Hey, pregnant ladies! No wonder you’re exhausted!

You’re manufacturing not just a whole, spleen-and-blood-filled human being, but its cafeteria, to boot! Yep, that’s a placenta, folks. Our little monkey’s placenta, to be exact, brandished by our walking-godess midwife. And no, we didn’t bury it in the backyard, or feast on it the next week. (Who knew? There’s a word for that practice: placentophagy.) We were just a tad preoccupied after the birth. Okay, “preoccupied” may not get at the right nuance: some of us felt like we just drove a truck through our v*gina, and others of us felt like we just witnessed a miracle, which of course we did.

This next time we may include “What to do with placenta” in the birth plan.

Meanwhile, as my beloved lumbers toward her third trimester gestating our second child, I just thought I’d share this little tidbit. A small gesture of humility and gratitude, during these days of awe.

“Eeeeew, but why does that gesture have to be a picture of a big ole hunk of placenta?” the faint of gut might ask. Because one of the things I’m glad to be in awe about is that pregnancy and childbirth are hard frickin’ work; bloody hard work, to be British about it. (‘Rosy glow,’ my arse!) And I feel the main thing I’m supposed to do, as a partner to a pregnant woman, is acknowledge and support that hard work.

Perhaps I feel a wee bit evangelical about it recently because a male friend, contemplating pregnancy with his partner, asked me sotto voce how I dealt with my partner’s “moodiness” during pregnancy. Though he used a much less respectful word. I erupted something along the lines of: “Are you kidding?! They’re climbing Mount Frickin’ Everest! It is an honor to be their sherpa! And anyone not up to that job doesn’t deserve to be a parent!” Tough talk, maybe hyperbolic, for effect, but there you have it. What would a lesbian dad be, if not (among other things) an unrepentant, unflinching, woman supporter?

[Update: check out the post “I’m a sherpa… and I love it!” from Karen who blogs at 2 moms – It can be done!]

Mommy wars, the lesbian episode, part 2: free to be you and me

Butch Mama chum representing along SF LGBT Pride route, June 27, 2005.

So, where did we leave off, from Mommy wars, the lesbian episode, part 1? Ah, yes: how it comes to be that spawning kids, or adopting them, or any other parental variant, manages to be both radical and conformist and transformational of queer politics all at the same time. And also: shouldn’t one path be the right one, and another path be the wrong one? In the yawning maw of time that opened up since part 1 (okay, a week), several gals, in their comments, eloquently made the point I was going to make in part 2 here. Which (when stretched and pulled to a buncha more words) goes a little something like this:

  • The playgrounds of today are the streets/courtrooms/what-have-you of tomorrow. In other words, quiet yet ultimately consequential changes occur when something so innocuous as a suburban school begins to see more same-sex (sure: even monogamous, middle-class, nuclear, racially normative) parents ferrying their kids to school in mini-vans. It’s not the big, Civil Rights Act-scale change, but hell’s bells, we need change everywhere, people, in the streets, in the urban centers, in the rural outbacks, and yes! yes! even in the suburbs. As a survivor of the suburbs, yay verily I say unto you we need change especially in the suburbs! And while I don’t believe that switching the genders or sexes of the heads of otherwise nuclear households drives a stake in the heart of nuclear family units generally, apparently the anti-gay marriage/family contingent thinks so, and this is what cedes the whole issue back to the larger one of queer civil rights. I also believe that the larger-scale change is facilitated by a hundred smaller shifts. Drop by drop is how an iceberg begins to melt. Yes, an unfortunate metaphor this Global Warming Weather summer, but it can’t be helped: it’s a true fact.Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not going to sit around and wait for change at a glacial pace. But I believe it all works together, the slow drip-drip-drip setting the stage for the dramatic moment, triggered by you name it, when a huge-ass chunk of iceberg drops off. You could explain this with notions like the butterfly effect or systems theory or whatever you like. But the point is all things are interrelated, and all movements in the direction of more love, rather than less, work toward the good, sez me.
  • Our Family Values Love
    Coupla more chums working the crowd along the SF LGBT Pride route, June 27, 2005.

