Can I Really Call Myself A Housewife Anymore?

Sometime in 2016, I wrote a piece about identifying as a queer housewife. It wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever written, not by a long shot, but it was something I was feeling really intensely at the time and really wanted to talk about. The extremely simplified version is that I had, as a younger person, really wanted to stay home and raise babies and keep my house. When I grew up and became a feminist and realized I was a flaming queer… this didn’t seem like it was going to happen, so I set the dream aside. But having a baby FORCED me to stay home (in the same way it forces many parents, including many new moms and other birthing parents who aren’t ready, back into the workforce). And while I was forced to stay home, I fell in love with it, and came to identify with that word, housewife.

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The whole thing ended up sparking a bit of a debate about terms. Many people told me they preferred homemaker to housewife, as it was gender neutral and less derogatory. But the term “homemaker” has been tied up in a very particular brand of conservative Christianity, and benevolent sexism, for decades now. And besides, I wanted to be a housewife specifically because it was gendered work I was doing. Are there men who cook and clean and budget and organize? Absolutely. But my own housewifery made me feel connected to generations of women who cared for their families and homes. I couldn’t divorce it from that, and I found that I didn’t want to.

Anyways, I got paid for that article about being a housewife. I think I made seventy-five bucks.

***

This spring, my spouse and I made a rather huge change. Specifically, she cut her working hours, from four days a week to three days a week. This way, I could also work three days a week, and we would split childcare duties equally. With our toddler weaned, this seemed like the perfect setup for our little family. Now no one would be carrying the brunt of the kid-wrangling, we would both work, and both do childcare, and have one day off a week in common. In many ways, it was a dream come true for me.

I started freelance writing at the end of 2015 and very beginning of 2016, and I started really small. I was just bringing in enough money to take the edge off, the edge of living in poverty. I was really proud of my contribution, even though I try very hard not to assign value to myself based on money earned. For so long, I hadn’t been able to financially contribute to my family, and I had watched (and felt) us struggle to try to survive on one income.

Since then it has been a (more or less) uphill climb. But there is never enough time. I work nights. I get behind on projects. I get behind on the blog. And my work time always gets eaten away at, slowly but surely. My spouse and I may work the same number of hours… but one of us works outside the home (her) while the other works inside the home (me). When doctor’s appointments have to happen, it’s easier for EVERYONE to schedule them for my work days. And then I take part of the day off and scramble and it sucks. Often I work nights. Often I work too many nights in a row (because I don’t know when to give myself a break) and make myself sick. Often freelance payments come late which makes it feel like I’m working this hard for nothing.

The switch from two work days a week to three work days a week alleviated some of the pressure on me, but not all of it. And it also added more. The income I make long ago ceased being “extra” money. I am now responsible for a rather large chunk of our monthly budget. If I don’t work, we can’t pay our bills and buy our food, period.

And the switch also meant something else… it was the end of the housewife dream.

A lot of times, I am too tired to make dinner, so my spouse does it. The livingroom which I used to lovingly pick up on the daily… well there are dust on top of the toys left on the floor now. The exciting DIY projects are all left for… another day, someday, maybe one day. All of this is in the service of my career.

I’m not complaining exactly, but it’s like I accidentally morphed from a housewife into a career woman.

And here’s the thing. I’m not even sure how I feel about that. I love my job. I love the work I’m doing. I’m writing some really interesting and exciting things that I never would have dreamed of a few years ago. It’s just that some days, I would rather be making my own granola bars and tending my little garden, you know?

***

Not having the identity of housewife makes me feel a little bit like I’m floating. I no longer know what my roll is, I’m no longer entirely sure I fit my roll. The reality is, of course, that I desperately want to do both. I want to do more things than there can ever be time for. I want to make pie crust and write interesting and well researched pieces, and do creative projects with my toddler, and organize the pantry, and work on my novel. But I also want to be kind to myself and read books and watch Doctor Who. There isn’t enough time, and I’m getting frustrated, and I’m burning out. And I’m not the only one. Women (and other people, but largely women) are so often tasked with doing the impossible in not enough time, we are so often racing the clock, we are so often torn in a thousand directions and unable to feel anything but guilt.

I don’t have an answer.

But I do have an idea.

Stay tuned.

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Progressive Cisgender Parents Are Failing Our Kids

I perpetually have a draft or seven in my drafts folder about how progressive cisgender parents are failing transgender children. I feel deeply complicated about these drafts, and often have had trouble articulating them to the point of completion. I am not transgender, and this is not a blog about trans issues. I am not qualified to talk about what transness is, or isn’t, with any kind of authority.

Yet, this is, at least to some degree, a blog about parenting. And while I’m not a transgender person, what I am is a cisgender parent. So I am quite qualified to talk about being a cisgender parent, and to tell other cisgender parents that they are fucking up.

Cisgender parents: You are fucking up.

So of course, I had a draft about this idea (and a fairly recent one) percolating the other day, when I saw a New York Times op-ed titled “My Daughter Is Not Transgender. She’s A Tomboy” floating around the internet. When I first saw the headline, I rolled my eyes.

NOTE: This blog post is over 3000 words long. If you want to read about why that New York Times piece is a fucking problem, I suggest you read this excellent piece first or even instead. If you only have the time/energy to read one piece about this issue today, don’t make it mine.

ANOTHER NOTE: I do not personally know the author of the NYT piece discussed here, but we are in some of the same professional networks, and I have read and enjoyed some of her other work.

“Well how do you know?” I whispered under my breath.

But, as a writer who writes for the internet, I know that writers almost never get to choose their own headlines. And I know that editors sometimes put rather ridiculous headlines on pieces for reasons of “search engine optimization” (basically, clickbait). And this particular piece of writing was being shared by feminists who I love and respect.

If you are one of those feminists that I love and respect who shared the article on social media, please know I am not singling you out here. It really was a wide variety of folks in multiple circles, and I am not doing that passive aggressive thing where one says “lots of people did X” when they really mean “my friend Betsy did X but I don’t want to name her.”

Anyway, because people I respected had shared the article, I figured maybe the headline was just crap and it was worth a read. So I read it.

***

Tomboys are great. I was raised by one, a fierce woman who knew very much that she was a woman, and also that she was better than everyone else at climbing trees. She was, in many ways, a paradox of society’s gendered expectations, and also of what we think of when we use the word “mother.” Growing up, she was a small and compact woman, who literally seemed to never stop moving during the day. When I was very young, she quit the army to be a stay at home mom, and that is how I remember her. She was an excellent mother who regularly helped us with fun craft projects and made cookies all the damn time. She was also an athletic woman who loved playing outside as much as she loved baking, flatly refused to learn how to put on make up, and loathed dresses.

