On Gender Roles, Shaking Up Norms, and Queer Parenthood

gender roles and queer parenting

By Charlotte Capogna-Amias

Gender is such a funny thing sometimes. I was reading my co-conspirator’s most recent post on our co-authored blog and reflecting on how wonderfully unique our experiences are around gender and how that informs many of our life decisions- from the minute to mammoth. Perhaps even more interesting to me is how our gender expression often dictates other people’s perceptions of us, which may or may not be in-line with our own self-identity. I find this has been true for me as a parent: people see one thing and probably assume something different than my reality.

Here’s some local highlights from my experience of my gender identity and roles in relation to being a parent, and a queer, non-gestational one specifically:

1) My soft butch female partner carried and birthed our beloved daughter. I wouldn’t have seen that one coming. Other people really didn’t see that coming. Let me be clear: it’s not because I couldn’t imagine her being pregnant, I just always thought I would be the gestational parent when I “envisioned my future.” FYI for point of context: I am female-bodied (as is my partner) with a mostly normative gender presentation and I am confused about whether the term “femme” feels like it fits with my queer gender identity anymore. Enormous parentheses disclaimer: (I realize I am *grossly* oversimplifying femme identity, but here’s just one example of where I feel like a misfit amongst my fabulous femme sisters: Shhh! Don’t tell, but I actually don’t like dressing up [most of the time]. I feel my most powerful when I am sweaty and covered in so much soft, brown earth it makes temporary etchings in my hands and feet from working my butt off in the garden and yard. Here’s the kicker though- I’m pretty good at dressing up, so I think I fool people. Here’s my added confusion: most people identify me as a femme and once I began being identified as such, even after years of being out, this was when I first felt truly welcomed and seen within the LGBTQ community. Therein lies a hint of my confusion. Anyhow, moving on…).

2) I hope to be able to be the gestational parent to our second child. I do have that woo-woo, Mama with a capital “M”, “primal” (if you buy that business) desire to get pregnant. Yes, I want to “feel a life growing inside my body”; watch my skinny, straight figure grow and stretch and take on it’s own unique shape with said baby. Heck, I even want to pop that sucker out of my body naturally if possible. I have been present for two exceptionally long, difficult births of which I distinctly remember thinking, “nope, hell no, I don’t want to do that after all, no, never, forget it.” And yes, no more than a year later, I have apparently drunk the Kool Aid of parental psychic forgetfulness and can’t quite grasp that terrifying feeling I had when I witnessed those births. I mean, I remember thinking that (as I’m sharing with you now) I just don’t remember it (why do I have a sneaking suspicion those feelings will come flooding back if I ever find myself in labor?). I still want to have that baby, body be damned (but maybe I’ll have a phenomenal birth like in the Ina May Gaskin books, right? One can hope).

3) Even though I have an incredibly strong, strangely visceral, desire to one day be pregnant, I don’t really love babies. I mean I like them. I just don’t LOVE them. If I can be shamelessly honest- I don’t have that feeling when a baby is born where everyone is all, “they’re sooooo beautiful!” They have their own baby charm I suppose, but I think most newborns are slightly funny looking (except for you of course, my dearest daughter). They just haven’t grown into themselves yet. Even more, I don’t know what to do with them. I don’t even know how to hold their tiny bodies. They sleep a ton and nurse or bottle-feed; they poop and pee; they cry… am I missing something? I have a hard time getting over-the-moon excited about that. Let me be clear though: I do find the “miracle of birth” and that we can *grow new humans in our bodies* (that one still gets me, am I alone?) nothing short of phenomenal; I just don’t quite know how to relate to these wee ones when their personalities haven’t emerged and they’re all basic needs and swaddling. My spouse, now she LOVES them. She can barely have a conversation in a restaurant if one is around she is so distracted by their infantile presence. “Hey, I was saying something! Are you listening to me?” Never mind.

4) Now toddlers I can get behind. Give me the tantrums; the big personalities; they’re zany, physical gestures; they’re deliciously adorable small selves…I mostly think it’s all pretty awesome in their own funky toddler way (ok, maybe I could do without the tantrums).

5) My spouse and I both provide regular nurturance to my daughter, but my spouse is definitely more of the one to regularly get on my daughter’s level through her intentional, focused time engaging with whatever activity my daughter naturally wants to do. I am actively trying to do this practice I learned about called “special time,” where you basically do just that, but see I have to think about it, make it a practice, it’s not something that would be my natural default. I am more of the goofball with my daughter who gets endless joy out of seeing my girl riff on a good chortle of laughter.

I’m sure there is more that shakes up and re-sorts stereotypical- even queer stereotypical- notions of parenthood in our family, but I’m just getting rolling. A friend of mine recently sent me a great article from the blog “Offbeat Mama” on queer parenting. It was interesting to read about the author and her partner’s experiences around their parental roles as a queer couple. The author, who is the gestational parent, identifies as a “low-femme” and she alludes to her partner being butch. The author is their child’s mother and her partner is their child’s dad. Admittedly, on first read I had the same snap judgment that the author refers to others having: “aren’t you just mimicking the hetero norm?” (Weirdly, I have friends in my life who go by more masculine of center parent-names such as “Papa” and “Poppy” and I don’t think much of those, maybe somehow those didn’t seem quite as normative to me?). But as I read more of the article and thought more about it, I realized that they weren’t mimicking, because they were putting their own queer spin on these traditional roles. How brave for her partner to claim what felt right to her: Dad.

If I’m really honest with myself, sometimes I feel more like Dad in our family. Part of this comes from an empowering place and feels downright awesome to me, especially when we think about messing with gender and me being this femme (sorta) lady, and part of it doesn’t feel so awesome… it feels like we may be mirroring some of the crappy norms deemed common- and sadly ok- within hetero families with a Mom and a Dad (like who’s more likely to have the final say on a parenting decision). It’s a lot to think about and the nuances of this issue makes my brain hurt a bit. For now, I’m my daughter’s Mummy and I’d like to think that my spouse and I provide a nurturing, dynamic blend of different parenting styles to meet her different needs… and if not, we are working on it and that’s got to count for something. In the meantime, just call me Mr. Mummy.

Charlotte Capogna-Amias started writing in high school and produced two DIY zines in which she had a fan base of fellow punks around the country who were also trying to make meaning of their lives through stories, rants and art. These days Charlotte studies in the Amherst Writers & Artists method and her writing on parenthood has appeared in Hip Mama magazine and the forthcoming web publication of This Bridge Called My Baby. Charlotte is the co-founder and facilitator of the Queer Non-Gestational Parents Group- a support group based in western Massachusetts. Charlotte has a Masters in Social Justice Education and works for a university support program for students who are low-income, first generation college students or have a disability. Charlotte lives in western Massachusetts with her spouse and energetic two-year-old daughter. In her spare time (that was funny), Charlotte is working with her friend and fellow blogster, Betsy Fife Archer, on a guidebook about becoming a queer, non-gestational parent. She and Betsy blog at turkeybasterandabottleofwine.wordpress.com

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