As the school bus came to a stop, the only thing on Tai’Quay Smith’s mind was getting home to tell her mom how the neighborhood kids were teasing her again. This time, an entire bus full of classmates chased her down the street, taunting her until she reached her apartment. She sprinted inside, breathless and unsettled.
Just when she felt safe, Smith was turned around by her mom’s girlfriend, Shanika Gibbs, and told to go back out and fight. Gibbs encouraged her to stand up for her mom and stand her ground against school bullies.
“I beat her up so bad, they never bothered me again after that,” Smith said.
Smith always knew there was something different about her mom growing up.
“She didn’t dress like the other neighborhood moms,” Smith recalled.
Her mother, Quinn, enlisted into the military when Smith was only eighteen months old. Her father was murdered when she was a child.
Her grandmother raised Smith for the sake of convenience, although the occasional visits she had with her mom weren’t enough. At age 12, Smith moved in with her lesbian mother, a decision that would change her life.
Smith shared the two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with her mom and her mom’s roommate.
“I just thought that maybe this woman was just a really close friend to my mom and they happened to share a room,” Smith said.
Neighborhood children were the first to point out Smith’s unique living situation, instigating lots of fights. Smith’s mom finally told her outright that she was homosexual, and would just have to deal with it.
“Just deal,” Smith said. “While the neighborhood kids were pestering the living crap out of me, I was told to just deal.”
Smith also had a strong Christian upbringing, and was raised by her grandmother to believe that homosexuality was a sin.
“Not all of the women had a negative influence on my life, but they sure left a bitter taste in my mouth,” Smith said.
She reminisced on times when she frequently had to be flexible for the sake of her mom’s happiness, often having to abide by the rules of strangers that had only been in her life for weeks at a time.
Smith became more accepting of her mother’s lifestyle and protective of her mother’s home life, even inviting boyfriends over for “normal family dinners.” Smith said they often expected to witness a scene from Playboy.
It was that protectiveness of her mother that left Smith heartbroken when her mom was abandoned by her “soul mate,” leading to a subsequent downward spiral. This was the last straw for Smith: she left her mom and went to college, determined to escape.
She found it ironic, however, that it was at FAMU where she finally found peace with her mom’s search for love, observing students on campus who were on the same journey to find themselves.
“Who am I to judge,” Smith said. “Sometimes you have to take a step back and understand why things are the way they are. You have no right to say what is normal, because this is my normal.”
This article is the first of a two-part series about Tai’Quay Smith’s relationship with her mother. See Monday’s edition of the Famuan for Part Two.