Part six of a six-part series of excerpts from “Confessions of a Lesbian Dad,” originally published in Confessions of the Other Mother: Non-biological Lesbian Moms Tell All (Ed. Harlyn Aizley. Boston: Beacon, 2006). If you made it through the lot of them, I want to thank you for indulging this stroll down memory lane during my recouperation. Back to the present moment as of Monday.
[Series intro and backstory here.]
I wasn’t at this lesbian dad thing for very long before I developed a repertoire of responses to the more predictable questions and assumptions.
- “Yes, she’s my daughter.”
- “Our donor friend’s just that: our donor friend. If anyone’s the daddy, it’s me.”
- “My sweetie did all the hard work; I just got to watch.”
- “I like to call myself Baba.”
- “I feel more like something in-between a Mom and a Dad, and this word says that to me. But I’ll answer to anything she calls me, once she acquires the gift of speech.”
I notice general trends in myself. Such as: whenever we’re in public as a threesome, I am very eager to be the one holding Junior — more so if I have reason to believe no one we’re likely to encounter has seen a lesbian dad before. I am motivated by both negative and positive reasons. Negative: holding our wee punkin lamb assuages my fears of illegitimacy. The one holding the baby must for sure be a parent, I imagine others to be thinking. Look at how comfortable the little one is in his — oh! I mean her — arms, they might say. On the positive side: when I’ve got her swaddled in one or another of our fancy baby-carrying contraptions, folks did indeed read us together as a family unit. And I get to be a parent, plus who I am, gender-wise, all at the same time. I thought: Maybe gals like me would see me and think, “Yeah! I could do that, too!” It’s about being a sip of water for the fellow desert travelers.
My favorite, though, is when kids ask questions. Then it all makes sense. No fog of grown-up complication to wave away. Our first chance to frame our parenthood for kids was back when Jennifer was still pregnant. We were in an airport lounge with my sister’s sons, aged nine and six at the time, following an extended-family gathering in the Rockies. They were working their little thumbs away at those beeping Game Boy toys that keep kids occupied, and parents just slightly less harried, over the course of lengthy car and plane trips.
One of them asked the question we were secretly waiting to be asked by them: how did you get pregnant? This must have been from my older nephew: he knew by then that a gal doesn’t get pregnant just by wishful thinking. Any lesbian could have told him that much.
“Well!” Jennifer and I looked at each other, rubbing our hands together, all excited that the moment had arrived; their natural curiosity had opened the door to our desire to share and educate.
“You know how it takes a man and a woman to make a baby?” asked Jennifer. Whew. Excited as I was, I was glad she took the first leg.
My older nephew, nodded his head. The younger one did, too, but who knows whether this was because his older brother signaled this was a “yes” answer, or whether he knew, too.
“Well, Polly and I wanted to have a baby, but we needed to have a man help us. We got a friend and that’s how we were able to make this baby.”
I was wincing inside, hoping the follow-up questions weren’t going to get us into dicier territory. Were we really going to go there? The artichoke jar? The semen? How the semen gets from our friend to the artichoke jar? The late night group hugs as we pick up the jar in its little sock? The cheapie, finger-sized drugstore syringe, like the kind you use to get the kitty to swallow her medicine? The Barry White music and the little red plastic Kuan Yin-holding-a-baby statue that Jennifer got from her mom, and the good luck penis-shaped candle she got from her dad? Jennifer rotating like a Cornish game hen on a rotisserie for thirty minutes afterward, so that every drop would have an equal chance of slithering over and through the idiosyncrasies of her internal topography?
My sister was out of earshot up at the ticket counter, so we had no maternal cues to go by regarding how far to go, or not. Such as the suggestion, from between clenched teeth, “Ix-nay on the asturbation-may.”
My younger nephew asked the next question, a very good one and, thank God, not a follow-up on the mechanics of it all. “So Polly? Are you going to be a Mama or a Papa?”
The people seated nearby stopped rustling their papers and started to list slowly toward us, brushing the hair out the way over their ears, waiting for the response.
“I’m so glad you asked!” I erupted. I hoped my eagerness wouldn’t betray how high the stakes were for me. Who cares what grown-ups think about all this malarkey? The real litmus test comes from the kids, the people these roles and names are meant for in the first place. Would I be a Super Freak to them, or would it all make perfect sense, as it had to Jennifer and me?
“I’m going to be a little bit of both,” I offered, “Something other than mother, but other than father, too. I’ll be the best parts of a mama, plus the best parts of a papa. Which,” I intoned authoritatively, “is called a baba.”
They looked at me for a moment, and allowed a beat or two to go by, during which time I imagined this was all sinking into place. It would go where all new information goes: into the spaces already prepared for it, by previous, related knowledge. There baba would go, next to a dinnertime chat I’d given about a year before to my younger nephew, in answer to a question he had about my gender (“Are you a boy or a girl?”). In the air, I had plotted with my hands successive spots out on a linear continuum, as I told him: “There are boyish boys, and girlish boys, and boyish girls, and girlish girls. And I’m a boyish girl.” I had told him that Jennifer’s dad was a girlish boy. “And it’s okay to be whatever you are.
In that beat, in the airport lounge, I imagined they were filing this baba thing next to everything else they’d long known about me, such as how I look like a man from behind, such as how it took them a little time before they could match it up that, despite how I dress, I don’t have a penis or pee standing up and I do have breasts (my older nephew confirmed this by regularly fake-bumping into me, when he was at an age where he wanted to double-check to be sure). I imagined they put this Mama + Papa = Baba thing next to another quiet but important truth about me: that, whether I was girl or boy, I’d love them forever, no matter what — which, everyone knows, is the only thing that really matters.
As they looked at me, I tilted my head and arched my eyebrows, welcoming a follow-up question, should they have any. One alligator, two alligator.
And they returned to their Gameboys. Simple as that.