MamaBlogger365 – Mommy Queerest by Kimberly Dark

Butches, Bullies and Community

Little kids take reality as it comes. They know what they feel and something like appearance only becomes a problem when someone makes it one. Until they reach school and the socialization of the big media-world, it doesn’t matter if mom is pretty or if dad is tall or even if the genders match up. It matters that they feel loved and cared for.

I was privileged to attend the Butch Voices ( conference last weekend in Oakland, CA. This event, begun in 2009, celebrates and explores the lives of those who identify themselves as butch, masculine of center, aggressive, boi, dominant, trans – and a host of other terms I may not even know. Individuals seem to use whichever term they first found in a community that cared for them – that varies by time period, race, class, and education. Loads of things affect the language with which we’re most comfortable. One of the important things people at this conference seemed to offer one another was an understanding that the dominant culture can be brutal to those who don’t fit it. So they offered each other support and revelry – because being different is also really fantastic. Kindred outsiders have a lot of wisdom to share.

I am not part of this community – and yet I am. See, I am a femme dyke – a lesbian who lives within a reclaimed femininity that is queer, often amplified, refashioned consciously. I carry the history of femininity in a way that counters patriarchy and asserts my desire to extend human rights and privileges to the far reaches of our beautifully diverse expressions. Butch dykes are my family. I attended the conference as an ally.

Butch parenting was on the menu of conference offerings for sure. Jay Walls offered a discussion group titled “How is That Your Mom? Isn’t He a Boy?” And Michelle “Ceo” Skoor offered a session called “Butch and Pregnant.” That workshop aimed to build community around butch biological parents and their families. I love the word offered in the workshop description: “manternity”. What a gorgeous example of our abilities to shape language to suit our needs, to bring us pleasure and to ease the discomfort of discussing things like butch maternity wear and the various joyous and difficult stories of queer parenting from the butch perspective.

It’s true that gender non-conforming parents can be a freak-out for a kid. And also, a pretty minor one, compared to all the other freak-outs involved in growing up. See, unless someone’s picking on you about it, it’s really a totally forgettable detail. I don’t want to minimize harassment, but for most of us, we spend time with those who care for us and then work to minimize the trauma of the rest. We seek out community like that at Butch Voices, or we make parenting groups in the communities where we live. There’s nothing fancy about it, even though it’s really amazing when it works out that somewhere feels like home.

As with most things that make a kid feel different, it’s easier to get by when you have reliable places where you feel understood. Clarity helps. The bully doesn’t lash out because your mom looks like a boy, or she’s fat, or she has a hairy mole on her nose. The bully attacks because the bully’s in pain, confused, maybe misled. The kind of parents you get, as long as they’re doing their level loving best, are not the issue. The bully is the issue – whether the bully’s on the playground, in the staff room or on the school board or the senate. The bully’s the issue – not the non-conformer. That’s why we need to find kindred groups — and to help each other across issues that don’t affect us like a knife in the heart.

When my son was about 8-12 years old, we attended some family social events with a group of butch-femme families and singles. It’s interesting to come together with people who have little in common other than the external oppression their families endure. I don’t much attend these social groups anymore because they cast too wide a net – I find we don’t have enough in common and would rather hang out with artists or those with whom I share an avocation.

When my son was younger though, I thought, okay. Maybe this is worthwhile. He wasn’t into explaining his parental gayness to friends from school, so here was a group of kids and parents where that didn’t need to be explained.

Well, maybe a little explaining – but this time, he felt like the expert, not the weirdo.

As twenty of us sat around the campfire with the sun setting, a few played Frisbee; hot dogs were roasting and families dined from paper plates and coolers. I overheard one kid ask another where he’d gotten the soda. The boy he asked was about ten years old and he replied, “Oh, see that ice chest over there next to that guy? You can get one out of there.”

My son leaned in to offer a clarification. “Oh, that’s not a guy.” He said. Then he waved his arm around to indicate our whole group. “Actually, ALL of the adults here are women.”

The other two boys stared at him, incredulous, so he added with a sage expression, “No really. Trust me. I’ve seen a lot of this sort of thing.”

And slowly they looked around, probably putting it all into context with their own mothers and they nodded in understanding. Then they all had a soda and threaded their hot dogs onto metal hangers. My son pulled in close to me that night when a single butch with particular swagger sidled up to offer me a shot of tequila. I too was single at that point in our family life, and my son was keeping an eye on me, in his way. When we got back to the car that night, sandy, tired and smelling like campfire, he leaned in and imitated her affectatiously deep-voiced introduction of herself.

“The name’s Brute,” she had said with an outstretched hand. My son imitated, then laughed uproariously at the memory. I laughed too – not at her so much as at his imitation, at the fact that gender performance is really quite absurd. And at the end of the day, it isn’t actually very important to a kid. What’s more important is that someone loves you. Someone takes care of you.

Kids know that, until they’re told otherwise. That’s the trouble – so many people claiming otherwise. And so we just have to learn what’s important again. Life offers all kinds of opportunities to learn again – what’s important and how to make family, make community.

Bio: Kimberly Dark is a mother, professor and an award-winning writer and performer. She is the author of five solo performance scripts and her poetry and prose appear in a number of publications. Her favorite son is a junior at UC Berkeley and she’s grateful that traveling to perform allows her to spend time with him often. Learn more about her performances and publications at Sign up for Kimberly’s quarterly musings on many things.

Photo credit: mzacha|MorgueFile

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