MamaBlogger365 – Mommy Queerest by Kimberly Dark

More Than Marriage

They all met up for dinner – parents and teenage son, along with two of the son’s friends. Nothing unusual about the parents buying dinner, passing off a little advice and extra cash before the kids went to the dance. Nothing unusual except that there was no eye rolling from the boys, no slouched texting as the adults talked, no fidgety ready-to-go behavior. They seemed to me — new friend of the family — as polite and jovial as Beaver Cleaver’s family. Really good to each other, kind and interested in each other’s comments. Yes, that’s what set them apart from many modern families.

Oh, and the parents were two women.

And the boys were on their way to a h Genderfuck YoutBall at a queer festival the family was attending.

And of course, one mom was dressed as a cat. And Dad, who would pick the kids up later, was also part of the family homestead. He’s not gay, but upon reflection on the question about being gay, he offered. “No, but I’d really like to be a unicorn.” And you know, I could see that in his dreamy, yet concerned and loving face. Yes, a unicorn’s identity would suit him. I doubt he’d mind being called “queer,” though not gay.

That’s really all that was different about their family dinner.

I had just met the two women after my Feast Festival performance of Dykeotomy last month in Adelaide. They liked the show and as we chatted, we realized we had a few things in common in the way we handled queer child-raising. They have two kids and I have one, and we all felt that family works pretty well – not perfectly – as long as everyone’s open, honest and vibrantly being themselves. It’s all good as long as the adults are willing to focus on the kids, in addition to taking care of themselves. That’s really what’s wanted in parenting, isn’t it? A focus on the well-being and earnest enrichment of the children – not the parent’s egos or expectations or gender roles or fears or jobs or desperation. And wow, that ability to focus doesn’t have anything to do with sexual orientation – or for that matter, with marriage.

As it turns out, I married my son’s father. We were both queer when we met, and life is bigger than just those definitions. We became friends, had some sex, fell in love. And we made a commitment we both still hold dearly. We intend to be family with our son and with each other until the end of this life. We’ve brought other people into our family at different times and that’s had the ups and downs of life, but I think we all stayed reasonably focused on our son’s well-being. I’m single at the moment and my son’s father lived with his partner of thirteen years. Our son is grown and lives on his own. Things change. That’s life, and experience has shown me that not holding definitions too tightly brings more peace, more happiness.

Queers and straights alike have often said, “Oh, so if you’re both gay, he was the sperm donor, right?” Well no; it was a little more, er, organic than that. It’s tough to allow others – and ourselves – non-role-conforming behavior. It’s tempting to set up a template in the mind about how things are done and then never disturb it. That’s why it’s so difficult for gay marriage to become legal, after all. And we’re all at it – including only what will fit in our narrow mental frames. The rigidity of definitions and roles is rampant in the current debate over gay marriage. Who has the right attributes to be let into the club? What’s the definition of marriage? What if we loosen it too much and people start doing really different things? Well, what if they do? Really. What?

I think it’s reasonable to look at social research that shows kids do better on a number of indicators when they live in stable two parent households. Of course, there is no evidence in the research that the gender of the parents matters (see Jennifer Moos’ recent article for further views). And then, we need to question why single parent households produce poorer results, since marriage itself is no talisman against disaster. The issues at play include time, finances and stigma, to name a few. And sadly, we can’t even reasonably comment on social trends in households like mine, and my new friends in Adelaide. There is no formal tracking of households that operate outside of the one- or two-parent models. We rarely touch the beautiful and ingenious diversity that exists in American family life. Only through stories can we get at some of the wisdom that doesn’t fit the boxes on the forms.

I worry that queer folks – in their zeal to get the same rights as straights – are selling out the brilliant diversity that has always marked queer parenting. Yes, always. Remember the aunt and her female partner who “adopted” the child her sister could’t care for or didn’t want? What of the male-bodied, female-gendered “wife” of the widowed man with kids he couldn’t handle on his own? How about the single woman who wants to parent, has the support of friends and realizes that actually, she doesn’t need artificial insemination. Sperm is free at any bar.

People are innovative in how they make families. Gay and straight – cis and transgendered, single and partnered. Let’s refocus on how social systems can enable REAL supports for kids by making sure adults have adequate job leave time, fair wages, healthcare, housing and vibrant education systems. Let’s focus on how we listen to each other and care for each other and remain significant in one another’s lives through inevitable changes.

As they finished dinner, one of the moms reached into her purse and pulled out an elastic headband. She said to their son, “Oh, here, sweetie. I brought you a headband to hold back your dreads when you dance.” He accepted it with a grateful nod.

She looked up at the other boys and added, “And I have three colors of eyeliner here too. Do any of you boys want eyeliner?” They shrugged a bit and looked at each other considering the possibility. She waved the pencils around enthusiastically, and when they declined, she put them back in her purse. The other mom pulled out some cash, which the son did accept and the two women looked at the kids lovingly and said, “Well, have fun! Call your Dad when you’re done. We won’t be back until late.” At that, the boys stood to leave and one said, “Thanks for dinner.” The others remembered their manners and added “Yeah, thanks.” And off they went to dance and chat, to gawk at the outfits and maybe flirt or make out in the shadows in the time-honored tradition of youth everywhere.

They were all respectful and loving and kind. And I felt hope for humanity, moving into the New Year. Revel in your complexity and brilliance and ability to bloom where planted. Married or not, queer or not, make good families, good communities and good love. Here’s to a great 2012!

Kimberly Dark is a mother, professor and an award-winning writer and performer. Her favorite son is a senior at UC Berkeley and she’s grateful that traveling to perform allows her to spend time with him often.

Photo credit: Wedding Rings by Petr Kratochvil

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