Family / Parenting

The Closet Of Parenthood

whereat IMG_7193I don’t “look queer” – whatever that means.  When I’m one of 10-20 moms chasing after a toddler at the playground (or a music class or in the pediatrician’s waiting room) and I’m dressed in jeans and t-shirt with comfortable walking shoes and my hair is pulled back in a messy ponytail.  I’m everymom.  I look a lot like most of my peers.  I usually fit right in in the “mom crowd”.  I blend in and can slip into the common small-talk we so often connect over – napping, eating, pottying.  The thing is, unless it’s a familiar group that I’m regularly friendly with – until it comes up, no one knows I’m a lesbian.

I’ve been out a long time.  Like REALLY out.  My partner likes to joke that I was BDOC (big dyke on campus) in college.  I shaved my head, wore t-shirts with things like “No one knows I’m a lesbian” written on them, and I was president of the campus LGBT group. After college I made a career of being queer by working at LGBT organizations.  For a long time I lived in a bubble filled with LGBT people. So now, it’s strange to me that I’m constantly coming out of the closet.

I realize that coming out is a never-ending process – but I’m still surprised when a fellow mom is caught off-guard by the revelation that I’m queer.  I spent so long living in predominantly LGBT circles that I forget that the natural assumption is that everyone you encounter (especially if they look downright boring and have a toddler in tow) is straight.   I’m lucky to still run in a pretty progressive crowd, so I’m rarely met with a negative reaction – just a quick adjustment of thinking; a reframing of me in their head.

It’s a quick reminder that we are still “other” – and in that in a lot of ways that means unequal.  That my partner has to adopt her own kids.  That even though my partner’s job offers health insurance for our family we still have to fill out extra forms, “document” our relationship and pay tax on the insurance as income.  It’s also a reminder of how fortunate we are that in our particular situation we don’t usually face physical harm or harassment – unlike so many other LGBT parents around the country.

Hopefully being out as a parent has helped challenge some assumptions.  Are you inconspicuous as a queer parent?  Do you find yourself coming out often?


[Cross-posted from West Philly Mama.]

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  1. I’m not a parent yet but things like that happen to me all the time and it’s kind of obvious I’m a lesbian… So I’m pretty sure it’s not us, it’s them and their Heteronormativity! Last time it happened some guy was making very homophobic comments and I kind of shut him up and he was like “Oh, I’m sorry! Do you have a lot of homosexual friends?” and I was like… “what? dude, I’m gay, duh!” =P

    I love the “just a quick adjustment of thinking” look on people! We need to keep waving our rainbow flags to bring gayness to the World, haha! I took my flag to the cover of an official publication on women’s rights this year, mwuahaha!

  2. This is going to be interesting to see as our baby gets older (she’s 11 months now) and we meet new parents. Right now the other parents we know are folks we’ve known since before we had kids, folks from our childbirth class and other daycare parents, all of which already know that we’re a two mommy house. I’ve met a few other parents on the playground, but the conversation has pretty much stuck to: “how old is your kid? have you been to this other playground”, so no coming out required (and it honestly hadn’t occurred to me really that I was going to have to – but of course we are going to have to). Having also been out since college, it was weird to find myself in the situation of having to come out all over again when we planned our wedding (not bad – I didn’t get any bad reactions, just weird.) and I guess that’s what this will be too. Except more extended.

  3. I definitely do.

    During our Maybe Baby class, the teacher said that, being a queer parent, you have to be more out than you ever were. And she’s right. In part because of how children will talk to anybody, so you’ll be outed even if you don’t mean to, but mostly in large part because of what you say above.

  4. Beautiful photo, by the by.

    Just the other day, I had to take my son to our local Care Station because our primary care doctor was out for the holidays. The receptionist took my details as I came out to her via insurance information. She smiled and said, “Oh, I get it!” and I smiled back. I remember thinking, “I look like crap, and my kid looks pathetic, and I might be the first gay mom she’s ever met. Man, I am NOT representing so well here.”

    And when the doctor finally saw us and told us that he was opening his own family practice and that I could bring my husband, I let it go. We had waited a really long time, and my son was miserable, and I just wanted to go home. Sometimes, I just let it go…but clearly I think about it for days afterwards.

  5. I totally get the not feeling up to the correction thing. One has to perpetually gauge whether one has the time or the emotional reserves. I’m so not a fussy or exacting person in social situations, ordinarily.

    My experience may be a bit different than yours, Sandra (et al.). I feel like because of my mannish haircut & clothing, folks usually are at least on a psychic onramp to “lesbian” when they see me. I was once really surprised when a woman in line at a coffee shop presumed the other parent at home was my kid’s “dad.” (Or was she referring to my husband? I forget now.)

    I think the re-closeting/ return to majority hetero space is a HUUUUUUUGE element of parenthood, particularly for those of us who, like Sandra, were out a long time before becoming parents, and spent a lot of time in queer and queer-friendly spaces. We now simply have to go to the best tot lot for our kids, the public school we are assigned by lottery, the doctor’s office our insurance accepts, and so on. None of these spaces are anything more than sprinkled (at best) with other LGBT families. Even in a very LGBT-friendly metropolitan area.

