“Mommy” and Me

This post is by K. I’m getting crushed at work lately. Just totally crushed. Doing awesome activist and progressive work that I’m proud of, but feeling like it’s hard to get back to center. Work/activism is my #1. As we keep moving down this path towards eventually trying to get knocked up (which should start late summer/early fall of this year), I get closer and closer to having to make work-life balance decisions that I’m sort of dreading. One of the reasons I planned to be childfree by choice is that I have created a life where work is my primary goal. Not just work, but work to advance goodness in the world–advocacy and activism. My mom used to say, “KaeLyn is always rooting for the underdog!” because I would try to reform the bad kids in my kindergarten class or help the loner kids that other kids made fun of. Helping others, serving needs greater than my own, is important to me. Up until recently, I didn’t see myself having kids because I didn’t see how that would fit with the other priorities in my life. I barely make time for myself. How could I make time for a kid? If I had to rank how I spend my time it’d be like this:

  1. Work – primary job
  2. W time
  3. Work – second job (seasonal)
  4. Family & Friends
  5. Volunteer work (3 nonprofit boards, mainly)
  6. Self time (tv & netflix, internet, coffee breaks)
  7. Sleep?
  8. Self time (meaningful stuff like creative writing and reading–that I rarely do)

I know I’m going to have to slow down for a bit. Even though W wants to be the daytime parent and will split the work evenly with me, if not slightly more (I proposed a 60/40 split. LOL.), I will have to back off. I am lucky to have a job where bringing a kid to work, on occasion, wouldn’t be a big deal. But right now, I often have an evening meeting every night of the week. And those aren’t social meetings. Those are work and volunteer work meetings. I am going to have to quit at least 1 board. I am going to have to scale back my 2nd job. But I’m unwilling to give it all up. I don’t believe that makes me selfish. I think I’ll be a better parent and role model because of it. I applaud stay-at-home parents and I think they are deeply undervalued in our society.  Personally, I would not be happy in that role. I have a lot of privilege and comfort in my life and I want to use that to make meaningful change, to amplify the voices of those who do not have the kind of safety and privilege I have, to make things a bit better for my future kid and everyone else.

A close friend who I hadn’t seen in a while recently asked me if I was getting more comfortable with the idea of being a mommy (see my previous post on my mommy issues). It’s a hard question for me to answer. I am becoming much more comfortable with the idea of having a kid with W, and the idea of being a parent. Forever. I am getting more and more excited about it every day. In fact, these days, I’m more worried that we won’t be able to conceive than anything else. I am meeting and talking to more queer parents who added kids to their families or are trying to in multiple ways. That is really exciting, too. I am imagining a future with a kid, with W, and it will be super fun. Do I feel like I’m more comfortable with the idea of being a mommy? Ugh. The word “mommy” still sounds heavy to me. Sound like gendered expectations. Sounds like people getting up in my business about pregnancy and parenting decisions that are no one else’s business. Sounds like people assuming things about W and me because we look like a heteronormative couple.

Like with all of my identities, being a mom is an identity that I get to own–nobody else gets to tell me what it means. Only I can decide that. I need to own it the way I own being bisexual, queer, Korean-American, adopted, a women, a feminist, a vegan, an activist. I can be all those things and also be a mom. I can be a mom without being a “mom.” There is power in that knowledge. I am trying to remember it. I also need to accept that the “mommy stuff” exists. I will be affected by it. People will try to define it for me. And sometimes, maybe I will even play into that stereotype. When I told another close friend, who is also childfree by choice, that W and I had made a decision to plan for a future kid, she jokingly said, “I can’t wait for the first time you get up at a rally or press conference for some progressive issue and say, ‘As a mother…'” I laughed because she is totes right. I am totally going to milk that sh*t when it makes sense to to advance one of my causes. So I’m bracing myself. I’m going to give up some of my work priorities to spend more time as a parent, as a mom. I’m going to make life decisions differently because I’m a mom. Having a kid will affect me in ways that I can’t even begin to imagine now. I know that and I’m thrilled to see what is ahead. Some people (who do not know me at all) will see this as the natural order of things–that I gave in to my maternal instinct, that I changed my mind, or whatever nonsense. I will know that’s not true for me, but I don’t need to feel silenced by other people’s assumptions. I know who I am. W knows who I am. Future kid will know who I am. And that is enough. So yes, I guess I am becoming more comfortable with the idea of being a mommy.

