I didn’t think about having children until I was married. My husband was probably keener than I was. We had two girls. I had Isla then we decided we wanted another. After Rosie was born, my husband had a vasectomy – that was one of the things thrown in my face when we split.
I’d questioned my sexuality when I was 28, prior to meeting my husband. I hadn’t had a full sexual relationship then. I’d been living as a single person.
I’d gone through a difficult situation at work with a gay woman. We became close as friends. I told her that I really cared for her and she freaked, saying I’d got the wrong end of the stick. It was excruciating. If her reaction had been different, I probably wouldn’t have got married, wouldn’t have had any children.
When I met my husband, I thought, ‘This is fun, this is all right,’ so I thought that was that – that the woman at work was just a crush.
After six months, my husband was quite seriously ill and I did fall for him then. It probably pushed things along. We got married. We had the kids after three years.
Time passed then a couple of things happened and when I was 39 or 40, I realised I was gay but I’d been supressing it.
I went away on a work thing and met a Swedish woman. I thought, ‘Wow, she’s lovely.’ Nothing happened but I wondered why I hadn’t felt like that with anyone else – like my husband. It was quite funny. I went home on the plane thinking, ‘What was that all about? Forget about it, Hazel…’
Then I met another woman. We had some residentials through work, so it happened. We slept together and suddenly it was real. It was like comparing apples and oranges. It was right.
It explained why I’d never been very interested in boys at school. I hadn’t been interested in girls either but boys didn’t have that added wow factor they seemed to have for other girls. I just lived a single life throughout my teens and most of my 20s and was quite happy. I just didn’t go there.
I came back from the residential feeling dreadful. I had never strayed, hardly even looked at anyone else. I wasn’t worried about the kids at that point. I was worried about my husband, about committing adultery – and with a woman. Did that make it better or worse? What was I going to do?
I met up with her a couple of times after but she lived too far away for us to be together. It carried on for some time as a phone relationship but it got messy.
Her long-term partner found out. They split up. I think there were other things going on.
My husband didn’t know but he sensed something. I was more distant. I didn’t want a physical relationship with him. I knew I couldn’t go on with a heterosexual relationship.
I told her my marriage was on the rocks but she couldn’t cope with the idea of breaking a family up. We talked at length about my children, and I thought a lot about breaking up the family unit, leaving my husband, causing pain. She felt guilty, didn’t want the responsibility of the children, who were four or five and six or seven by then.
It was all a big change for me as I hadn’t had a troubled life before that. I’m easily contented.
I knew Alex at work and I confided in her. She’d had her own experiences of a family splitting up. It wasn’t the same but she was very supportive. Gradually we grew closer. It’s complicated because Alex and I got together as me and my husband were splitting up.
I told my husband the marriage was over and he moved out. The girls stayed with me. They were five and seven. They were devastated.
It was very stressful. There were lots of hurdles, different levels of complexity – my husband, the children, work.
I was Alex’s boss’s boss so I had to come out at work. I had to go to my head of department and tell them what was going on. They were good. They said, “People have relationships at work all the time,” but eventually I did have to move as the director wasn’t comfortable with me having line management responsibility for Alex. Now I wonder if there was a bit of homophobia there, you can’t know.
When I split up from my husband, I didn’t tell him I was gay, I just said the marriage was over, that I didn’t love him anymore, because I didn’t want him to be the one to tell the children. If I’d told him, it would have been out of my control.
Alex said it’s how the adults act that matters, so the children have always had contact with their dad. Alex has experience, as she had to fight Jaz’s dad for custody. Jaz is her sister’s child.
It took six years before Alex and I moved in together properly and that was really dictated by the kids, not just the timeline of selling our respective houses and buying one together.
Jaz has always known Alex is gay but I don’t know if she ever spoke to my kids about it. She’s a great kid and she gets on great with my two. They knew each other before we got together, because they met at a show.
We created situations with the children – visited each other, met up to see Santa at Christmas. It was gradual. They had the opportunity to become good friends. It helped that we lived in a really safe place, so we could give the kids a pound and send them off to the park together while we had some time alone.
As time progressed, we knew the children would begin to question the nature of our relationship. We were spending a lot of time together, going on holiday twice a year, seeing Alex more than any other friend.
One day, when Isla was about 11, we had friends visiting and the kids were upstairs. Isla came in as I was embracing Alex – nothing passionate, just kissing her neck. The next day, Isla was really quiet. She had a really long chat with Jaz and I think they discussed it.