As a child, my mother was forced to wear dresses to school, because that was the rule. When I picture the mother of my childhood, I see her in jeans and a tucked in flannel shirt. I remember her heartbreaking stories about being a teenage girl and having boys say “you’re not like a girl, you’re more like a buddy.” But she was a girl.

***

A few weeks ago, a heard a story that I hear over and over again. Someone’s young child, a boy, was doing something that didn’t align with the expectations of the gender assigned to him. Specifically this particular boy wanted to wear a dress, and also his mother’s shoes. And one of his parents — his father — was very upset and concerned by this behavior. He wasn’t sure his son should be allowed to do these things. And his other parent — his mother — felt that it was fine and was no big deal and was looking for was to reassure the nervous dad.

The responses, from other progressive parents, were very telling.

“Oh, my nephew was really into dresses when he was that age, then he grew out of it, it probably doesn’t mean anything.”
“A lot of little boys go through that phase, it’s nothing to worry about.”
“My son was really into pink for awhile. We were worried about it but we just let him do it, then one day he just suddenly stopped. So it’ll probably be fine!”

All of these responses have the noble goal of soothing the nervous dad so that the kid can go on doing what he wants to do, dressing the way he wants to dress and playing the way he wants to play. But all of these responses are also very troubling, particularly if we take two seconds to think about what words like “anything” and “nothing” and “fine” mean in this context.

What they are saying, though they won’t come right out and say it, is “I understand that you are worried that this could mean your child is gay or transgender, but don’t worry, he probably isn’t!” They are affirming homophobia and transphobia as right and good (because nobody wants their kid to turn out to be some kind of queer, right?) and assuring the parents that it’ll probably be fine. And bear in mind here, these are progressive parents. These are parents who, when pressed, would say that of course they would support a gay child or even a trans child and love them “no matter what.”

But situating straight as cisgender as a “fine” way for a child to be and queer and transgender as somehow dangerous is homophobic and transphobic. And if the kid turns out to be any kind of LGBTQIA, those subtle messages could make a child feel less safe and less able to come out. And sometimes, those messages are not subtle at all.

***

Four years ago (according to her tweets, there is no date on the piece), the author of that New York Times op-ed published another essay about her child. That piece is on parenting.com and bears the headline “My Daughter Wants To Be A Boy!” In her recent tweets, Davis has pointed out that we writers rarely write our own headlines, and she did not write that one. She seems to think that the problem with that earlier piece, and how it relates to her more recent piece (My Daughter Is Not Transgender. She’s A Tomboy) is the headline. But here are some quotes from that apparently four year old piece:

They told us at school that she gravitated toward the boys, and though she is quite small for her age, and not particularly hearty, they told us she could hold her own with the rowdy bunch of them.

And again, I thought, “How great is she?”

Well, okay, 90 percent of me said that. The other 10% thought, “uh-oh.” As she started to announce in ways both subtle and direct that she’s a boy, and ask me questions like “Why can’t boys have vaginas and girls have penises?” the ratio of heartwarming to heart-sinking has shifted.

and

But there is something about having the only girl who won’t play princess, the only girl in the school who thinks and says she’s a boy, that has shaken me a bit. Dressing like a boy? Cool. Thinking you actually are a boy? Way more complicated.

and

And I’ve already endured the heartbreaking experience of having long-haired, pink-and-purple-clad girlie-girls look at my daughter and say, “Is that a boy or a girl?”

and

There’s really only one remaining objection to [redacted]’s proclivity: we have the loveliest assortment of hand-me-down dresses, ones that currently [redacted] refuses to wear but that I don’t want to waste. For this, though, I have clear-cut solutions. We wear dresses on Thursdays, and any time she wants to wear her tie, she has to wear a skirt, too. Which she does, as long as she can wear jeans underneath and, as always, her Spiderman shoes.

So no, the issue is not the crappy headline. The crappy headline, while crappy, is actually fairly accurate to the piece. Four years ago, Davis’ child (who she refers to by name in the piece, though I won’t republish a child’s name in that way) showed signs “both subtle and direct” that she wanted to be a boy. Davis was cool with her kid being a tomboy, but transgender was a step too far, it made her uncomfortable, it made her afraid. It made her so afraid that she was willing to force her child into a skirt and unhappiness. This piece is basically the very definition of a well-meaning parent — who sees herself as enlightened and accepting — being transphobic as hell. Davis’ child did not receive subtle hints that being a boy was not something available, it was direct. We wear dresses on Thursdays.

And if her recent NYT piece is any indication, Davis got her wish. Four years later, she happily states:

In fact, I love correcting them, making them reconsider their perceptions of what a girl looks like. But my daughter had been attending the after-school program where this woman taught for six months.

“She’s a girl,” I said. The woman looked unconvinced. “Really. She’s a girl, and you can refer to her as a girl.”

and

But it has always just been a look, even if it came with a rejection of princesses (which also delighted me) and a willingness to play family with both boys and girls as long as she could be the dog or the police officer.

and

The message I want to send my daughter is this: You are an awesome girl for not giving in to pressure to be and look a certain way. I want her to be proud to be a girl.

And maybe Davis’ kid really is a girl, and really does feel like a girl now, even though four years ago that wasn’t exactly the case. For every transgender person who has said “this sounds exactly like me, once I was told I couldn’t be trans I shut up about it and just said what my parents wanted to hear” there is a cisgender person who has said “this sounds exactly like me, I thought I wanted to be a boy when I was very young, but I didn’t really.” And that’s fine, and I can’t know which camp this particular kid falls into.

But regardless, both of these pieces are a problem. And are instructive as to so much of what is wrong with progressive cisgender parents who center their own feelings about their children’s identity over and over again.

***

I’m already angry with how much time I’ve had to devote to Davis’ writing in this piece. I didn’t set out to write a take down of either her four year old essay or this week’s op-ed, I want to talk about something larger. But we have one more thing to cover, and it’s from this excellent article on medium by trans parent Chase Strangio:

“[T]he message they send is that a girl cannot look and act like her and still be a girl.” This is a timeless message that has been told to girls, boys and non-binary people in the United States always and has nothing to do with trans-ness. We question the “realness” of people’s gender all the time — especially people who are Black, other people of color, people with disabilities, all trans people. This is not happening to the author’s child because some people support trans kids, this is happening and has always happened because of white supremacy and patriarchy. The author’s issue is not with trans people or trans-ness, or it shouldn’t be, it is with enforcement of gender norms and the impulse to situate people outside of real girlhood or boyhood because of who they are or how they look or how they act. But connecting this to the affirmation of trans young people in their genders is reckless and dangerous and wrong. Trans youth are dying because society is telling them, telling us, that we are fake. Trans women and femmes of color are being murdered because the impulse is to believe that trans-ness is fraudulent, that our bodies are threats. A white young person being asked questions about her gender is not a new problem and it is not a problem that should be blamed on trans people or trans affirmative shifts in society or medicine.

