Your Title Here

Posted: April 13, 2012 in Uncategorized

I read this post this morning, which (for me) sparked a new series of meditations on the intersection between feminism, parenting equality, queerness, normatization/passing and self-advocacy.  Go ahead and read it – I’ll wait.

Hi, welcome back!  Okay, now here’s what it spooled off in my mind, in no particular order:

- I half-jokingly stated to someone recently that since S has been hogging the baby since conception, I’m going to exclusively hold it for the next nine months or so.  It’s only fair.

- A friend of mine recently made a comment about work environments and dress codes and appearance and so on.  I’ve been feeling sort of conflicted, or maybe just complex, about my decision to work in an environment where I most likely won’t get the freedom to have a purple topknot again (or not for a long, long time).  Ultimately it came down to prioritizing providing materially for my kid over flamboyantly proclaiming my weirdness and queerness visibly at fifty paces.  But I feel a tug inside about that on a daily basis, because what else it means is that I pass, all the time.

- I hate.  HATE.  The fact that parental leave is lopsided in gender distribution and that there’s no expectation that both parents will take the same amount of time off to bond with their new sprout in this country.  And that’s not even touching the bummer that is how little baby-time is considered normal to take off for anyone, vagina-enabled or not.  At the same time, I recognize that the particular spot I am in is awash in privilege, because taking any time off at all is even an option.  Far too many people don’t get that luxury, and it breaks far too obviously along race and class lines.

- I’ve been telling S that as soon as she feels physically capable of being up and about in the wake of delivering yon kidlet, I want to encourage her to get out and into the world on her own some on a regular basis and leave me alone with them.  This is multifaceted – I want some baby alone time, I want her to feel able to reserve a connection to selfhood and personal identity that exists independently of motherhood, and since I’ll be having to return to work after only two weeks, it’s only glancingly approaching fair that I throw myself into assuming independent childcare time as much as I can in addition to the team effort I know we’ll be putting out.

- Why is this even hard?  Forced gender expectations cripple us all.

Rant: off.

The Face of the Future

Posted: December 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

I have espied the visage of my progeny!

We went for the Big Ultrasound today.  Due to a hypercompentent ultrasound technician and a very quiescent wiggler, it took half the time we were told to allow for the procedure.  I was wryly amused that the tech gamely tried to infer my last name from one of my partner’s last names; after being gently corrected, he paused a beat and then said “well, we’re really glad you’re here!”

The sprout-to-be has BONES.  So many bones!  I counted the statistically normal number of limbs and digits humans tend to come with, and got glimpses of the face, and we heard the heartbeat again.

DUDE.  I’m gonna be a dad.  This is so cool.

We went to see The Other F Word last week.  Going in I was extremely excited, because here was a movie which seemed on the face of it to be deeply about engaging fatherhood in the context of a highly non-mainstream life.  It was unsurprising but delightful to see that the common thread among all the punk-dads they featured was a deep respect for the job and a commitment to being a better parent than they had had.

What I did not expect was the degree to which many of those interviewed have settled into a middle-class, soporifically-comfortable consumerist existence.  I have always equated the punk ethos with DIY, with rejection of the dominant paradigm and a rage born of disgust with the world corporations have built.  So to see people touted as icons of what I thought was this mindset being comfortably asleep in the midst of their piles of gak was a bit of a surprise.  However, it’s worth remembering that the real common thread in the punk world was simple nihilism, rather than theory or action as with many of the movements born of it (such as riot grrl music with its intense, unapologetic, highly motivated feminism).  For every Jello Biafra, there were ten Fat Mikes.

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On Thanksgiving, I noticed that some fellow party-attendees brought with them a brand new human.  I tend to notice these things more often now that I’m expecting one of my own in a few short months, and we talked a bit about parenthood and new-babyness and all of that.  My questions tended to be pretty open-ended (“What’s that like for you?” and “How are the sleeping arrangements working out?” and so on).  Their answers told me much about their own experience and predilections, in that it tended toward giving advice, and exhortations not to be so worried.  I had not mentioned anything about my situation beyond that I was expecting a baby in May.  Granted, it’s likely a bad sign if an expecting parent is not worried about anything at all, but I think there was some projection happening there and that these folks were extra-stressed during their pregnancy.

