20 questions about lesbian fatherhood

Partly in service to the students in the class I spoke to the other day whose online questions I didn’t have time enough to answer in person, and partly in service to the random assortment of you readers who may have asked such questions at one point or another, if goaded to by a class requirement, I offer up the following smattering of Qs and their As.

To make matters reasonable, I am going to pull off the feat of keeping all the answers to Twitter-length, otherwise known as 140 characters or fewer.  For those of you who are not Twitter denizens (Twenizens?), you will see, over and over again, both its strength and its weakness. Brevity: the soul of wit, but also of vast oversimplification.

When kept to this constraint, we can see that sometimes a pithy reply is best.  Many Twiterers (-erers), however, myself included, are compelled to post strings of related Tweets when one won’t do.  Do let me know if you think a thought/conversation ought to be strung out a bit more and we can carry on in comments or in another post.

For context, students were assigned the six-part essay I excerpted here a few years back: “Confessions of a Lesbian Dad.”

Q: Has your brother, brother’s wife, partner’s mother, and spouse adjusted to you referring to yourself as “baba” or lesbian dad?

A: Easy, on the 1 hand: I’ve never been anything else. But family slipped a little 1st few wks; newbies do weekly. I explain; it all works out.

Q: How old is your child and how is your child handling having a mom and baba? Does the child refer to you by those titles or has the child opted for something else?

A: Girl 5, boy 3. They’ve only known us, so our family’s the baseline reference pt. Gal often calls me Babbi. I try not to think of the kid in The Brady Bunch.

Q: Do you regret not being the one to bear the child or labeling yourself as “baba” or lesbian dad?

A: Never, never, & never. Much to my great relief on all points. I use descriptor “1/2 way betw. a mama & papa” most often. Makes sense to all.

Q:  “…the more we talked, the more I realized…how clearly the existing paradigms make space for biomom, and biodad. Bio, bio. And then me: nonbio. I was off the radar, legally, socially, viscerally.”  What did the term ‘bio’ mean to you? How did you define it? And did it change after your child was born?

A: Good Q. It meant a ton more before kid than after. But 1st yr was challenging. Now? Hardly relevant, except in eyes of the law. There? Huge.

Q:  Did you suffer from an identity struggle? If so, how did you overcome it?

A: I’ve not met the queer person my age who didn’t. Closest I got to suicide: 1st yr in love w/ my best friend. Overcame slowly, w/ community.

Q:  I found it particularly interesting that throughout all of the articles, one main thread that wove the events together was the concept of legitimzing. Whether it was your relationship, your feeling “non-mommish”, the idea Baba. How important do you think it is to express and begin to formulate concepts like the kind you have made recently?

A: H-UGE. W/out sense of clarity re: who I am, parentally, this all might not have been possible, or so easy/rewarding. Me AND kids benefit.

Q: All of these articles resonated innovation of ideas, definitions, and behaviors that go against the ones society is used to. How have you dealt with this in the past before, that has helped you when dealing with something like parenthood?

A: I think it was great that I was very stable w/ my gay identity before parenthood. Faced, won the battles. P-hood requires focus on the KID.

Q:  How has your role as a Baba evolved or grown than what you expected it would be like?

A: I find I’m who I’ve always been, just now the parent version. But I do float in space between straight dads & moms. That’s been interesting.

Q:  What is the toughest part about being a parent?

A:  1. LACK OF SLEEP! 2. Obligation to confront own character flaws daily (ouch). 3. That it’s all so very transient. I love this gig.

Q: How do you express your masculinity and femininity?

A: With as much flair as possible. I feel most akin to an 18th. c. dandy.

Q: Looking at your first blog [ed note: essay excerpt], I noticed that you speak in sociological terms of the concept of gender. Do you have an educational background in sociology?

A:  Why yes, as a matter of fact I do! Ethnic Studies minor + Sociology coursework @ Berkeley. American Studies Ph.D. program @ Minnesota.

Q: Why do you think that humans need to place themselves in categories? What else in your life have you tried to categorize, define, or identify?

A:  Mysterious, but: makes “thinking” simpler. Sometimes helps, usually hinders. As a scholar type I seek to identify & define a lot, & categorize AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE.

