We went to the zoo last Saturday. Of course Gracie is way too small to spot lions on the “savannah” but despite our grumbling about the ethics of caged animals we love watching them up close. And we were craving the company of other families with children although, as a queer family, on most days our belonging to the greater world of families is controlled, controllable and often just an illusion.
Among thousands of families we didn’t run into any other same-sex couples with children. The fourth wall of social interaction often crumbles among mothers. It is easy to start a conversation, easy to ask questions and exchange smiles — easy until your same-sex partner returns from the bathrooms in the artificial mountainside and they suddenly realize you are not who they thought you were.
I sometimes feel like I am posing as a birth mother, posing as a straight woman, posing as part of a “normal” family. I sometimes believe that straight moms aren’t going to take me seriously as a parent unless I am one of them, which is true sometimes but certainly not true all the time.
I am preempting rejection to avoid feeling rejected, which is both a cowardly and an unprogressive way to live.
I have run into people I haven’t seen in a while when out with Gracie, without Andrea, and not addressed their assumption that I gave birth to her. “Julia, you have a baby?! Wow, that’s amazing. You look so good! I am so excited for you! How old is she — or he? Is it she? Blah blah blah blah blah!”
There is actually a very small window of opportunity to dispel the myth that I gave birth to the infant I am holding. If it fits within the flow of conversation I will say, “Well, my partner gave birth to her but I am parenting her too.” But if it would produce major awkwardness or confusion I sometimes skip that detail, allowing them to think first, that if I am a woman caring for an infant then I must be her biological mother, second, that I am on some miracle diet that has returned me to being a flat-chested, small-waisted woman eight weeks after giving birth and third, that I might actually be partnered with some man. None of these are ideas I am hoping to perpetuate but every once in a while I’ve just said,”Oh, thank you” because I can’t be bothered explaining things.
I work with people who are learning English, so sometimes I am too lazy to embrace the challenge of having to describe our family in different words. I work with children for whom “another woman gave birth to her and we are raising her together” is saying enough without really saying anything. I work with a lot of people who don’t know the details of my personal life, who are suddenly looking at me differently thinking that, despite my crazy haircuts, my boy clothes, my captive bead jewellery, I have finally settled down and joined the land of regular people, people with babies, family people.
Mothers with babies are approachable and smile-worthy which, typically, recognizably queer women are not. So I have suddenly gained this tiny notch of acceptable status that maybe, just maybe, I am reluctant to toss away.
I am learning that every new stage of my life brings a new opportunity to promote the visibility and acceptance of queer people. I don’t really have the right, or the luxury, to contribute to my own invisibility as a nonbiological queer mum. When I am fighting to be recognized — at daycare, at school, at peewee hockey registration — I will be sorry I ever deflected any questions.
I am not a queer mum just when Andrea and I are together, but in the eyes of the world my queerness is only visible when Andrea and I are together. Unless I say so. When I assert the reality of my life I am increasing the number of times other mothers connect with queer mothers and nonbiological moms. One of the easiest routes to acceptance is exposure. Duh.
As soon as Gracie starts to talk and understand sentences there will be no obscuring anything because I know better than to project any sense of secrecy on her. So I’d better start practising. In a way I feel like I am joining the world of adoptive parents and second fathers, the world of people who are connected to their kids in an atypical way. We can’t bitch about people assuming incorrectly if we don’t assert our realities or correct their mistakes.
While I’m at it I should probably quit going to the zoo. I’ve been in enough Pride parades to know how it feels to be a tourist attraction.