Archive | October, 2013

So many questions

20 Oct

I get a lot of questions about the Unicorn and my approach to gender diverse parenting. Here are some of the most frequently asked ones (nasty hateful ones aside) and a general idea of my answers.

What do you put on forms?

With a seven week old baby, there are not a ton of forms. So far, I have left this category blank any time I’ve had to pick.

What if she wants a doll/he wants a football?

I answer this question assuming the person does not know of my hatred of sports and my socio-political critiques of dolls, and is instead referencing the commonly held belief that dolls and sporting equipment are inherently gendered items.  I strongly disagree. I believe (as do many other far more articulate people) that society constructs social norms that attach gender to objects, and then enforces these norms.

The process looks something like this: Someone has a child, and that child is raised male. They are surrounded with blue, sports, cars, tools, and other things we randomly deem to be masculine. When that child is 2, people say, “My son just gravitated to sports, cars, and tools,” and then will go on to say, “My child is such a boy,” and will only be surrounded in masculine things.

Are male identified people the only ones to play sports, drive cars, or use tools? No. Also, did anyone give that child an equal opportunity to access tea sets, dolls, and dress up clothing without it being a grand hoorah? Probably not. I could use pretty much any bogus gender stereotype and extend it to justify why anyone would do the things they do. The reality is, we entertain ourselves with the things we find near us that bring us joy (and that our loved ones encourage us to enjoy with them). If that says something about our gender, then our food preference says something about our Nationality.

What if your kid ends up being a girly girl or big jock?

The point of all of this is not for the Unicorn to live their life without gender expression. We are trying to remove some of the coercion that takes place when all children are assumed to be heterosexual and fit into the gender binary from birth on unless proven otherwise. I hear a lot of very well intentioned people say, “I’d be okay if my kid was gay.” The unspoken half of that sentence is “but I would rather them be straight.”

Our family is growing around the concept that identities are dynamic, and will all be celebrated. We are kicking out the obligations to try living the norm first. A friend of mine recently said, “You are trying to build your house without closets. That way everyone’s already out.” I like that.

Aren’t you worried they will be bullied?

I was bullied so bad in school I still sweat and shake when I walk into a school. I am equally afraid that my child will be bullied or bully others. However, I’ve tried to make an agreement with the Unicorn that I won’t parent from a place of fear. Instead, we are learning about empathy, social justice, privilege, alienation, communication, and so many other piece of that complex puzzle every day. I hope that maybe these things can help. Telling kids to stop being targets of bullies is adult bullying, and it only strengthens the problem. I do not have a ton of solutions, but I know that isn’t it.

But what about their sex… You know, male/female?

The concept of “sex vs. gender” is hopefully on its way out, as “sex” is a creation of the medical and scientific industries (who have long marginalized and pathologized trans* and queer people). “Sex” is one way that body/gender hierarchy is created and community is divided. Dean Spade wrote this piece about the way we unnecessarily assign gender to body parts. I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in further explanation.

Is this a new parenting fad, like Attachment Parenting?

No, but if someone writes a book about it and finds a celebrity promoter, then it probably will be.

There are many cultures that have identified and celebrated multiple genders as a part of their traditions for thousands of years (see Muxes and Two Spirited) peoples as two of many examples) and there is absolutely no way anyone can take credit for this or call it new. We have simply been told that a non-binary approach to gender or sexuality will make children “strange” (much like cosleeping, cloth diapers, and baby wearing) thanks to colonialism, capitalism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, transphobia, and many other labels for oppressive norms.


Coming Out

11 Oct

I never thought I would try to blog. Now I am trying. I wanted to launch it on Coming Out Day (October 11), but doing things on schedule with a 7 week old baby is much easier said than done.

I haven’t been a parent for very long–7 weeks with unicorn, plus 10 months of pregnancy–but I have already learned that queer parenting is a process of coming out over and over and over. This is internal as much as external. I have to remind myself daily that I still get to be a part of queer community and that I don’t have to justify my identity to anyone. It is external, because I’m suddenly seen as a straight person (except for the time a lady in the grocery store thought that I was the Unicorn’s queer nanny).

