Why was I sacrificing for motherhood before I even decided I wanted children?
After working his ass off to land a job in “big law,” my husband left his firm after less than two years. He explained to a dumbfounded male partner that he felt he could not avail himself of the options open to female employees to improve work/family balance. The partner merely agreed that as a male, doing so would make it impossible to have a future at the firm.
Our infant twins were around six months old when Seth concluded that in order to be the involved, egalitarian dad we both wanted him to be, he was going to have to “lean out” of his career, and “lean in” at home. This Times piece suggests men must “lean in” at home in order for women to be able to take Sheryl Sandberg’s now famous advice to “lean in” at work. Indeed, Seth needed to make changes to his career so that mine could continue.
Seth and I were both angered and shocked at the workplace barriers that existed for him. Taking a 70% schedule, as many of the successful women in his office had, would have meant career suicide. Instead, he made the choice to leave “big law” all together, in favor of a job where he would still work extremely hard, but have more control over his hours. Along with this came a massive pay cut of almost 1/2 his salary.
As Rampell point out in the Times piece, parental leave options are dreadful in the US. But if those options that are available are, either systemically, or culturally, not options for men, that essentially forces women to “lean out” of the work world, while preventing men from “leaning in” at home.
–In 1980, Adrienne Rich wrote possibly the most important queer feminist text in human history, Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence. Today, I bring you my own thoughts on compulsory heterosexuality, compulsory monogamy, gendered and vanilla existence, all through the lens of… ice cream.
—For anyone who might be wondering (especially those who remember this), no I was not high when I wrote this post, just hungry.
Every time I think I’ve stepped completely outside the box, I find there is another box. My life is like one of those Russian nesting dolls—open me up and there’s another one inside. But in my case, instead of getting smaller and smaller, I get queerer and queerer.
When it comes to sex and gender, our world is like an ice cream shop that only sells two flavors—with maybe a third special flavor available on certain days of the week. As a lover of frozen treats, I have to say, that’s pretty lame!
Imagine if ice cream only came in chocolate and vanilla. Strawberry would seem pretty damn novel—even radical! Strawberry might seem so radical, it could never occur to anyone to do something crazy like mix flavors together, add nuts, chocolate bits or (god help me) cookie dough! How empty our lives would be without cookie dough! And the saddest part—we would have no idea what we were missing!
I’ve always been outside the box. It’s not like I only knew about chocolate and vanilla. At 20 years old I was hanging out at something called a “Queer Kiss-In.” I just wasn’t kissing anyone. Why not? Because there were other boxes I was still inside.
Strawberry. I got it. I got the strawberry, but I didn’t get the cookie dough. I was outside the straight box, but I was still inside the monosexual box. I hadn’t reached pansexual yet, and wouldn’t for years. There was no way for me to imagine cookie dough back then.
Why do I meet so many other women who didn’t realize they liked women until later in life? You see, many of us were never offered that flavor. When we looked down into the display case of life we didn’t see queer as an option. Even me, who thought I was pretty damn radical, marrying a feminist man in a partnership ceremony, wearing a brown dress, keeping my name… I thought I was at the wheel, but I was still caught up in compulsory monogamy and heterosexuality. I questioned the gender expectations traditionally ascribed to “marriage,” but there were so many other things I didn’t question.
Seriously though, it’s really hard to see something in yourself that you’ve never seen anywhere else, and that no one recognizes in you. In the last couple of months I’ve had several friends I perceived as straight or lesbian tell me they are much closer to bi, as well as friends I perceived as cis-gender tell me they aren’t. The more I talk to people about my identity, the more I’m able to truly see them, and perhaps, the more they are able to truly see them. I’m left wondering if the LGBTQIAPK, etc. folks that we see out there are only tip of the iceberg.
What’s different about queer people who somehow manage to recognize queer in themselves and live it? Are their skins thicker, are they smarter, luckier, were they simply in the right place at the right time, or are they gayer, kinkier, or more gender flexible than the rest of us? I can’t say.