  • I’m with Gramsci. And he said our work is more a war of position than a war of maneuver. I will resist the morbid temptation to parse left social theory here. (Eek! The horor, the horor! After which I would wind up with more than my knickers tangled up in a knot, with paper clips in my hair and ink stains all over my person, fingers all slashed-up with paper cuts, the cat, the dog, and the kid all buried under crumpled up pieces of paper, my framed portrait of Karl Marx frowning down upon me disapprovingly in that spooky, the-eyes-are-alive, scary movie kind of way. I left grad school for a good reason, people, a good reason.) I will, however, say that in a nutshell, I read that strategic distinction as one between slower, infiltration-y, long-haul kind of battles and the more large-scale, dramatic battles for which the smaller ones actually prepared the ground. More to my point, and I do have one (thx, Ellen), is that in order to keep up the long haul work here, I think we need to let people follow their hearts, even as we YELL IN THEIR EARS about the political and social consequences of what some of us might believe to be their retrograde impulses.

  • While we’re at it, we might also consider the merits of interval training, wherein bursts of intense activity are supported by intervening periods of lower intensity activity. Works for distance runners. And we have a distance to cover. Take your pick: the strategy can apply to one’s own work, over a lifetime, or over the larger corpus of movement change, or even the different ways that various of us apply our energies toward social change at the same time.At the second Empowering Women of Color Conference at UC Berkeley in 1987, poet/playwright/activist Cherríe Moraga asked the audience, “How many of you here, ten years from now, will still be activists?” I took her challenge deeply to heart, and also laid it directly next to the burn-out I was beginning to feel even then as a campus activist. How to manage the long haul, indeed? Her question has haunted/inspired me over nearly two decades, and I have given a lot of thought to the matter of how to keep up the good fight. At times it’s not easy, but lately, finding inspiriation for my public-sphere social change work in the very stuff of my private-sphere fulfillment has been extremely invigorating. Since now the most precious aspect of my private sphere is about the future, and that’s what long haul social change work is about. Parent upon parent before me has made this connection, and now I get it.

    I might note to us all, in closing, that sister Cheríe spawned her own kid, and wrote beautifully about the process of becoming her kind of mother, in Waiting in the Wings. Let’s be sure to add her name to the lengthy list of revolutionary change agent female parent gals, the lesbian sub-list.

    Anyone want to add some more? Maybe your own?

    [Update, October 16, 2006: Prime, hyper-current e.g. for the Hetero/Non-denominational sub-list: MomsRising.org]

  • Mommy wars, the lesbian episode, part 1: a wee bit of history

    [Warning: jumbo essay alert! Read at own risk!]

    Of course this Sunday I would be slug enough not to have even unwrapped, much less read, the NY Times, a weekly luxury I refuse to give up, even when the monthly budget calls for cutting the tuna fish with cat food. For our consumption, I hastily note, not the cat’s.

    Had I read it, I would have noticed this piece [requires freebie registration to read, drat ’em] by Anemona Hartocollis, on the anti- or a-gay marriage strain in LGBT community. I was alerted to its existence by Mombian’s exceedingly astute post in response to it. She includes Sarah Schulman’s statement from the piece, in which Schulman voices a concern that “lesbian mothers are embracing a ‘poverty model’ and taking themselves out of the running to be the next George Sand or Emma Goldman.” Mombian urges us to “stop the lesbian version of the Mommy Wars before it starts,” to which I say: Here here! I march behind you, Sister Rudolph, in the quest for some kind of lesbo common ground that’s high enough to avoid the skanky jetsam of what I thought was merely the (hetero) mommy wars.

    Like Sister Rudolph, I too felt somehow personally isolated from the fray, once removed by lesbianism (as felt Rudolph), and then twice removed by being a Not-So-Mommy in the first place. But just as I was beginning to fancy that being a lesbian dad gave me a bit of immunity, I remembered that the whole lesbian dad thing is a figment of my own imagination, and to all the world — perhaps Sister Schulman, too — I appear to be a lesbian, gulp, mother. A mannish lesbian mother, certainly, but a mum nonetheless. Ostensibly, by dint of my parenthood, chucking aspirations toward literary or political greatness overboard as so much expendable ballast, distracted as I am by, say, wangling my little bairn into the right preschool. Well Pfft! I say. (Preschool, schmeeschool, ain’t she seen all the toddlers at anti-war demos? You can’t miss ’em! They’re the ones drawing the paparazzi like flies! But I digress.) When my own kin can be so blinkered about what lesbo parenthood must or can mean — and as an erstwhile Lesbian Avenger, I will always regard founding Avenger gal Sarah Schulman as kin — well. Up go the sleeves, and out comes the keyboard.