And then there is a unique coming out for our family. The Unicorn is being raised in a “gender diverse” environment. We believe gender is a spectrum, and that the Unicorn should get to decide who they are (and continually grow with that identity) when they are ready. Instead of calling them a boy or a girl, we are using neutral pronouns (they/them/their) and working as hard as we can to expose them to an abundance of identities.

Getting to a place where I could comfortable approach gender in parenting was a struggle. As a person that has never “fit in” to any social norm, particularly gender, I knew this was going to be hard. I just wasn’t prepared for a complete nervous breakdown following my 20 week ultrasound.

The meltdown started at the clinic. Because we had a homebirth midwife, I had yet to receive care from the Western Medical Industrial Complex. My appointments took place in a calm office over tea with informative and supportive conversations about birth. Getting thrust into a boxy white walled medical plaza with overhead paging systems and stacks of obnoxious parenting magazines was enough to put me on the edge. In these clinics, queer identity disappears. You get beat over the head with the “What ifs” of home birth (bleeding, dead baby, dead mom, fire, flood, famine, etc). I could go on, but I believe it suffices to say the atmosphere was less than supportive.

We decided to learn what sex our child would be medically assigned in this ultrasound. I thought that it would help us understand how to avoid the gendering that our Unicorn would be lambasted with from day one. We knew we were not going to assign our child a gender or sexuality, but we still didn’t know how we would make that happen. The ultrasound technician told us by drawing an arrow to the fetal genitals and writing in the perceived sex. My anxiety peaked. All of this was supposed to be kept a secret. It was just for us to know what we were going to have to undo. Unfortunately, miscommunications happened, and our families found out.

At this time, my pregnancy became more obvious. I started to get a lot of attention. People made comments about my body. I got called “preggo”. Everything I put in my mouth was monitored. No matter how quirky queer femme I presented, I felt my identity slipping away from me. People started asking about my husband, remarking on how often I had to pee, and attributing everything I did to hormones. My belly was getting touched, usually without asking. Overall, I was feeling a lot of femme fury.

Simultaneously, that gender binary I hoped to break down was beating me over the head. No matter how hard I tried to get people to understand our approach to parenting, the Unicorn was given pronouns, expectations, hobbies, and characteristics. Family spread the word. I felt like I was disappearing. My parenting choices were undermined daily by people I really cared about, and I felt so much shame for who I was. Worst of all, the cold cruel world that I hoped to keep out (at least for the first few years of my child’s precious life) came creeping in. That is when the nervous breakdown ensued. I was full of so much doubt, fear, mistrust, and anger I did not know how to get through the day. I felt like my fetus and I got shoved in a new kind of closet.

Then a friend kindly nudged me to try and let go. She reminded me that i wasn’t going to win the battle against hatred, patriarchy, heterosexism, and the gender binary in an isolated ball of rage. I was four months away from bringing a tiny being that would need more love, patience, kindness, and support than any other being I had ever encountered into this world and I needed to let go of some of that pain and anger so I could open my heart.

And it wasn’t easy, but I did it.

Now the Unicorn is here, and it’s a new struggle. Every moment that we decide to be out in the world, we have to “come out.” I explain myself a lot, and have to challenge myself to be more patient and loving. We have to work with family to not see our child as gendered, to change their pronouns, and to challenge themselves to be supportive of something even if they don’t believe in it. I still struggle with anger, isolation, and shame, especially when the people we love choose to not accept and support us.

In the end, the same things that saved me the first time I came out are what get me by today. My family is surrounded in an amazing community that has given us more love and support than I ever could have asked for. They have helped ground me and fill me back up when I felt empty. Corny as it sounds, I have found a sense of support from blogs like Raising My Rainbow, this post from Feminist Pigs (and this one and this one, or really any of their posts). I’ve also found myself intentionally writing again, something I stopped doing a while back, leading me to start this blog. Finally, I took a minute to remember that this is just one piece of a bigger struggle. We aren’t the only ones in this place, and as hard as our circumstances might feel, there are many people in many other difficult situations that join us here. my family and my experience are just one little (fortunate and privileged even with the circumstances) piece of the story as to why we work for liberation.