Earlier this year, two friends of mine - a female couple - broke the news they were pregnant. It was stupidly exciting for everyone: they'd been trying for months to conceive and now it was real. Like my boyfriend and I, our friends are a mixed-race couple, so I spent the next few minutes idiotically fawning over what the baby might look like.
"Oh it's going to be so cute," I said. "It'll have your hair, but your eyes, and—"
"Uh, Ben," one said, laughing. "That's not actually how it works."
(That's right: for a moment there, same-sex parenting seemed so natural and inevitable to me, I'd actually forgotten the basics of biological reproduction.)
Right now, roughly 11% of gay adult men and 33% of gay adult women in Australia are raising children. And yet, while poll after poll showing the majority of Australians approve of same-sex marriage, Australia remains the only English-speaking country in the world not to have legalised it, with conservatives citing the same concern: the welfare of kids raised by two mums or two dads.
In all of this, filmmakers Maya Newell (herself raised by two mothers) and Charlotte Mars noticed one voice was crucially missing: the kids. So over several years, they followed the lives of four children and their same-sex parents, and made the feature documentary Gayby Baby.
After seeing the documentary before its release, artist Casey Legler and photographer Jez Smith - in collaboration with the Gayby Baby team -- spearheaded the photo series GAYBIES: We Are Not a Hypothetical, which showcases kids raised by same-sex parents -- including several from the film.
Upon its Australian cinema release last week, however, Gayby Baby made headlines for all the wrong reasons. Conservative tabloid The Daily Telegraph published a front-page news story reporting that parents had objected to a scheduled school screening of the film. Soon after, The Guardian proved those reports were false. It didn't matter: the New South Wales education minister banned the film from being screened during school hours.
The timing of Legler and Smith's photo essay couldn't be better. Now, after being told their families are "not normal" in the national press, three of the kids featured in Gayby Baby -- Ebony, Gus and Matt -- have spoken up, and the present-day photos have given them the opportunity to have their voices heard one more time.
I'm proud to say my friends and their new baby -- little Jamie -- are part of the photo series too. See if you can spot her. Give her enough time, and I'm sure Jamie will have something to say about her mamas too.
I'm in the film Gayby Baby, which started when I was 12, and I'm now 16. My brother Ashaan is now 5, Seth is 12 - oh gosh, he's old! - and Makaya has just turned eight weeks. Ang is 40 this year and my mum is 36. I hear the words "gay agenda" all the time, and every time it makes me laugh. The only agenda my parents have is getting Makaya to sleep, or making sure we have done our homework, then getting our reports … and seeing we haven't done our homework. I doubt this film has a gay agenda. It's just us, and [filmmaker] Maya following us around for a few years. If my life has an agenda, then I'd like someone to explain that to me.
"People can make assumptions about you and throw statistics at you and they can say all these things about you but in the end no knows your family but you."
I have two mums. There's also my sister Ebony, my little brother Ash, and my littlest brother Makaya. I found out my family was different in Year One. At my school you do Christian Scripture, and the only way not to go is you have to send an email to the principal. My parents didn't know about that, so I went. We were a couple of weeks into it when they started to say, "If you have same-sex parents, or if you are gay, it's a sin." It was a shock and I was kind of confused. So I went home, Mum had a good long chat to the principal and Ang got me a bowl of ice cream. But yeah, that's how I knew my family was different. But I've never really cared, 'cause my family is great. I'd rather my family is different and happy, than "normal" and not happy.
"No matter what people say, don't let it get you down. Just own it. If someone says your family is weird, just move on."
I am Ashaan and I have two mums. On my birthday I get two things!
My family consists of my two mothers - Louise and Margaret - my brother Raj, and my father Paul. What's great about my family is that it is different, but at its core, it's the same as everyone else's. If Gayby Baby had been shown when I was at school, I wouldn't have had to lie and make up stories about what my family was, and who that other woman living with us was. I could have been open and honest about myself and with my friends from the start. No one can ever discriminate against you if you are proud of yourself.
"No one can ever discriminate against you if you are proud of yourself. You shouldn't have to hide. Be yourself."
My parents are Jen and Jamie, and I have a little sister, Rory. What's great about my family is that they love me very much. They're a pretty average family, but they are pretty daggy. When I woke up on Wednesday, my parents were pretty upset [by the Daily Telegraph front page], because the screening was suppose to be a step forward for the gay movement. But I was like, "Cool, I made the front page."
"Just try not to listen to the rich white politicians and love your family. Don't blame them for anything, cause despite what everyone thinks -- it's not a choice."
I have three mums - Fiona, Jam and Gina - a brother called Bruno who is very annoying, a cat called Jasper, and another a cat called Flash who lives with six Spiny Leaf Stick insects. What I like about my mums is that they are completely different.
One is tough and is a blacksmith, my other mum works for Women NSW and my other mum is a writer. At school, sometimes people say "that's gay' or they call people gay. I try and stop them but they just keep doing it. The other day, even one of my best friends said, "That's so gay," and I was like, "That is extremely rude."
"Stand up for what you believe in and don't let them bring you down."
My family is like every family. There are some bad things and some good things. I felt half happy because Gus was on the front page of the newspaper, but half sad because they were being mean to people with gay and lesbian families. The people who disagree with it have not watched the film. If they watch Gayby Baby, they will know that everyone is the same, because all families have their differences.
"Everyone is the same because all families have their differences."
When I was eight, me and my parents went on an episode of [Australian children's TV show] Play School . Parents complained, so controversy is something I am very used to. Even though it's been really yuck to see homophobia given airtime, it has shown that there is a lot of support for gay and lesbian families too. Watching Gayby Baby, I realised I had never seen my family on screen in all those complex ways. I felt an enormous sense of pride.
"I want kids who are growing up with same-sex parents to know that you understand diversity, acceptance and love more than most fully grown adults."
Dylan, 13 and Matt, 16
Dylan: I have two mums who are married, a dad, a soon-to-be step mum, a brother and a stepsister. My mums got married in New Zealand, then came to Australia for the reception. It was really fun. My brother and I made speeches, danced down the aisle and did the first dance. To other kids in families like mine, I'd say, just remember that you are just like every other family, but you're better, 'cause you have two of them. Be proud of it.
Matt: My mums wanted to get married in Australia but it's illegal. They were going to wait until they legalised it, but that was going to take too long, so they went to New Zealand. It wasn't the best, 'cause they had to go overseas and none of their friends could be with them. But then they came back and had a wedding reception and that was really fun. People are saying Gayby Baby is political and shouldn't be shown in schools, but it's just showing kids like me who have gay parents that it's alright.
I have two mums, a donor dad, and another mum that lives in Melbourne. I've been in the [Sydney Gay and Lesbian] Mardi Gras since I was zero. When I was four, the theme for the rainbow kids was The Wizard of Oz.Mum, Lil and I all dressed up as the Tin Man and we painted our bodies silver. It was one of the best Mardi Gras I've ever been in. My advice to younger kids? Acknowledge that you are different. Because who wants to be normal? Normal is so boring.
"Who wants to be normal? Normal is so boring. Being different is so special; you are brought up with so much love and acceptance."
Text Benjamin Law
Photography Jez Smith with Kelvin Harries and Georgina Waterford
Shot at Front Studios with the Gayby team and Casey Legler