Family / Identity / Parenting

Adventures in heteronormativity 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?

heteronormativeHow 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 come in many different shapes, sizes, and forms. This will further enhance Litlle Bear’s critical thinking skills and not limit her thoughts. She will understand what multiple parents, step-parents, two moms or two dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles, half-siblings and step-siblings (check out the difference between step sblings vs half sibilings), and chosen family means. Moreover, she will learn that 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 a wide variety of families, and we are still a queer family whether anyone passing us on the street reads us or not.



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  1. Hear! Hear!

    Also, I am absolutely teaching my two year old to say “heteronormative” as soon as I get home. It will drive my good friend, who also has a 2-year-old, crazy. Last week I taught my daughter to say “maniacal laugh” in reference to friend’s son. He has few words and just responds with “Tank you”.

  2. Great post! I feel you about people thinking your fam is hetero. Repeated conversations really makes things stick. It’s fun to hear things come out of her mouth that are nearly verbatim to what we’ve said.

    The other morning I was mentioning a crush I had as a young kid and she interrupted me to ask if it was on a boy or a girl. That was a normal question for her, and I love that she’s growing up with these options!

    • Yay for kids being way cooler than adults! My little one is growing to have strong feelings over which penguin is Papa and which one is Daddy.

  3. You and your village will absolutely raise aware and sensitive people.

    I try to tell myself the same thing about our village. I’ve got a boy child who refuses to take dance lessons because he considers dance to be very un-boy even though he’s got some impressive moves and turnout to die for! I can only show him so many Usher and Justin Timberlake videos. Keep the faith!

  4. This is all so complex but there is so much beauty in complexity.

    Also, I just want to run into your family and ask Little Bear to say “heteronormativity”. Can you go that route with your teaching just so we can get an instagram video of that? 😉

    • I will get right on that! Right now Little Bear is adding the syllable “le” on to the end of words (mamale, pupule (purple), parkale) so that should be extra adorable.

  5. You are totally only one type of queer family–and LB’s queer family looks exactly like you three <3 So it's good to have experience, and friends, with all types of families–and also to value your own awesome selves, whether or not you appear to be hetero to some people!

    Regarding the book–you can always change it up. Jetpack and I sometimes do that when reading books, especially as so many center around "kid and mom," and he doesn't have one–I didn't want him to feel left out. So we just changed genders of heteronormative families. "Oh look, there's his dad" in a dress and heels, or whatever. Sometimes, I suppose, it can be a little forced–but sometimes it can be a lot of fun.

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