Welcome to the club

Queer Parenting part 2

Every Friday my daughter and I visit the Library (this is apparently far less dull than it sounds, especially for a three year old, trust me!) As we navigate our way into town on buses, I am reminded of how the world sees me now that I am a ‘mom’, leaving me always a little surprised at the amount and type of conversations I find myself having with older people or other moms. Being a mom, in fact even earlier than that, being pregnant, seems to bring a feeling of sisterhood for women everywhere. Of course such sisterhood is not always pleasant, especially if the woman in question has decided that you are obviously struggling with the arduous task of parenthood and proceeds to give you advice. It is also quite irritating when you are at work or pursuing any activity on your own and another mom, having discovered you are also a parent, sighs ‘how she could never leave her child for so long when she was that age’. I am not saying that sisterhood sucks (I am still a feminist after all) but that I have found the bond with other women that maternity brings a little more complex than I expected.

There have been brighter moments since joining the exclusive club of motherhood, such as falling asleep on my friend’s sofa anytime I visited her with the baby. She is also a mother and, as such, did not seem to mind so much the fact that our visits became a sort of respite care for me during Z’s first year. My mother and I also seem to have entered a new dimension in our relationship and I appreciate being one of the lucky women whose mother actually respects most of her beliefs about parenting. Having said that, we have had our share of rows over the lack of meat or indeed animal products in Z’s life. However, the most unsettling aspect of having joined the club has been my apparent ability to pass, regardless of the length of my hair, my clothes, the purple boots and even the lustful remarks about Ms. Jolie! All of the sudden, I seem to be more heterosexual than I ever wanted to appear and no effort, short of snogging a woman in public view, seems to be detected or appreciated by the unknowing masses around me.

I realise this has its own advantages of course and I do not want to appear ungrateful or judgemental when there are many people who would love to pass as easily. Still, for a former separatist lesbian, this is still a little disconcerting. I also think that this is possible because we do indeed live in the Sticks. Londoners generally seem more aware of the fact that queer people can indeed reproduce, foster and adopt.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that being part of the club seems at odds with queer visibility and yet I cannot shake the feeling of being in the wrong club most of the time. The so-called ‘heterosexual advantage’ (at least that’s what many lesbian friends called it when I came out as bi and started dating a guy) is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Maybe I am saying that because since entering the club I seem to have become much more cautious about loudly declaring my sexuality. Whereas family, friends and colleagues know about it, I have found myself sometimes unwilling to challenge people’s assumptions in more cursory encounters, such as at nursery or on the playground. I feel invisible yet visibility is perceived to be so much more dangerous now that I am a mother and there I am, caught in between identities and feeling slightly out of kilter in either. On one hand, here I am, the perfect image of suburbia, living with a man and a child, and any reading on queer parenting seems to involve a same-sex couple (preferably monogamous, of course). On the other, here I am, not feeling very comfortable to share what I have been up to at the weekend or what my real feelings and thoughts are when casually chatting to acquaintances or neighbours.

By this point, you may be asking yourself why this matters so much to me, or what the big deal is. First of all, I am a person who likes feeling I belong and, from experience, I seem to be in good company on this need, and I am most comfortable when I can be wholly myself. It is those two things that seem to go missing in my life from time to time since joining the mothers’ brigade (yes, I have actually heard someone using this term in the last week!). Gone is people’s interest in who you are, what you believe, what you do with your time. Once a mom, you can find yourself having loop-conversations about your child, time and time again. I have even found that some people no longer ask me about myself at all but just jump straight in to: ‘how is Z? She must be big now…’ I have also experienced loss of potential friendships and the concerned questions about the welfare of my child, because of being queer. The club is very broad and I have found myself connected to people I would not normally have deep and meaningful conversations with.

I must say that in the midst of the not-so-unexpected prejudices, there have also been some great moments of joyful and surprising sisterhood. Finally, after Polyday, back in October, I have also realised that we have our own club. There are plenty of us queer parents out there and many of us share similar concerns. Our club is broad too and it can bring its own share of tensions around our different, social, political, cultural and economic values and backgrounds. Nevertheless, personally, I find it just that little more comfortable.

It would be great to hear from other parents out there. Are there particular issues that you would like to talk or read about?

Alex