01 June 2008

Queer Parenting is Radical

One of the things we told our adoption worker early in our process is that the kids we adopted would have to be more than okay with us being queer. They'd have to have enough comfort to be part of the queer community because we're "out-out." We're active, involved and engaged, and our kids would become part of that world.

Parenting hasn't lessened our activism, but it has been thought provoking and challenged assumptions within both the LGBTQ and straight communities.

Back in February I did an interview about the new statutory holiday - Family Day - and how the LGBTQ community should/should not embrace it for a local queer publication. When the reporter kept on pushing on the angle around how my family differed and didn't emulate heterosexual models of families, I stated, "Being a queer parent in still a radical notion - for both the queer and mainstream communities." He nearly dropped the phone.

We live in the nation's capital and this is a notoriously conservative community. It's a city dominated by public servants. It's quiet, sleepy, and still has a small town feel to it.

The LGBTQ community here is also unique. It's not a very out and visible community. We have a quasi gay village. Our queer organizations struggle, flounder, and often fail. The LGBTQ community is dominated by gay men - from bars to services. There's limited space for women and trans folk. The space for families, up until the last few years, has been even more limited.

When we became parents of two children, we knew handfuls of other families in the LGBTQ community. Most queer parents are focused on being parents. That means taking our kids to school, swim lessons or gymnastics, and coordinating family vacations. It's dealing with tempertantrums and helping our kids become responsible adults. As parents, what we do is more around what our kids need than our identities. And, more often than not, being queer becomes secondary to our identities as "mom" or "dad."

When we became parents of our two children, very few of our queer friends could understand why we wanted children. For some of them, it was because we were young. For some of them, they were concerned about how we'd change as people with kids. But for many of our friends, they just didn't get why when everything in our lives was so anti-mainstream by virtue of our identities, that by choice we emulated and embraced the values of the heterosexual world. We got married, bought a house, and had kids. Exactly in that order. Essentially, we were accused of being sell-outs. We were accused of trying to embrace this otherness, that we were attempting to 'straighten out' who we were by becoming mommies.

So when you ask me why I think queer parenting is 'radical' this is why. As a lesbian, I've stood on the outside of the straight world, and now as a lesbian parent, I'm being forced to stand on the outside of the queer community. We challenge the conventions of communities we have a stake in when we choose to have kids. By being queer, and being parents, we've challenged institutional heterosexism. By being queer, and being parents, we've challenged notions of what it means to be queer.

The thing is, as a queer parent, I'm more out than I've ever been. I'm outed daily by my kids in every single thing that I do. I'm outed by virtue of having kids.

When I have to fill out a school registration form or enroll the kids in an activity, we write both of our names as the parents. When we're at a restaurant and the server asks how we'd like the bill split, we get a confused look when we say its all together and the kids are calling each of us Mom. When a co-worker asks what the my kids' father's name is or when a coach tells my kid to practice soccer at home with his dad to only get a funny look - I'm suddenly outed. From grocery shopping to clothes shopping, you're always out when you're a queer parent. You're always visible. And, you're always visibly queer.

Being queer and being a parent is what it is. Kids don't make you less gay. If anything you're gayer because you're conscious of that gayness every single day. You're conscious of suddenly not really fitting in to any community - except for the one of other queer parents.