing a police report against us. I don’t think this was out of malice or homophobia exactly, but more from the desperation that comes with poverty. Her real intent was to blackmail us, and because there is room for that here in the system, she succeeded. It was about money, in this land of vast inequalities, more than anything else. Regardless, the local climate isn’t exactly welcoming...

Kelsey Rae, far right, with her partner and their son Finn

Kelsey and family in Gay Parent Magazine

Read the article in its entirety by ordering our July-August 2012 issue #83.

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