I recently had a conversation with Janelle, a good friend and mentor of mine, about their experience being a queer parent to a cute bubbly toddler and their journey to have a second child. It was an interesting discussion that brought up questions of gender roles and expectations, challenges when conceiving as a queer couple, and queer/gender formation in the context of being pregnant.
Janelle doesn’t identify with the term “mom” and is in the process of figuring out their own gender expression and identity… but what does that all mean when they are the one pregnant with a baby? Pregnancy is intrinsically tied to gender and that it is “woman’s work”, so what does that mean for a gender queer person to be pregnant?
I explore some of these questions and more in our informal interview.
What was you and your partner’s experience the first time she was pregnant?
It was definitely a complicated decision. It’s interesting when we first started on this baby-making journey. I really wanted to be pregnant first because I thought it would be like climbing a huge mountain, almost like a physical accomplishment. But after seeing Elly (my partner), go through childbirth, I thought, why would anybody go through something so painful?? I see how much male privilege works out so nicely when you can’t physically bear the next child.
We started to get pregnant with Kiyo in 2007. It included interviewing lots of sperm donors and causing gay men existential crises.
Why did you decide to be pregnant for your second child?
When I thought about having the second baby, I thought it would be like taking out the trash, someone has to do it and it would be fair in a same-sex relationship. Elly did tell me she would get pregnant again but I think she forgot how painful it was, she only seems to remember the good moments. I don’t know what breast feeding does to her to make her forget but I remember all the painful moments, when she was yelling at me during labor, that I’m going to have the next baby and how she’s not doing it ever again.
I wanted to be pregnant out of the sense of fairness in a same-sex relationship, this sense of duty and equality. But when I blew out my knee and had to have ACL surgery, I discovered that I now have two reasons to not wanting to have the baby, 1) loss of independence, 2) tied to gender stuff, for example breastfeeding, the focus on my chest would cause me to be very uncomfortable. Again, the parts that define a “woman” would play central role in the entire pre, present, and post pregnancy journey and those exact “woman parts” are not what I would use to define my gender.
But considering all of that and having discussions with my partner, I realized there are ways around certain aspects of what I would feel uncomfortable about (such as breastfeeding). And in the end, I wanted to complete this physical and emotional journey of carrying a child and after the pregnancy, I get a permanent wonderful prize, our second child.
How does your gender play into being pregnant and raising your children?
I don’t identify with the term “mother” but as being pregnant becomes more and more of a reality for me, I realized I would need to navigate through being a “mother” more intentionally especially with the eyes of the outside world on me.
I am a big believer in fluidity of gender identity, gender performance, and sexuality. My own gender performance has gone more into a gender queer route.
I connected with a trans/genderqueer man while I was at language school several years ago and he really made me think about how I identify in my own gender performance. Physically, I don’t look that different now than I did years ago but my mental shift of my gender has been significant. I became more and more aware of the usage of pronouns, when folks would refer to me as she/her or woman, I would be like “Huh…” and felt a disconnection to those terms.
I am and will always be open to my kids about the gender process and being critical of the binary of male and female genders. Like how traditional heterosexual families want a strong “male” or “female” role model for their kids, I want a strong trans/genderqueer role model for mine. Gender has impacted the way we have raised Kiyo. We don’t use as much pink for her clothes or toys. Since a lot of books we have are male-centered, we just change the pronouns. We definitely want Kiyo to play with gender and we are very open to what she chooses her own gender expression to be.
Not having a good role model of being a pregnant genderqueer person makes me desire a community that has more queer and genderqueer folks for support. The question of what is seen as one of the core tenants of a “woman’s work”, to be pregnant and have a child, but through my body of a genderqueer person brings up some sticky challenges that I’m looking forward to confronting and growing from.
Janelle Ishida just recently retired from her Organizing Director job working with young folks and currently dedicated all of their time exploring the wonders of being a stay-at-home parent to the deathly adorable Kiyo and working on growing their family.
This blog is part of Strong Families Mama’s Day Our Way blog series. Make and send a custom Mama’s Day e-card at www.mamasday.org. Strong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.