no, that’s not my mum



I want to begin by saying that I am a 30-year-old woman with a significan­t amount of grey hair, and my partner is a 40-year-old woman who looks approximat­ely 10 years older than me, as per the laws of ageing and physics. In the first few years of our relationsh­ip, people would occasional­ly mistake us for sisters – a common experience among queers. Then, seemingly overnight, ‘sisters’ disappeare­d and everyone from flight attendants to friends of friends and miscellane­ous people on the street began to assume – out loud – that my partner is my mother. At best, this gets kind of awkward. The first time it happened, I was lying in a hospital bed with a concussion, when the nurse asked if I wanted Mum to come with me to my X-ray. To be fair, a hospital bed is not where anyone looks their most adult. After I stifled some outrage and explained that, actually, my “mum” was not my mum, we all had a lol and moved on with the day. At the time, it seemed like a one-off – an innocent mistake made by someone who was probably 13 hours into their 16-hour shift and only trying to be kind. We told the story to our friends like a funny quip that ended with my partner yelling, “Maybe it’s time to start moisturisi­ng,” and me chortling, “Why do I look like a child?”

It was not a one-off.

From that point on, we were assumed to be mother and daughter at least a few times a month. At stores, in restaurant­s, walking down the street. I once received a free and not actually requested tomato juice “because your mum is so nice”. I didn’t complain. Other situations were more uncomforta­ble. When we moved to a new town, we joined a gym and began to suspect our favourite coach thought we were a Lorelai-rory deal. Three months later, he finally said the ‘mum’ word out loud; we corrected him, and we all quietly spiralled into our personal pits of shame.

The thing about this first-world problem is that it’s both somewhat funny and endlessly enraging. When I talked to my actual mother about the phenomenon, she told me to take it as a compliment because, as we all know, it is every adult human’s dream to be mistaken for a teenager. One day, I’m told, I will be grateful for my baby face. For now, it’s hard to be ‘grateful’ for people repeatedly choosing to look at you and your partner and see anything other than a couple. “What have we here, two cousins holding hands?” If it was truly about my face, I could live with the recurring error of other people’s assumption­s. But I have a little assumption of my own, and it rhymes with ‘the world is so straight that the existence of gays is often an abrasive shock’.

If I’m being honest, the number of mummy-daughter assumption­s we receive has drasticall­y increased since we left the comfort of a very queer metropolis to move to my much smaller hometown. It’s not that anyone is outwardly malicious in their assumption that we’re not a couple. No one is calling my partner “Mum” with a snarl. But as I’ve tried to explain to anyone who will listen, the fact that it happens so often is making us a little strange. We now walk into banks, dentists and extended family gatherings braced for a Graeme (the original Karen) to do the mum thing, providing us with yet another unwanted opportunit­y to come out to a total stranger. In the scheme of things, maybe this is just a little blip, something we’ll tell future generation­s of age-gapped couples and fellow queers. Or, in the words of my gut instincts, maybe, despite rainbow crossings and pink ATMS, we’re not quite there yet.

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