Q: You mention that children are the easiest to explain being a “Baba” to. Who, or what type of people, are the most difficult to explain to and why do you think that is?

A:  Kids lack preconceptions & their biases are gut- & experience-based. Adults w/ disdain for innovation find new ways of seeing harder.

Q: did writing and reading what you thought help you understand something you over saw when u were thinking?

A: Absolutely. Always does. That’s gift #1 of the writing process.

Q: do think the title of “baba” gave you the confidence of being the parent figure or if you didn’t have it you would have been as determined or confident as a mom or dad figure?

A:  Interesting. I do feel like making/using a 3rd name has ultimately been BRILLIANTLY LIBERATING. Must. Escape. Reductive. Dichotemies.

Q: What is it about the term father that you feel is inaccurate to describe your role and title in your family and our society? Why is it that the term mother needs no alteration or even produces any hesitation in a lesbian-couple family?

A:  The term describes my *role* OK. Lots of mannish lesbians love stretching the meaning of “mom.” More than those who want to stretch “dad.”

Q: Do you think that with the dynamics of what gender is to our society these days that we should re-evaluate all gender-role based terms we encounter in order to better reflect the true feelings behind each person or party?

A:  That’d be nice. Language does evolve with both our conscious & unconscious help.  In the end, we all probably hear what we want to anyway.

Q: What do you think is the most important message your feelings, experience, and explanation of your role as a lesbian dad or baba offer to adults and/or children?

A:  Other than love conquers all? That parenthood betwixt conventionally fixed genders offers both parent and kid a TON. It’s available to all.

Q: What role did a father/father figure play in your life, and how did that influence your perception of parenthood and your identity as “Baba”?

A:  My dad is one of the beacons of love in my life. My mom, now gone, had a bigger hand in daily parenting. Pops sees us both as 21st c. dads.

Q:  Are you still concerned with verifying your authority to be a parent in the eyes of those who are less understanding of same-sex parents? If so, in what ways do you confirm your authority to them?

A:  Getting my kids to see me as an authority figure is way more pressing. Truly? It all boils down to them, & they love me, hell or high water.

[Ed note: This post is now also over at BlogHer, the über site for women online.]

8 thoughts on “20 questions about lesbian fatherhood”

  1. Love it, love it, love it. Loved the chance to re-read the original essay, loved their questions and your reflections. Not being a tweeter myself, I found the 140 character maximum… well, too short! But I suppose to made the task somewhat more approachable…?

    I’d love to hear more about any of these questions, but especially the one that focuses on the “bio”/non-“bio” question and its evolution for you.

  2. LD, this is an excellent snapshot of your journey and of the real life with your children — not that different from my own when it comes down to the most important stuff. Thank you for posting it here. I’m looking forward to looking carefully at the original essay.

    Best to you!

  3. I’ve been reading here awhile – lurking for sure, haha – but I don’t remember having stumbled upon those formative ramblings on your Babahood. Definitely good to learn how it all began.

    But since we are playing the question game, I am curious how you feel about other people borrowing the title Baba for their own parental identity? Have you been approached by other people who have asked to use it, as of yet?

    Hmm, and a second, if you wouldn’t mind – if you’re own kids grow up and have families of their own, do you figure you’ll become a Grandba or Grandbaba?

  4. Slow on the uptake here, per usual, but:

    Thank you, rev2bebt. I do think the brevity of Twitter works best for news flashes and short bursts of anecdote. Jenny Holzer peeled off many a sharp witticism and insight with very few words (a favorite: “We are guileless in our dreams.”). But a lot of the challenge with this whole redefining parenthood as it relates to a more sophisticated understanding of gender thing defies the soundbite by definition. Because the whole concept is still barely audible to a lot of people.

    I’d love to open up more of a chat on the whole bio/non-bio Q, since I realize that for me, not so very long into actual parenthood, it receded into the curtain at the back of the stage. I’d like to know how this has worked for others like me (parenting side-by-side with someone who does have a biological connection to the child), and also for others similar but different (single or coupled parents who’ve adopted). I’ll try to stir something up, especially in a way that invites more folks to chime in.

