I Do

“Who Needs Marriage?”

I was in Safeway last November, my young son perched in the front of my grocery cart as we waited in the checkout line. As I casually scanned the news rack, the usual sea of sensational tabloid headlines and glossy gossip rags touting the latest celebrity scandals, the cover of Time Magazine caught my eye: “Who Needs Marriage?” it asked, or rather, proclaimed.

Queers do, was my knee-jerk reaction. How easy it is to ruminate on the relevance of modern marriage when you’re straight and take the institution for granted, I fumed. When you’ve never been denied the basic right to marry your beloved. At closer look, I discovered that Belinda Luscombe’s Time article was, in fact, a thoughtful, well-researched (although hetero-normative) analysis of the changing institution. Nevertheless, the headline got my back up, as did Amy O’Brian’s series of columns that ran in the Vancouver Sun in the days leading up to my same-sex wedding, basically arguing that marriage is becoming an increasingly unnecessary institution.

If marriage has truly become unnecessary and insignificant, I asked myself at the time, then why are certain powerful factions still fighting so fiercely to ban same-sex marriage? That said, I recognize there are people in the queer community who would agree with O’Brian – who see marriage as an archaic, patriarchal institution and want no part in replicating or reinforcing it. The way I see it, queers should at least have the right to choose whether they want to get married or not – a choice that’s assumed a given in Luscombe and O’Brian’s hetero-takes on the subject.

Amanda and I met less than a year after the first same-sex marriages were performed here in BC. It was the first time either of us had been with a partner where marriage was an actual possibility. In the past, I’d often quipped that I was always the bridesmaid, never the bride. On three separate occasions, I’d squeezed myself into a froufrou gown and sported a ridiculous up-do to serve in the bridal party for one of my closest straight girlfriends. As honoured as I was to be there for these women on their special days, I always felt as though I was in drag. A queer interloper into this age-old rite of passage. While I wholeheartedly supported and celebrated the unions of my friends, I silently resented and grieved the fact that my own relationship with a life partner – should I ever be lucky enough to meet “The One” – would never be recognized in this way.

Even though I’ve had crushes on other girls since kindergarten, I grew up like most of my peers, assuming that one day I would get married. That’s what people did. I never had childhood bridal fantasies per se, but I was fascinated by my parents’ wedding photos and the 60s-era bridal dress my mom kept stored in a box at the back of her closet. When I first came out in my early twenties, I had to let go of any notions of marriage. The idea that same-sex unions could be legalized during my lifetime was unfathomable. I found myself inexplicably flooded with grief as I kissed goodbye some mainstream, hetero-, white-picket-fence image of marriage and family. An image that had never really fit, to begin with.

I didn’t meet Amanda until my early thirties, but I knew early on that our relationship was special. I fell for her harder and faster and more deeply than anyone I’d ever been with. We’d been together just a little over a month (which is, after all, well over a year in dyke time) when we had our first conversation about marriage – the first of many that led to our wedding two and a half years later. We wanted to get married for a whole host of reasons: because we were crazy in love. Because we wanted to grow old together. Because we wanted to throw a great party. Because we could, at long last. Because we knew this relationship was for keeps. Because we wanted to shout it from the rooftops. Because we are out and proud, and wanted to stand up and be counted as a queer married couple.  But, most importantly, we were planning to have a baby together some day. We wanted our future child to know without a doubt that his or her family is like any other, a family who came together in love. True, you can most certainly be a loving family without the piece of paper; a child’s health and well-being aren’t necessarily tied to their parents’ marital status.  But in a straight world that doesn’t always smile kindly on queers – a society which still regards marriage as sacrosanct, as the ultimate expression of love and family – we knew that this piece of paper would reinforce our legitimacy as parents.

The one thing neither of us could have predicted, however, was how powerful and affirming it would feel to say our vows in front of our gathered families and friends – and how this would profoundly transform our relationship with our respective parents, none of whom had initially welcomed our queerness with open arms.

This week kicked off with hundreds of New York gays and lesbians lining up to get married on the first day of legal, same-sex marriage in their state, and will culminate here on the west coast with Vancouver’s gay pride celebrations. This same week also marks five years since Amanda and I walked down the aisle and said “I do.” We have no regrets. Married life has been good to us. I wear my wedding ring with pride, and take pleasure in calling Amanda my wife. The euphoria of the honeymoon phase is long over, but our underlying love for one another grows deeper and more intimate with each passing year. We continue to ride out the highs and lows of our relationship, as does any long-term couple, knowing that we’re both on board for the long haul, and ever-loved and supported by a community of family and friends.