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Lesbians are Not Better Parents a.k.a. Put Down that (Racist, Classist) Study Right Now

Every time some new study (like this or this or this) comes out that praises lesbian parents for being the cream of the crop, we look at each other and groan. Inevitably, this study spawns many posts and articles, which then clog up our Facebook walls with self-righteous shares. Don’t get me wrong. Same-gender couples have a reason to want to prove themselves. There’s a lot of hate out there and, especially when it comes to the fight for marriage equality, the issue of same-gender couples not being acceptable or safe parents comes up over and over. The stereotype about predatory LGBTQ pedophiles is still out there, deeply rooted in some parts of the U.S. and world. We have reason to celebrate being declared not only fit to parent, but better at it.

Cue the music:

OK, I get it. But let’s shine a brighter light on those studies. As the researchers themselves will often assert, the study conclusions are more about the lack of difference between same-gender and different-gender parents than anything else. The success of lesbian parents is less about inherently being better people (Of course, we are, but you know…forget that for a second) and more about the kind of lesbian parents who are studied. For the 2010 study that got a lot of attention, the subjects were studied for 25 years. The study originated in 1986. If you were alive back then, think back to 1986. Remember where queer and trans* rights were in 1986. Or, rather, were not. 1986 is the year that the SCOTUS upheld Georgia’s sodomy laws, which banned oral or anal sex between “homosexuals.” It is the year that Surgeon General published the first government publication on AIDS and safer sex practices for gay men. It is the year after Rock Hudson died of AIDS and the year before ACT UP was founded. Yup, that’s 1986.

On top of this, the 2010 study only looked at a sample of parents who used artificial insemination to have kids. OK, now remember all we know about the cost of insemination procedures. Yeah, some of the parents may have used the turkey baster method, but more likely is that they were recruited for the study because they were inseminated by a fertility specialist. And that costs big bucks. It also means the couples were relatively young because they were able to conceive through insemination.

It also didn’t take into account the many same-gender couple who are raising kids from previous relationships, who got pregnant accidentally or on purpose through sex with a partner, or who are single and LGBTQ. Many of the folks I know who are LGBTQ parents have kids from previous relationships or partners–especially those who came out later in life. I only know a handful who conceived through fertility treatment. Those I do know have done so in the last decade or so, as LGBTQ rights have come a long way, as well as reproductive technology.

So who, in 1986, was able to, with their same-gender lesbian partner, have access to artificial insemination? Middle and upper class lesbians, mainly. Most likely, though I haven’t seen this data, they are probably college-educated and mostly white. The author of the study admits that the studied group was not geographically or socially diverse and suggests future studies try to correct this.

Studies like this are important to prove that queer and trans* parents are just as capable of raising kids as heterosexual couples. This info is necessary to combat the stereotype of the superior “traditional family.” However, writing a headline or status update that basically says that same-gender couples are better parents is not really true. Or at least, that hasn’t been proven. It ignores that these studies are looking at a small and very privileged few.

There-is-no-normal

From the awesome Strong Families Movement–Click on image to check them out!

What it may prove may have more implications for reproductive justice than lesbian and gay rights. It may show that families where pregnancies are planned and wanted have more successful parenting outcomes–even more reason we should support and fund the health care people need (contraception, abortion, fertility care, etc) to plan pregnancy. And even more reason we should support parenting options like adoption–especially for same-gender couples who want kids but can’t get pregnant (by choice or by chance). It may prove that talking openly with your kids about self-identity and issues like sexual orientation and gender identity result in better parenthood outcomes. It may prove that relying less on outdated gender stereotypes results in emotionally healthier kids. Of course, we need different studies to prove these things, but if we want to draw sweeping conclusions, these conclusions make more sense than “Hey Conservatives! Gays are better parents than you!

Even more troubling than making the sweeping conclusion is what it means when you create a higher standard of parenting for LGBTQI parents. Based on a standard set by very privileged LGB couples. The pressure to be perfect LGBTQI people and couples is already out there–the pressure to be normal, to have healthy relationships, to not make us look bad to the public or each other. But the reality is that our communities experience intimate partner violence at about the same rate as heterosexual couples. You can bet that child abuse, unfortunately, does happen in households with one or more LGBTQI parents. Let’s not sugarcoat the truth in the quest to be seen as valid and capable parents. Let’s not forget that there are many LGBTQI parents who live in poverty, who have children from previous relationships or partners, or who are single parents. Let’s not forget that class and race play a part in how we frame same-sex parenting…and how we make invisible members of our own community.