Guest Post: Maintaining Self-Identity as a Parent

Our guest post this week comes from Fab Mama, writing about identity, visibility, and family. Interested in submitting your own guest post? Click here!


Once I became a parent my identity was forever changed.  When people ask me about myself one of the first things I say is that I am a mom (to the most amazing toddler on the planet).  I am also a partner, a teacher, a cis-gender woman, a former dancer (who still itches to move), a quiet artist (who is probably a closeted crafter), a baker, and so many other things.  But for the first year of Fab Baby’s life, my complex identity dissolved into one primary role: motherhood.  I nursed Fab Baby around the clock, stayed home during the day to care for her, washed her diapers, cleaned up her spit-up, held her as she napped, and co-slept with her.   The line between my end and her beginning was blurred; we were some kind of symbiotic being, breathing and pulsating together.

But, as we rounded the bend on Fab Baby’s first birthday I began to see that my “momminess” was showing.  I had a frumpy haircut, carried more post-baby weight than I felt comfortable with, wore a “mom” coat because my more fashionable coats still didn’t fit, and felt overall uninspired.

So, here we are 16 months into parenthood and I am just now regaining some of my former parts.  I’m going to the gym more regularly, I got some clothes that I feel good in, I got a part-time job out of the house, my partner and I schedule more time for me to be alone and do things that fuel me, and I got a better haircut.  I have realized that while being a mom is important, I don’t want that to be the only (or even most important) way that I define myself.

I imagine most first-time parents, especially stay-at-home and nursing parents, can relate to this temporary loss of identity.

In addition to temporarily misplacing my identity in mommyland, I also struggle with finding a way to self-identify in the context of my new family.  I have always struggled to find the right label for my sexual orientation.  When I dated a woman it was easy to say things like, “My girlfriend…” or “My partner, she…” and people knew I wasn’t straight without my needing to come up with a label for myself.  Now being the partner of a transgender man I am often misread as a straight lady.  This is even more so the case now that we have a child; people hear that I have a baby and a partner/husband, and assume that we are just your average got-knocked-up-the-old-fashion-way hetero couple.  This perception couldn’t be further from the truth.  I am proud to be a member of the LGBTQ community (even if my identity doesn’t fall under one of those labels).  Sometimes when I’m in a room full of straight-appearing folks I want to scream at the top of my lungs, “I’m not just like you! I’m different!”

But then, how do I talk about myself?  I can’t casually mention my same-gendered partner to out myself.  Sure I can use “partner” instead of “husband” when talking with people, but lots of hip folks – gay, straight, or otherwise—use this term now.  I could also reveal that I am married to a trans guy, but I hate that one of the only ways I can think of to self-identify involves outing my partner.  This is unfair to him, as he should be the one who gets to decide who is privy to that information, and it’s unfair to me.  It makes me feel less than a whole person and that I don’t have my own unique identity without my partner.

How do I talk about my family open and honestly without sharing information that isn’t mine to share?  How do I self-identify if my identity is wrapped up in other people?  I suppose the larger question, for people of all family compositions, gender identities, and sexual orientations, is: how do you maintain a sense of self within the context of a family?

Guest Post: Raising My Fabulous Child

Iʼm Matthias, and Iʼm a single dad to two small tornadoes. My life is crazy on a good day and Iʼm learning and loving every moment of it. (This post is a submission by a guest author. To submit your own guest post, click here.)

 

ThumperStyle

It hurts to have this much style.

Thumper and I were at the movies, heading toward the concessions counter. Thumper was skipping along as usual and another moviegoer smiled and commented: “What a happy girl.” Then she took another look, taking in the pink outfit and short haircut and changed her mind; “…boy,” she corrected herself. Then looking to me perhaps for clarification, she revised further: “…person.” This is one of my favorite examples of life with my gender-playful child.

Iʼm a trans guy, and a dad for almost five years now. Iʼve always talked about my trans identity with my kids, Thumper (almost five) and Monster (two and a half). I started explaining it by saying I used to be a girl when I was little. And that was it. I mean, all sorts of things change. Change is something that kids are learning about all the time. How snow melts into water, how water freezes into ice, how seeds grow into plants. Whatʼs one more? To kids who have never had gender norms imposed on them, girls growing up to be men is just one more possibility in a whole world of changing things.

