My partner and I both identify as queer, and we are thoughtfully and intentionally cultivating a queer family. We value queerness, difference, and social justice and use those lenses to nurture and teach our child about the world. Unlike some of the LGBT communities I’ve been a part of, we do not aspire to assimilate into heteronormative models of family; we find strength and resiliency in being unlike other families. Choosing to parent in this way, however, has been a tough and lonely experience. We struggle to show Hadley families that look like ours that exist off the pages of her books. We wanted to raise children close to our families in Connecticut and New Jersey, but, in choosing to stay here, we’ve also chosen to live without access to large and vibrant queer communities. Although we thought it would wane, our intense ache for community, for other queer families to share our lives with, never fades.
Being genderqueer (read: a more political identity for a gender non-conforming person) means that I come out as queer every time I walk into a room. Unlike my partner, who is very feminine and needs to declare her queerness to be recognized as such, my appearance generally makes a statement before I even open my mouth. Like most queer folks, I worried about how my identity would impact my child, and if she would resent me for who I am. Parenting as a queer person brings with it not only the daily work of navigating the social constructions of normalcy, gender, and sexuality with my child, but also being met with the reality that as soon as she leaves our home those social constructs are intact, policed, and ultimately enforced.
My gender and our family structure is a source of endless questions, both from my daughter and from all of the other little humans in her school. I watch as they try to make sense of me in relation to their already strict understanding of who girls and boys are, and how they are supposed to look and act. They openly question why Hadley has two moms and why one of her moms looks so much like a dad. I have known many of her classmates for more than two years, and they still wrinkle up their noses in disbelief when I tell them that I’m a little boy mixed up with a little girl.
In our family, we talk a lot about identities and the intersection of identities with oppression, which has helped my daughter to grow into a compassionate child who questions everything and makes connections that some adults have a hard time making. Hadley knows that anatomy does not automatically signal identity and can talk about why I am “mostly a boy, but also a mom.” For as much as she understands, however, there are times that our explanations don’t quite calculate for her. For example, since Hadley was two she’s asked for a dad. For a while, our telling Hadley that she did not have a dad was met with her incredulously approaching men on the street to ask if they were her dad. Thankfully, at least for now, she’s given up on asking strangers to be cast in the role of her long lost father.
The evolution of my identity has also been impacted by becoming a parent. For about a year before I got pregnant, I spent a lot of time laying the ground work to transition (to male) post-baby. I had hard conversations with the people closest to me so that they wouldn’t feel like I’d left them out of such a big decision; I changed my email address to my carefully chosen name; and, I asked colleagues if they thought my workplace would be supportive. I finally, and fully, gave myself permission to give into the fantasy that was always lingering in the back of my mind and I truly believed that I would have a child and then focus on starting the medical process of transitioning.
Pregnancy was, for me, a funny reminder about both my discomfort with my female body and a reminder of my admiration of women’s bodies as they create, hold, and nurture new life. Carrying Hadley was the first, and only, time that I’ve ever experienced a sense of pride about my body. Even though I was sick for eight months straight, I felt purposeful and strong. Over the course of my pregnancy, I felt something about my gender identity shift. As much as I’d pictured myself being Hadley’s dad, or at least some version of a papa-mama, I also wanted to be her mommy. I thought so much about the rituals and history involved with mothering and I wanted to be a part of that heritage. In my mind, likely due to the years of sexual and physical abuse I experienced as a child – and the fact that I was cared for and nurtured by women, I have always equated safety and comfort with women. The rates of harassment and violence against women in our society are staggering, and it is almost entirely perpetrated by men. When I think about transitioning now, I think about becoming a part of that legacy of toxic masculinity and it terrifies me.
I am not sure if I will one day be the dad that Hadley swears she has, or if I will remain her genderqueer mommy, but I feel confident that my partner and I have laid a solid foundation for Hadley to accept me regardless of who I am. The unabashed fierceness with which my child and my partner love me makes me brave and, through that unconditional love, I know that even if we don’t always know what is coming next, our queer little family will be just fine.