From getting “Sirred” to getting “Mom’d”

Ever since I cut my hair short – almost ten years ago, I have become accustomed to regularly being addressed as “sir” by the vast majority of strangers I encounter. It’s partly because of how I dress (and the fact that I do not, and have not ever, had boobs of any noticeable size), but mostly, I think it’s the hair. I don’t mind being “sirred” most of the time – as someone who claims a genderqueer identity, I don’t tend to enjoy being referred to as “lady” or “ma’am” – so given the choices, “sir” is not the worst thing. It’s awkward on occasion – usually more so for the folks with me, or for whoever’s doing the “sirring,” than it is for me. I don’t love awkwardness, but again, it’s not the worst thing.

What I didn’t realize, is that not only is being sirred not the worst thing, I think part of me really likes it. I came to this realization during the near eleven months I recently spent as a stay-at-home parent, during which time I was not sirred a single time. As long as I was with the baby, everywhere I went, I was “mom’d.”

We are not planning for our baby to call me “mom” – we’ve been referring to me as “papa” (read more about that here). But it’s not the fact that folks are calling me “mom” when I don’t claim that title that throws me off – there’s no way people would know I prefer “papa” if I don’t say so and there’s no need to have that conversation with every grocery store clerk on the planet. Rather, I’m feeling thrown off by the draIMG_4605 - Version 2matic shift in how I’m being read. I’ve gone from being predominantly read as masculine in public to being predominantly read as feminine. It’s jarring, in part because it has changed how people treat me, and in part because I completely didn’t expect it. Perhaps I’m naive to have been surprised, but since nothing about my appearance or expression changed – hair, clothes, mannerisms – save for having an infant strapped to my chest most of the time, I assumed people would still read me as masculine, as they always had.

Because I was frequently read as a very young man in the past (young enough that perhaps nobody would expect me to have a kid), the fact that I now frequently have a baby in tow leads to the immediate conclusion: Mom/woman. In the past people either confidently addressed me as sir, or hesitated and waffled back and forth between “ma’m” and “sir” as they tried to figure me out. What’s fascinating to me now is that there is absolutely no hesitation when I’m with the baby. I am “mom’d” without question every time. The truth is, people still don’t expect to see men or boys with children. I think it’s also possible that people don’t expect to see queer and genderqueer folks with children either. Perhaps people now see the baby in my arms, or the stroller, or the diaper bag over my shoulder, and don’t see anything else.

It’s been an uncomfortable shift, as I feel less comfortable with the title “mom” than with “sir,” though neither is really right. This shift in perception has also illuminated the limitations of the gender binary in ways I hadn’t considered before becoming a parent. Before, I was “sir.” Now, I am “mom.” As a queer-identified person, I am invisible either way.

This blog entry is cross-posted at

Sumner’s non-sequitur board book review: Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton

My baby loves owls (an affinity orchestrated by my partner who hung three little canvass prints of ridiculously adorable, brightly-colored cartoon owls with enormous eyes over her crib), which is why this book originally caught my eye at the library. I would have checked it out just because of the owls. But in the end, it’s Squirrel who steals the show. Never has a children’s book had an ending so perfect as this one.


SPOILER ALERT. I’m gonna tell you how it ends.

The story opens with Mommy Owl and Little Owl asleep in their nest. Little Owl leans a bit too far over the edge and tumbles out. LO falls to the forest floor, where we meet Squirrel. LO is not hurt, but is rather lost, and asks Squirrel where Mommy Owl could be. The two embark on a search for Mommy Owl, which follows a trajectory not unlike the P.D. Eastman classic Are You My Mother? In the end, they meet Frog (mistaken for Little Owl’s mommy by Squirrel because they both have “BIG eyes,” as described by LO). Frog leads them all to Mommy Owl, who has been frantically searching for LO. She thanks Frog and Squirrel for finding her baby.

And then (here’s where the story just makes you want to die of cute), almost randomly, Mommy Owl asks if everyone wants to come up to their nest for cookies. “Yes, please,” says Squirrel. And here’s the clincher – the most perfect line ever uttered by a neon pink, talking woodland creature: “Cookies are our favorite thing.” 

The End (Basically. I’m not going to give the WHOLE story away).

So, to sum up, cute owls, cute forest animals, funny dialogue, suspense, emotional family reunion, brilliant ending involving baked goods. Best book ever. Go check it out.