Our son – the baby we were dreaming about in those early conversations about marriage – arrived just over a year after we tied the knot. Now three, he takes delight in the triptych of wedding photos that are prominently displayed in our living room.

“I want to get married, too,” he tells us.

To whom?, we ask, playing along.

“To Mommy Sara and Mama Manda,” he announces gleefully, still at that age where he can imagine no other than his two moms.

We all laugh and hug, truly a family built on love.

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Posted in extended family, pride, relationships, same-sex marriage, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Mama Daddy

On Mama's shoulders at Pride

My three-year old was splashing in the tub, playing with his new “Sea & Learn” bath shapes, gleefully counting all the good things that come in twos.  He’d started with the bath toys, pairs of letters and numbers and sea creatures, and then moved on to his body, which I was busy soaping with a washcloth – two eyes, two ears, two hands, two feet…

He was now revving up to the important stuff:

“I’ve got TWO moms!” he proclaimed. “And TWO pugs!  And TWO TEACHERS!!!”

“Yes, you do,” I smiled.

“And one daddy,” he quickly added.

One daddy?

Make no mistake: our son was conceived with the help of an anonymous sperm donor, something he won’t know about until he’s a little older.

“One daddy,” I reflected back, curious to know more.  “And who’s your daddy?”

“Mama Manda!” he announced.

I couldn’t help but smile. But of course: Amanda, the dyke daddy.

They’d recently done a unit on the family at preschool. My son had proudly made a collage depicting his parents, two women cut out of a clothing catalogue and pasted together, creating the consummate dyke couple on green construction paper. “Les Mamans,” one of his teachers had titled it in red marker, which translates literally as “The Moms.” We were incredibly touched when he brought it home, although we had to laugh – the same femmy model is featured in both images, looking a lot like me (times two) and not at all like Amanda.

We look alike, we dress alike, we act alike,” Amanda laughed in a sing-song voice after our son had gone to bed. “Textbook case of lesbian merging.”

There was also a Bristol board poster prominently displayed in my son’s classroom, with family photos of each of the kids in the class. The photo we’d sent to school – the three of us in our matchy-matchy Canadian Olympic hoodies, waving flags on the Drive after Canada’s gold medal hockey win – was featured front and centre. The kids poured over the poster at circle time, as the teachers led a discussion about each child’s unique family make-up. It was wonderfully heart-warming and validating. After all my initial fears about sending my son out into the big, straight world on his own for the first time, our family unit was being accepted and included by his school as a matter of course. Having heard countless stories over the years about other queer parents tirelessly educating their kids’ teachers and daycare workers, we realized yet again how fortunate we are a) to live in a large, urban centre in 2011, with a sizeable, visible queer community, and b) to have found a progressive preschool where diversity is recognized and celebrated. 

Interestingly, it was thanks to these preschool discussions about family that my son first became obsessed with the notion of dads. After months of substituting “Mama” for the father figures in his picture books (see “Papa Bear”), he was now spotting daddies everywhere: “That’s Henry’s daddy,” he’d now announce whenever we re-visited The Potty Book for Boys (still a favourite, even though he’d been toilet-trained for months). “That’s Trixie’s Daddy,” he’d remind me as we worked our way through the Knuffle Bunny trilogy. “That’s Christopher’s daddy,” he clarified as we laughed through Robert Munsch. “That’s Jillian’s daddy,” he’d point out at preschool drop-off. “And Rose’s daddy.” On one occasion, adding: “I want a daddy, too.”

Here we go, I thought. His first sense of being other. I imagined my mother cringing, her words from years earlier coming back to haunt me: “Children need both a mother and father figure,” she’d opined, long before she knew she was going to be a grandmother to a boy with dyke mommies. This, from a liberal-minded, United Church-going woman – the same message we get ad nauseam from the Family Values crowd.

As I crossed the school parking lot clutching my son’s little hand, his simple yet oh-so-complicated want still ringing in my ears, I could picture the entire Christian Right wagging their righteous fingers at Amanda and me, proclaiming: “We told you so!” I momentarily kicked myself. We’d had the best intentions to surround my son with positive, male role models, pseudo-Daddy figures, but had been sorely falling short. We’re a bunch of dykes, after all – there are not a lot of men in our close, inner circle. My son’s grandfather and uncles live so far away, and we’ve fallen hopelessly out of touch with our closest gay friends, all of whom are childless. Then I quickly got a grip:  my son’s got two loving parents and a supportive, nurturing home. He’s growing up just fine.