This touches on something that I think is very important. Davis positions the questions about her child’s gender as something that is happening because of trans rights, but that is bullshit. And the most common defense of the article I have heard has been “I was also a tomboy who was called a boy as a child, and I relate to this.” And yes, girls who don’t conform to society’s idea of what a girl should be are often punished and ridiculed, and it’s crappy and mean and it shouldn’t happen. But it isn’t the fault of trans people or a result of trans kids getting a teeny tiny bit of respect from time to time.

And I think most people, at least to some degree, know that. Yet Davis is very clear on the point. And while she says she wants Trans kids to feel safe, she also pits that safety against what she really wants, which is a cisgender child. She states:

Somehow, as we have broadened our awareness of and support for gender nonconformity, we’ve narrowed what we think a boy or a girl can look like and do.

But if cisgender people who are 30, 40, or even 50 years old, are stating that they like the article precisely because they relate to the plight of a girl who is often asked if she is a boy, then that can’t be true. This isn’t happening because we, as a society, support gender nonconformity, this is happening because of the same boring old patriarchy that has always been there.

A quick return to Strangio’s piece:

We should question the impulse to situate a problem in relation to trans-ness when in fact it is a problem that exists because of systems of power that also hurt trans people. That piece could have — and should have — been written with no mention of trans-ness. But then it wouldn’t have been interesting to anyone. It is interesting because it offers a new lens to question the legitimacy of transness while just describing the basic realities of gender policing. And truthfully, pretty benign gender policing when it comes to what people of color, people in prison, homeless people, people with disabilities, trans people, are subjected to.

***

All of this language has consequences, not just for one child but in a general sense. It’s important to note that the NYT has a history of publishing transphobic crap by cisgender authors. And again, I am a cisgender woman and in no position to explain how that must feel for trans people. But I do know what I’ve seen since Davis’ op-ed.

Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERFs) have seized upon the article, and are using it to attack trans people on twitter. This is surprising to no one who has ever encountered TERF mythology before, and it is mythology. Yesterday I saw one woman claim that it is illegal in many places to do anything but supply puberty blockers to a child who shows any signs of being trans. When asked what places she was referring to, she dodged the question. But the idea that gender non-conforming children are being forced to transition is a huge part of the anti-trans mindset in this country, and it is dangerous and harmful.

Lisa Selin Davis should know that, and if she knows that, I find it to be very troubling that she still chose to publish this piece.

***

This is about cisgender parents, and cisgender parents who want to view themselves as progressive and affirming and accepting. I think Lisa Selin Davis wants to be those things, I think a lot of us do. And she isn’t the only one fucking it up. In fact, most of us are fucking it up, and to a certain degree that makes sense because parenting is hard as hell and gender is complicated.

But we need to stop this nonsense. We need to stop setting up being cisgender as “fine” and being transgender as some kind of failure that we’ll deal with and “love them no matter what.” We need to start out by supporting our kids no matter how they identify, and by keeping our nervous feelings about that to ourselves. We live in a deeply transphobic and cisnormative society, and it’s understandable that parents may have some complicated and confusing feelings about the possibility that something like gender could make our kids’ lives harder. But the only way to counter that is to actually counter it. If what really makes us nervous is that other people might make our kids’ lives harder if they aren’t cis, then we need to stop giving those “other people” a head start by doing it for them.

If we, the progressive cisgender parents of the world, are really as open and accepting and trans affirming as we say we are, then we have to start fucking acting like it. We have to make our homes the safest place in the world for trans children, and not just children we know for sure to be trans, but children who are still exploring. We need to stop wrestling our “daughters” into dresses they hate because somehow we imagine the fabric will be going to waste if it isn’t used to make our children miserable. We need to stop including the caveat “but some people might not like it!” every time we let our “sons” wear something pink. And we need to stop demanding that trans kids prove to us that they are trans fifty thousand times before we will believe them.

Because these stories are not uncommon. Again and again I hear from cisgender parents who have noticed that their child is operating outside of gender roles, or even straight up saying “I’m not a boy, I’m a girl.” And the parents stifle them, in direct or indirect ways. They keep on parroting “boys have penises and girls have vaginas” even though they know it’s more complicated than that, because they don’t want to “confuse” their kid. They wait to buy the dress their kid is begging for because “what if it’s just a phase?” They include with every single nail painting session the message that “some people don’t think this is ok.” Instead of positioning themselves as their kid’s biggest supporter, they are the first gender gatekeepers, the first people telling their child “it will be very hard to be what you want to be.” And then, when after years of that, the child seems to conform a little better, they breathe a sigh of relief. And even though they didn’t listen all the times the kid said something else, now that they are calling themselves the gender assigned at birth, cisgender parents are suddenly obsessed with “taking kids at their word” and they celebrate the fact that, phew, everything turned out fine.

If your kid says “hey I think I’m a boy” the answer is “great! if you say you are a boy I will call you a boy.” If your kid says “hey you know last week when I said I was boy, I realized I’m not actually a boy, I just thought I might be because some kids at school said only boys have short hair” the answer is also “great! if you say you are a girl I will call you a girl.” If your kid asks why they can’t be a boy with a vagina or a girl with a penis the answer is ACTUALLY YOU TOTALLY CAN. And if your kid asks if they can wear boys’ clothes and still be a girl, the answer to that is yes also.

And if you find yourself deeply relieved that the kid you once thought might be trans appears right now to be a cisgender tomboy, for the love of everything that is good, do not write about it for the New York Times

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So This Is The New Year…

When I was fourteen years old, I wanted, for the first time, to make a very big deal out of New Year’s Eve. It was 1999, and for months people had wondered if the world would end, if the computers would panic, if leaping over that imaginary line between 1999 and 2000 would somehow change everything. It seemed like it had to, it was a new millennium, not just a new year. I wasn’t expecting the apocalypse, but I certainly wanted it to be, well, something. I had done the math as a child, and had for years looked forward to this most exciting New Year’s Eve, because when 2000 came around, I would be a teenager and everything would be fun and fabulous. At ten, I had sat in my bedroom and pictured what it would be like when, in four years, my cool teenage self headed off to a totally wild New Year’s Eve party. I didn’t realize that what I was picturing in my head was essentially a Barbie commercial.