Despite my best efforts, my children categorize things as “girl” or “boy” things. However, they freely choose between those options. Thumper has been largely choosing girl clothing for a little over a year, since he was three. He went through this awful phase of not wanting to wear any clothes at all–which is fine and good except it was late fall, I didnʼt have a car, and we walked everywhere. I had to get him to put something on so I could get him to school and get to work. After a few mornings of loading him naked into a sleeping bag and buckling him in the stroller for this lovely 30-some degree walk, I was at witʼs end. It was around this time that someone gave us a bag of dress-up clothes, including princess dresses. It was indeed magical, the switch from daily wrestling matches to get my kid into clothes to him being excited to put on a dress to wear to school.

Over a year later, Thumper still prefers dresses, skirts, anything pink or sparkly. Iʼm happy to be a parent who celebrates my fancy kid. Iʼm glad that I have experiences that I can share with him, and that he feels comfortable talking to me about things like gender. There are quite a few resources out there for parents of trans or gender-exploring children, but I havenʼt found any specifically for queer parents. I have moments of feeling scared about what life might be like for him as he starts school, but Iʼm more excited to share in this abundance of gender with my kid!

So, queer parents, how do we encourage our children to think creatively about gender?

Guest Post: Super Sperm!

This post is a submission by a guest author who wishes to remain anonymous. To submit your own guest post, click here.

My partner and I are shopping for sperm. With all the sperm available out there in the world, you would think this would be easy. Cismen unload that stuff in frenzied sessions all year long. They literally throw sperm away all the time. But when we asked our good friend for a bit of his sperm so that we could try to have a baby, he said no.

I’ve never felt that my body was lacking something the way that I feel it right now. In the past, if I wasn’t able to change something about my body with available options presented to me, I could make peace with that. Somehow, this feels different. This would not be an “accident” baby. This baby is well thought out; names meticulously considered, lists compiled of anti-racist baby books, theories on how to talk to our child about trans stuff, should we make baby food or buy baby food?*, what happens if I get bored or isolated as a stay at home father?, how much screen time should they have, etc. You get the point. This kid is well planned for…..now we just need the kid.

We approached Kyle with compassion and neutrality. We did not beg for his sperm, nor did we make it overly emotional. He felt honored that we asked, but he quickly said no. He wanted his own children in the future, and felt that having a child who was “sort of” his would mess up something, emotionally, for his future kid. We respected his choice, of course. But that left us with the real problem of sperm. We do not know any other cismen that we feel comfortable being a known donor to our child. That simple “no”, however we love and respect Kyle, just cost us a minimum of $1,000 worth of: anonymous vials of sperm, trips to the doctor, and any insemination costs not covered by insurance – then multiplied by however many times needed to get pregnant. What an expensive rejection!

I went through several days of depression while I sorted out my feelings. I felt embarrassed that I had to ask another man for his sperm. Angry that he put some theoretical child of the future as a larger priority than his good friends’ current situation. Considering the costs of sperm banks, I felt anxious that we wouldn’t get pregnant right away and the costs would be too much with subsequent attempts. I felt angry that he can make sperm and I cannot. I feel angry that he has the choice whether to give his sperm away or not. I wanted to write this post in a letter form, addressed to Kyle, but I think that he’s been at the center of my brain for long enough. We are not waiting for anyone else to be part of this path to parenthood. Whatever the outcome, we are doing this together. I just hope we get lucky with some awesome anonymous sperm that does the trick! Hopefully at this time next year, I’ll be wiping up drool and longing for the days when I could sit down to write a blog post about sperm.

* Make!

Hello There, 2013

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I was going to post on New Year’s Eve, but I was out partying* and also, December decided to go out with the kind of a bang that only a kid in preschool (or as they should be called, the Human Petri Dish) can bring home for the holidays.

My apologies.