There was a moment that I felt a bit ashamed of, though.  They asked me where my wife was, and I did not bother to correct them.  In the moment, it wasn’t precisely germane to the conversational topic that S and I are not married and do not intend to get married, and I did not want to make the conversation about that.  For the sake of social friction-reduction, I compromised and let that slide by.  But in hindsight, I wonder if situations like that are not in fact exactly the time to be having that conversation.  I suppose one reason I hesitated was that it was meant to be a fun, lighthearted time, and I tend to get pretty het up when making points about principle.  It’s a major weakness of mine that in the dogged pursuit of Rightness (in whatever sense that might be meaningful in a given situation) I can, in the moment, lose sight of the people involved.  This makes me less sweet and kind than I would like to be, and knowing this I will sometimes choose not to champion an idea just to avoid that dynamic.

My earliest memories of my parents are of vast, wise, immeasurably strong beings in whom perfect trust could be placed.  Since then I have come to realize that they almost certainly did not plant this idea in my head intentionally, so I am going to operate under the assumption that it’s just how babies default to seeing their parents.  In less than a year, there will be a being on the planet that relates to me this way, and that scares the CRAP out of me.  I’d like to be worthy of at least the tiniest sliver of that regard, though I know I will fall far short of its ideal.  To that end I’ve been thinking a lot about both the how of being a good example to my kid and the underlying whys – because I know full well that the barrage of whys is coming.

I’ve been an iconoclast since about five minutes after I began to assert my individuality.  I was encouraged from a very, very early age to lead the examined life.  One blowby of this is that I have never felt strongly drawn to traditions.  Too often, traditions come with the explanation that “we’ve always done it this way” and that has left me cold every time.  I’m all for doing something that has a good reason behind it; when no better reason can be proffered for a course of action than sheer inertia, I find myself suspecting mental laziness at work on an epic scale.  So I find myself today a person who tends more often than not (though certainly not always, ha-ha) to deeply understand his actions, the reasons behind them, and the expected/designed outcome – and also a person who feels wholly unconnected to any sense of cultural belonging.  Oops.  I have a toe in many, many different spheres, but I am of none of them.

I’d like to find a way to provide my kid with a sense of cultural background, and an understanding of and appreciation for their roots, while making sure they don’t fall into the trap of insular tribalism.  I want them to feel that their forebears represent a fascinating, special, unique part of the human story, which is exactly as (and not one iota more) deserving of honor and respect as all others.  How do we do that?  That subtle point of love-of-self-implying-namaste is something that can be easily lost in the din, so I suppose it will bear a lot of repetition.  What’s tough about it is that I don’t feel especially anchored in my traditions (and have found a lot to dislike in there…) so it is not a comfortable, well-known thing to me.  S and I have batted around questions about what we’ll do surrounding holidays, particularly in the winter months, when many homes tend to be decorated, songs tend to be sung, religious observances are observed… and it’s something we have never once done in the home we have made together.  I remember being a small child at a Unitarian Universalist church and being exposed to the comparative-religion thing very early on.  That was done quite respectfully and without a sense of cultural appropriation, which makes me think it’d be worth looking into again as the sprout sprouts.

Related to this but separate from it is the question of moral-ethical foundations.  I have never particularly liked “because I said so” as a primary justification for a course of action; the respect due another human being compels me to try to approach from a place of reason.  The problems here are twofold, though.  First, I’ll have an interval during which the rational-cognitive faculties of my progeny will be exceeded by the depth of the questioning, which will make me have to be overly simplistic in my explanations.  Second, and much scarier, is when that time is over.  Then, the mind behind the questioning will be sharp enough to place me in a position that I will need to have my logic and philosophy in its best working order – likely concurrent with my having been sleep deprived for several years (because that’s certainly good for mental acuity).  And, for all that I feel personally morally obligated to have a deep and defensible understanding of the strictures I place on my child, and more broadly, those placed on us all by society, I also must remember that when I don’t actually know something, I have to cop to that.

