By: Jessica Webb
Jessica Webb, IPEP actor, was moved to write based on her participation at the South Shore Hospital PERCS launch.
I have had the honor of working as an actor with PERCS for 6 years. In that time, I have had the opportunity to share and represent the experience of all kinds of families: high income, low income, supportive and communicative, divorced and aloof, single parent, working parent, and so many more. But for the first time in all my years working with IPEP’s PERCS initiative, I was finally able to portray my family—a family of two moms. While same-sex parents may not seem groundbreaking for those of us lucky enough to call New England our home, for my moms who raised me in Michigan, raising a family as two gay women was a defining factor of my upbringing and their daily lives.
My mother spent many years in the closet due to the fear of what her identity could cost her: her job, her livelihood, or losing custody of me, all because she way gay. Because of the intense pressure my mother experienced to remain closeted for so long, my mothers and I never truly experienced what being a family felt like outside of our loving and unconditionally accepting home. In one instance when I was 5 years old, I had to go the hospital to receive stitches. I clearly remember hearing my mother lie during my intake and call her partner, my mom, Colleen, her sister. Colleen was not allowed to be with me unless she was “family.” In this heartbreaking instance, while only one of many, my mother had to bend our family’s truth to fit the outside world’s limited understanding of what “family” means in order to include her partner, my mother, in my care.
My mother, who still lives in Michigan, is now working as an advocate for LGBTQ rights within the senior community, as well as faith-based organizations in an attempt to encourage both Jewish and Christian congregations to institute open, affirming and anti-bullying policies for their members. During this particular PERCS workshop simulation, I was the one who got to be the advocate, just by being a clear, unconstrained representation of my family. Naturally, I called my mother after the simulation to tell her about my experience. As she asked me how it went, I began to explain all the details of the scenario, including the fact that I represented a member of a family with two moms. It was then that she began to cry—not because of the issues that were at play in the simulation, but because the issue that had defined the struggle of her entire life was suddenly not an issue at all.
Thank you, PERCS, for letting me experience here what I was never able to where I grew up: my family.