That said, the daddy issue was bound to come up sooner or later – and in our case, much sooner than we’d anticipated. When I was a kid, I’d often felt “other” because my parents are both immigrants and a good ten years older than the parents of most of my peers. I went through a period in elementary school where I longed for parents who were “normal” – i.e., younger and more “Canadian.” But my son’s only three, and he’s already starting to figure out that his family is not like the others. And he’s already identified the key difference: the daddy factor.

“There’s a huge gap between seeing your family accepted and included by the school, and seeing your family reflected back at school as the norm,” Amanda reminds me as we talk about it later. She points out that other than that one-off daddy comment, my son seems perfectly happy with his family just the way it is. Likely, he’s just trying to figure out how we fit into the images of family that he’s seen at school, images that he’s bombarded with, in fact, everywhere, every single day – pictures that don’t quite match his reality. Just like his mommies, who will religiously watch the latest dyke flick or devour the latest lesbo-novel even if it got panned by the critics, our son, too, is starved for queer content that reflects his experience of the world back at him. He can see for himself that he’s the only one in his class who made a collage with two moms, and that most of the other kids have a mom and a dad at home.

That day in the school parking lot, I gently reminded him yet again that there are all kinds of families. That he has two moms, just like his buddies Hannah and Charles have two moms, and Isaac has two moms (plus one step-mom)…

“But I want a daddy.”

And now, he’s claimed Mama Manda as his daddy. Having grown up a tomboy, one who always snagged the role of “dad” in childhood games of “mums and dads,” Amanda is secretly thrilled. She recognizes that this new designation is more about the role she plays in our family as the butchy “other mother” (as opposed to me, the femmy “tummy mummy”) than about our son wishing she were an actual man and bona fide dad (although that may well come later).

A few weeks after counting twos in the bath, my son was in his bedroom, playing trains. As he loaded imaginary passengers into the cars, he nattered away about his two moms and his daddy, all in the same breath.

“So Mama Manda’s one of your two moms,” I asked, still struggling to clarify, “and a daddy?”

“Yes,” he retorted, as though it were obvious. “A Mama Daddy.”

Posted in father figures, non-biological lesbian mother, Out in the world, preschool, roles, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Raising A Voter

“Mommy, why do we have an orange sign?”my three-year old inquires as we head out the front gate to walk the pugs. Unbeknownst to my son, he’s just asked his first-ever political question. Nothing slips by him unnoticed these days: he’d spotted the election sign the moment it had appeared on our front lawn, only days into the federal campaign. He’d since pointed out similar signs lining the main roads on our way to preschool – some orange, like ours, some red and some blue.

What he really wants to know is, why don’t we have a blue one – not that he has a clue about Stephen Harper or what an election is, but because blue is his favourite colour. In spite of our efforts to avoid perpetuating age-old gender stereotypes, he himself has gravitated towards blue. Blue is the colour of Thomas the Tank Engine, after all, who, in my son’s esteem, is far more important than the likes of Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff, Jack Layton and Elizabeth May put together. On those rare occasions where parliamentary affairs pre-empt his morning dose of Kids’ CBC, he comes crying to me to “fix the TV.”

So, how to explain to our little guy that even though we, too, like blue, we categorically don’t want a blue sign on our lawn? That we feel quite strongly about having a bright orange one in its place, at least until May 2? How to even begin to describe the electoral process to a three year-old who has no concept of “government” and “democracy”? As far as he’s concerned, his two moms are his entire world, the ones who cuddle and care for him, shape his days, set limits, and offer him structured choices. He knows he lives in a place called “Canada” but this, in his mind, has stronger associations with his red Olympics hoodie and the “Go Canada Go!” chants from the 2010 Winter Games than with our federal government and the boring parliamentary debate that sometimes overrides The Doodlebops. As for Ottawa, it’s the place we travel every summer in a “big, big airplane” to visit Grandma and Opa. Government aside, how to explain “voting” in age-appropriate terms, other than to say “pick the one that you like best?” And why, in this case, that translates to orange?

“See how our sign has letters on it?” I hastily improvise. My son’s at that stage where he’s obsessed by the alphabet, so I seize upon this as an opening. “It’s somebody’s name.”

“Oh, yeah!” he exclaims, pausing to trace the largest letters with his fingers. “D-A-V-I-E-S!”

“Yes,” I say. “Davies. Libby Davies.”

“Libby Davies,” he parrots.

Indeed, we have thrown our support behind the long-standing NDP incumbent in our East Vancouver riding, the first (and so far, only) openly lesbian MP to serve in the House of Commons.

“We’ve put up Libby’s orange sign because she’s the one we want to pick,” I explain.

“Why?”