I don’t take much stock in the number of the year clicking over, and the insistence of making resolutions that one will feel guilty about but not actually accomplish until May when it’s sunny out and December changing into January becomes a dim, terrible memory. But I try to respect the traditions of others, and I wonder how many out there are making resolutions about queer stuff. Parent stuff. Coming out, working harder to be recognized as themselves, walking down the street without being terrified. Being a better, more understanding parent, playing more games, helping them get their homework done before breakfast. Explaining to your little one a little more of your world. Taking his penchant for Barbies one day at a time, and trying not to fight it.

I wish you all the best of 2013. Luck in understanding and self-worth, luck in personal safety and public respect. Luck in day-to-day struggles. I won’t overstep my bounds and tell you to have a happy one. They so often aren’t, and really, we don’t all need to be happy all the time. Have a good 2013. Have a useful 2013. Have a 2013 that does It for you, whatever It needs to be.

May 2013 be a year you can be proud of. Peace!

*That’s mostly a lie. We went to a kid-friendly board game party, where Jetpack and his good friend played with trucks and the parents played EuroRails. It worked well! We were home by 7, he fell asleep in the car on the way home, and I played Ocarina of Time until I wanted to throw my controller through a window, which is the only way I play that game.

So This is Christmas

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The kids open presents last night

My feelings around the holidays are complex. I grew up going to various family houses with my parents and my sister. My folks are the oldest in two large families, so the holidays were always a big party.  My birthday is thrown into the mix there, and I grew up learning to put that last due to everyone’s holiday tension and plans. As I got older and left home, I noticed that the delight in spending time around family rested almost exclusively with my extended family. My parents don’t really celebrate the holiday on their own, reminding me that they don’t exchange gifts when I have asked what they got each other. We don’t talk much about our feelings, so I’m not sure their reasons for not participating in christmas. We didn’t have a ton of money growing up, though my parents are comfortable (not well off, however) now. My mom has said that if they need anything, they will just get it and not wait for a holiday. They raised us, out of necessity, to challenge capitalism. “Do you really need that?” I can hear my mom whisper in the back of my mind while I’m browsing in a store. Some days I feel lucky for that resistance. But this year I was buying for a 5 year old and an 8 year old in my life.

Our queer holiday situation is new, and we don’t have the years of tradition and ritual behind us. We all gathered at my girlfriend’s home to open presents. Me, my girlfriend, her daughter, her Baby Ima, Baby Ima’s partner, and Baby Ima’s partner’s son. We slowly opened a few presents, the adults had a few beers, we ate some food, we opened a few more presents. Adults put batteries into gifts and the house turned into chaos. There were toys that made farting noises. Radio controlled toys that sped into the kitchen and rolled over people’s feet. Tons of books. Toys that were THE EXACT SAME so the kids wouldn’t fight over them [good call, Baby Ima and partner!]. The evening was messy, fun, loud, silly, chaotic, and happy. Friends came to visit amid the bedlam. During the night, everyone sang Happy Birthday to me, and I got to blow out candles.

I’ve always wondered why I have a different idea about what it means to be “family” than my family of origin. Why do I care so much that we are all together? Why do they seem to not care? My process around it is just that – a process. Hopefully, the kids in my life know that holidays mean spending time with people you love and care about, and maybe making them laugh with your fake farts for awhile. It’s not perfect and it may be messy at times, but at least we’re together. That’s all that matters to me.

There is No Closet Around a 3-Year-Old

Jetpack's First Sledding Adventure

Jetpack’s First Sledding Adventure

My kid, Jetpack, thinks our family is the coolest thing ever. Last week, he had some routine bloodwork done. We sat down in the phlebotomist’s chair, and she began tying a big rubber band around his arm.

“Is this your daddy?” The woman is older, hard of hearing, generically pleasant.

“Yes. I have two daddies!” He shouts. Everything with a 3-year-old happens loudly. The middle-aged man at the nearby chair stares. The phlebotomist smiles at him.

“Well aren’t you lucky! What’s your daddy’s name?” (He goes on to explain both of our names, and his, and talk about his aunt’s ferrets, all before she manages to poke him. He completely confused the poor woman).

