Queering Up Pregnancy, Part II

Gender Inclusive Parenting 

Some of my friends keep apologizing when they accidentally gender my fetus. They sometimes refer to the baby as “he” or “she” and immediately apologize, knowing that I use “they/their/them.”

There is no need to apologize.

After this happened for the umpteenth time, it occurred to me that people do not know what I mean when I say I am not gendering my child. Wanting to be respectful, they think that any gendered terms will offend me. This is not the case so I wanted to write a post about my views on gender inclusive parenting.

Lots of people tell me I’m having a girl. This may be true, but I know that my child’s genitals have little to do with their gender identity. I may very well birth a girl. I could birth a girl with a vagina or a girl with a penis or a girl assigned intersex. All those people could be wrong and I could birth a boy; a boy with a penis, a boy with a vagina, or a boy assigned intersex. Or my child could be non-binary.

The point of not gendering my child is to give them the chance to discover their gender identity on their own. Even though my worldview, values, and lifestyle will influence the formation of my child’s identity, I do not want to impose a socially constructed identity on them.

I am not a fan of gendered social conditioning. Gender assignments at birth come with a script that the child is expected to follow. Example:

The doctor sees a vulva, assigns “girl” and suddenly everyone has expectations for how that child can and should behave. She is given a costume that contains a fairly limited color palate, is expected to wear her hair in a certain way, is expected to carry out specific gendered roles, and is expected to exhibit specific gendered traits FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE. 

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The doctor sees a penis, assigns “boy” and suddenly everyone has expectations for how that child can and should behave. He is given a costume that contains an even more limited color palate, is expected to wear his hair in a certain way, is expected to carry out specific gendered roles, and is expected to exhibit specific gendered traits FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE. 

IMG_2210

I do not want to do this to my child. I do not want to hand them a gender script from the moment of birth. My hope is that I will create space and experiences for my child to explore their identity in a variety of ways so that they can decide who they are and what they want. Most people would not want their child’s career paths picked out at birth so why do we approve of gender paths?

It starts here: IMG_2213

and ends here: hetero wedding

And check this out:

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Both of the above pairs of shorts are children’s size 7. The orange ones are for girls, the white for boys…. These shorts exemplify gendered social conditioning stemming from a misogynistic culture which dictates that girls show more skin. Size 7! These are not tween or teen clothes, they are for young children and the message is clear: objectify girls’ bodies. I don’t mind the short shorts, I mind that they are not available for boys! Shouldn’t boys wear short shorts if they want to and girls wear long shorts if they want to? I want my child to have options.

I do believe there are some people who align with gendered traits and roles. If my child’s gender identity is congruent with their birth assignment (i.e.: they are cisgender), I will absolutely celebrate them! If I give birth to a girl with a vagina who loves pink, long hair, dolls, and is heterosexual, I will absolutely celebrate her! I do not have an issue with cisgender identities, I just do not want to assume cisgender until proven otherwise.

There isn’t a model for gender inclusive parenting, so I leave room for lots of hiccups as I embark on this rather trailblazey journey without expectation or attachment. I just know how hard it is to discover one’s true identity when immersed in normative scripts and I hope to create space for the developmentally appropriate formation of gender identity without imposed limitations from me (or as much as I can in our very gendered world).

 

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Queering Up Pregnancy Part I

That’s right. I’m growing a human. I have been growing a human for several months but have wavered in my decision to post my experience due to fear of retribution. It’s hard being queer. It’s hard being genderqueer. It’s hard being a survivor. It’s hard living in our current political climate as a queer/genderqueer/survivor. One wonders about safety most of the time. But I’ve had lots of time to consider my situation and research the idea of genderqueer pregnancy and have formed the conclusion that my story and my experience may be beneficial for other genderqueer gestating people. I know I’m not the only one out there, but my oh my are we difficult to find and man oh man there is nary a resource out there for us. So what has it been like for me as a genderqueer pregnant person? Here are a few points:

  1. I feel more solid in my genderqueerness than ever before. This has been an exciting new discovery. I thought pregnancy might induce gender angst but it has only served to strengthen my understanding that I am NOT a woman. I am also NOT a man. There are plenty of gestating men out there, but I’m not one of them. I am a genderqueerfluid pregnant person.
  2. There are no clothes for genderqueer pregnant people
  3. Pregnancy has made me less concerned with the experiences of cisgender people and bending over backwards to help them understand my identity. My current attitude is basically thus: I am genderqueer. I am pregnant. You don’t understand? Sorry, can’t help you.
  4. I LOVE my pregnant body. As someone who struggled with body image and disordered eating for most of life, there was some concern that pregnancy and subsequent weight gain would be challenging. Not in the slightest. My pregnant body is sexy and exciting and I am proud of the 28lbs I have gained thus far. I will say the extra boobage isn’t fun and I hope I get some of my muscle back (it has been replaced with adipose in certain areas) because I like to climb mountains, but the fact that this whole process is ending in a child means nothing else matters much.