“Because she’s the one we like best,” I answer cheerfully, inwardly cringing at how lame this sounds. “She’s done a good job at looking after all the families in our neighbourhood for a long, long time,” I continue. “AND Libby and her orange team are really nice to families like ours – families with two moms.”

 “Like Mommy Sara and Mama Manda?” he asks.

“You’ve got it.”

It’s a gross oversimplification, of course, but it’ll have to do. I leave out the part about the blue team not being so nice to families like ours, and the nasty, hateful things they said about people like his moms as we fought for our right to marry a few short years before he came into the world. Never mind the fighter jets and the American-style tough justice (along with the building of massive prisons with my hard-earned tax dollars), and the secrecy and corruption and proroguing of Parliament… Or that our family, like many others, got screwed over when the Conservatives axed the National Child Care Program (our monthly UCCB payment from the feds barely covers a day of child care while I teach part-time).

My son, oblivious to these complex, adult concerns, runs ahead down the sidewalk in his blue Thomas boots, splashing in puddles. He takes it upon himself to count all the other orange signs on our way to the park, keeping track on his stubby fingers – “Nine, Mommy!” – nary a red or a blue one in sight.

Our real discussions about politics are sure to come later, when he’s a bit older. However, this unexpected test run has given me pause. How do you raise a voter without imposing your own political agenda on your kid? (I have flashes of the mock federal election staged in grade five during the Trudeau era – each and every kid voted for the party favoured by their parents. Pierre won by a landslide.) Then again, how can you not? Our political views are inherently shaped by our morals and values, after all, the same morals and values that we impart to our children on a daily basis. As a queer family, simply being “out” in the world is a political act – one my son didn’t choose for himself but that will undoubtedly shape his world view. He’ll either grow up to be open-minded and accepting of differences, perhaps even a champion of social justice issues, or he’ll rebel by becoming the most ultra-conservative, anti-gay person imaginable.

My own brother became a political junkie at the tender age of eight, when he knocked on doors with my mother in support of a mayoralty candidate who attended our family’s church. Whether or not my brother would vote for this same guy in the present tense is a moot point – his engagement in the electoral process from an early age has made him not only a conscientious voter but a career political scientist. Now the father of two small children, my brother reminds me that the best way to raise a voter is to let the message come organically from my own practice. To take my son with me when I go to the polls and let him watch me mark my ballot with an X, just like our own parents did when we were kids. To keep on talking about that sign on our lawn, and the other ones that line the streets. And, as my son grows older, to explain my practice – and my political views – without making it sound like my opinions are the only way to think about things. (He also recommended cartoonist Tom Tomorrow’s children’s book, The Very Silly Mayor – which we’re trying to get our hands on before May 2 and, if not, before the provincial and municipal elections which are sure to follow later this year…)

In the meantime, my son keeps on counting the orange signs around the neighbourhood. He was the first to notice when ours got stolen, along with several others on our block – and the first to point out when they reappeared, after I’d put in a call to the campaign office. On May 3, he’ll remain blissfully unaware of any changes sweeping our country – he’ll just be sorry to see the signs go – but at least he’ll have had his first, small taste of the electoral process.

Posted in parenting, politics, role models, Uncategorized, values | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Batting For the Other Team

The website’s name had already tipped me off – howtoraiseyourboyfriend.com – but the hot pink homepage confirmed it: I’d officially entered Hetero Hell.

“Boyfriends need to be raised,” the welcome banner proclaims, “Let us show you how.” And then, the fine print: “From making introductions, to offering compliments, to saying you’re sorry, boyfriends need to be raised with the same lessons we use on our kids. As Rebecca writes, ‘If I can raise a child – a smart, kind, polite one – surely I can raise a boyfriend too.’”

The Rebecca in question is author and mommy blogger Rebecca Eckler, the site a promo tool for her latest book, How to Raise a Boyfriend: The Definitive Manual for Educating Your Man (Doubleday Canada), which was launched this winter to mixed reviews, many of them less than flattering.“Taming Like A Shrew: How Rebecca Eckler’s misguided relationship advice hurts as all,” reads the headline on The Walrus Blog. “You can get away with acting like a bitchy, shallow, needy, immature princess and relationship expert who goes through boyfriends faster than bikini waxes if you know you are one,” Anne Fenn writes in The Globe and Mail. “What’s missing here is a shrewd wink to the audience.”

On her website, Eckler includes “scary boyfriend stories” posted by fellow bloggers, which range from bitchy rants on topics such as said-boyfriend’s poor hygiene and bad driving habits, to glowing raves on everything from young marriage to “the best first date ever!” Many sum up with a question, prompting the reader to share their own rants and raves on the topic at hand:

“Have you ever been so in love and afterwards wonder what you saw in the guy?”