What really happened of course is that my best friend came over to spend the night, and I insisted that we watch the countdown on MTV instead of ABC (we’re teenagers now!). It was, to put it mildly, really boring. A few hours before the clock struck midnight, we all collectively remembered that time zones are a thing that exists. And as the the calendar switched over in other places and nothing imploded, we slowly marched towards anticlimax. At midnight, I tried very hard to get excited. By 12:30 I was a grumpy fourteen year old, who was angry that nothing was going according to plan. Nothing was different, so we went to bed.

***

I’ve been avoiding writing about the current political climate on this blog. It isn’t that I don’t think it’s important, I think it’s very important. It’s just that I didn’t want this space to become yet another place where that man’s name appears a thousand times. I didn’t want to get swept away in the news cycle. Can you believe he said this? Can you believe he did that?

But the reality is, of course, that on November 8th, 2016, Donald Trump won the presidential election. And the personal is political, and the political is personal, and this spells very bad news for American Democracy in general, and my little family in specific. The reality is that we are totally fucking screwed. And since the election, I have lived with a shadow of fear constantly hanging over me. And also since the election, I’ve been more or less constantly sick. I don’t believe that these things are coincidental.

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In December, as the celebrity death toll rose and rose, as things felt more and more hopeless, as it became clear that the Democratic Party would not attempt to save us, and the electoral college wouldn’t save us, and no one would save us…. folks began to personify 2016. In an attempt to cling to some tiny thread of hope for the future, every bad thing that happened was 2016’s fault.

“2016 strikes again!”

Meanwhile, many of us lived with an increasing sense of fear and foreboding. Could the new year possibly bring us anything better? It seemed likely to bring problems that were even worse.

***

After the year 2000 was such a bust, I lost interest in the concept of the new year all together, really. It never seemed like as big of a change as anyone wanted it to be, we all woke up on January first the same people with the same problems we had had on December thirty-first. I was done with my formal schooling by the age of 20, but I lived in college towns, and with my birthday taking place in August, the bigger “new year” change seemed to happen in late summer and early fall.

But then I fell in love with the person who would become my wifespouse. She was born at midnight, the first baby of her birth year. I love birthdays, my own and everyone else’s, so I started celebrating with her, and it started to really matter to me.

Going to a party is hard when you have a one year old, but we get out so rarely, I planned ahead to make sure it would work. We picked an event that seemed to be brimming with hope, and fun, and excitement. I was excited to celebrate the love of my life, and try to pick up a little bit of her relentless optimism in the face of oppression and fear.

Then the entire family got sick.

***

At 8pm on December 31st, instead of getting ready to go out dancing, we were coming home from the children’s ER, with an exhausted toddler who had his very first ear infection. He was so congested that he couldn’t breastfeed, which meant that he was pissed off and my boobs hurt. Nowhere was opened to fill his prescription, and eventually we tried to put him to bed. At midnight, instead of kissing on the dance floor, I was half asleep on our couch (where I could prop up my own congested head) while my incredible partner tried to soothe a screaming baby who just got angrier when I tried to comfort him.

For the first time I can remember, the new year feels new. Everything feels different, and it isn’t an exciting hope filled kind of different. It’s more like falling into cold water. Ten days later, I’m still reeling from it. We are still trying to figure out when we’re going to get to really celebrate my wife’s birthday. The baby can breath through his nose now, but we’re all still so stuffed up, and he’s still terrified to nurse. It may be that he never will again.

And in the midst of all of our illnesses (three cases of the flu, two ear infections, and a sinus infection!) we learn that despite what so many said to comfort us, we are almost certainly going to be losing our insurance very soon. When the Affordable Care Act is repealed, my wife and I will be left without coverage, without any kind of security in terms of health.

As a gay mother who gets sick several times a year, suffers from PTSD, and needs dental work, it’s not a particularly hopeful time. As a defensive pessimist, it’s difficult to find any silver lining in this at all. As a nursing parent, it’s traumatic to deal with sudden physical and hormonal changes on top of everything else. And as a freelancer, my bank account has taken a huge hit from my being this ill. So this is the new year, and what the fuck are we going to do?

Sorry this isn’t more uplifting.

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I’m More Than A Mother, I’m A…. What?

This is a post about identity. This is a post I don’t really want to write.

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When I was in High School, I had this really cool art teacher. But there was another art teacher, not necessarily cooler, but younger, who used the next classroom over. She had a free period while I was in my studio art class, and a friend of mine and I used to chat with her while we were working (or procrastinating). She was in her twenties, she had a live-in boyfriend, she only taught part time so she would have time for her work. She was a feminist. She was incredibly interesting to me, as a seventeen year old artist stuck in the suburbs and unsure what was coming next. We talked a lot. One day, I don’t remember why, I told her that I had always known that I wanted to have kids, to be a mother. At the time, I considered it to be something like my second calling. I believed in fate, and I believed that I was put on this earth to make incredible artwork, and also to mother.

“Yeah but, is that really want you want, or is it just what you’ve been told you want your entire life?”

The question was like a blow. I felt insulted, I felt like my own sense of myself was being challenged. Suddenly, this woman who I had respected was under fire in my mind. Who the hell was she? She didn’t know me. She didn’t know who I was, she didn’t know what I wanted. Just because some people caved to social pressures and did things just because others told them to, that didn’t mean that was me. But it was actually a worthy question. Children, especially children who are assigned female at birth, are told so much about what to expect of our lives. The things we are told shape our perceptions (duh) and affect what we want, or what we allow ourselves to want. It is so much easier to choose from the approved list, after all.

But I really, really, wanted to be a mom.

***

Recently, chatting with a friend who is at a different point in her journey toward parenthood, I shared a piece of information that feels very basic to me, so basic that I forget it is surprising for others.

“I’d been dreaming about, and sometimes planning for, getting pregnant for about ten years before it actually happened.”

“Wow, really?”

If you do the math in your head, that would put me at the tender age of nineteen the first time I thought, “you know, maybe I should have a baby soon?” But in all honesty, it may have been earlier than that. I was always in a hurry, I always considered the fact that I had to wait to have kids to be supremely unfair. Have you ever known something in your bones? In my bones, I knew that I was supposed to be a mom. When I was twenty three, I got a cat and joked with my friends that it was “the only way to put off having a baby.” But it wasn’t actually a joke, the joke was that I was pretending it was a joke. When I was twenty four I started researching sperm banks. My mom had had my older sister when she was twenty one, in my mind, I had already fallen behind.

I spent all of my twenties dreaming about motherhood, hoping and wishing and praying that it might be just around the corner. When I met my wife I said, “just so you know, I probably can’t get involved in anything very serious right now, I’m saving up to get pregnant this year.” A friend, when he was something like nineteen, introduce me (age twenty five) to his mother as “mom, this is Katherine, she’s my Detroit mom.” It was clear what he was saying, “this is the person who takes care of me when you can’t do it.” Maybe I should have been embarrassed, but I found that I was beaming. I wanted to be a mother so badly it was like a fire, consuming me.

