Contrary to popular lesbian stereotypes, the majority of our friends are straight with most of those having kids. We’ve been to exactly one gay bar exactly one time and it was about as both appealing and appalling as any other bar. Neither of us are man-haters. I won’t leave the house without lipstick. We’ve been together nearly nine years, we’ve both been highly involved in our church, and many of our straight friends have been to more Pride Parades than we have, primarily because we’ve been to exactly zero of them. As if that doesn’t raise enough eyebrows, we went about embarking on a journey to get pregnant.
For we same-sexers, getting pregnant is a deliberate, planned, and oftentimes prayed for occurrence. “Oops!” is never a part of our conception story. We correct the doctor’s estimated delivery date because we know Exactly. When. It. Happened. Being a new mom turns your world on its ear. Being a mom of twins presents its own unique challenges. Being a lesbian mom add several layers of trickiness.
One thing I’ve learned as a mom of twins is that we have to anticipate as much as possible, plan as best as we are able, and be prepared for the unexpected. One thing I’ve learned as a lesbian mom is that you pretty much have to do that in almost every area of your life due to the often-experienced discrimination against same-sex couples.
Medical care, for example. None of my straight friends had to first interview their fertility clinic, their OB/GYN, the pediatrician, and the daycare to determine their level of openness and willingness to help me get pregnant, deliver, treat, and care for our children. The conversations often went something like this: “Hi, my name is Rachel and this is my partner, Jennifer. I am pregnant with twins and after they are born, Jennifer will also adopt them. We will both be their moms. If this is an issue for you personally or with the staff in general, please let me know now so that we might find a more open and professional provider. Your clinic/practice/school comes highly recommended but with all the other things that will come at us with twins, we need to know that those we entrust for the care of our children are supportive of our family structure.” I am grateful to say that we chose the best providers and all of them stayed on board. Not so on the spiritual front.
Do you know how hard it is to find a church that is open to and accepting of a two-mom household? Try locating a couple of those in your area that isn’t the “gay” church or some one-off splinter denomination. And once you do, does it have a good children’s program? Does it have a children’s program at all? Does the worship style fit with the ways you feel most connected? Do people avoid shaking your hand during the giving of Peace because a husband isn’t around to make them comfortable? As open as our mainstream Methodist church is in general, there was a small but palpable sense of displeasure that the pastor baptized the children of a same-sex couple in their church.
Growing up, I was very involved in my youth group and Young Life; I was the President of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I received my undergraduate degree from a southern Baptist university, where I was also a Young Life leader. So it’s no wonder that I’m surrounded by many people for whom my coming out kind of threw their preconceived notions of what a gay person was like through the cross shredder. I am so blessed that many of those friends have come out in a way themselves: more accepting, more open to others unlike themselves. A handful in my life did not, particularly after I decided to get pregnant.
One of the favorite questions of the disapproving is “who will be the male figure in their lives?” asked with the connotation of “Gotcha, bitch!” and the inflection of shards of glass. Unsurprisingly, my friend whose husband was killed in a tragic car accident when she was five weeks pregnant has never been asked that question. Ever.
Still, it’s a fair question – one that I’ve thought about ever since we decided to get pregnant. More so once I knew that one of the twins was going to be a boy, and particularly since our son is outnumbered 3 to 1. Which means that he is four times more likely (I’m counting the nanny) to see a woman do an activity to model from than he is a man. Take, for example, the benign fact that we often put a bow in our daughter’s hair because (a) they’re super teeny and cute, and (b) she’s got long bangs that need help staying out of her face. About half the time, though, she yanks the bow out of her hair and tosses it to the ground. Last week, I saw my son go pick up the newly discarded bow and put it to his head, holding it there and looking up at me.
I think for most diversity-inclined, open and reconciling folks, his action might be understood as mimicking behavior that he observes, maybe even seen as cute. For the homophobes, it would be precisely the reason that gays shouldn’t have kids because a 12 month old putting a bow to his head wouldn’t have happened if there was a man around and gay people are just breaking down families across the country leading to economic depression, terrorism, and swine flu.