All I know is how incredibly fine the line is between me and your garden variety heterosexual, vanilla, monogamous suburban mom. If so many of us ladies are, or were, just a couple neuron-firings away from recognizing our queer, than how many more are out there like us whose queer neurons just haven’t fired yet?
Why does one mom stay closeted her whole life, even to herself, while another is tormented by her same-sex desire which she never reveals to anyone? Why does one woman have a secret affair with a woman, ultimately coming to view herself as a lesbian, while another has a full -blown, long-term relationship with a female, but still identifies as straight. What separates the woman who comes out to her husband and friends and has discreet relationships with women, from the one who leaves her marriage and never looks at a man again?
In my humble opinion, very little.
I say that because I could be any of them. I could have landed anywhere on that spectrum. I still could. Had I never had pregnancy and birth hormones coursing through my veins and experienced the head-trash of becoming a mother in our society (see here for my manifesto on motherhood and coming out), would I have gotten so in touch with my queerness? Easily not.
I once heard a talk by a woman who is an expert in the field of transgender identity. She stated, with regret, “We’re losing a whole generation of butch lesbians.” Her implication was that many of the women who would have identified as butch lesbians in the past are now transitioning to male. Why would this be? Current technology and visibility of transpeople means—you guessed it—more flavors. It seems the butch lesbians of the past were all about strawberry, but they hadn’t yet sampled the cookie dough.
It all comes back to the ice cream. If we look down into that case and all we see is straight, all we see is monogamous, vanilla, traditionally gendered, and paired off in dyads, then there’s nothing else to sample. There are so many flavors we all have yet to discover! Everyone has another box to get out of. We all have unexplored aspects of our identity, and for most of us, more unexplored than explored.
I never saw a woman love a woman in a way that wasn’t platonic until I was 18. When I acted flagrantly queer in high school, nobody ever noticed. I’m not saying they ignored or rejected it—see that would be a form of recognition, albeit painful. I’m saying they simply didn’t see it—like a color-blind person looking at a pattern and only seeing certain parts—they were queer-blind. Their brains were not wired to see queerness. They had neurons firing to straight girls acting very, very friendly with their best friends. Groan.
When I was a senior in high school, I won an award for writing. It wasn’t a surprise. I’d been getting praised for my writing my whole life. But what if I hadn’t? What if no one ever noticed my writing? What if no one around me even knew what writing was? What if my teachers paid way more attention to other talents I had and ignored my writing skills? Would I be writing this right now?
Amazing how parts of us can get hidden so far inside us that we don’t even know they are there, while the things that get validated, groomed, praised, and noticed tend to be the ones we cultivate. That my friends, is why I have a husband and a blog where I write about being queer, but not a girlfriend. And that too is why I wasn’t kissing anyone at the “Queer Kiss-In.”
It wasn’t that I wanted to kiss someone but didn’t. I don’t think I even had access to those feelings. I don’t believe it’s because they weren’t there—I think I just didn’t know where to look for them. I didn’t even know to look for them. By then, I’d had my straight parts reinforced up the wazoo, and my gay parts not at all. Remember Eve, my “sixteen year-old lesbian alter ego?” She’d already been sent into hiding by that point.
This is what compulsory heterosexuality is. It’s not big brother knocking on our doors and telling us “You are going to be straight, vanilla, marry, and be monogamous, and that’s just the way is it, young lady!”
It’s much more subtle, and much more pervasive than that. It’s everywhere. It’s in everything we see, but most of all, it’s in the many, many things we don’t see. It’s in everything we are told about ourselves, and it’s in the silence of the things that are clearly in us that not one ever sees.
So what is fluidity then?
I’m beginning to wonder if it’s not so much that queer feelings suddenly appear where there weren’t any. I wonder if it’s more like we are, for a variety of reasons, able to see more. It’s like we get treatment for our queer-blindness, and suddenly we can see twice as much. It’s like walking into an ice cream store, and instead of three flavors, there are six, and then sixteen, and then sixty. What if those ice cream shops were everywhere? What if we could all see all the possibilities?