Then, at twenty nine, I got pregnant.

***

This is a post about identity. This is a post I do not want to write. I don’t want to say the words, because they feel cliche and weak and stupid. I am sitting at my laptop, in my livingroom, and the livingroom is so utterly and completely filled with toys and kids’ books that it looks like a tiny daycare center. The baby is napping upstairs as I write this. Next to me on the couch, on one side, is a massive pile of baby socks, yet to be paired and put in his drawer. On the other side is the sleep sack he wears to bed at night when it’s cold. I just remembered I have to switch a load of laundry over. But I am sitting down to write this.

I want to be more than just a mom, goddamnit!

A few weeks ago, there were some silly little things going around facebook, those copy-paste statuses. “Comment and I’ll tell you something I admire about you!” one said, “Give me a compliment and I’ll compliment you back!” another offered. And I bit. It seemed like it was maybe a little cheesy, but hey, anything that gets us to lift each other up, right? There’s been dark times lately, we could use a little joy, a little reflection on the parts of us that are good. Maybe it was contrived, but maybe it would also be worth it?

I waited for the compliments to roll in.

“You’re such a good mom!”

“You’re such a good mom!”

“You’re such a good mom!”

And I felt the metaphorical wind entirely leave my metaphorical sails.

***

Look, it’s not as though I don’t want to be a good mom! I am, by definition, a mom, I am mothering as we fucking speak (we’re not actually speaking, I’m writing a blog post and you, in the future, are reading it, whatever) and if I’m going to be a mom, a “good one” is certainly the kind I want to be. I like doing things well. And also, my child is a person, and a person who matters, and so doing well at raising him seems like a thing that matters. Obviously, I’m gonna show up for him, I’m going to try my best.

But there is something profoundly lonely and isolating about knowing that, first and foremost, everyone sees me as a mother. The rest of my personality, the rest of my many titles and roles, are entirely eclipsed by my relationship to this one, individual, solitary, person. He claws at my skirts when I leave the room. He spits my own breast milk out of his mouth and onto my shirt and then laughs at me. He, well not really he but more the fact that he exists, rules almost every waking second of almost every day of my life. And the people who know me, the people who are outside of that relationship, that is all they see of me. Anything else that I was or am — wife, lover, artist, friend, daughter, sister, faggot, story-teller, cat lady, slob — is rendered invisible by the heavy weight of motherhood.

It’s ridiculous for me to resent it. After all, this is me we’re talking about. For a decade I pined for motherhood. I craved it the way I crave sweets. I knew it was an important part of me, a part of my identity that was yet to manifest in the physical world, for a decade it was just out of my reach. I was so excited for it! I knew that once I could attain it, I would be whole and complete, everything in the world that I was meant to be.

But that’s just it. Motherhood was never the end for me, it was the beginning. It was never a singular identity, it was one of many. What I craved was a rich, full, and complicated life, in which I had a child or children. I wanted to be a mother yes, but not just a mother.

And, in some ways, I’m not just a mother. Since my child was born, I have built, for the first time in my life, something like a career for myself. I’m a writer, I write words for a living. Once, I applied for a regular contributor position (which I didn’t get, but no matter) and the editor responded with “oh, I’m very familiar with your work.” I have work. In fact, I work my ass off. I happen, however, to write a lot (though not exclusively) about parenting. Writing about parenting, especially if you are a mother, is seen as a hobby, a side-hustle, not real writing, something us moms do on the side. I have a blog that is at least in large part about having a child.

I’m in a livingroom fucking covered in toys.

So I can see why “mom” might be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of me. I’m not doing a whole lot over here to give you much else to work with, I realize. Maybe it’s fool-hearty in the extreme to whine about people only seeing me as a mother when I am constantly performing motherhood. Maybe in part I’ve thrown myself headlong into parenting because I wanted it for so very long, maybe it’s because the odds are very good that I will have only one child and I want to mother the crap out of him. I don’t know. I feel embarrassed to even be talking about it.

But I’m more than just a mother, I’m also something else, something else I don’t have time to think about right now because the baby is going to wake up soon and I have about three thousand things to do first.

The Proselytizers

Sit down, let me tell you a story.

When I was in the fourth grade, two Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on the front door of the house my parents had recently bought. This, in and of itself, isn’t at all remarkable. It’s well known that Jehovah’s Witnesses are a branch of Christianity that believes in proselytization (or, as they call it, “witnessing,” hence the name) and they often do it door-to-door. As best as I can recall, it was a middle-aged woman, and a younger woman, both wearing long skirts and vaguely “dressy” attire. This would have been 1994, I think, so please, adjust your mental image accordingly.

It was not odd that they knocked on the door. What was maybe a little odd was the way that my mother answered. And what happened afterwards.

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***

As far as I can tell, this is what happened. My mom grew up in a family that was officially catholic, but the whole family stopped going to church when she was four or five. She wasn’t super into churches, but was sort of vaguely Christian-ish. I won’t attempt to speak to her specific beliefs or lack thereof, because they aren’t mine. But she was, and is, a deeply good person, a person who feels for others, and a person who believes in kindness. And she had heard, like most Americans have, stories about how awful and “weird” and “crazy” Jehovah’s Witnesses were. She’d heard rumors. She’d heard they weren’t real Christians. She’d heard they were a cult. She’d heard they wouldn’t let you celebrate Christmas. But it wasn’t in her nature to believe rumors. So when two showed up on her doorstep, rather than being annoyed, she thought “now here’s an opportunity to find out what’s really going on, straight from the horse’s mouth!”

When they said that they wanted to talk about the Bible, she invited them in, and they sat at our dining room table with glasses of water.

I was nine years old, and I was fascinated.

I had always been deeply interested in religion, but nobody in my life wanted to talk to me about it much. My family didn’t go to church, not even on holidays, and my one close friend who’s family was religious just saw it as something your parents made you do, and was utterly perplexed by my desire to learn more about it. But suddenly, there I was. There were two people in my house who wanted to talk about god. And, they were wearing long skirts.

I’m not exactly sure what happened first, my memory is fuzzy, but before long my mother and I both had a weekly bible study set up. The middle aged woman would come, and she would sit at the dining room with my mother, and they would thumb through the bible and various other books. The younger woman, sometimes alone and sometimes with a woman who was older than her but younger than the lady talking with my mom, would come and sit in the living room with me. My mother listened skeptically and asked lots of questions. I, on the other hand, ate up everything they had to say and asked for a larger spoon.