Notes from a Camping Trip

I took Little Bear on a camping trip coordinated by her preschool a couple of weeks ago. My partner stayed home with our one month old, so it was just Little Bear and me. We had a great time setting up the tent, eating outside, drawing a giant mushroom we spotted, hiking, playing with other families, making new friends, roasting our vegan marshmallows, and going on a star walk in our pajamas.

I love getting to see her grow and discover who she is, and getting to watch her interact with her peers especially when she thinks I’m not watching is (usually) delightful. She did a great job asking if she could hug other children, or hold their hands, and listened when they said no. Children’s conversations can be so funny. “J, do you like dancing?” “I do like dancing! I like dancing in the forest!” “Let’s dance in the forest!” “Yeah, let’s be dancing robots in the forest!”

Our shared campsite was with two other families: one kid was in her class and one is a little younger and in a different class. The kid who isn’t in her class has two moms, and it was great to camp next to them. Their kid and LB might be in the same class next year. It’s always funny trying to signal to other LGBTQ parents that my family is also LGBTQ without necessarily having to point blank drop the “oh, neither my partner nor I are straight, and I’m trans”  comment into conversation. Let me tell you there are rarely any obvious ways to bring that up on a preschool camping trip. There’s the subtle dropping of hints, the discussion of neighborhoods and activities, the mentioning of LGBTQ pop culture references.

I was also proud of her for standing up to an adult. She was talking to another child about his younger sibling and asked “is your sibling a brother, or a sister, or both, or something new?” The other child’s dad jumped in with a “the baby’s a girl, you can’t be both, you are either a boy or a girl, you don’t get to pick.” My kid give him this look of “you clearly don’t know what you’re talking about” and calmly told him “noooo, I think we all get to decide and then later we can change our minds” and then she scampered off to sing Into the Woods at the top of her lungs while parading around our tent.

Passive-Aggressive Exhausted Parent Communication: A Translation Guide

As follows are a handful of seemingly benign questions and phrases commonly employed by parents (typically directed at their child(ren)’s fellow parent(s)) when they are exhausted and possibly experiencing a critical deficit of caffeine or calories. Or both. Accompanying each “thoughtful” question or phrase is a handy translation of what your spouse/partner/co-parent actually means. It’s recommended that you keep this guide on your person at all times for use as a quick reference when attempting to pick a fight and/or for the purposes of general moral superiority.

I would also like to note, for the sake of marital harmony, that I am guilty of all of the following about 67 times per day…

1. Commonly used phrase: “Where’s the (insert critically-needed object – for example: pacifier, wipes, diaper bag, keys, phone charger, burp cloth)?”

What your spouse/partner/co-parent really means: “Where did you put (insert critically-needed object) and why is it not where I thought it was and why can’t you read my mind and understand why I need (insert critically-needed object) at THIS EXACT MOMENT RIGHT NOW IMMEDIATELY?”

Note: This question is typically yelled rather than spoken, over a cacophony of baby screaming.

2. Commonly used phrase: “Do you need some help?” (Often accompanied by a hefty sigh).

What your spouse/partner/co-parent really means: “Seriously, what the f—k are you doing and why is it taking so f—king long?”

Note: Tone is important here, as sometimes spouses/partners/co-parents are genuinely interested in offering assistance. However, when the questioner comes across sounding completely exasperated and as if they are in an utterly un-helpful mood, and/or are standing by the door juggling keys, baby, bags, and a cup of coffee yet to be consumed, see above re: “WTF are you doing.”

3. Commonly used phrase: “I don’t know about that idea…” (or alternatively, “Can we think about this a little more?”).

What your spouse/partner/co-parent really means: “I sure as f–k don’t want to do that.”

Note: If the spouse/partner/co-parent on the receiving end of this phrase/question is also sleep-deprived, experiencing low blood sugar, and/or generally irritated by anything else, this one will frequently be interpreted as “That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard, and so is every other idea you’ve ever had ever.” Be prepared.

“Such a Handsome Boy” and Other Tales of Parenting in the Gender Binary

It’s Christmas 2013. My partner and I announce that she’s pregnant. One of her cousins asks if we know what our sperm donor does for a living. My partner says she’s not sure. He’s a student, we think. Why? we ask. We assume her cousin is just curious. He grins at us. “Because if the guy’s a construction worker,” he says, “I think the baby will be a boy.” We look blankly at him. “Uh…” my partner starts to say. The cousin continues, “And if he’s an interior designer, it’ll be a girl.” The cousin is a social worker. He has two sons.