So aside from my gender identity, how else am I queering pregnancy? Let’s consider the dominant cultural narrative around pregnancy: A cis-het woman is impregnated by her cis-het husband. They discover the sex of their child in utero (erroneously labeling it “gender”), buy gendered clothes and decorations for the nursery, have a baby shower in which they receive gendered gifts for the baby, pick out gendered baby names…(remember, this is the DOMINANT paradigm. I know some cis-het couples do not align with this narrative either).

How does my pregnancy differ?

  1. I’m single
  2. I’m not a woman
  3. The necessary ingredient for conception was donated
  4. I’m old (and so happy about that)
  5. I won’t know the sex of my child until they are born
  6. I won’t know the gender of my child until they tell me
  7. I don’t have a nursery
  8. I haven’t bought ONE thing (I am the lucky recipient of many hand-me-downs)
  9. NO BABY SHOWER
  10. I will birth at home (if all goes swimmingly)

No part of my pregnancy was inspired by Pinterest. There are so many ways to be pregnant! There are so many ways to be human! It always intrigues me that societal norms determine, not only how most people do things, but how valid one’s life is. I am certain that some people look at my choices and are horrified:

HOW COULD THEY BRING A CHILD INTO THE WORLD WITHOUT A HUSBAND/PARTNER?

WHAT DO THEY MEAN THEY WILL WAIT FOR THE CHILD TO DISCLOSE THEIR GENDER?!

THEY HAVEN’T BOUGHT ANYTHING? WHAT THE…?

Why can’t we all just celebrate each other and our diverse humanness? I am so lucky to be surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues who may not totally relate to my choices, but who offer unconditional love and support. Similarly, I offer love and support to my cis-het friends who are gendering their children (far be it for me to tell someone else how to parent). These friends also say they will love and accept their child if their child decides their assigned gender doesn’t fit. I have two cis mostly-het friend couples who are trying not to overly gender their children- they use gendered names and pronouns but prefer gender neutral clothes, are open to other pronouns, and outright defy rigid gender roles. Queer parenting does not necessarily mean parenting by queer people; it could just mean parenting outside the norm.

I’m curious if there are other genderqueer gestating people out there and what they might add to this conversation. I sometimes wonder if my fluid identity makes this process easier for me. I can sort of flow into femininity, or at least allow other people to gender me in that way for this short period of time without causing too much angst, but I wonder how it is for people whose genderqueerness is more stagnant.

Stay tuned for more queer pregnancy thoughts.

Forging Meaning Building Resistance

When we are in the fire, we cannot escape the pain and fear of annihilation. It feels like it will never end. Yet one of the few things I know to be absolutely true is that emotions are fleeting. In my somewhat wise middle-aged years, when someone sets fire to my body yet again, I know to breathe and breathe and chant “this too will pass.”

I’m not saying this is easy. I have been brought to my knees in tears and pain over and over by the cruel and abusive acts of former partners. Yes, I must sheepishly admit that I have been in more than one abusive relationship. The particular way I shape myself around partners causes me to ignore controlling and violent behavior for far too long. It also recently occurred to me that one becomes conditioned to such behavior; after one abusive relationship, the next one seems normal. It took many years of living under the control of another person for me to finally gain clarity about what constitutes healthy relational patterns. At this point, I am confident that I can say “never again.” Learning has occurred!

When dealing with acts of cruelty, it would be easy to revert to my own unhealthy coping skills, namely calorie restriction and substance use (though hiding under the covers, binge watching Netflix, and isolating myself would also not serve me). I am happy to say that in the midst of pain and conflict, I haven’t engaged in any of the above activities. Rather, I work diligently on my PhD, dance, spend time with nature, write and write, listen to music, eat and eat, sit in meditation, and engage with community. Look, friends- HEALTHY COPING SKILLS! It is possible to make use of them!