“What about you readers? How do you deal with someone who is entirely useless at the simplest of chores?”

The moms in my writing group (all intelligent, insightful women, and some of my best friends) have dared each other to submit a story to the site. Is this some kind of twisted April Fools’ joke? Very funny, ladies. I mean, really, where would I begin?

Back in my college days, after one too many insensitive remarks about PMS, I decided to ditch the boyfriend altogether and switch to women. Why put myself through the grief of raising a boyfriend when I could have a partner who comes already housetrained? A fellow woman who isn’t afraid of emotional intimacy, clothes shopping and cleaning the toilet. Someone with enough stamina to give me multiple orgasms, plus help with groceries and dinner after a long day at work. A partner who doesn’t knock PMS, because she too gets wicked mood swings around her period. A mate who comes pre-programmed with maternal instincts, who can handle kissing boo-boos, changing diapers, and rocking colicky babies in the middle of the night.

The downside? For the longest time it looked like I would never get hitched. Thankfully, same-sex marriage was legalized mere months before I hooked up with Ms. Right. Getting pregnant was a hassle, too. What with competing wombs and ticking bio clocks, how would we ever decide who was going to carry the baby? And where to find sperm, now that the college-era boyfriend was but a dim and distant memory? My wife, housetrained that she is, graciously agreed to let me get pregnant first. With the help of a sperm bank and the wonders of modern reproductive technology, I was soon knocked up, just like any straight girl. Within months, we found ourselves proud mamas to our son, the most beautiful baby boy in the entire world. Without a father in the picture, we’re confident we’ll be able to raise him “right” from the start, so that he too comes housetrained – smart, sensitive, and polite. His future girlfriend (or boyfriend) will have us to thank.

Have you ever considered batting for the other team?

Cue the Katy Perry chorus:  “I kissed a girl and I liked it…”

If only it were that easy. Eckler’s shallow “women know best” mentality falls apart as soon as you throw lesbians into the equation. To put it in John Gray terms, if men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then how come there’s so much dyke drama? When I first came out in my early twenties, a much older, wiser dyke dryly warned me, “Sappho may have written beautiful poetry, but an island of women is no paradise.”

Indeed, Amanda and I have the same kinds of petty arguments, pet peeves and disagreements as any straight couple, over everything from hair in the sink and towels on the floor to whose turn it is to have a night out with friends (and shouldn’t we be getting a sitter and going out on a long overdue date night, anyway?)  The only difference is, we can’t blame our marital discord on stereotypical gender differences.

Back when our son was two months old, I participated in a facilitated mom and baby group. The week we discussed the impact of new motherhood on our relationships and sex life, all eyes turned on me. Every woman in the room imagined that it would be easier to have female partner right about now, that Amanda and I must have the perfect relationship. At least you can hand off your baby to your partner knowing that she has a clue about what to do, they pointed out. This much was true. But Amanda and I were still struggling with the same kinds of issues as all the other couples: feeling estranged from one other emotionally and sexually as my every waking hour was consumed with feeding and caring for our newborn, while bleary-eyed Amanda dragged herself out of the house and attempted to function at work and school day after day. Our collective sleep deprivation and my surging hormones were a deadly mix, triggering fights to end all fights, and our sex life had been effectively on hold since late pregnancy. New parenthood had effectively fast-tracked the onset of lesbian bed-death, or so it seemed at the time.

As dyke parents, we also faced our very own, special set of challenges. Sure, I could confidently leave our son in Amanda’s arms any old time, but this also triggered a deep-seated insecurity that she was somehow a better mom than me. She’s a social worker who deals daily with kids and infants at risk, after all. She’d taken “safe baby” training on the job and had a whole toolkit of specialized parenting skills upon which to draw. Whenever I’d reached the end of my rope, she had this annoying way of stepping in and taking over, always knowing just what to do to get our son to stop crying. Instead of being grateful for the help, I just felt completely inept. I later discovered that Amanda felt equally incompetent – that she saw me, the birth mother, as having the inside edge, a special connection with our son that she longed for herself. In her eyes, I was the one who always knew what to do while she, the non-bio mom, was completely at sea. Whenever I stepped in to support her parenting, she felt completely undermined. It was only after things finally boiled over and we had a massive fight about our respective roles that we got our insecurities out in the open. At which point, we were able to step back, laugh, and reframe our experience: as two moms, each with our own strengths, we make an incredible tag team.