    Hello, eyejunkie! Per usual, my heart is warmed and my gut feeling is confirmed by our similarities on the big stuff. (Love? Check.) The nice thing about the original essay is that it’s the opposite of a Tweet. It spanned 20+ paged in the printed anthology, and benefitted from the loving spit-polish job all writers know their words deserve.

    Hey kanga43! Great that you ask about other folks’ taking up “Baba.” I get to pontificate a bit about how I believe (along with many others) that an idea whose time has come is both irresistible (cf Victor Hugo), and the sole possession of no single author. That a German friend suggested I consider it, and I looked into it and it made total sense, says so much about the fact that I represent a certain sort of person — grown-up tomboy who grew up amidst & in the wake of 70s feminism. There are a great many others like me. I was not surprised, but thrilled, to learn that others had followed their own path to their own “new” names for their parenthood, sometimes for similar reasons, some for others.

    That said, if anyone actually hatches the idea to call themselves by a name that straddles both mama and papa, and they like the sweet sound of Baba, and like that other gals like them are doing that, and they learned about it from this collection of people and words, well! Every web hosting dollar has totally paid for itself.

  5. LD, this statement from your comment is so poignant:
    “…the whole concept is still barely audible to a lot of people.”

    It reflects my own journey of becoming aware of your parenting realities. And it underscores how valuable your communication (and that of others) about your story really is on the issues. It underscores the value of pictures and anecdotes of your family on a day to day basis. For me, it has served to highlight the commonalities rather than the differences.

    Not to carpetbag the LD blog here, but those are the things that made me (as a self proclaimed “open-minded conservative”) seek to look past the “sound byte” put out by many conservative organizations, to look more closely at the people (the children) that live in the midst of these “talking points” and to force myself to articulate my own thoughts as opposed to nodding at the thoughts of others.

    By breaking your own silence, you’ve encouraged me to form the thought behind that first word. And the first word, leads to a conversation. Perhaps conversation to recognition to common ground to understanding. And, if not embracing, at least acceptance, to sharing the same unique space we call parenthood.

    For what it’s worth 🙂

    • It’s worth everything. It’s worth all. Thank you so much for every step. It inspires me –and others — to do the same. What can we do when our hearts are open? Anything. Anything at all.

  6. “redefining parenthood as it relates to a more sophisticated understanding of gender”… yup indeed. And not just where it relates to our own individual concept of gender as parents, or of the societal concepts of gender that are placed upon us as parents, but the images and ideas of gender that we will, inevitably, pass along to our children.

    I first read your essay while my wife was pregnant, and very much identified with your identity angst. And now, with my son a smiling presence in my life… what can I say? You’re right, the angst dissipates, the gender theory gets lost in a pile of never-ending laundry, and it really is all about the child… and the theory returns as you try to explain gender-typing to your family over a pile of Christmas gifts.

  7. I just found your website and am looking forward to having a lot of questions buzzing around my head answered as I read more of your posts.

    This post reminded me of the interviews they do in the New York Times magazine every week. I find them maddeningly short, but still often read them because there can be great tidbits. And I like twitter because, well in part because it’s good to be heard when you’re home all day writing and also because I like to hear what other creative folks are up to.

    Are you still finishing your dissertation? Or are you employed as a professional writer?

    I love your photographs. So beautiful and you have a great perspective.

    I heard on radio once about a lesbian couple who taught their children about being in the world by talking about feminine and masculine energies that each individual has in different proportions. How have you and your spouse thought about talking about gender to your kids? How do the kids/the parents decide what the kids wear, colors they like, etc? I mean, some parents I’ve known have talked on and on about how much it seems like their children are born “all boy” or “all girl” but then I also hear them doing things to reify those identities even when they have babies or toddlers. But on the other hand, I don’t know if one can be a parent in this day and age and avoid blue and pink stereotyping. And maybe sometimes you don’t want to (I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a little girl wearing frilly pink if she wants to and is not being forced to, right?)

    One of the thing that scares me the most about kids is teaching them about sex (because my own education in that vein left much to be desired and I still feel burned by it). What are your thoughts about teaching toddlers about their bodies and stuff?

    Sorry for the overload of questions. I’m excited by finding your blog.

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