When I was in primary school the word “family” pretty much stood for one thing and one thing only: The union of a mum, a dad and us, the kids. Every now and then that idea would be called into question by the existence of single parents. But I do not remember conversations about gender, let alone same-sex parenting in those early years. Those weren’t really categories in my book (that would only happen a few years later at grade school). But I guess things were a lot different in the 1980s – possibly even more so in a conformist environment such as the former German Democratic Republic; even though some would argue that that is debatable.
Fast forward some 20 years and prejudices towards same-sex couples and parenting are still a thing. But it’s not all bad as there are people like Aussie filmmaker Maya Newell and producer Charlotte Mars who set out to challenge the norm: Newell’s debut feature-length doco Gayby Baby is an intimate and honest portrayal of same-sex parenting that finally lends a voice to a group that is at the centre of it all: kids. The doco had its world premiere at the Hot Docs festival in Canada last year and will open across cinemas in Germany on 23 June 2016.
“It’s not normal. You are not normal. They are the kind of things that go around in my head.” (Ebony)
While the world is still struggling with the issue of marriage equality, Gayby Baby introduces us to Matt, Gus, Ebony and Graham who are aged 11 or 12. All of them are raised by same-sex parents, most live in Sydney’s suburbs. Apart from that they each face their own challenges as we all do when coming of age. Negotiating ones identity and sexuality, self-confidence, finding acceptance and figuring out where to draw the line between right and wrong as well as religion are recurring themes.
“My mum’s an ex-goth, with piercings and tattoos. And AngeI think at some point was a wrestler. We fall asleep to Korn and Slipknot in the car on trips to Canberra. We don’t have normal parents. But they’re not normal because they are who they are – not because they’re lesbians.”
(Ebony on Buzzfeed Australia)
The documentary film is part of a bigger campaign that provides Australia’s first comprehensive education resource to represent same-sex parented families and thereby raises awareness for the various constellations that constitute family life today. As the 2011 Census showed, almost 34 000 same-sex couples lived in Australia which amounted for 0,7% of all couples at the time. And a good percentage of those couples lived with kids.
In comparison, 78 000 people were involved in same-sex relationships in Germany in 2013. And according to familienhandbuch.de an approximate of 10 800 kids lived with same-sex parents. Just like in Australia these numbers have increased over the last decade. And it’s not too far-fetched to assume that initiatives such as the Gayby Baby Project in recent years have contributed to pushing the envelope.
As the 12-year-old Matt put it “Some things in life don’t come easy.” and that also applies in this case: In 2015 Gayby Baby was temporarily banned from being screened during regular school hours in the state of New South Wales/Australia. The government’s ruling was based on the conviction that “unaffected” kids needed to be protected from confusion caused by TMI about LGBT.
“Sometimes kids have better ideas than adults” (Matt)
And that’s exactly why you should see this documentary. It’s the kids’ spot-on observations of life that makes Gayby Baby so incredible and inspiring to watch.
Gayby Baby is an intriguing testament of what it’s like to grow up in today’s world. Maya Newell documents the kids at a crucial time in their lives as they start to form their own opinions, emancipate themselves from their parents and argue their own views. Gus, for example, is not only an avid wrestling fan but also enjoys verbal showdowns with his two mums: “It would be boring if everyone had the same opinion in the world. It would be totally awesome if every single person had their own opinion about stuff.”
Do you remember the first time you deliberately challenged your parents’ point of view? It was an important moment for me and felt like a shift in my relationship with my parents. That is probably why the moments in Gayby Baby where Matt figures out his stand on religion resonated with me the most. His musings about why his mum believes so strongly in a church that marks her as a sinner for being with another woman eventually seem to have an affect on her own perspective.
Growing up is an adventure that isn’t always easy. Let’s not make it any harder than it needs to be and spare each other the pain of unquestioned conformism. More often than not we don’t choose who we are, but simply are. If we have to stick to the category “normal” than we should think about it in more relative terms. It is not a one-size-fits-all and it shouldn’t be.
Down Under Berlin hosts a series of Gayby Baby events this June, including special screenings with producer Charlotte Mars and also a screening with Constanze Körner, the director of the Rainbow Families Project Germany. Please check out our event listing for all details!
Berit Becker has been a board member for Down Under Berlin for a few years. She works as a PR professional and project manager in arts & entertainment. Currently, she is embarking on an exciting new project: motherhood.