Fun fact time! I am queer, and super happy about it! Less fun fact: My queerness is often rendered invisible thanks to marriage and heteronormativity.
On a day-to-day basis, this is not a big problem, because the people who are closest to me are fully aware of my sexual and romantic identities, and are the type of kickass people who remain conscious and inclusive of queerness even when it isn’t visible. But heteronormativity is the prevailing mindset in America, and damn if that doesn’t get old after a while.
This poses some complex challenges for me and Miles, in terms of parenting. I want to raise Bean so she knows that queerness is normal, and straightness is not the default. There aren’t many models out there on how to do this, especially with toddlers, who relate to the world in concrete (as in, she needs to see/hear/touch it for herself) terms. There aren’t any picture books at the library called Mommy is Married to Daddy but She Also Is Attracted to People of Other Genders and That’s Why She Reads Hothead Paisan and Takes Me To Pride Every Year. Sure, I can read her And Tango Makes Three and Red: A Crayon’s Story every day, but those don’t include every gender or sexual identity. Even if there were a book for every single identity out there, they still wouldn’t be the way to seamlessly weave my queerness into my parenting because they’re still about someone else.
Luckily, I have found some ways to bring queer identity into my parenting, based on a (admittedly, way too small) amount of research on Queer Theory. In my parenting, I try to….
- Visibilize and celebrate all family structures
- Normalize non-binary gender identities and gender expression
- Reject notions of “respectability” (which is present when we act as though marriage is the ultimate Gay Right, or when we expect transgender people to dress and act according to a strict gender binary)
- Respect and celebrate all bodies, including our own
- Encourage self-expression and bodily autonomy
All of these can be expressed in different ways as our family changes and Bean grows. So, I present to you, our Three Parenting Habits of Highly Queer People.
Habit 1: Body Talk
About a month ago, Bean popped the question. The question that, according to every sit-com ever, makes parents spiral into a panic and mindlessly spew some nonsense about giant birds or flower gardens. I knew it was coming, after a few weeks of Bean consistently shoving a stuffed animal under her shirt and saying it was a baby.
“Mommy, how does a baby get in your tummy?”
I had to think quickly. There are men with uteruses and women with penises. There are parents who gave birth to their children and parents who did not. There are families in which two parents each contributed half of their child’s DNA, and families in which that didn’t happen. I knew I needed to include all of these possibilities in my answer without giving the impression that the Mom-and-Dad-make-a-baby-via-PIV-sex version was the normal one, and the other versions are deviations. Plus, Bean wasn’t asking me what sex is. She was asking how a baby grows inside of another body, and those are different questions.
I said to her, “some bodies make something called sperm. Other bodies have uteruses and make tiny little eggs. If some sperm meets an egg, the two mix together, and they will stay in the uterus and slowly grow into a baby.” (Big ups to What Makes a Baby for helping me know how to phrase that!)
“Oh, okay.” Bean said. “Can I have a cup of milk?” Clearly, this was a monumental conversation (lol).
This is probably the most clear-cut example of queer body talk, but there are other ways to queer your body talk. Another way is to use gender neutral pronouns when talking about people you do not know, or hypothetical situations. We use the singular they quite a bit when we talk about different jobs, styles of dress, or characters who do not have a stated gender (see Habit #3). We’re also careful to only talk positively about people’s bodies and styles of dress, including our own. This has the added bonus of boosting our body confidence – last time I took Bean shopping for new clothes, she stood in the dressing room mirror and yelled “I’m big and BEAUTIFUL!!”
Then my heart burst with joy and I was ded from teh happiness. But speaking of clothes….
Habit 2: Down the (store) Aisle
Bean’s absolute favorite items of clothing right now are this uh-may-zing dinosaur hoodie vest, and a sparkly gold tutu that doesn’t really fit any more (those of you with toddlers will understand why I can’t get rid of the tutu). One of them came from the section of Target labeled “boys,” and the other from the second labeled “girls,” which is pretty ridiculous given that children’s clothing does not need to accommodate significant differences in sex characteristics, and even if they did, those do not determine whether you identify as a girl or boy. All of Bean’s clothes are “girl clothes” because she is a girl.
Whenever I shop for clothes, toys, or other items with Bean, I go down every aisle regardless of how it’s labeled. I made sure to provide a mix of “masculine” and “feminine” options for her since Day 1 so that when she got old enough to have her own ideas of what to wear and play with, she would actually see every choice as valid. And it seems to be paying off! She plays with dinosaurs and baby dolls, wears tutus and rain boots, and her favorite colors are yellow and red. And she’s open minded about other people’s clothes and toys, too. I’ve watched her play with a little boy in a princess costume like it was no big deal (cuz, ya know, it isn’t a big deal), and last night she complimented my BFF’s (male) fiance for his fabulous sparkly painted toenails.
This goes both ways, too. Bean will be the flower girl in a wedding this summer, and she has her heart set on a traditional dress. For her 4th birthday, she’s already declared that she wants a Barbie doll. These are totally fine with me, because I know she’s making open-minded choices. Besides, there’s nothing stopping us from making Barbie playtime queer AF…. much like when my sister and I did when we were teenagers…
Habit 3: Getting Into Character
Bean has always been drawn to character-based play. We do a lot of pretending around here, and just about every toy becomes a character in her hands. For her science-themed birthday party, I buried some plastic “fossils” in an empty garden bed, and Bean pretended that a tiny mammoth skull was the mommy to all the other skulls (like, y’all. I could not make this up). This creates endless opportunities to naturally include diverse family structures and queer identity in Bean’s play.
For example, Bean has a kickass doll house that includes a family of two parents, two school-age kids, a baby, and two grandparents. The parents and school-age kids have pretty typical gender presentations, but the baby and grandparents appear totally genderless. It’s the perfect chance to include a homosexual couple in the family – especially since Bean doesn’t seem interested in naming any of them (every doll is named Doll Family). Then there’s Rainbow Dino. Rainbow Dino was one of Bean’s first toys, and shortly after a friend of ours came out as genderqueer, Miles and I decided that RD would be genderqueer too. RD’s pronouns are they/them/their, their favorite band is Le Tigre, and their favorite thing to do is dance.
The key to making this work, in my opinion, is that we don’t make it heavy-handed. We don’t butt into Bean’s playtime with RD and sternly declare, “I’m Rainbow Dino and I’m genderqueer! I’m going to play with trucks AND tiaras because I’m so genderqueer!” – just like I have never burst into a room and yelled “I’m a cisgender queer woman! I’m am interested in making out with women AND men AND gnc folks too because I’m so queer!” We just… play the characters like they’re regular people because queer people are regular people.
Our hope is that being this up front and casual about these topics now, we will make a contribution to a future that is more open and affirming of queer people. And we hope that in the process, our Bean grows up knowing that she can be exactly who she knows herself to be, and her parents will always love and support and work hard for her, no matter what.