As for Eckler’s book and website, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for frank, public discourse about intimacy and relationships, and a healthy dose of humour never hurts when examining this touchy, personal subject. But what irks me about How to Raise A Boyfriend is not only its heterosexism, but its blatant sexism, period. The way it glibly dismisses commonplace relationship woes as a battle of the sexes, where universal couple dynamics are reduced to sexist gender stereotypes. Where the boyfriend is always at fault ‘cause, well, he’s just a hapless guy – and if only the woman could get him to change and see the world as she does, then everything would be perfect. (For the record, my college boyfriend was actually a charming, decent man. The real issue? He was straight and I wasn’t.)

The painful truth is that relationships, queer or straight, are hard work. It takes two. Opposites attract, regardless of gender. The very things that make us fall head over heels for our mates are the same things that drive us crazy a few years in. We unrealistically expect our partners to make up for a lifetime of hurt and unmet needs – no wonder they perpetually let us down. And once the euphoria of the honeymoon phase wears off, we’re into the power struggle and yeah, it can be a real slog sometimes, especially when you throw kids into the picture.

Rather than entertaining bitchy fantasies about how I might “raise” my significant other, I turn instead to Harville Hendrix, American couples’ counsellor and author of Getting the Love You Want. Hendrix and his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt co-created IMAGO relationship therapy and developed the concept of “conscious partnership.” As Hendrix bluntly puts it, “You can be right, or you can be in a relationship. You decide.”

In my better moments, I remember to choose the relationship.

Posted in heterosexism, misconceptions, relationships, stereotypes | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Boob Shirt

“Okay, this week we’re doing a C-section simulation,” the instructor cheerfully announced to our prenatal class. Amanda and I exchanged a look, as did the other couples in the room – simulating labour had been one thing, but an actual C-section? In our holistic, evoke-the-goddess Birthing From Within class, no less, where most of us were vying for a home birth by midwife?

The instructor conjured the image we’d discussed a few weeks ago, of labour being like a lush, leafy garden labyrinth, where some journeys to the centre are longer or shorter than others, depending on what turns you take, and what obstacles and dead ends you encounter along the way.

“In spite of your best-intentioned birth plan, there’s no telling which path your birth is going to take,” she reminded us in a calm, measured voice, sounding not unlike one of those new-agey meditation tapes. “And just in case you end up in the O.R., you want to be prepared – so that you can re-claim the space and make your baby’s birth by Caesarean the most positive experience possible, under the circumstances.”

Everyone looked dubious. How could having your belly sliced open and your baby ripped from your womb possibly be reframed as a positive birth experience?

“Imagine we’re in a hospital operating room,” she continued, gesturing at our dimly lit, folksy surroundings in the neighbourhood midwifery clinic. “Harsh lights, medical personnel in masks. We’re going to do a role play,” she went on. “A bit of a role reversal, actually. I’m going to need one of the expectant fathers – ”

There it was: the F-word, which she kept dropping in spite of her best intentions to be inclusive. Amanda, next to me, bristled. The class was being held at our queer-positive midwiferly clinic, after all.

“I mean, one of the non-pregnant partners,” the instructor quickly corrected, catching our eye, “to play the birthing mother.  I’ve even got a little costume to help our actor get into role.”

She flourished a cream-coloured tee – made of sheer, clingy cotton, styled and sized to accentuate a woman’s curves. The perfect top, if you were trying to win first prize in a wet T-shirt contest. A huge pregnant belly had been spiralled on in navy marker, but the crowning touch was the artistic rendering of two massive areolae in the chest area, each sporting a missile-shaped nipple.

The class tittered nervously. I just stared at the T-shirt with disbelief. I couldn’t bring myself to meet Amanda’s eyes, but I could feel her tensing, beside me. Up to this point, she had quietly tolerated being the anomaly in our prenatal class – the only expectant mom in the room who didn’t have a bulging belly, the only birth partner who wasn’t a man. But the boob shirt, as we came to call it, pushed her over the edge.

“How could I possibly have volunteered?” she railed later, during the car ride home. “If I’d worn that shirt, it would’ve been like target practice. She may as well have stuck neon pasties directly on my boobs!”

Just a week earlier, the same instructor had pulled Amanda aside after class to make sure she was feeling welcome and included, a move which, although well-intentioned, left Amanda feeling more alien and “other” than ever.

It was much easier for me, the pregnant dyke. My bulbous belly gave me instant access to the private club of expectant moms in the room – there was no question what my role was in the coming birth dance. Amanda, meanwhile, was a mom-to-be caught betwixt and between, in a weird no-woman’s land. Not by any stretch a pregnant woman, and yet not really one of the dads, either.