I was recently catching up with a dear friend with whom I had not spoken in a while and was musing about my role regarding a former toxic relationship. Where could I hold myself responsible? Is there something I could have done to prevent the onslaught of cruelty that followed my exit from the relationship? My friend asked, “is anyone else in your life telling you that you’re sick, hysterical, and out-of-control?” Uh, nope. Not even my doctors and therapists. In fact, they observe strength of character, healthy coping skills, and an ability to hold myself accountable for my choices. My friend then said, “so if one person is telling you you’re sick, hysterical, and out-of-control but no one else is, doesn’t that say more about that person than you?” Zoiks. Thank Goddess for the rational reflections of people who love us.

Acts of cruelty, abuse, prejudice, discrimination, microaggressions… these are all occurrences which plague queer people, sometimes on a daily basis. These are the matches used to set our bodies on fire. We will walk through that fire again and again. If one lives a non-normative life, it is nigh impossible that such things can be avoided. So I figure I have a choice: I can curl up in the fetal position under my covers, never to emerge except to hit the bottle or pop a pill or I can forge meaning and build resilience from these very acts of violence. That latter choice makes me smile.

I kind of enjoy the idea that a person or a group of people are so intimidated and frightened by my power and non-normativity that they have to spread rumors, target me through social systems, attack my choices, and exert a tremendous amount of energy to try and annihilate my existence. To those people I say, neener neener neener, I still stand. Like Obi Wan, Gandalf, and Dumbledore before me, I am more powerful after I am attacked. Resilience to adversity makes us stronger and at this point in my life, I am like a Bristlecone Pine and may be around for thousands of years. Tee hee.

I recently watched a Ted Talk about forging meaning from adversity and want to credit Andrew Solomon with the concept. If you’re interested, here it is:

The stories we tell about our lives are the building blocks of our reality. Will you choose to tell a story of victimization or will you choose to tell a story of resilience? When you’re in the fire, remind yourself that it cannot last forever. Let the flames increase your power so that when you emerge, you have the strength to tell your truth.

Love before hate. Always.

End This War on My Body

You drive words like knives 
into my skin
Tell me I’m not OK
I don’t belong
I did wrong
I am wrong

You don’t look in my eyes
don't ask who I am
You drive your oppression
From fucked up projections
Straight to my heart
Hoping (don't speak it)
hoping it will stop beating

If you stop my heart
Stop my queer body
You don’t have to look
At non-normativity
Or ask yourself
why you play their game

You drive words like knives 
into my body
fists like words 
An offering of bruises
to remind me my place is
Below
Below  

From your stance up above
Gazing downward
in judgment
Not caring to know
To know
To truly know
The miles walked in my queer skin
The love birthed
From my queer blood

You use systems like weapons
To keep me oppressed
“they are there to help…”
Averting your gaze
As this act of violence
so full of lies 
Destroys my queer life

If you stop my heart
Stop my queer body
You don’t have to look
At non-normativity

This ends now
This war on my body
I stand firm on the ground of my spirit
And say (again)
ENOUGH

Rip into my skin
Tear into my heart
Throw my life, my love
Into the fire
Again
And again

Leave me torn
Bleeding
Bruised
Staring at you (yes you)
Who threw a knife
And looked the other way
as it pierced my heart
My still beating heart
Hoping (don’t speak it)
hoping it will stop beating

I stand firm on the ground of my spirit
With ghosts who bravely said
We’re here
We’re here
We’re not going anywhere
My still beating heart
My resilient heart
My uncrushable heart 
its rhythm in my body
beats 
fuck normativity
fuck normativity 
fuck normativity...

Smacked in the Face with My Class Privilege

Oh yes, it happened again. There I was, driving along a tree-lined snowy road, listening to NPR when Class Privilege reached up from under my sweater and smacked me in the face.

“Ye of the professional class, pay attention to this! Cause you have been missing it.”

I am so happy to have a working relationship with my Privileges: Race, Class, and Ability/Body. Without this strong bond, I would have to rely on other people to call me in on blissful privileged ignorance and that, in addition to placing undue strain on others, is woefully inefficient.

So the slight ego bruise notwithstanding, I was delighted at the smack.

I’m going to do my best to unpack the moment, but remember, this is an area of privilege for me so I may still miss something.

I tuned in to NPR when they were in the middle of a story. It related to the 2016 Presidential election (what doesn’t these days?) and had something to do with voting patterns and privileged perspectives of certain candidates (or possibly the whole democratic party… I didn’t quite catch the context). What I did catch was a statement about working class white people being fed up with professional class white people telling them they are privileged when they are having a hard time finding jobs, paying the bills, or seeing themselves represented in government.