    Indeed, one of the things Mombian’s Rudolph suggests is that the lesbian parent blogosphere, including locales such as this humble corner of it, can offer a corrective to Schulman’s grim assessment of the consequences or functions of lesbo parenthood, or what was easily construable as a grim take on it all (most grim, one imagines, when coupled with “married” partnership, the topic of the article). I am duly inspired to attempt a vigorous response, daunted only by the many avenues into the whole sticky wicket. In my first pass at all this I wound up splintering into at least a dozen different conversations, many of which I hope to take up in the future. Toward the front of the queue, for instance, is the left/queer critique of the gay “marriage” issue — the main topic of Hartocollis’ article.

    Meanwhile I’ll try to offer up just a few thoughts in response to the gist of the article, dispersed in a two-part trickle, and prefaced by these few caveats:

  • It is all too easy for anyone (from a moderately informed journalist to an artist-activist luminary) to make dichotomy or conflict or mutual exclusion where there is none. Western thought, maybe thought in general, too easily lends itself to simplistic either/or thinking, which, sadly, is what screws so many of us in the first place (e.g., one must be either straight or gay; male or female; etc., and never a little bit of both at the same time). So I honk one of my most oft-honked horns here, that we be wary of the breezy yet corrosive false dichotomies whenever they crop up.Yes, certainly, there are pro-gay marriage folks and anti-gay marriage folks, even within queer community. That strand, as I say, I’ll take up in a future piece. But motherhood and radical activism are not in the least mutually exclusive, as Schulman’s statement seems to imply. I offer up my own Mother Out-Law as Exhibit A, but could follow that up with mother after mother. Okay, so George Sand had two kids, and Emma Goldman was infertile, though elected not to have corrective surgery for it. (She who said “Women need not always keep their mouths shut and their wombs open” was also not without affection for the wee ones: “I had loved children madly, ever since I could remember,” she writes in Living My Life.) Alice Walker and Katha Pollitt have spawned, to take just two contemporaries who spring immediately to mind, and I’m not seeing the motherhood inhibit their public sphere impacts. The farther I get into this, the more the whole parenthood/motherhood vs. radical public presence question seems (a) already answered by herstory and yet (b) far more complex for a bullet point. But you get the point.

  • Schulman I’m sure said lots of other things that didn’t make it into the piece. I have had just a passing experience with being cited by journalists, and nearly every time have been surprised to see what it all looks like when edited and in print. So who knows, she could have rhapsodized about the radical potential of queer parents and queer spawn right before she offered the next statement as a cautionary exception. Given how resoundingly she indicts the homophobia inside straight families in her brilliant novel Rat Bohemia, you’d think she’d be quite open to seeing all sorts of alt. and queer families as, well, a corrective, at least.

  • Schulman is a feisty bugger, though, so I can imagine a lot of what else she might have said would be equally or more challenging to lesbo parents. Bless her, one of her raisons d’etre is to challenge, and queer politics and thought would be poorer without proper challenges, both from within and without.
  • Okay, so, caveats out, here are some thoughts. The first is essentially a wee reminder of our history: queer civil rights struggles have always entailed complex strains between radical and conformist camps. The Mattachine Society (arguably our nation’s first homophile organization) had a big ole blow-out in late 1953 over red-baiting, so consequential that a whole raft of members of the Northern California chapter resigned in protest, in effect, as historian John D’Emilio writes, “closing a chapter,” essentially the radical first chapter, of this organization’s history. Though he’s writing about Mattachine’s early history here (in Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970, University of Chicago Press, 1983), his words apply across the decades, and bear extensive quotation:

    In its first few years, the Mattachine Society had confronted issues that would surface again and again as areas of heated debate in the gay movement — whether homosexuality was an unimportant characteristic or an aspect of a person’s life so significant that it bound gay men and women together as a minority group; whether homosexuals and lesbians should accommodate themselves to the mores of society or assert their difference; whether they were victims of prejudiced opinion or of a system of oppression inherent in the structure of American Society; whether patient educational work or militant political action was the key to social change; and finally whether, in their quest for equality, gay people should rely on the leadership of professionals or their own independent efforts. The first round of conflict pitted “radicals” against “conservatives,” with the two camps standing on opposite sides of each question. But in later years the set of issues would prove capable of a variety of alignments.