It’s summer 2014. Our baby is born. We are thrilled. When we move to the recovery room, she’s wrapped in a hospital receiving blanket and wears a blue and pink cotton hat. The hospital gives us diapers and Disney Cars-themed baby wipes. While I’m asleep, the recovery nurse brings us a new hat and new wipes for the baby. She hands them to my partner. The wipes are princess-themed (for the “princess”). The hat is just like the hat the baby already has except this one has a bow. So people know she’s a girl. The nurse smiles. She tells my partner she had to look hard for that hat and she’s so glad she found it. “Thanks,” my spouse says and wishes I were awake so she could see the look on my face.

There’s a noticeable shift in the presents people send. No more yellow. No more “neutral.” All pink. It’s like a pink explosion at our house. If it’s not pink, it has frills or ruffles or lace (or leopard print – my god, the leopard print), or it’s a dress. We mix and match the outfits. Pink socks with blue onesie. Navy hoodie with polka-dot tights. She’s cute in everything we put her in. We think we’re immune to the “pink princess” pressure. We make sure to tell her she’s smart and strong and brave. Still, the first time we put her in a dress, we can’t believe how adorable she looks.

It’s August. Our baby is three weeks old. We take her to a pro women’s soccer game. I wear her in our Moby wrap. At halftime, I pace the perimeter of the stadium to soothe her to sleep. A woman falls in step next to me and comments on how tiny she is, how brave I am to bring her here, and what a good baby she is. I laugh and tell the woman that although this is her first “earthside” game, she attended many a game in utero. The woman smiles, “When you were pregnant with her?” I’m startled. “Oh no, not me,” I say, “My partner gave birth to her.”

It’s fall. Our baby is two months old. We take her to the library. She’s wearing a gray onesie and pink pants. She has socks on that are made to look like black Mary Jane shoes over pink striped tights. A woman at the library chats with my partner and coos at the baby. She asks my partner if the baby is a boy. No, my spouse says. “Well, you’ve got her dressed in boy’s clothes,” the woman says. She’s wearing pink pants. Mary Jane socks. My partner looks confused. The woman tells her it’s the pants. Girl babies only wear dresses.

Our baby is still two months old. We take her to Home Depot. This time she’s wearing orange. And black leg warmers with little bright-colored monsters on them. I change her at the diaper station in the women’s restroom and a female employee goes on and on about how cute “he” is. “Such a handsome boy,” she says, and smiles approvingly at me. “Thank you,” I say. I don’t correct her.

A Modern Day Barn-raising

At the end of July, my partner gave birth. Three weeks prior, we’d closed on a house and moved all of our stuff to the new place. Moving is hard enough as it is, but moving in Washington, DC in the summer (which is the only time we ever seem to move…) is a special kind of awful. Though this has been a ridiculously mild summer by DC standards, the week we moved temperatures were in the high 90s and the humidity was out of control. The day we moved had to have been one of the hottest days of the year – the heat index easily topped 100 degrees. We had movers, so I can’t complain much about the actual moving of most of our stuff, but my wife was nearly 9 months pregnant at the time and the task of packing and unpacking a house seemed impossibly overwhelming.

We needed help and without fail, help came out of the woodwork. My partner’s parents arrived a few weeks before our move to help us pack – a godsend. One friend came to our house the night before the move and helped me take apart our bed and the crib we had already put together before we’d realized we’d be moving. Two other friends came to our old place and helped me move out old furniture we weren’t keeping, and then they hauled it all away to the thrift store for us. And the weekend after we moved in, six friends descended upon our new house and unpacked boxes, cleaned, set up our kitchen, put together furniture and generally provided much-needed support, and relief from the immense stress we were feeling. As our house bustled with people on a mission and a steady stream of food and drink, it occurred to me that what we were doing was not unlike a barn-raising might have been some many years ago. Friends and neighbors gathered together to help a small family quickly accomplish a task that would be unmanageable – maybe impossible – alone. A modern day barn-raising, I thought to myself. Given our Midwestern roots and my love of vegetable growing, it seemed fitting.