Passing has been a relatively new thing for me, and a double edged sword. Being read as a man, rather than a really butch woman, is a new thing. More complicated is that everyone reads me as a straight man, rather than a gay one. I don’t know how that happened, really.

Luckily, Jetpack has kept me honest. He’s called me dad almost as long as he has talked. And he’s corrected people for that long, too. At the park, to the other kids. “No, that’s my dad. I don’t have a mom.” Since before anyone else could understand all those words tumbling from his tiny lips. He’s always been quite verbal, naming his articulating end loader and his shirt with the styracosaurus to anyone who will give him a second’s attention.

And he will loudly respond, when people inevitably ask.

“Is that your daddy?”

“Yes! I have two daddies!”

There’s no closet around a 3-year-old.

It’s not like I’m ashamed, of course. If I was, I probably wouldn’t be writing on here. It’s just hard to drop it into conversation without seeming awkward. I was on the phone with a potential new landlord the other day. He was asking about the members of my household—a pretty legitimate question—and I referred to my partner repeatedly with masculine pronouns, and he—repeatedly—responded with feminine. “He works at [job].”

“Oh, she works at [job]?” Over, and over.

And then on our second phone call, “What’s your wife’s name?”

“Tyler.” Followed by an awkward silence. (We didn’t rent from him).

If I’d been my 3-year-old, I would’ve just shouted “NO he’s a BOY!” I don’t feel like I was exactly closeted at the time, but I definitely had more social awkwardness then Jetpack, for better or worse. We could probably all learn from the toddler lack of shame.

Like his pronouncements of potty-related activities (parents and caregivers of toddlers, you know what I mean), it seems a little inappropriate at times. Like when he shouts it to little old ladies at the grocery store. “I have two daddies!” On the other hand, at least he’s proud of us. In a year or three I won’t be able to kiss his cheek in public without blushing and grumbling and whining, and once he’s hit the double digits he’s probably going to spend a couple of days a year wishing none of us had ever been born.

But for now Jetpack is a very happy guy. He’s overjoyed to hold our hands in public—he likes “making a chain”—and hugging and kissing and shouting “I have two daddies!” to everyone who will listen. And there I will be, smiling nervously, hoping no one ever takes him off of his cloud.

There’s no closet around a 3-year-old—just a tiny room that’s good for locking the cat in, playing hide-and-seek, and jumping out at unsuspecting old ladies.

(I would love to read some similar stories–in what ways have your children brought your information out to air? I imagine a lot of us have some hilarious [and maybe not-so-funny] stories…)

The Non-Parent

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When I sat down to think about what I wanted to say in this piece, I felt a rush of insecurities. How do I talk about the challenges of parenting when I’m not a parent? I bathe, feed, cuddle, and play with a small person, but I’m not her parent. I buckle them into a car seat, bring them to the library, withhold treats until the vegetables have been eaten, and

listen to their feelings, but I’m not their parent. She has an Ima and a Mama. When she introduces me to people, she’ll say “This is my Ethan!”, sometimes followed up with “He’s my mom’s boyfriend.” How do we name our families when there are no words?

There are many moments of caregiving, whether challenging or joyous, when I emotionally retreat a bit. It’s clear that the situation calls for a primary parent action. I readily acknowledge that I’m not (nor want to be) this person’s father, and the intensity of parenting that is needed is not within my ability. This is not a question of length of time as a caregiver; I’m simply never going to be this person’s father. The disconnect between parental-seeming duties while not being a parent is something that needs more reflection. I want words that say “This is who you are to me” without taking the place of “parent”*.

Not having a specific name in this kid’s life isn’t an issue in a day to day way. I am a constant presence. We have our disagreements and our cuddle times. She asks when I’m coming back; I tell her when I’ll see her next and that I’ll miss her until we see each other again. I get annoyed with her behavior and love her creativity at the same time. She is excited to share things she’s learned at school, and I genuinely enjoy hanging out with her. We know who we are to each other, even if there is no particular name for it.

 

*I’ve looked for books, communities, or support groups that are discussing ways that blended queer families are creating new identities. I have not found a lot of resources, so if you know of any, comment here!