I sat down with her later and asked her why she seemed troubled. Was it about me and Alex and whether we were together?
She burst into tears and said, “No, no, please say it isn’t true!” She was worried about being bullied at school but what troubled her most was her father finding out.
He and his family have quite bigoted views. “Gay people are all right but why do we need to see them kissing on EastEnders?” – that sort of thing.
I said there was no need for her father or people at school to know. It wasn’t a deeply guarded secret but it wasn’t any of their business. Things were not going to change on a day to day basis. I said Jaz knew about Alex and she was really cool about it but Rosie didn’t need to know yet because she was too young.
Once she got over the shock, Isla bounced back really quick. A few days later I was doing something in the house and she asked if she could help. Then she said, “My mum’s really cool, she’s good fun and she’s gay!”
She’s an intelligent kid. It was like a nine-day wonder.
Gradually she told some friends. I have to say that so far, none of our kids have had any problem. We did worry they’d get a bit of bullying but no, not once.
About two years later, we decided Rosie needed to know. The two older girls were worried about not being able to speak freely and said, “She needs to know.” Besides, Alex and I were sleeping in the same bed.
I just picked Rosie up from the after-school club one day and said, “There’s something I need to tell you” as if it was, “We’re going to the pictures.”
I said, “I’m gay” – and she reacted the same way as Isla. She burst into tears, saying, “Please, please, please say it’s not true, I’ll get bullied, I don’t want Dad to know.”
It helped that Isla could say that she’d known for two years and when I said, “Hadn’t you guessed?” she admitted that part of her knew.
I didn’t want to hurt them, to inflict this pain on them. It was something they would have to live with for the rest of their lives. But I knew they needed to know and it was a huge relief once they did.
Rosie had a bit of a harder time than Isla as she was closer to the local community and she was worried about the school having to know. I said if someone asked, she could tell them but they didn’t have to know, it was none of their business.
We were worried about Rosie because she’s a softer personality. She was getting bullied by boys at school anyway and some of her friends came from families who were gossips, so we gave her advice on who to tell.
Eventually, her friends and their families were quizzing her so we said, “It’s OK, just do it.” Our house was on the market by then and we knew we were moving anyway – but actually, it was completely fine. It was no problem.
One wee girl went up to Isla and said, “Is your mum a lesbian?” and she said, “Yes” and the girl just chewed her gum and said, “I like that.”
Another thought that because the girls referred to each other as cousins, it was worse. They thought that we were related and lovers! We had to put them right.
Another time, Rosie was a bit worried about having a friend over for a sleepover because she didn’t know. I said, “Well, if she asks and she doesn’t like it, you have plenty of other friends.” She thought about it and said, “OK.” The girl stayed over and it was fine.
The girls have had so many positive experiences that if they had a negative one they could cope with it.
The time that it all took, bringing the two families together, has been good for the children. Jaz still defers to Alex and mine defer to me but I’ve had no problems with Jaz. Whereas with my two, their mum and dad split up – for Jaz, I was an addition to her life.
We took some time choosing our new house because we knew we’d need to accommodate so many personalities. Alex and I are very different. She likes peace and quiet and she plays the piano, I like the TV on and the kids chatting. The girls all needed to have their own rooms because they’d had them in their other houses and we couldn’t take that away from them.
The last person to be told I’m gay was my ex-husband. We timed it so I got divorced first, before I told him. The girls were really scared about him knowing but he was, well, OK. It helped that I had been out of the marriage a few years by then. A lot of the anger and bitterness had gone and it helped him to understand why the marriage had gone down the pan.
The person who reacted worst to me being gay was my sister. I told her before telling the children and she threatened to tell them. She blamed Alex. She thought Alex had ‘turned’ me. She said, “How long have you been that way?”
That was really difficult for me. She has a mild learning disability and I think that means she can’t work out our relationship. She loved my ex-husband and really missed him. She said vitriolic and hurtful things but she doesn’t cope with change well and she was in shock.
Now, the girls see their father every Saturday and they each go for tea on a different night during the week, so they can each develop their own relationship with him.
At first, he’d only take them overnight once a month as when we split, he was: “You want this, you look after them, don’t expect a penny from me.” There’s still a bit of that, even after all this time.
I don’t think the kids have been damaged by it all. I think they’ve grown, that they are richer people in many ways. They just laugh at things now.
If there’s ever a “Why do you do this?” or a “How do you do that?” – like how Alex does a great Louis Armstrong impression – it’s always, “It’s because she’s a lesbian!”
Read Alex’s story