“I’m worried she won’t be able to take the pain,” a tough, muscular dude shared with the group the first night of class, as we were going around the circle discussing our fears about childbirth. “I mean, if it were up to me? I do a lot of martial arts, I’ve broken multiple bones. I’ve got a pretty high pain tolerance, you know what I’m sayin’?”

The other guys nodded.

“I just wish I could do it for her,” he went on, “so she doesn’t have to go through it. ‘Cause I know I could handle it no problem, man.”

Amanda and I exchanged a furtive glance – was this guy for real? His girlfriend, meanwhile, looked ready to slug him.

“How am I supposed to relate to THAT?” Amanda vented after class. “This is why we need special prenatal classes for queers.  Can you imagine a bunch of dykes sitting around, having the same conversation?”

She launched right in, saying all the things she hadn’t dared to mention in class: “‘When I think about my partner’s birth, it’s scary, because I too have a female body. I get crippling menstrual cramps each month, which, I understand, is just the tip of the iceberg as far as labour is concerned. PLUS,’” she added, for the benefit of Mr. Martial Arts, “‘I have a realistic sense of just how painful it might be to squeeze a head the size of a grapefruit THROUGH MY VAGINA!!!’”

If nothing else, prenatal class gave Amanda her first taste of parenthood as the “other mother,” and of the unique identity challenge that comes with being a non-biological lesbian mom. The experience of being a mom, but not quite, while filling in for dad, but not quite, either. Having to define a role for yourself, not only within your queer little family, but in the larger, straight world that doesn’t know where you fit, either. A world that’s often more perplexed by your identity than you are. A world that may try, at times, to be inclusive – but, like our well-intentioned prenatal class instructor, also risks missing the mark completely.

Ironically, we were the only couple in our prenatal class who ended up having a birth by Caesarean, bypassing the winding paths of the labyrinth altogether, as it turned out, and parachuting straight into the centre. (Our son was breech and wouldn’t turn no matter what we tried – see my post on Gratitude). Amanda had been so put-off by the boob shirt that she’d effectively tuned out the rest of the C-section simulation. The one class, it turns out, where we should have been paying full attention.

On a positive note, the folks who ran our prenatal class now offer a special LGBT Birthing From Within course, based on feedback they’d received over the years from dykes like us. Amanda’s fantasy of a bunch of queers and their pregnant partners sitting around the circle, shooting the shit, is now a reality, at least here in Vancouver. The organization even approached me and Amanda personally for input as they shaped the new curriculum. At the top of our list: no boob shirt!

Posted in birth, heterosexism, non-biological lesbian mother, Out in the world, pregnancy, prenatal class, roles, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Heavy Lifting

Becoming a new parent – gay or straight, by birth or through adoption – completely and utterly changes your life. This week, I have a guest post featured on the Momoir Blog that looks at the “heavy lifting” that comes with new parenthood, both literally and figuratively:

When I had “the chat” with my doctor about planning to conceive, she advised me – along with eating well and taking my daily folic acid – to get my arms in shape.

“You’re going to be doing a lot of heavy lifting over the next few years,” she quipped, half-jokingly, half-not.

My son is now three and over thirty pounds, and although I don’t get to the gym or the pool nearly half as much as I used to, I easily have the strongest set of biceps/triceps in the entire aquafit class. My calves, quads and abs are all in sagging, sorry shape, but my arms are stronger than they’ve ever been, thanks to all that heavy lifting I was warned about.

>>Read entire piece…

Posted in emotions, parenting, relationships, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Postcard from Rednecksville

It’s Friday night. I’ve pulled over at a gas bar by the highway, in the middle of giant box-store sprawl, some ten minutes after disembarking at Departure Bay ferry terminal. We’ve crossed the water to Nanaimo, “Finding Nemo” as my three year-old calls it. I don’t know much about Nanaimo, other than its status as Bathtub Racing Capital of the World. My brother actually watched the whacky races one summer with his McGill-days roomie, who hails from nearby Lantzville. That, and Nanaimo’s long-entrenched reputation as a hard-drinking, rednecked, port-side lumber town. An image the growing harbour city is trying hard to shake, if the gentrification of the waterfront is any indication. Nanaimo is a place that I simply pass through on my way somewhere else, this time heading up Island to visit my aunt and uncle – Ontario transplants who’ve been snowbirding the past few winters in quaint, sleepy Qualicum Beach, escaping the harsh Ottawa winters back east.

This is my first major, solo road trip with my son. Amanda was supposed to have joined us – she loves skiing Mount Washington with my aunt’s partner – but she’s now stuck at home for the weekend, dealing with the headache of contractors and on-going renos to our basement suite. So it’s just me and my three year-old for the next three days, going it alone.