I wonder if we would conclude that fluidity is simply seeing more and more of what already is, and queer is just another word for human?
Copyright 2013, undercoverinthesuburbs.com, All Rights Reserved.
Working Dads Risk Damaging Their Child’s Prospects
Working Dads Are Healthier, Study Finds
Working Dads: Don’t Feel Guilty
The 10 Commandments For Working Fatherhood
5 Comments To Avoid Saying To A Working Dad
The Myth Of The Rich, Selfish Working Dad
Have you seen these headlines? No? That’s because they don’t exist. Links to the real headlines appear at the end of this piece. They, and the millions like them, are actually about working moms. Working moms are without a doubt the most picked apart, analyzed, written about, advised, talked down to, talked up to, monitored, and micro-managed group in society. And when working moms speak about being working moms, we listen, and then we attack.
This article is not meant to weigh in on any of these debates. Rather, this article asks the critical question: Would we say that to dads?
If the topic du jour sounds absurd when the word “Dad” is substituted for “Mom,” we need to take a step back and ask ourselves if our energy is being well utilized. Instead of answering and re-answering the age-old questions about working moms—Are they harming their kids? Are they helping them? Are they too selfish, too rich, and spoiled, too frazzled, pulled in too many directions?—let’s ask a different question. A critical question.
I dread the day when my little boy realizes he isn't supposed to play with Minnie and will be mocked for his exuberant cries that "Minnie have a bow!"
This post is the email I sent friends and family asking them to assist Seth and I in creating a gender-flexible, non-hetero-normative environment for our twins.
It truly does take a village to raise a child. All of you are part of ours, and we are grateful beyond words to have each and every one of you.
I have been thinking about this email since before my children were born, and the time has come for me to sit down and write it. When I thought about what I most wanted to communicate here I think what it boils down to is that we need your help. Beyond Seth and I, you form the closest circle around O and J – a circle that has the power to build the kind of world in which they grow up. We can’t necessarily change the realities of the outside world, but we can create a buffer, an alternative, a safe place to fall, a refuge, a place where they can be who they truly are. It is with that in mind that I ask you to open your hearts and minds and consider how you can wield the great power you have in J and O’s lives in order to help us create that safe space.
When I went into my kids’ room this morning, my sweet J was standing up in his crib, exuberant, clutching his stuffed Minnie Mouse as he does every morning. He shouted gleefully, “Hello Minnie! I kiss Minnie! Minnie have a bow!”
“Hello Minnie!” I responded.
Across the room, my precious O was clutching the matching Mickey with a sly smile on her face. She did a little shoulder shimmie when she saw me. The night before as we headed up to bed, she had said softly, “Minnie?” making sure her companion would be in her crib with her.
No, my son doesn’t prefer Minnie to Mickey. The fact is, my kids don’t know the difference between Minnie and Mickey. They call them both Minnie. Either doll will suffice at night when they can’t go to sleep without “Minnie.” Why? My kids don’t know what gender is. Yes, they are too young, but also, we haven’t taught them.
Today, as it has for the past two days, the calendar on the wall in our house says Mama Away in blue magic marker. ”Mama go Auntie” my kids would say as I rehearsed with them that I would be leaving and when I would be returning. I never expected my newly two year-old twins to get how many days I’d be gone, or even that the blue marker means mama is away and the green means mama is here. The big takeaway was supposed to be mama WILL be back.
“Mama go Auntie” is toddler for me flying to Hawaii to sing in a close friend’s wedding. Because that’s why I’m here, to sing, right? It would be wrong to disappoint a close friend. I’ve found myself doing a lot of rationalizing over the past weeks when the topic of my trip has come up. But I’ll tell you the truth – as I sit here in a quiet hotel room listening to waves crash outside my window. I am not here on some kind of mission of mercy, to throw myself on the sword, leaving my babies to fend for themselves with no one but their totally capable father, as well as grandfather, grandmother and babysitter. I am here because I won the fucking twin mommy lottery. At the perfect time, just when I need it most, just when I thought I was going to explode with restlessness and tedium, a close friend asked me to sing in her wedding in Hawaii.