SMACK! POW! Ouch.

In that sudden smack, I knew without using words that I had a privileged perspective regarding the topic of privilege. While I understand intersections of privilege and oppression and the ways we might examine such a thing, I had not brought that cognitive knowing into my daily discourse on white privilege.

Huh, what?

Let me see if I can articulate this right-brain, non-verbal understanding that is floating around in my consciousness:

Systems of Oppression

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Systems of oppression are top-down processes that begin with the ideology of an elite class and end with squashed dreams, internalized hate, and opportunity deserts for the oppressed.

Social identity categories

Dominant Group.jpg

Subordinate Group.png

My Social ID.jpg

I talk about privilege a lot in my everyday life. A lot, a lot. There is nary a corner of my life where I do not examine how my own privilege (and let’s be honest, the privilege of everyone around me) might be offering some majorly unearned benefits. I point it out. Yet this morning, as I heard the statement about white people who do NOT have class privilege, it occurred to me that I may have missed examination of this intersection:

Race and class.jpg

Specifically, I tend to be ignorant of class oppression in the face of racial privilege. To me, white people have heaps of privilege… well, this isn’t just my opinion, it’s a fact. But white people who are poverty-stricken, working poor, or working class are also facing oppression at the hands of white people of the professional and owning classes. The NPR story noted that these people were tired of hearing professional/owning class people spouting their elitist jargon regarding white privilege.

I get it. The way to rally others towards inclusive thinking begins with validation of the ways they are oppressed. I suspect this is why so many “white men with no college” voted for Trumpywumpie Cheeto Head. They neither saw themselves benefiting from Senator Clinton’s policies nor even heard themselves represented in her discourse. To be clear, I got behind Hillary, but I also saw how her elite white feminist approach would be alienating to many groups of people. This is an ongoing issue in social justice movements: The marginalized elite (read: white, affluent…) pushing out even more marginalized subordinate classes (read: people of color, working classes…).

We see a clear example of this in the assimilation of cisgender gay and lesbian people into heteronormative values. I do not judge gays and lesbians who believe in those values and want to walk with them, but when those same gays and lesbians push queer and trans people out of the movement for being too freaky and ruining their chance at assimilation, well, then we have a problem.

Same thing happened with feminism. It was cisgender, whites only in its first and second waves which had to be challenged (and continues to be challenged) by women of color and trans women.

What am I taking away from this? I do not want to be another white member of the professional class telling people to examine their privilege before I examine how my own class privilege might be stomping all over my white neighbors. Therefore, I need to listen. I need to seek out experiences that take me outside of the elite professional class and into the working classes. Did I mention I need to listen? I need to hear how people are impacted by class oppression before I start with discussions of racial privilege.

For someone who makes inclusivity and diversity a focus of daily living, it is humbling to continue to encounter the privilege mirror. I suspect it will never end. I suspect understanding and fully internalizing systems of power and oppression will never be a box that I check, “done!”

May my Privileges continue to smack me in the face from now until forever. I offer gratitude for their tenacity.

 

The Worst Kind of Toxic Work Environment

Give me explicit discrimination over implicit hate any day.

When the People Who Wish I Didn’t Exist are explicit in their hatred, I know how to conduct myself (hide, run, ignore, placate). When the People Who Wish I Didn’t Exist PRETEND to be open, accepting, and inclusive, I fall prey to a false sense of safety and do things like come out at work, only to majorly regret it a few months later.

This happened to me in 2016 (along with an ugly break-up, the death of a friend, bike theft, the loss of beloved pets, slander, and more…good riddance 2016!). I was working at a therapeutic organization that supports the mental health needs of young adults. One would think that the helping professions would be more inclined towards inclusivity and diversity- they certainly pay enough lip service to these concepts- but my experience has shown that such organizations are often more hateful and exclusive than other companies; they just hide it well.

Paying lip service to inclusivity without doing the work necessary to actually create a safe enough work environment is extremely dangerous. When I first started at the aforementioned organization, I was pleased by the rhetoric around diversity. I’m a fairly obvious queer person with a shaved head and gender-bendy clothes and my supervisor made it clear that he was in support of my identity. So I came out. I let staff know that I am attracted to same-sex partners and, when that went fairly well, let them know of my trans identity several months later. I’m embarrassed to admit that my naivete prevented me from recognizing that staff would more-or-less “approve” of my sexual orientation (it’s “OK” to be a white cis lesbian in most progressive cities in the USA these days-thank you assimilation) but would recoil in fear and loathing at my trans identity.