It’s early evening, a few minutes after seven. We caught the five o’clock ferry out of Horseshoe Bay (“A boat, Mommy!” my son announced gleefully as we drove on board), the sun sinking behind the mountains as we crossed Georgia Straight. Now back on terra firma, I’ve just topped up the tank, the gas prices here a good ten cents a litre cheaper than back on the Mainland. I wave through the window at my son, who’s been watching me intently from his car seat, then replace the nozzle on the pump. I grab my credit card receipt, and climb back into the driver’s seat.

“Are you sure you don’t need to go pee?” I ask for the zillionth time as I fasten my seat belt, this also being our first, major road trip since the advent of big boy underwear.

“Nope,” my son replies from the back.

“It’s another hour before we get to Auntie Mary and Uncle Peter’s,” I remind him, although he probably has no concept of what an hour really means.

“Nope,” he repeats.  “No pee, no poo.” I sigh inwardly, resigning myself to the possibility of an emergency road-side pit-stop. I’m about to start the engine when I remember the urgent message I received from the alarm company as we were unloading from the ferry. I grab my cell, figuring I’d better try Amanda one more time before hitting the road, just to make sure everything’s okay.

As the phone rings back home, I notice in the rear-view that a white pick-up has pulled up at the pump directly behind me. A massive, domestic-model muscle truck. Meanwhile, over the phone, I am cheerfully greeted by my own voice as I’m transferred to voicemail. I start leaving a message for Amanda, my eyes fixed on the big, beefy guy, 40-something with a scraggly beard, who descends from the pick-up and approaches my car. He takes in the rainbow sticker proudly displayed in the corner of my rear window, and leers in through the driver’s window as he passes. He meets my eyes, shooting me a look of utter disgust, and then takes in my son in the back seat.  He mutters something vile under his breath and continues on. As I scramble to process what’s just happened, he pauses to check out the front of the car, actually leaning over to get a better look at my plates. And although I’m from Beautiful British Columbia, just like him, the plastic plate holders from the Toyota dealer confirm I’m from Elsewhere, from the Big City. He harrumphs and shakes his head – perhaps this explains everything? – and then saunters off into the adjacent convenience store.

I am only ninety-some kilometres from home, but I may as well be light years away. In a single ferry ride, I’ve travelled from the queer-friendly bubble we inhabit in East Van to the very heart of Rednecksville. How ironic to have this brush with homophobia on my first solo road trip with my son – when, for once, I’d been able to sit amongst the other parents in the play area on the ferry without attracting stares, because without Amanda in our midst I can easily pass as straight. I’d slipped under the radar, only to be outed by my own rainbow sticker.

Which is the whole point of a pride sticker, of course – to declare oneself out and proud, to stand up and be counted in a world that’s not always welcoming to queers. I’m surprised that the dude at the gas station actually knows what my sticker signifies – although perhaps I shouldn’t be, given that Nanaimo has a growing queer community. I wonder what he expects to see as he peers in my window? A bunch of faggots or f-ing dykes? Instead, he gets a lone, weary queer mom traveling with her preschooler.

In that moment, with that one hateful look, I am suddenly vulnerable. “Asshole,” I dismiss him angrily in my head, but instinctively lock the doors. “Let’s hit the road!” I announce out loud to my son, my excessive cheerfulness masking the pang of fear rippling through my belly. I pull back on to the highway, quickly clocking miles between us and this miserable, rednecked lumber town.

My innocent boy, blissfully oblivious to what’s just transpired, sings along to a kids’ CD mix I’ve burned for the trip – Raffi, The Doodlebops, Bobs and Lolo… I listen to his sweet, high-pitched voice, my eyes fixed on the road, and reflect how lucky we are to live in a place where, most of the time, we simply blend into the rich fabric of our diverse community. While we’re certainly conspicuous as a queer family out in public, even back home – something I’ve certainly blogged about – we don’t usually encounter such blatant expressions of homophobia as we go about our day-to-day business. I realize how much I’ve come to take others’ acceptance and tolerance for granted.

I have newfound respect for the queer families who, by choice, happenstance or necessity, make a life for themselves outside the safety-net of large, queer-friendly centres, and have to put up with the likes of the pick-up truck dude on a regular basis. I think about queer mommy bloggers like Mama Non Grata and mama T (A Queer Family Grows in Redneckville), who are currently living and writing about this experience. And I’m struck by how it’s infinitely braver to display your pride sticker in Rednecksville than in Dyke Central. It’s no longer a simple act of pride – it’s a badge of courage.

Posted in extended family, homophobia, Out in the world, pride, Uncategorized, vacation | 3 Comments