Two days ago I walked through the airport all alone, boarded a plane for a ten hour flight, which I spent deliciously, luxuriously unplugged and alone. No internet, no phone, no patients, no demanding toddlers, no husband wanting to know why I’m so “prickly” lately. I can remember 5 hours into the flight, after I had done a crossword puzzle, napped, and read, thinking to myself how happy I was that I still had five hours left.
The last time I rode a plane without toddlers was before my pregnancy. It felt completely unworthy of comment at the time, even inconvenient. You would think I would have been eager to arrive in Hawaii, but the funny thing is I don’t think Hawaii was even real to me at that moment. All that was real to me was time. This long, delicious stretch of uninterrupted, unplanned time with no demands.
Only when my twins were 20 months old did they master the correct use of the words “mama” and “dada.” They took quite a long time to even SAY these words, despite beginning to talk about six months prior. Their first words were “uh oh” and “ba ba” (bottle), (ba)”nana,” “hi,” “bye” and “boon” (balloon). I figured, okay, as long as they are starting to say words, no problem. But on the inside I was wondering what was wrong. Was I, as Mama, not as important to them as I should be if they learned “boon” first? Had I been neglectful somehow? I couldn’t help measuring myself against other moms with kids younger than mine who were constantly saying “Mama.”
In the next few months the twins started throwing around the words Mama and Dada, but they didn’t seem to be in reference to anyone. Sometimes they would point at the window or a light switch and shout “Mama.” Sometimes they were directed toward Seth or I, but also toward the babysitter, Grammy and Grampy, aunts and uncles, etc. What was this about? Wasn’t I supposed to be much more important than these other folks?
My anxiety only increased when their words started to get more complex. They started saying “window,” “shake it” (when we danced) and “okra.” My daughter started to refer to her Minnie Mouse doll as “Minya Minya Maow” and her stuffed kangaroo as “Kanga.” Really, I thought, you know Minnie and Kanga and Hippo and Poo Bear and not Mama? I was starting to feel peeved. Okay, maybe even a little hurt. Then something strange began to happen. One day my daughter looked right at me, and with a big smile, and great exuberance, as though she’d had had a revelation, she shouted “Dada!” and pointed in my direction. Over the next couple weeks both babies began to refer to my husband AND me as DaDa.
Close your eyes. Picture Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. We all have an image in our minds of innocent, white children in a quiet, middle class suburb being suddenly, and horrifically exposed to gun violence. Now close your eyes again. Picture the same scene, but this time the children are black. What do you imagine our national reaction would be to this tragedy?
Now close your eyes again and picture 20 black children who have been exposed to gun violence all their lives being killed one by one in the cross-fire of all-too-familiar neighborhood violence in an inner-city setting over the course of three days. What do you imagine our national reaction would be? Wait. We know what our national reaction would be, because this scene, like the first scene in Newtown, has actually happened. It is happening right now, to approximately one child or teen EVERY THREE HOURS. That means a Newtown EVERY 3 DAYS in America!
So what is our national reaction? Our national reaction is nothing. No media frenzy, no demands for better security, for arming principals, no calls for tighter gun control, no focus on mental health access, no conclusions that the world is a dangerous and cruel place, no tears from our half-black president, no frenzy of blogs, no discussions on listservs, no terrified white parents trembling as they drop their children off at school, no mental health professionals scurrying to assist grieving parents in explaining these events, no discussion of post-traumatic stress.
A few months back it came out that actor John Travolta may have had sex with men. Whatever the facts of the case, the blogosphere and my sex therapist circles were a-flutter with speculation. What did this mean? Was John Travolta gay? Does sex with men necessarily mean gay?