    Thanks for raising this topic! I hope it’ll circle back around again and again.

  6. One morning at a Hampton inn breakfast in Pittsburgh I sat feeding and playing w my 10 m/o daughter. A woman sitting near us engaged me in conversation, beginning with she’s just darling, and then went everywhere from when is the right time to have kids/give your parents grandchildren to the ups and downs of breast feeding. As the non-bio mom I just gave commentary as I had witnessed for the previous 10 mos. her hubby then arrived, introduced us, continued small talk – and then my wife finally joined us. The air went COLD. The conversation dropped. BUT … The nice couple did wish us well and safe travels. Perhaps we softened a heart that day? Perhaps?

    • Wow. Just, wow. And yes: I do hope a heart or two were softened that morning. For many, it takes a long time and many such interactions. Let’s hope that exchange endures for them.

  7. My wife jokes that her type is “someone nobody knows is gay unless I am with her.” I love when people assume, then try to figure out how two women have three kids together….even if only one of them is “ours”.

  8. I have been thinking about this post for the last couple of days, trying to formulate my comment in my head, with abject failure. Honestly, the constant re-coming out can be so draining. Deborah, we’re lucky — our local urgent care receptionist turned out to be a femme lesbian, too, who came out right back at me during Noah’s first visit there. But we switched schools this year, and although there are a lot of wonderful things about the new school, it is less diverse along every measure, and there are an astounding number of stay-at-home moms in heterosexual families. Our son nearly broke our hearts 2 or 3 weeks in, when he drew a picture of “Mutter und Ich” (the school is German immersion) and only drew himself with me. He wasn’t sure if it would be allowed to draw both of us. We spoke to the teacher, who already knew about us, and was clearly at least accepting of our family, and clarified with Noah that for family related assignments, he can portray his family as we really are. As we put it to him, he doesn’t have to pretend we’re a tv cartoon family. But we are seeing the stressful glimpses of what coming out will look like for him, too.

  9. “psychic onramp to lesbian” = LOVE

    It’s strange to struggle with invisibility and sometimes difficult to feel like a walking teachable moment. It’s also certainly a form of privilege to be able to “pass” – and I try to remember that those times I opt out of outing myself or am too burnt out on teaching moments.

  10. I flash the lesbian membership card at least a couple times a week, usually by casually dropping the “wife” bomb within the first few moments of meeting someone. I want people to know who I am. I want my family accurately reflected in people’s minds. I want to represent our community. I want people in my suburban hometown to know they know a lesbian family. I want people to know who is in the room so they check their assumptions and keep their homophobic comments to themselves (so far they have). For me, in these ways, coming out (ad nauseam) is personal, political, and protective. It’s also kinda exhausting and it makes me hungry and grateful for spaces (virtual and real) like this one, where I don’t need to explain.

  11. Me too.
    I try to enjoy that little moment of surprise people go through while I watch them shift their worldview and then start telling me about how their sister, brother-in-law, cousin, uncle, or BFF is queer.
    But I get tired of it, frankly. I would love to find a bit more queer-dense community to visit from time to time. I forget how tiring it is to slog through a world that basically isn’t set up for us, until the weight is lifted in those queer-majority spaces.

  12. Hey, hetero mom ally here. I think a group that shares this experience in the same social situations are single parents. Now that I’m an eight-year veteran in this parenting business (and in Berkeley, CA — hey, Polly!) I am sensitive to assuming there is another parent (of any gender) back at home. I think it must be tiring, especially for parents whose relationships are in transition to “come out” with clarifications like, “She left her backpack at her other house,” or “No, it’s just the two of us.”

    I’ve been grocery shopping with my butch cousin and her kids while on vacation and felt a little thrill of getting the extra attention or questions from people who assumed me to be the other parent in her 2-mom family. Of course, since I’m not exhausted from all the coming out, I’m just intrigued by what it’s like to be my cousin’s wife!

    • Those outing-the-ally moments are fun from this side, too. I was out this summer in my Lesbian Family t-shirt, while my son took a rec dept tennis class with his buddy, and my daughter and the buddy’s little sister played on the nearby playground. The buddy’s mom is a great ally and good friend.

      When I called out, “Girls! It’s time for us to go get your brothers,” I watched a playground dad cheerfully reach the wrong conclusion about my friend and I and our daughters, then supportively comment, “Brothers, too? Wow, that’s a big family!”

      My friend was amused in much the same way I imagine you were, Whitney.

  13. My girlfriend and I were at the park with our kids the other day (biologically mine and my ex husband’s) and they were happily playing with a little girl our son’s age. She was with her grandmother who was happily chatting away with us about the kids and other things. Then, at one point she asked if we were sisters or friends and when we answered “no” she seemed a bit shocked. She wasn’t rude or anything, but it was clear she was doing some quick mental scrambling to wrap her head around the idea that she’d just been happily chatting with two lesbians instead of two straight girls. This was our first real “outing” as a two mom family, and luckily it went pretty well.

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