Queer Parenting part 1
Three years, nine months and 14 days ago my life changed more than I could have ever imagined when I first embarked on this journey. In fact, cliché as this may be, my life changed the moment I decided to get pregnant, nearly five years ago. Yet, a question stayed with me from those first days of finally deciding to try for a baby until now, when my desire has become a bouncy toddler with a mind of her own (and apparently I am to blame as she seems to be taking after me on this one!). Does being queer, or bi or poly, or whatever label I happen to use for myself at any particular point in time, makes any difference to being a parent? This seems like a simple enough question but the more I come into contact with other queer parents, both in personal/social contexts and professional ones, as a family therapist, the more I realise that there is no straightforward answer. I have met same-sex couples committed to emphasising how becoming parents was a great equaliser and how being queer only made a difference to other people but not to them. I have also met couples, single parents and families to whom being queer made a difference, even if it was something to do with how they saw themselves as parents, rather than how the world saw them.
I realised from the start that I firmly belong to the second category. When my life partner and chosen co-parent X and I started to talk about the possibility of having a child together, there seemed to be no manual to navigate some of our conversations. Choice topics for such a manual, as far as my experience is concerned, would have been the following.
1. “How to carry on having a happy, polyamorous relationship (including casual sex) when you are trying for a baby or are already pregnant.”
This provoked an interesting exploration of the constructs I had as a woman who had been brought up a catholic in Italy by her Sicilian grandmother vs. my constructs as a poly, bi feminist. Whereas X was quite at peace with this issue, or did a good job of seeming so when we talked about it, I had to confront my own demons. What if I caught an STD that would affect my precious baby? What if I did something, anything, which would put the baby or me at risk? Basically, I realised I was still expecting a judging ‘God’ of my past to come down and punish me if I was to have too much fun, or even just carry on being me whilst wanting to be a mother as well. This realisation helped me to readjust my own construct of motherhood or, to be more accurate, to start adjusting it, as this process seems to be an ongoing one. In his wisdom, X also invited me to reflect on what I wanted to teach our child through the way I lived my life. Surely if I were truly sex-positive (as I would like to be), why was I having so many negative thoughts about being poly and pregnant? To be honest, once pregnant, hormones did take over much rational thought on the subject and I was rather surprised (and delighted) to discover just how attractive that ‘magic pregnancy glow’ could be!
2. “What if your child turns out to be queer in any way (bi, gay, lesbian, trans, poly, kinky, you get the picture), will there be blame?”
This conversation is particularly suited to combinations of parents where mom identifies as queer but the other parent(s) don’t, as in my case. Once again X demonstrated his love and support whilst I struggled to come to terms with some internalised queerphobia that ran a little deeper than I am comfortable admitting, being the out and proud woman that I am (most of the time!). The struggle might have been painful, but not fruitless, as I realised just how much ‘added value’ being queer can bring. My child has a broader range of diverse people around her and, hopefully, she will develop an understanding that life does not have to be this polarised, dichotomous affair that many would have us believe (e.g. you are either male or female, straight or gay). Being a poly mom also means that I have a wider net of support at times, even if it is just people who understand me, my life and my parenting efforts and whom I can talk to. For her, it means being surrounded by some adults who care about her very much. Once again, I realised early on that I needed to look at my identities in a positive way in order to appreciate the gifts they brought to my parenting.
The list of conversational topics could go on, and it did at the time, but I am sure you get the idea. Of course the concerns were not just mine. After much probing and talking (he is a little on the quiet side) X admitted that he was concerned about my openness to parent a boy as well as a girl. Now I want all the feminists, of whatever genders, to take a deep breath and hold on before screaming at this page, because he was right. I went through a very long time of not liking men, including a stint of four years as a separatist lesbian. I pretty much had no straight male friends at the time, apart from him, and I had openly said I wanted a girl. I was brought up in a family where there was domestic violence and had a violent first marriage. My opinion of guys had certainly not been positive and I did not shy away from depreciative comments about men at any opportunity. What would this mean if I became mother to a boy? Would my past experiences tinge his self-esteem? More talking ensued as well as further work on myself. I cannot say I am now always and completely positive about men, especially straight men I must say, but I am definitely further along the path. I also ended up having a girl but I have since realised that these issues were just as relevant, if I were to bring up someone who would not simply prejudge people according to their genitals.
So here I was, before I had even started the fun bit of having lots of unprotected sex with X for the first time, examining closely so many parts of my self and realising that there were indeed many selves with different ideas within me and that some where at odds with each other. The first hurdle of parenthood was, for me, looking at what is sometimes called the shadow self, the parts of us we do not necessarily want to see, even in private. I was not alone on this journey, which made it both easier and more difficult and I know that X did his own soul-searching, as well as having to face our shared one as a couple.
Are those concerns any different to those that any parent would have, regardless of their sexual orientation? Possibly. Still, I believe that my identities, as a bi, poly, feminist woman have led me to look at my relationships, the world and myself a little more closely. My parenting and, more specifically, my role as a mother is continuously filtered through those lenses, even before my daughter was born.