This fascinating Good Men Project post Mostly Straight Most of the Time talks about men who identify as “mostly straight,” including men who feel politically or personally limited by the heterosexual male role, men who find other men attractive but primarily enjoy sex with women, and men who have romantic feelings or enjoy cuddling or going “beyond platonic” with other men but not having sex. It also talks about men who have sex with other men but still identify as “mostly straight.” For example, the article quotes a man named Dillon who explains that “he resides in the ‘Sexual Netherlands,’ a place that exists between heterosexuality and bisexuality.”
So what is going on with these men? Are they gay, straight, or bisexual? My answer to that question is that it is the wrong question. Rather than trying to squeeze people into existing labels, perhaps we should be making new labels. Can you be sexually gay and romantically straight, or as some of my colleagues described it, “homo-sexual and hetero-emotional?” Of course! You can be ANYTHING. That is what we keep missing. No matter how many categories we make, people will keep inhabiting “the netherlands in between.”
Please check out this post on Elephant Journal where your clicks here will help my rating during their “sweeps.”
In my feminist, sex-positive, queer-positive travels, I constantly hear folks complaining about labels. Let’s just stop with all these labels. If we could just get away from labels. It’s the labels that are the problem. When I hear this, I often wonder how any of the progress that’s been made to expand notions of gender identity beyond the binary and make space for non-heteronormative and queer forms of identity could have been made without labels. How could we fight for gay marriage without the word “gay?” How could we raise awareness that not everyone fits neatly into male/female categories without labels like transgender, intersex, and genderqueer? I can understand the frustration with labels when it feels like they narrow who we can be and pigeon-hole us into existing categories, like male and female, for example. But ironically, I believe the way to expand notions of identity and free ourselves from those limits is also through more labels.
I recently heard the phrase “Gender, Sexual, and Relationship Minorities” for the first time. As someone who focuses my career in the mental health field on those very groups, I was so pleased to finally have found a quick and dirty label not only for the folks I work with but for myself, as a queer-identified pansexual. However, after my initial excitement, I started to feel a bit sad. Would this mean I would have to stop using the acronym I coined on my blog and have been using for over a year… LGBTQIAPK?
I am concerned that despite being a presidential candidate, you seem a bit perplexed by our world. When you suggested a causal link between folks shooting each other up with automatic weapons and… single parents, I became highly disruptive to the small gathering of progressive viewers I was hosting at my home (not that that’s your fault, of course). My high pitches shrieks of “NO, no, oh HELL no, whhaaat?” brought me back to a time when Dan Quayle tried to blame societal ills on sitcom character Murphy Brown. In addition to single moms, you Republicans also seem to put quite a lot of blame on teachers for everything from the recession to colon polyps. Remarkably, It always seems to be some almost entirely female group that is to blame for societal ills. Why do Republicans do this?
“We need moms and dads helping raise kids. Wherever possible, the — the benefit of having two parents in the home — and that’s not always possible. A lot of great single moms, single dads. But gosh, to tell our kids that before they have babies, they ought to think about getting married to someone — that’s a great idea because if there’s a two-parent family, the prospect of living in poverty goes down dramatically. The opportunities that the child will — will be able to achieve increase dramatically. So we can make changes in the way our culture works to help bring people away from violence and give them opportunity and bring them in the American system.”
It seems to me the last few horrific gun crime incidents were perpetrated by highly educated males. The Aurora shooter had a PhD. Another recent shooter was a psychiatrist. Just heard today the Aurora and Giffords shooters both came from two-parents households. Oops. Not hanging together so far, Mitt. I’m thinking if we want people to stop using mass murder weapons we have to stop people from getting them – smart people, uneducated people, people with single and married parents, almost entirely male people. I don’t think blaming female people is going to get us anywhere.
But okay, the other points you make about marriage are valid, sort of. Married folks do enjoy a higher quality of life, do better financially, are healthier, better educated, (oh, and have more sex, but you wouldn’t care about that, now would you Mr. Governor, sir?).