As a gay woman, Jack Monroe has had to deal with her fair share of online stranger abuse, but there was an “incident” involving her son that comes to mind as an example of some of the difficulties they faced as a family .
“At one of his previous schools – when I was doing an interview about being non-binary – a kid who was a lot taller than him came up to him in the playground and said, ‘Your mom is a tr*nny'” , the food writer and activist told the Telegraph’s Juggling Act podcast this week (listen with the audio player above).
“And Jonny didn’t know what that word meant. He was only about five. But I suspect he inferred from the sneering tone that it was an insult to his mother. And he got really angry and hit the kid.
“Which I wouldn’t have handled exactly that way myself, and of course we had a discussion about it, but I was shocked that an elementary school-age kid even knew that word.”
Her son was suspended, but when Monroe asked the school about their anti-bullying policies and if they had spoken to the other boy’s parents, the school’s response was surprising.
“They were really indifferent,” she said. “One of the employees said something along the lines of ‘Well, if you plastered your private affairs in magazines…’
“Jonny hadn’t been at this school long and thank God he doesn’t remember anything now.”
Jonny is now almost 11 and at a “brilliant, incredibly compassionate and decent” school closer to her Southend home. Monroe said he is thriving despite the pressure of lockdown.
She said the pair have become “closer” because Jonny has been spending time at home due to the schools closing.
To avoid monosyllabic answers as Jonny approaches his teenage years, Monroe has introduced a new mealtime game; They use a deck of cards to ask each other interesting questions to stimulate discussion, including thinking of words a friend might use to describe them or what they’re grateful for that day.
“It was like pulling a tooth at first,” she says. “But we stuck with it and it’s led to some great little conversations. It’s become our thing now.
As one of the country’s most prominent food writers and anti-poverty activist, Monroe has come a long way since the birth of her son. In the podcast she talks about some of her experiences.
As a single mom, she struggled to pay the bills and support herself and Jonny after losing her job as a call handler for the local fire department.
Spending several years on welfare while looking for a job took its toll and hurt her confidence, but by a happy accident her life changed when a publisher spotted an article about her efforts to get cheap meals – soon after she landed a book deal.
Monroe told The Juggling Act podcast about the “shame” she felt from using food banks and how she skipped meals to make sure her son had enough to eat.
Based on her experiences, she has since used her position to advocate for the government to do more to help financially troubled families. She joined the recent debate on reforming the ‘baskets’ given to parents as substitutes for school meals during the Covid crisis.
In 2015, Monroe announced on social media — on National Coming Out Day — that she was “transgender,” but instead of becoming a man, she explained that for her, it meant being “nonbinary” — neither female nor male, but somewhere between the gender norms of the two.
“I want to be treated as a person, not as a woman or a man,” she said in an interview, but confirmed that the pronoun “she” is fine.
Monroe had Jonny with a friend when she was in her early 20s and says some people commented that she “cheated” him into having a baby because she hid her sexuality from him.
But she knew that wasn’t true. “He had known me for years, he knew who and what I was,” she said. “We’ve been friends for a long time.”
She said there was a “difficult period” where her son couldn’t understand why his father couldn’t live with him and Monroe.
“For a while he thought, ‘Why can’t Daddy stay with us?’. ‘Why can’t you and Daddy get married?’ And I said, “Because Mama doesn’t love men the way she loves women. mom is gay And do you know what gay means?” And he said, “Yeah.” I had to reinforce that a couple of times.
“He’s really cool with it. He never seemed embarrassed,” she said.
Jonny’s father subsequently married someone else, and Monroe is positive about what she calls “all of her mixed and beautiful relationships.”
“We all understand each other. It’s very modern and beautiful,” she said. “The focus is on raising this little human together in a cocoon of love, care and well-being, and I think it’s that shared goal that has underpinned all of our relationships over the past decade or so.
“I don’t pretend it’s easy because successful relationships take a lot of constant, consistent, and mindful work, but it’s definitely worth how balanced and great he’s turning out.”
The way the outside world has reacted to her sexuality hasn’t always been so positive, and Monroe has faced a lot of hostility from others.
“I’ve been bullied online for quite a while for being gay,” she said. “I never really understood what the problem with that was. I was like, well, it’s nobody’s business, is it?”
She also said that other people criticized her for “not being a real lesbian because I had a baby because apparently if you get your gay card you have to give up your womb”.
But such comments do not upset her. “I’m extraordinarily secure in my sexuality and my identity,” she said.
“If someone has a problem with that, it would have hurt me in the past and I would have tried to mask it or hide it or not talk about it.
“And now I’m just like that… I’m not going to submit because of an anonymous swear word on the internet.
“I’ll just be myself and if they don’t particularly like it, well I don’t particularly mind. Because who I am and who I fall in love with or who I sleep with or whatever, that’s my business.”
Hear Jack Monroe on The Telegraph’s new podcast, The Juggling Act, on the audio player above, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Join the Telegraph Women Facebook group to discuss The Juggling Act and more.
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/family/parenting/son-totally-cool-mum-gay-jack-monroe-life-non-binary-parent/ Jack Monroe on life as a non-binary parent