Community / Family / Guest blog posts / Parenting

Baba-Hood

Today’s post comes to us from guest author JB over at Ells and Baba. I’m lucky enough to have JB as a friend in real life – which is awesome not only because she’s easy to talk to and fun to be around, but also because it’s always good to connect with another family with a genderqueer/butch parent. Thanks so much, JB, for taking the time to contribute so that other families can connect, too. ~ Sandra  

IMG_0443I’m 36 years old, and for the last 30 years I’ve used some of the following words to identify myself: tomboy, lesbian, dyke, gender queer and butch. I, like many reading this perhaps, have struggled with my identity and these words. Four years ago my partner and I had a daughter, and since her birth many of my internal struggles seemed less important. Inspired by Lesbian Dad, my partner and I decided to use the terms Mama and Baba to describe our parent hood. I didn’t feel like a “mom” and “dad” felt too transgressive to ask my family to accept. My daughter quickly shortened Baba to Ba, and sometimes calls me Babi (rhymes with Mommy) while giggling.

My experience as a Baba shares some similarities with lesbian moms but also has some striking differences. While my baba-hood is still quite young (I have a four year old daughter and an eight month old son) here are some of the uniquenesses I’ve noticed.

– People assume I’m the babysitter. This isn’t helped when people refer to me as “mom” and my daughter corrects them by saying “No, no that’s not my mom.” Or when they hear me saying things like, “Let’s go meet Mama at home” or “Mama said no more cookies before dinner.”

– People assume I’m a Mom. This is a tricky one, I want people to know I’m a parent, and to ask what I’d like to be called. I never correct people when they refer to me as mom, usually because I’m glad they didn’t assume I was the babysitter. But it bothers my daughter, and I think I’ll start correcting it for her sake. Maybe I can avoid the assumption altogether by introducing myself as a Baba.

– This next one isn’t something I have (yet) run into in real life, but something I worry about. Do people think because I’m a Baba, I’m not a primary parent? That I’m somehow less than a Mom or Dad? Or maybe they hear Baba and think along the lines of an aunt or godparent and not parent. Let’s hope this stays a worry and doesn’t become an actual experience.

– I have to constantly out myself at work. This is not unique to being a Baba, non gestational moms will have the same experience. People want to know how I can possibly be back just one week after my son was born. Or how I lost that baby weight so fast. I find, most often, that many people look just plain confused when I mention my kids, maybe because I don’t look like a mom, or perhaps since my gender nonconformity can make me look like an 18 year old boy at times.

– Having to explain over and over that I have no desire to be pregnant. People ask how we decided who would carry the babies (a ridiculously intrusive question), but for us is was a no-brainer. I mean seriously have you seen first hand what that is like? No thank you! My relationship to my body, to my femaleness, does not include pregnancy and breast feeding. And this fact does not make me less of a parent.

– Not having many Mama/Baba examples in media or real-life to show the kids. I’m very happy that now there are books about or referencing families with two moms, but it has so far proved impossible to find a story with a Mama/Baba parenting unit. I have been known to make up words to books, (we read the classic “Mommy, Mama and Me” as “Mama, Baba and Me”) and to point out all butch looking women with children as Babas, see.

– The other day while our kids were playing, westphillymama and I were talking about the other queer families in the neighborhood. When my daughter asked, I explained we were naming other kids who had two moms, but she looked confused because she doesn’t have two moms, (heck neither do Sandra’s kids as her partner chose to be called dad.) So there’s this difficulty with belonging. We don’t quite fit in with mom/dad families or with dad/dad or mom/mom families. Who wants to use the phrase “same-sex” with their four year old? Especially when she understands that while I am female, I am also a little bit boy and a little bit girl. (There is a longer story about how I explain gender to my four year old, but I’ll save that for another day.)

But all of the frustrations aside, being a Baba has been the best opportunity for me to be me. 

Being a genderqueer butch lesbian isn’t as important now that I’m a Baba. While I still struggle with names, outness, and belonging, I find my parent-hood, my Baba-hood, has moved forefront. We as parents really do have more in common with each other than we don’t. Yes, I have short hair, wear men’s clothes and go by Baba but we are all standing here on the playground together watching our kids introduce themselves and play together.

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  1. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for this. My first thought is just: yes, yes, yes to so much you’ve said, JB. I’ll leave it at that, at first. Probably will circle back, or even just write a reply in a post!

  2. This is just beautiful. And what a wonderful example you are setting for both of your kids, just by standing up and being who you are.

  3. Welcome, Guest Baba, JB! Now that you’re here, take off your coat and stay a while. You may struggle with belonging elsewhere, but you are definitely one of the family here. Thank you for sharing your perspective on a life less ordinary and yet completely ordinary.

  4. This is so well articulated. I’m so glad to see this post here.

  5. Ironically, my husband goes by Babi (also Dada, Daddy, and Papa). Babi is the word for father in Albanian.

    Also, welcome to Les Fam! I loved this piece and really hope that you consider coming back to talk to us about how you explained gender to a 4 year old. My little girl is almost two and explaining gender and gender roles is already something I struggle with.

    • We started telling our kids quite young that “most girls have vulvas and most boys have penises, but not ALWAYS.” We also say that some people are not boys or girls but something else and you can only know for sure if someone is a boy or girl if you ask them.

      This has been known to lead to questions of strangers about their reproductive anatomy, but everyone has been kind. We are very matter-of-fact about it.

      It also helps to know a handful of people willing to let the kids identify them as girls with penises or boys with vulvas.

  6. Thanks everyone for the kind comments! Maybe I will be back soon. :)

  7. Here’s to butch parents!

    When we were waiting for our first child via adoption, my partner rejected “Baba” (which had not yet become the go-to butch parent title) because it means grandmother in some cultures.

    She wanted to go by first names with the kids, but I really wanted to be a Mama. We compromised. I am Mama Shannon and she is Cole-Mom. But the kids know her gender is not strictly female. And they shortened her title to “Ce” (pronounced like “key”), in personal address, though they still call her “Cole-Mom” when referring to her in third person (most of the time).

    They do say they have three moms (including their birth mothers) but they don’t have a strictly gendered idea of what a mom is. They know that one of their moms is “kind of a boy and kind of a girl.”

    The other day, they were making pictures–one was drawing me and the other was drawing Cole-mom. The one drawing me put a crown on my head and said I was “Queen Mama Shannon” then asked her sister to put a crown on the head of her picture too. “It’s King Cole-Mom!” she announced.

    This made perfect sense to all of us.

  8. Loretta Walz says:

    Great post! and thank you for writing this.
    My wife and I knew from the get go that I was in no way a mom but, like you, thought the term dad – while it felt closer to how I felt would be too difficult for some – as you said transgressive and we didn’t want our kid to feel awkward or get bugged or whatever. So we went with Mama for his mom and me, well we just went with a shortened version of my name – Retta. So, four years later we find ourselves with a very extroverted four year old son who introduces me to anyone that will listen as his Dad, Retta! We never once instructed him to think of me as dad but as soon as he started speaking he would identify the dad in books, tv, etc. as me.

    And well, I wasn’t wrong about folks having a hard time thinking of me as a dad but my son, he doesn’t seem to care a bit – to him I am his dad and it just is.

    To all the fathering women and mothering men out there, our kids will “straighten” everything out!
    Thanks again for a great post.

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