    Eerily descriptive, eh? Gay politics, fifty years ago. But you could take the critical issues facing queer people, decade by decade, and most would fit into this analysis. Whether we have chosen an issue, or whether it has chosen us, these dynamics shape our struggles. Parenthood, I suppose, shouldn’t be any different.

    But what I wouldn’t have thought, before reading this statement by Sister Schulman, is that the act of becoming a parent and extending one’s family into a younger generation could be read as a regressive, private-sphere, conformist gesture, rather than one of the most widespread and consequential acts of civil disobedience in queer movement history. It’s one big fat kiss-in, people! Sure, you say, but visibility as a political objective is so 90s. To which I say, Granted! But we’re talking a whole new ballgame when the kiss is an anointing smooch on our cheeks by the next generation. Anointing what? Well, we’ll find out.

    And when the cheeks being smooched are so many and varied — I mean, they’re bearded and clean-shaven, every color of the human melanin spectrum, they’re pierced and poofed with blush — we’re talking vast and widespread participation in this public act of private sphere expansion. In this domestic civil disobedience. I would venture to say — and I’m sure I’m not the only one to do so — that, whether you think it’s radical or conformist (and: surprise! I think it’s both!) the gayby boom is slowly but surely going to change the national climate in which queer politics takes place. On a scale, I might venture to say, not unlike that of the changes wrought by AIDS. Generational. Demographic cohort-wide. Irrevocable.

    Next time: Mommy wars, the lesbian episode, part 2: free to be you and me.

    I get allergic smelling hay*

    Close, but no cigar.

    Yesterday Monkey and I went to the Little Farm, where local city slickers take their youngins to observe the pastoral delights most of us have never known firsthand (yet there they keep showing up, in all the books we read our kids). I myself was reared in the suburbs, but back then my family’s house was situated on the verge of the exurbs. Our backyard abutted a 350-acre cow pasture which was both muse and stage for all my youthful adventures. Summers, when California’s omnipresent oat grasses are baked dry over months of rainless heat, the cattle would listen for the sounds of our creaky push-mower. Upon hearing its whir, whir, they’d mosey up for fistfuls of the sweet green stuff my sister and I would rake up and offer them through our feeble chicken-wire fence. Usually we’d poke the hose through the fence, too, and the heifers would nudge each other out of the way for long cool drinks.

    It wasn’t all bucolic. Springtimes, when the new calves were old enough to be put out to pasture, they’d also be old enough to be branded. For reasons I still don’t understand, this took place in a corral just kitty-corner across our backyard fence (the main stables were far across the pasture, down the adjacent canyon). The ranch-hands would gather the calves into the corral, and then, one by one, bind their ankles with rope and brand them. I can still hear the cries they made—very much like Wookie’s war-cry, in Star Wars, actually—and I can still smell the scent of their freshly burnt hides. It made an impression.

    No such graphic truths on display at Little Farm, thank heavens. The animal world there does feature what we see a lot of off the farm: single moms doing all the childcare, or a hetero nuclear unit whose parents follow clear sex-based roles. Sows nursing their piglets in the pen, ducklings paddling behind their drake papa and duck mama in the pond. Sure, I know there are plenty of insects, fish, birds, and mammals that have shown same-sex sexual behaviors. And I would be the last person to propose that animal practices should somehow provide any kind of template for human ones—we who have broken away from our closest mammal kin a long time ago, way back when we pre-hensiled our thumbs, or began to walk upright, or whatever. Whenever I get warm and runny about what a deep bond I have with my dog, whenever I get dreamy about how well we wordlessly understand each other, she ups and eats the cat’s dookie. We are not the same.

    Still, a trip to Little Farm reminds me how fundamental (pun intended) the male-female procreative unit is. Queer families are social units, not biological ones, and that will be something we’ll be explaining to our kidling(s), in time, when they want to know why there are no “babas” at the farm, only “mamas” and “papas” (there’s always the Central Park Zoo, for two papa families). Our family ties originate and flourish most meaningfully in the heart and mind; less so, much of the time not at all, in the genes. I no longer consider this a disadvantage to our little kinship unit, and actually consider it a boon. Blood may be thicker than water, but love’s even thicker than blood.

    *Want all the Green Acres theme song lyrics? Here you go.

    Who’s the daddy?

    Like most lesbian parents, I think a lot about fatherhood. I think about fatherhood, and about masculinity, not just around the occasion of Father’s Day, but all the time. I think about what my own father has offered me, distinct from what my mother has; I think about what his father gave him, and what he didn’t.