You see, no one had ever tried to explain that different people believed different things to me. I didn’t know that the world was full of a myriad of different religions, with different traditions, and different reasons for thinking the things that they thought. I only knew that some people went to church and some (like me) didn’t. I knew that some churches were different from each other, some had more or less singing, and some had more or less decorations, but that was really the end of any understanding of the variety of faith on my part.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses didn’t go to a church, they went to a Kingdom Hall. I was not allowed to go… yet.

I don’t remember their names, which bothers me, even though this was two decades ago. I also don’t remember how long our weekly bible studies lasted for. I only remember that I looked forward to them. I remember thumbing through my copy of Your Youth, Getting The Best Out Of It looking for answers. I remember nodding solemnly when they explained that obviously evolution was a big lie. I remember when they explained that it was true that they didn’t celebrate birthdays, because they found that celebrating an individual person with gifts on the day that they were born was dangerously close to worshipping them, if not a form of worship outright. I bit my lower lip. I loved my birthday (I still do) and I was obsessed with birthdays (I still am) and I couldn’t imagine the pain of losing it forever, but I also stoically accept that Jehovah God would help me, and one day I would be devout enough not to mind going without it.

Ironically, it was in their effort to teach me The Truth (what they earnestly believed was the whole and absolute truth) that they accidentally introduced me to the idea that different people believed different things just as earnestly, and hey, maybe we couldn’t say for sure which one was right?

To avoid confusion, for the purposes of this conversation, I will name the elder teacher “Linda” and the younger one “Becca.”

Every week, Becca and Linda, or oftentimes just Becca, would sit with me in my parent’s living room. The TV would be off for once. My sister would clear out. In the quiet, we would go through the books and talk about God, who — I had so recently learned — had a name, and that name was Jehovah. Each week, they would ask if there was a particular chapter I was interested in discussing in Your Youth, Getting The Best Out Of It, and each week I would desperately want to asked about the chapter titled “Masturbation and Homosexuality.” Only I was too embarrassed, I was terrified that if I admitted that I was interested in even finding out what was in that chapter, they would get the altogether wrong idea and think that I wanted to be a masturbating homosexual.

So on this one day, I asked instead about the chapter about Armageddon, because frankly, we were running out of other chapters.

And so Becca was explaining what was going to happen at the end (link has nothing to do with JWs, actually), and Linda was nodding with approval. As always, I accepted what Becca told me as fact, because I knew that she cared about me and was a good person and would never ever lie. And then, as I remember it, Becca must have veered slightly off corse. She was explaining how everyone would one day be resurrected, and then added that prior to purging the world of wicked people, Jesus and Jehovah God would allow everyone, even sinners, to live in peace for one thousand years.

(That is what I remember, but I’m not sure how reliable my memory is on that. I’m also not sure what the official doctrine is on the subject, and briefly combing through the Watchtower website hasn’t yielded an answer for me.)

Linda pursed her lips “that is not,” she said, “actually what we believe.”

“Well, I’ve read the bible and it’s what I believe.” Becca half smiled, but things were definitely tense. Linda shook her head.

I was on the couch, more interested in this conversation than I had expected when I randomly picked the topic. Here were these people who I thought could teach me objective truth, and yet they disagreed. “How do I know which one is true?” I remember asking.

Linda, still looking annoyed, said that even people of the same religion sometimes disagreed on certain details, and that we’d see which was right soon enough. She didn’t know how much she had just rocked my world.

***

Within a couple of weeks, they stopped coming to talk to me. Word was that they were asked not to, because my newfound faith was making me “weird” and even “creepy.” I was certain this was exactly the kind of oppression foretold for true believers, I cried, and I kept all of their books. Within a few months though, I stopped looking at them, I felt frankly relieved that I would still be able to celebrate my birthday, and I moved on. I would go through various religious stages as I grew up, but I never called god “Jehovah” again.

But I didn’t forget their kindness.

***

The internet meant that you didn’t have to wait for a religious person to come to your door to get information about faith. It also meant that I could read about various religions from various cultures, and weigh them against each other. I stayed up all night at the age of fifteen comparing religions, I was specifically looking for one that did not condemn homosexuals. I was also specifically looking for one that didn’t proselytize. I settled on Wicca. Later, I would take money that I received for my birthday to the bookstore at the mall, and with a deep breath plunge into the “New Age and Occult” section (terrified that someone would see me) and purchase a copy of Scott Cunningham’s Wicca, A Guide For The Solitary Practitioner.

Just like that, I was a witch.

Christian kids at my suburban High School always had questions for me. I was excited to dispel rumors and to debate our different world views, for the most part. In some ways, growing up had changed me almost beyond recognition, but in others it hadn’t at all. I still, deep down, just really wanted to talk about religion. I found it fascinating and delightful, all of it, and even beliefs that I couldn’t share delighted me when I saw that they brought others happiness.

And I started to hear those rumors that my mother had heard about Jehovah’s Witnesses, that they were a cult, that they were “crazy,” that they were not Christians, that they were dangerous. A Baptist friend insisted that Jehovah’s Witnesses definitely did not read the bible. I was amazed at the amount of misinformation, honestly. And I always defended them. No, I said, they were not a cult, they were certainly Christians because they believed in Jesus, they were just a smaller denomination that fell a little further outside the mainstream. They were certainly homophobic, but no more than many other Christian denominations.

This is getting long.

***

I used to get drunk and read that chapter, “Masturbation and Homosexuality,” at parties. I did it to try to make it funny. I did it to try to make it ridiculous. I did it to try to heal the pain of being thirteen, sneaking down to the basement where the old books were kept, and re-reading that chapter in the dark, wondering if I had ruined myself forever.

I did it because I wanted to believe that Becca and Linda were good and had my best interests at heart, but I also wanted to believe that they were wrong in such an over the top, ridiculous sort of way, that no one would ever take them seriously. I did it because I wanted to make my heart stop hurting for people like Becca and Linda, I wanted to stop wishing that I could, like my mother, welcome them into my home and offer them a tall glass of water.

My mother was straight. I tried my best to be straight. When that failed, I tried my best to be bisexual. When I met my very last boyfriend, I knew I was gay, and so I clung to him like a life raft. When he broke up with me, I knew the illusion was over, and so I wrote my father a letter that said “I’m gay.”

***

Two days ago, I saw what I first mistook for a young, well-dressed, couple walking down my street. The woman was wearing a long-ish purple dress. The man was wearing a crisp purple dress shirt, and an absolutely phenomenal paisley tie that my wife would probably swoon over. They didn’t look like any of the neighbors that I’ve met so far (we’ve been in this house a little under a month). Then it hit me, I knew exactly who they were, they were not a couple at all.