When it comes to clothing and appearance, yeah, I’m a little sensitive to gender stereotypes. As a lesbian mom, I think twice about putting Mateo in his pink Ralph Lauren boys polo shirt that is friggin adorable because omg how would that LOOK? So when he wears it, I’m sure to pair it with rugged blue or otherwise clearly boy shorts or pants, all the while telling myself how absurd the logic is.
I am also a very practical person, however. We (very gratefully) receive lots of hand-me-over’s from friends and from Jennifer’s clients, so there’s lots of clearly boy and clearly girl clothing in the closets and drawers. If I’m doing the shopping, more often than not, I economize on the bottoms by buying boy clothes (like sweatpants and cotton shorts) that our daughter can wear as our son grows out of them. I mean seriously, it’s gray sweatpants! Does she really need pink ones or gray ones with a pink flower to let the world know they’re for girls? My checking account says no. I’ll differentiate with the tops, thanks. Plus, have you seen how short the summer shorts are for little girls? For crying out loud.
Harper is more cold-natured and will still sleep in poly/fleece footed pajamas. The pajamas that were given to her brother. The same ones that have footballs all over them. Just two days ago I was going to return some pajamas that I had purchased for Harper because I had looked in their closet and found that she still had all of Mateo’s 18 month pajamas she can still fit into for a while(on average, there’s a two inch and two pound difference between the two). But then I thought “you know what? She doesn’t have any of her OWN pajamas and I am going to keep this cute lady bug ruffled sleeve pajama set for her after all.” So in my practicality, I still aim for fairness. Right now, we generally have a no-dress rule in the house. Not because we don’t want to put Harper in the girl box, but because quite frankly, I think it’s just cruel to put a little girl crawler in a dress which invariable gets caught under the knees.
I was once asked by a co-worker “which one of you follows the man’s role in the house?” I am not even kidding. He was referring to household chores such as mowing the lawn and changing air filters and taking out the trash, but still. If I were step back and watch us in motion, it would look a bit of a dance: Each of us alternative which baby we bathe each night, putting the kids down together, then one of us cleans up the bath area which the other gets dinner started while the former cleans up the kids’ dinner area, then eating dinner together, then one of us tidying up the play room while the other cleans up the kitchen. On a Sunday evening, one of us restocks diaper stations while the other takes out the trash. I’m better at the bills. She’s better able to accommodate the lawn during the day due to her flexible work schedule. Because we both share in all the responsibilities of our household and child-rearing, our children will witness a sense of balance because of it.
For us, navigating the waters of gender norms with boy/girl twins reaches far past clothing selection and chores and their play. The key will be to grow two children that are independent, confident, and respectful of themselves and others. And I think most parents would agree with those goals, regardless of what their gender profile is.
I’m not minimizing the role of a man in the everyday life of a child. And for us, both our children will be afforded generous time with their grandpas and uncles and our male friends. Our situation isn’t perfect. But neither is anyone else’s.
Being same-sex parents certainly accentuates our concerns for fairness and equality for our children, both in terms of teaching them how to respect those around them and in terms of our hopes for environments that will be supportive of their family. We are fortunate to be surrounded by people in our lives who have been forging well worn paths of fairness and equality long before we came out and long before we decided to have kids. And those folks are straight! In addition, we don’t have to look much further than some of the contributing writers here on HDYDI to gain perspective on the fact that a little boy trying on something of his sister’s doesn’t necessarily have to be a big fucking deal.
So how do we go about handling the gender norm stereotypes? It’s day to day. I’ll keep letting you know how its going. For now, I’m off to finalize the order for two dolls I’m purchasing, one each for Mateo and Harper. None of the dolls’ clothing will be dresses. And none of it will be pink or blue.