    Father’s Day is an important day in my family, certainly, because my partner and I both love and are deeply indebted to our fathers. After all, it was my Pops who taught me how to dance, how to banter, how to charm the ladies — and how to be an optimist. But when we celebrate our own generation, Father’s Day is important for different reasons than you’d find in a two-parent, hetero one. Fathers are always present, even in their absence, and more so for us who, by eschewing men as significant others, raise a few more eyebrows — or hackles — than do straight single mothers by choice.

    Lesbian families are walking paternity questions, in a way. We ask each other “Who’s the daddy?” all the time, though it’s usually more like “Who’s the donor?” We ask because the answer to the who question entails a big how answer, and how we got to our parenthood is a big deal for most of us. When others who aren’t queer ask me the paternity questions (usually with the graciousness that accompanies questions that are, after all, good-naturedly voyeruistic) I, for one, answer with the cheery, practiced diplomacy of a museum docent. And with no resentment. I get it that that’s what I am at this point in the history of the American family: docent to the early 21st century lesbian wing of it, and it behooves me to enlighten everyone who shares my child’s world.

    Father’s Day is important to my partner and me because we couldn’t have done this alone, couldn’t have graduated from “relationship” (the two of us) to “family” (the three of us and counting) if it weren’t for the generosity of a man we know and now most certainly love. So on Father’s Day we thank him — but not for being the father of our kid; he’s plenty occupied with his own two delightful daughters. We thank him, rather, for enabling me to do so. Be the father of our kid, that is. Because in our family, on Father’s Day, we celebrate me.

    Oh, I share some paternity with our donor. His “fatherhood” is strictly biological, though, and while its impact is life-long, in the genetic memory of our child, the work he put into it was relatively modest. My “fatherhood” of our child is strictly social, invisible to the state until petitioned for as a would-be “second parent,” and marginally visible to many even afterwards. But it is the result of an accretion of daily work on my part, ever-changing and, I pray, lasting my entire life. The older our daughter gets, the more I’ll learn about what my sort of lesbian fatherhood means, to me and to her. Right now, it’s not so complicated.

    Right now, I’m simpy “Baba,” a term or diminutive for father borrowed from at least a half-dozen other languages. When my partner and I read with her, we randomly alternate between Baba and Papa when we name what’s written as the father (though, blessedly, Grace Lin has a written and illustrated a series of books depicting a Chinese American family that uses the Chinese word “Baba” for the Dad; needless to say we have ’em all). Precocious little monkey that she is, our daughter will soon be able to notice that “Daddy” is what’s written in most books, not Baba. At that point we’ll have choice number one, of the dozens and dozens we’ll face in the Baba vs. Papa pantheon. We could simply stop checking out books from the library and only buy our own, which we’d mug on the way home from the bookstore and hastily graffiti with “Baba” all over the “Dad” parts. As time and circumstances permit, we might even keep a packet of those little electronic labeller printouts handy. Armed with scores of pre-printed “Babas,” we could affix the proper term neatly on any printed surface, whenever needed.

    But who knows how much we’ll really need it? I’ve found that kids are far less derailed than we grown-ups are by the inter-gendered truths that they experience. At least the kids who know me all understand that Baba means “parent midway between Mother and Father.” I overheard my youngest nephew correct his dad when he heard him referring to the child of the two lesbian parents across the street. His dad said something to the effect of Norrie having “two moms,” to which Clayton immediately demured, “No, Daddy; Norrie has a Mama and a Baba.” Which happens to be true; Norrie calls Angela “Baba.” My brother-in-law smiled right away and said, “You’re right, Clayton. I stand corrected.”

    In fact, Clayton, who is six, asked just a few weeks ago what will we do for Father’s Day. I got to beta test my Father’s Day spiel. Here we are in front of the dirama, here I am with arm extended, palm up, in the direction of the display. “Well, Clayton,” I said, “in our family we celebrate Baba’s Day on Father’s Day. In fact,” I hazarded, getting a little carried away with myself, “it’s internationally celebrated as Baba’s Day, for parents like me.” I paused to consider the impact of yet another, fairly typical bald-faced exaggeration, as he gave me that sweet, open, “Really?” look. “Okay, well, not yet. But one day maybe. And for now, at least in our family.” And that’s true. One family at a time, one year at a time. Nearly a hundred years ago, in Spokane, Washington, that’s how Father’s Day began. I’m patient.