They were both carrying several thin books, and the man was carrying a bible.

I was on the couch in the living room. The baby wasn’t feeling well, and he was breastfeeding and just starting to doze off. His little eyes were closed. My child, my perfect miracle child, my child with two mothers and a sperm donor we refer to as his fairy godmother. His eyes were closed, and then they knocked on the door, and his eyes opened.

Shit.

Before I was married, I used to just lie. When they came with their copies of Watchtower magazine, I would look into their earnest smiling faces, I would think about the courage that it took to walk down the street knowing doors would be slammed in their faces, I would think about how their faith must comfort them and how deeply they must believe in it. And I would lie to them. I would smile, and when they held up the publication, I would say “you know what I actually already have one!” and they would look so surprised and delighted. Like, here they were, doing the really miserable work of proselytizing, but I could make them delighted for just a moment. Sometimes they would look confused for a second, but then I would beam warmly at them, and they would beam warmly at me, and they would say “oh wonderful! well you have a great day, ma’am!” and I would say “you have a great day too, and good luck out there.”

I can’t do it anymore.

***

This isn’t really about Jehovah’s Witnesses. I mean, they are the people I have the most experience with in this one format, and because of that I feel a deep confusion and compassion for them, but this isn’t about their specific faith and it’s specific rules and tenants. This is about the fact that there are people who believe so strongly that they are right that they see it as their duty to tell you that you are wrong. They are not doing it to be mean, they are doing it to help. Their motives are good, and that’s part of why it’s so difficult to deal with the inherent rudeness of their tactics. That’s part of why it’s so utterly heartbreaking to come up against their hatred.

I won’t link to it, but Watchtower Publications recently released a video for the purposes of teaching children about families like mine. In it, a young girl learns that it is her duty to inform a friend with gay parents that her family is wrong, a lie, bad in the sight of god. They are literally telling children that kids like my kid, my kid, ought to hear from their friends that their parents are bad. It fills me with a rage and a sadness that feels so opposite, so separate, from the compassion I feel for the smiling people who come up onto my porch with their books and their good intentions.

Yet, both exist at the same time.

***

I didn’t want to go to the door, but they could see me through the open living room windows. They would knock again, and the baby would start to cry. My wife wasn’t home. I snuggled him up to me and pulled my shirt down over my boobs and went to the door.

I couldn’t lie, I couldn’t lie with my child in my arms, but I was also too tired to tell the truth. So I settled on saying as little as possible.

“Hi,” I said, fighting the urge to apologize, “my baby is sick and I’m trying to get him down for a nap.”

They looked at the baby, really more of a toddler now, snuggling his face into my shoulder, with tenderness. “Oh, we completely understand!” the young man said, for all the world as if he was giving me permission. There was a pause, they were trying to figure out if they should say anything else, if they should offer to leave literature, to come back on a different day.

“Have a nice day.” I said flatly, and I closed the door in their face.

***

I wish I had said more. And then again, I don’t. I’m sure they will be back. If not them, then others like them. They will come, smiling, with literature that tells that one day the world will be pure and virtuous and people like me won’t be allowed.

I wonder what I will say to them then.

Play Dates Are Not Enough

After last week’s post, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways that living in a society basically built around the sanctity of the nuclear family affects us. I’ve been thinking about how it affects me, and how we try to push back against it. I’ve been thinking about that post about being post nuclear in the single family home. And I’ve been feeling like a massive failure.

I’ve been feeling like a fraud.

The thing is, we may work very very hard at it. We may try to integrate ourselves and our family into our larger community. We may try to challenge nuclear ideals. But at the end of the day? Or rather not the end of the day, let’s not talk about the end of the day, let’s talk about 1pm on a Monday.

At 1pm on a Monday we are a nuclear family. We are two parents who are married to each other struggling to raise a child together in an isolated home. We are stuck in the same shitty paradigm as everybody else. At 1pm on a Monday, that is when I start texting my wife about how impossible my day feels. About how lonely I am.

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Because the thing is? Living in a nuclear family, it is incredibly isolated. It cuts off meaningful connections and it leaves us alone. For me, it’s being alone with a baby all. the. damn. time. with hardly a break. For my wife, it’s hurrying home from work to jump into household chores and baby care because she knows damn well that by 5pm I’m barely hanging on by a thread. Parenting is hard, parenting is allowed to be hard, it’s maybe even supposed to be hard. Things that are worth doing are often hard, and helping tiny people grow is a big fucking deal, I get that. But the fact that by 5pm every single day I feel like I’m barely hanging on, barely holding it together, barely getting by? That’s not ok. That’s not parenting. I refuse to believe that that feeing of despair is just part of what parenting is. No, that’s nuclear family isolation.

This is not a happy post.

Every pressure imaginable is pushing us into isolated nuclear bubbles. Social pressures, economic pressures, cultural norms, even the way many of our laws are set up, they’re all geared towards this one set up, this one way of living. I’d love to be doing something else. Some days I’d love to be doing anything else. But getting there is difficult. We’ve actually talked with other families about other options. But it always comes down to the same thing in the end: “this is what’s best for my family right now.”

We lived collectively for a year, and for various reasons it didn’t work out. What’s “best for my family right now” is living in a tiny two bedroom apartment that we can barely afford, far from most of our friends in the city. Because we think of ourselves (the three of us) as one family, because my wife and I are committed to making decisions together but not equally committed to anyone else, because we are responsible for this one newish little life that we created, we find ourselves unwittingly making decisions that isolate us. Here we are, desperately tired, desperately trying, just desperate.

Enter the play dates.

I am not knocking play dates. Play dates are fine. Play dates can even be good, they can even be great. They’re just not enough. They’re no antidote. They’re no cure for this sickness. You bring your kid over or I’ll bring my kid over and for an hour or two we’ll smush our two isolated nuclear families together! The parents will try to have a conversation about how fucking tired we are while the kids play on the floor, only our conversation will be punctuated by the never ceasing “oh no don’t go for his eyes sweetie!” and “we are gentle with our friends” and “you don’t need to steal her toy, here you can have this toy!” After a short while the isolated nap schedules will kick in and someone will have to go home before someone has a complete meltdown. It will pale in comparison to the kinds of gatherings we had with friends before children, but we’re so starved for any connection, that it will momentarily feel oddly rejuvenating.

“Today was nice!” I will tell my spouse in the evening, “I feel like I’m going to be ok!”

But I’m fucking not going to be ok.

Play dates are like taking an aspirin every morning instead of asking why the hell you wake up every day with the same headache. They mask the symptoms instead of addressing the problems. And worst of all, they make it possible for us to pretend that the symptoms are just a normal part of having kids, of having a family.