A few weeks later, our baby arrived and as my partner slowly recovered from the rather difficult birth, help continued to arrive. One of the friends who had helped us unpack texted us one evening that she wanted to bring us some food her sister-in-law had made us. People are so nice, we said. We were touched. It takes a village, our friend texted back. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. It always takes a whole community to raise a child – children need exposure to many different kinds of people, experiences, and ideas. But it literally takes a village those first few weeks – recovering from delivery, adjusting to sporadic sleep (or no sleep, which was basically my partner’s experience for the first week), trying to keep a household running, cats fed, and a new baby alive and thriving. Like most new parents, we would have been lost without the people who helped us those days. Now that we’re a month in, rounding the corner on (a little less) sleep deprivation and (a little more) energy, it’s a good feeling to look back and know we made it through in large part due to the loving support of our community. It’s also a good feeling to look forward and know our kid will grow up in that community – a lot of good, solid folks who know a thing or two about building barns. So to speak.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My: Sex Ed and Consent Mechanics


Bowser, is exhibiting behavior which is NOT suggested when dealing with this topic.

I went to WisCon again over Memorial Day. It was wonderful and difficult and continues to be wonderful and difficult, even as it’s over for the year (maybe emphasis on the difficult, but that’s a story for another day).

On Saturday I went to a panel called Sex Education for Kids: Consent Mechanics, and I would like to tell you about it. The panel description:

“It can be hard to know exactly when to talk to your kids about sex and what to say. Let’s talk about what we’ve tried, how well it worked, and what lessons we’ve learned in the process. The Positive Consent model is different from how things were taught thirty years ago; how can we learn to model and teach it outside the ‘birds-and-bees’ lecture?”

So I mean, how could I not go? Jetpack is five now, and man, things are just going to get more difficult. I LOVED this article, What If We Admitted to Children That Sex Is Primarily About Pleasure, and it also legitimately terrified me. I don’t know how I am going to talk to my kid about sex! We’re still working on respecting personal boundaries, and no, I don’t want your feet in my face. Working on consent mechanics in the sandbox? Got the idea down, but it’s not easy. How to you teach the next steps?

Anyway, my buddy Mo was on the panel, and did a bit of blogging about it (it’s the first panel he talks about). I appreciated his point that sexual education and sexual consent are linked, because it wasn’t a line I’d drawn in my head before—if a person doesn’t know what they’re agreeing to, what kind of consent are they giving? Making sure our kids know what they’re agreeing to, or refusing for that matter, seems paramount.

There was a lot of discussion of well-meaning but horribly awkward methods of dealing with sex ed, and what to do about them. Books seemed like a great way to start the discussion, without making kids feel on the spot. It seems like normalizing those books in the home was good—rather than tossing them on your child’s bed when you decide It Is The Time, having them on their bookshelf for access when they feel like the time is right. As with so many things, not having all the answers is okay, and probably a pretty healthy way of continuing dialog and also helping your kid empower themselves (”I’m not sure. Let’s go look it up in your book!”)

Related to books—please teach your kids to look critically at their sources! Mo volunteers at Scarleteen, and was discussing how very many teens he talks to who have gotten “answers” from Yahoo Answers. Please never take Yahoo Answers as any kind of authority, and please, teach your kids to be careful what websites they trust.

There was one parent (? I think? It was two weeks ago; my memory is foggy) who said that when they were a kid, they were told that when they did decide to have sex, to please do so at home, in their own bed. The reasoning was actually pretty good: they wanted their kid to have sex in a environment where they would hopefully have the space and leisure to use protection, to be less likely to be coerced, to be more likely to think it through and make safe and consensual decisions. Which is pretty brilliant, if kind of scary.

There was also a discussion of teens saying things like “my parents will kill me if they find out…” I think the commonness of that phrasing, along with the prevalence of rape culture in our society, drives home the truth that discussion of sex in a positive way, with a bent towards consent, is so important. IF you teach your kid before they become a teen that sex is okay, and here’s how it works; IF you teach your kid as they’re becoming a teen about what is ACTUALLY happening to their bodies, and what could actually happen to their bodies; THEN you have a teen and an adult who is empowered, strong, and smart enough to make safe, consensual decisions when they’re thinking about sex. Maybe if we taught kids about consent from the beginning, maybe there would be less men’s right’s activists in the world. Maybe.

Reading Materials! WisCon is always good for leaving you with a long list of books you want to look into. Here’s what the panel mentioned: