Picture the scene, if you will. I come home from work and Little Bear dashes over and clambers into my lap with a book to read. It’s one of those word flap books where each room is a room in a hypothetical house, you lift a flap and the word is under the picture. We start in the kitchen, where there is a masculine-presenting person washing the dishes. Little Bear pokes her little finger down decisively, naming this character “dad.” The person is washing dishes, so at least there’s a little bit of gender role disruption going on here. The next page features a more feminine-presenting person sitting in a chair reading a book who Little Bear dubs “mom.” We finish the book and my mind is racing, am I the worst queer parent ever?
How did my little kid who is not yet two already automatically identify this family as having a mom and a dad? Have we not read “The Family Book” enough? Should I talk more about how some families have two moms or two dads? Should we get Tango Makes Three? Clearly I need to go online and buy every book with alternative family arrangements I can find. I furiously scour the internet, picking out books I want to buy. I picture myself at the library talking to Little Bear: ”Oh and look, here’s another book where there’s a mom and a dad. That’s called ‘heteronormativity,’ can you say ‘heternormativity’ honey?”
Realistically, I probably overreacted. It is but one word flap book. Little Bear does have a mom and a dad, I often wash dishes and her mom does in fact read books. I realized that my discomfort wasn’t really about Little Bear identifying two characters in a book as a mom or a dad. Clearly we don’t want her to think that because she has a mom and a dad, that her family is ‘better’ or more ‘normal’ than any other family, but my anxiety wasn’t about her. I was again wrestling with how I move through the world as a queer and trans parent in a seemingly heterosexual family. I am intensely aware of the assumptions frequently read onto our family structure. I struggle to balance wanting to be read as a queer family with what information people actually need to know about us. This internal debate is complicated by the fact that my trans identity is frequently what is used as the mark of queerness in our relationship, when in reality neither of us are straight. At the end of the day how much of my identity navel-gazing does my kid really need to know about? As she grows up and has questions there will be plenty of time to talk about gender identity and sexuality, and I’ll have an archive of stellar VQ Sex Ed posts to help me out.
Most importantly, Little Bear will grow up knowing that families do come in many different forms. Multiple parents, step-parents, half-siblings, two moms or two dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles, chosen family. All these and more count as family. As long as Little Bear is able to grow up and know that all families have value and there is not one right model, we will have chipped away at the overwhelming influence of heteronormativity. Luckily, this shouldn’t be a hard message to get across. Our friends already have wide varieties of families, and we are still a queer family whether anyone passing us on the street reads us or not.
[PHOTO CREDIT: SOMEECARDS]