Oops. Big mistake. Lesson learned.

From the moment I started to assert my gender, I was met with hostility. Staff members who previously expressed feelings of friendship and connection withdrew and made microaggressive comments in staff meetings. Curious about what I heard? Check it out:

  • How can I support what I don’t believe in? 
  • You need to grow a thicker skin
  • I can’t get on board with your pronouns
  • Your gender isn’t real
  • What do your partner’s genitals look like? Yes indeedy, a member of the leadership team asked me this

My colleague who is QPOC has it even worse. They experienced (and continue to experience) racist, transphobic, and homophobic harassment from clients. What is leadership doing about this? Nothing.

I presented a training on gender inclusivity and diversity to the leadership team and while they raved about the content, they didn’t do anything to change their toxic environment. It was during this training that I found out admissions personnel hid my gender from prospective clients, using binary pronouns ON PURPOSE in case the freaky trans employee scared off profitable bodies.

The scariest aspect of all this: This organization markets itself as an inclusive space for LGBTQ clients. WHAT?!

Let me repeat: Give me explicit discrimination over implicit hate any day.

If I understood from the moment my employment began that I was working in an environment that liked to be superficially inclusive but hid a wellspring of hatred and transphobia I NEVER WOULD HAVE COME OUT. Because I thought I had the support of leadership, I asked for gender inclusive practices to be instated (such as the naming of pronouns during community meetings) but I had no idea that cis staff and clients would be allowed to express hatred and microaggressions towards trans staff and clients who outed themselves.

What happened when I brought these issues to the attention of my supervisor? I was told I was being “theatrical.” In all fairness, he apologized for that remark, but I think it illuminated a truth of feeling that lurked beneath the surface.

The bottom line is that racism, homophobia, sexism, and transphobia abound at this organization, but administration and leadership refuse to examine their own roles in the creation of this hate culture. Why is it OK for a cisgender staff member to tell a transgender client WHO IS IN RECOVERY FROM ADDICTION AND DEPRESSION that their gender “isn’t real?” It’s not OK, but it happens.

One of the reasons I am not naming this transitional residential therapeutic center is because this issue is not unique to this particular organization. It happens all the time in the helping professions and I have said before that it is unacceptable.

Here’s why:

  • If an accountant commits a microaggression towards a client it sucks; it’s familiar, it might spur us to seek tax support elsewhere, but it won’t offer undue harm to our mental health (any more than the other daily microaggressions we experience from strangers)
  • If my postal worker tells me to “pick a gender,” I feel hurt and confused but my recovery from substance abuse isn’t called into question

However, when your “mentor” at rehab tells you your gender isn’t real, it has an impact. This person has power over you. They are in charge of your health and well-being. They are your guides on your path to recovery. And they just told you you don’t exist. Good luck moving through your depression after that.

For queer staff members of the helping professions, such implicit biases lead to a false belief in safety which leads to vulnerable admissions of identity which leaves one open to attack. I came out at work, in part, because I wanted to support our queer clients. I thought my role as an out trans person would be a beacon of safety for them. I was wrong. My false sense of safety led to a false sense of safety in other staff and clients. Yes, other people came out and asked for support. And yes, they were met with microaggressions and hostility. I still feel responsible for that.

So how do we create our own safety?

  • Don’t assume that organizational lip service regarding inclusivity is backed by training, professional development, or policy in any way
  • Be wary of cis-het white people who claim to understand multiculturalism and diversity without offering any education or training on such topics to staff
  • Remember that it’s not your job as a queer person to educate everyone else on inclusive practices. You can point out areas that need improvement if you feel safe enough to do so, but know that leadership teams and management are the ones who need to work to create a safe enough environment
  • Form groups with other queer and marginalized employees. Share experiences. Support each other. Do not tell management you’re doing this
  • Take your time in coming out. Do what feels right to you, not what you think might be in the best interest of clients or other staff

“Ninety-seven percent (97%) [of trans people] have experienced mistreatment, harassment, or discrimination on the job including: invasion of privacy, verbal abuse, and physical or sexual assault” (National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 2011).

Nice to know I’m just a statistic.

I’m starting a new job next week. As of now, I am uncertain of how to show up. I could let everyone misgender me without correction which feels rather craptacular, or I could come out and risk hostile encounters. There is a trans adolescent client at this organization and I already feel the pull to come out in order to stand in solidarity with him, but I think I will assess the situation over time before making any decisions. This makes me sad.

And thus I begin 2017…