There are whole empires made on talking about how difficult and impossible being a parent is. And I’m part of that, I write for some of those places, and I do think it’s nice to find humor in the impossibility of it all sometimes. But what if that wasn’t all there is? What if it didn’t have to be this hard? What if I didn’t have to e so lonesome I felt like I was going to have a breakdown every single day? What if we could meaningfully connect with our communities instead of living in isolation? What if we could do more than just play dates? Because it just is not enough.

Just The Three Of Us; Post Nuclear In The Single Family Home

Hello, I am an idealist. I love dreaming of what a better world might be. I love pushing myself and my loved ones to get closer to attaining it. The thing about being an idealist though, is that it is literally impossible to live up to one’s own ideals all the time. There is failure. There is the unexpected. There is reassessment.

Like ideally, the baby would wear cloth diapers 90% of the time. In the real world though? My wife and I are notorious for getting behind on laundry, and the kid really actually prefers disposables. A little part of me dies when I think of the tiny consumerist I’m raising, and even more so when I take the bus to the big box store to buy the cheap diapers that won’t give him a rash. But I do it. He’s wearing cloth diapers today, and I could lie to you, I could say it’s because my idealism has won out and I want to be a Better Person.

But no bullshit? It’s because we just payed rent and we’re out of money.

***

Back in September, the housing collective we were a part of broke up.

It’s a complicated story that isn’t all mine to tell, but suffice to say, it wasn’t really working for anyone anymore, not the way it should have. There were more reasons to go than to stay, and so we did the math, and we went.

We went, with the intention of finding an inexpensive rental, but we kept getting turned down.

So we ended up stay at another, older, more established, housing collective for a month or so. Some things about that experience were amazing and life affirming. Some things about it reminded me of why chosen family is so important to me and why I love community and what I want my kid to grow up around. And some things about it were hard as hell.

And now, today, we are on our own. Me, my wife, our child, and our cats, we have a tiny apartment that I am falling in love with. It’s just the three of us (or just the six of us, really) and we are settling into our new place and putting things just how we like them. It’s predictable. It’s comfortable. I’m an idealist. I believe in collectivism. But if I’m going to be really really brutally honest with you, (yes I am,) my family probably won’t live collectively again for a very long time, if ever. And I’m mostly happy and relieved about that fact.

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***

The nuclear family was invented with the rise of wage labor and capitalism as we know it today. The modern nuclear family (sometimes called “the traditional family” in politics, mostly by people who think it’s the bestest) follows a very specific format and is a means to a specific ends. It is monogamous. Two parents who are legally married to one and other and coparent their biological offspring. It is romantic. Two parents who are supposed to be in love, and stay in love. It is heterosexual and cisnormative. One masculine, male bodied parent, and one feminine, female bodied parent. It is patriarchal. The husband and father is the head of the household, and the wife and children must ultimately defer to him. It is capitalistic. The husband and father works for wages outside of the home to provide a livelihood for the family, he derives his self-worth from this work, and ultimately his status over his wife is reinforced by his ability to bring in an income to be exchanged for goods and services.

Basically, it’s the 1950s.

These days, I see a lot of people tweaking this recipe for familial bliss just a tiny bit, while never criticizing it’s core. Ok, so maybe sometimes the wife works outside of the home a little, but for less money than her husband! Ok, maybe one parent has children from a previous marriage, but we’ll blend it as well as we can (a la Brady Bunch) to make it look normal!

And, ok, maybe every once in awhile the two parents are actually of the same gender. But we’re just like you we swear it! All we want is the single family home, the white picket fence, the dog, the 2.5 kids. Never mind the fact we’re both wearing dresses. We’re exactly like you!

***

So as you may have gathered, the name for this blog came from my reaction to, and rejection of, those ridiculous standards. If you are in a heterosexual married couple raising children with a patriarchal power structure, I may like you a great deal, but with respect, I’m actually nothing like you. I hate being lumped in with that stuff, and I strive, daily, to question those norms within myself, and to make my rejection of them apparent on the outside.

And when I started this blog, part of that, part of trying to live my ideals, was choosing to live collectively with chosen family. And now, at least for the time being, that part of my life is over.

***

So how do you live and demonstrate the post nuclear lifestyle while living in a single family home with your partner and child? No seriously, I’m asking you. I have some ideas. I’m working on it. But I don’t have all the answers. I still feel confused about it, and I’m nervous about writing about an issue I still have mixed feelings about, but I’m doing it anyways because I think it’s important. Here are some of the ways I think my family is doing a good job of resisting the pull towards nuclear normalcy:

  1. Despite the fact that our family only contains two people capable of speech and taking an active role in decision making, we are making our decisions by consensus. We have Family Meetings, where we bring up family needs, assign responsibilities, and what have you. This is important because it stops us from defaulting to one person making all the decisions, and it keeps us checking in about our roles and how comfortable we are with them, rather than assuming. When our child is older, he will be able to take part in some of our decision making (as is age appropriate) rather than being treated like a piece of property with no agency.
  2. We are not actually monogamous y’all, and we never have been.
  3. We live in capitalism because we have to, but we work our asses off not to bring it into our relationship. That means that my wife is not a more valuable member of our family because she works outside of the home more than I do and brings in more income. Our finances are communal, they are not controlled by the person who exchanged labor for them.
  4. We’re not an independent unit, and we don’t seek to be. This is something I used to really struggle with, I had inherited this pride in independence, and that made it really hard (nearly impossible) to ask for help when I needed it. Even a year ago, I would have preferred to take care of all problems within the family unit and not involve “outsiders.” But that’s stupid. These days I am not afraid lean on my friends, family, chosen family, and community, and I hope they can feel the same way about me. When we need help we speak up. We live interdependently with the people we love.

But it’s still a struggle, and there are just as many ways that I feel like we’re failing. We don’t see our chosen family nearly enough now that we live on our own, and our child views adults other than his two parents as suspiciously “other.” It’s hard. We were raised in nuclear style families, our extended families are constellations of nuclear families, and it is so easy to fall into those familiar patterns. It’s easy to skip meetings. It’s easy to talk about “my money” and “her money.” It’s easy to imagine that either of us is an authority figure.

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The only answer I have today, is to live as deep as I can within that struggle. I try to think about the ideals I seek to emulate, and the ideals I reject, and to mix that with my day to day life and physical needs. I stop myself from saying “well it’s my money, I earned it!” I remind myself why meetings are important. I call up a friend. I put my kid in cloth diapers, some days.

And that’s all I can manage right now.

It’s not anti nuclear, after all. It’s post nuclear.