Queering Parenthood: Bow Ties and Baby Bumps

Beth Mattson (far right) with partner Chris and first-born Charlie. Submitted photo.
Beth Mattson (far right) with partner Chris and first-born Charlie. Submitted photo.
By Beth Mattson, PQ Monthly

It was very easy for me to identify as queer when I was living in San Francisco without children of my own. It seemed simple to expand my Midwestern lesbian roots to become as boy-ish as I wanted to be. I could have punk-ass hair and lip rings that got me “sir-ed” left and right, but still be recognized as a qualified manny who could make rent in a gay-borhood. I could make out with luscious femmes at the dyke bar and then also, accidentally, fall in love with a queer man who had functional testicles full of sperm. I could attend events with transmen who had similar gender experiences to my own and who also enjoyed seducing queer-identified men. We could all be boys and girls all together, tra la la la la. And then I moved to Portland.

Rose City is a lovely, wonderful, liberal, fairly gay town, but when I moved here, I left behind my career, familiar surroundings and radical social group … while pregnant – something I never expected to be. I knew it was a biological option that comes from having uterus and mail-order sperm, but I had always assumed that my femme-y ex-girlfriend would be the one to get knocked up. Or we would adopt. It was a shock to my gender and world view to find my uterus occupied, much more so by the genetic recombinant of someone I had actually had sex with.

I suddenly had an intimate understanding of the previously more theoretical empathy I always carried for those who identified as bisexual and lacked a great deal of visibility. So, now that I am a parent with a partner of the sex that my conservative family had always hoped for, what makes me a Queer parent? “Just because I say so!” I want to shout. But then I blush and the privileges of my current partnership wash over me and I feel compelled to justify my sexuality, gender, and existence to myself and everyone. Where have I gone? Is my identity still valid? Do I deserve the title “hasbian” that I have overheard more than once?

“Of course I am queer!” should be the obvious answer and I should bother to follow it with a list of my qualifications: I chased girls to kiss them on the first grade playground. My lusty, obsessive girl crushes span all of my education. I was shocked and pleased to discover feminism in college and realize that that not everybody wanted to be a boy and that many parts of being female were fabulous. I was civil-unioned to a woman in Vermont. We owned a cat. I eat tofu. I can make fisting jokes with the best of them. And I put my hand all the way inside of a dude before he got to poke his penis into me. But here we are, in our cute little house, in a bougie neighborhood, with me in maternity clothes and all my distant relatives coo-ing. Do my current privileges cancel out my activism, advocacy and wet dreams about dirty librarians who leave lipstick prints on the books I am checking out?

946070_566922086672898_1010333069_n-1I try to be blatant. We have rainbow flags everywhere. I try to explain myself whenever we show up at queer parenting groups. Or I just use the gayest terminology I can think of. How can I be obvious about being boyish while my boobs are the size of melons and I wear girl-cut shirts because they are the only ones to fit over my obvious belly and birthing hips? If all of the lovely queers that I surround myself with are wonderful enough to be far less anxious about my identity than I am (true), how do I signal to the straight parents in my child’s music classes that I am both a parent – not just an adorable queer manny – and at the same time not straight, but also not partnered with a woman?

I try to hike up my Big Boy trousers and take it all in stride. I strain to be at peace with the elastic jeans that have fake pockets and contours that hug my hips. I block out that parenthood has interfered with the late-night drinking and dancing culture that I was used to and loved. I focus on the thrill that breastfeeding is cheap and relatively easy in the middle of the night (kudos to anyone who can mix a bottle in the pitch dark), instead of on the notion that if I was offered free top surgery with no legal or therapy strings attached, I’d take it in a heartbeat. Never mind that everyone sweetly, kindly refers to me as a “mama,” instead of the “daddy” I had envisioned for myself when I was married to a woman, and that when I was married to her it would have been less awkward to explain.

I suck it up and enjoy the ride, because isn’t that the whole point? Aren’t I having kids with my zany, queer partner in order to increase our love exponentially? I shouldn’t be wasting time with my silly insecurities. I should be embracing far, far sillier pursuits with my toddler. Running around in all colors of dress-up clothes, painting our nails with abandon, taking care of trucks and dolls, changing the genders of all of the characters in his picture books as I read aloud, and reminding my extended family as often as possible that everyone in my nucleus marches together in the Pride parade.

My heart has expanded a hundred times over, so it would be really nice if my gay brain would just get over it already. Isn’t it incredibly queer to relax into however it is that I pass and register? I’ve got to let go of how I am coding to everyone around me, and just chase after that cute, little short stack on the tricycle. I’ll buy us both ice cream if I can go an hour without worrying that I look straight.

Beth MattsonBeth Mattson is a queer living, writing, and trying to be a pillar of non-judgmental parenting in SE Portland, who recently gave birth to a second child. Contact the writer at beth@pqmonthly.com.