Ultimately, this is all in the service of wanting to help my child be a good person, and providing them with all the tools I possibly can to help make the world a better, more just place.  It seems the more important to aim high and try hard when and how I can when I consider how thoroughly I can fall down, and how with-it I am not on occasion.

I’ve pretty much always known I wanted a kid.  That’s been an abstract truth for my whole life, and unlike so many other things that shifted as my social consciousness evolved, it didn’t vanish with time.  However, there was a good long stretch from when I was in my late teens on during which I had between zero and negative baby-interest in a concrete way, with respect to real babies in the real world.  Other people’s babies were leaky, wiggly, stinky meatballs, and made for extreme awkwardness.  This happened many times:

Once a kid crossed over into a fully-sentient entity that observed and reacted to its environment, it started to be something I could relate to.  Sure, we might not hang out or have fascinating conversations, but this notional being would be at least as interactive as a small dog.  Until then, I just didn’t understand why someone thought I’d want to hold their doomspawn.

Moreover, I was increasingly concerned by an undeniable pattern I’d observed in people I knew once they had had children.  So many brilliant, dynamic, fun, seriously awesome people had kids and suddenly became Baby People.  Almost between one day and the next, they went from people who could talk to you about art, philosophy, social justice, technology, and so on, to people who would never stop showing you ninety identical pictures of their infant drooling on something or wiggling.  It was like they were pithed with a pacifier.  What’s more, they would tell you about baby things unbidden; asking how they were was asking about the baby.  The friends I’d known were in effect gone from the world.  This pattern terrified me, and I vowed I’d never be One Of Those.

Between the baby-indifference and the grave concerns about mounting dullness as a person, you might think that I was more than a little deluded about it being a good idea to be a parent.  Well, welcome to the wild world of human internal paradox.  But an interesting thing has happened really recently.  We’re 11 weeks in to the pregnancy as these things are reckoned (and how they are reckoned is a topic for another post) and somewhere in there, maybe 2-3 weeks ago, I started thinking other people’s babies were cute and fascinating.  It doesn’t take up all my awareness or anything, but neither am I faintly horrified upon being handed a child to hold, and it’s actually a pleasurable thing.  S and I were talking about this yesterday, and she raised the interesting point that she’d had plenty of baby-exposure in her younger life, and thus it was a familiar thing to her.  Thinking about that I realized I lacked that background, and new humans were simply beyond my ken as well as my interest.

I still want to remain well-rounded as a human being and be able to hold conversations with my peers that are not related to babydom unless they ask me first.  Given how the Kinderschreck left me abruptly, I may find myself eating those words as well, but I think this phenomenon is less a question of loss of an irrational aversion and more a determination to relate to others in a particular way.  We shall see…

Today S and I went to the clinic for chorionic villus sampling, which is a placental tissue sampling technique that allows early detection of chromosomal defects in the developing sproutling.  In preparation for this there were yet more sonograms.  We now have a 38.1mm fetus, which is about the size of a fig.  (It is a strange fact that throughout the prebirth developmental stages of a protohuman its size is given with a comparison to fruit.  I believe this to be a sleeper plot by Jonathan Swift.)  Our Fetal Overlord showed off a fair amount during the sonogram, flailing about and even kind of jumping, clearly in practice for the dynamic jailbreak ahead.

 

When the doctor came in to perform the procedure, he began by calling S “Mrs. <redacted>” which made me twitch a bit, but we did not correct him; the goal was to reduce the total tension in the room rather than increase it.  After the doctor did his own orientational sonogram, he determined he’d get the sample through the abdomen.  Hence, a twelve-foot-long hypodermic javelin was inserted through S’s belly, through her uterus and into the placenta, after which he wiggled it around a little to get the tissue.

 

I really, really don’t like needles.

 

Everything looked promising in terms of the developmental progress of Funkmaster Fetus, and the doctor and nurses all felt that there was nothing to worry about.  I’m still really hoping that two weeks from now we’ll see a perfectly boring chromosome readout, though.

Are you there, Internet? It’s me, Nate.

I find myself returning to the blergosphere as an expectant father. Looking around online, it is probably not terribly surprising that the overwhelming majority of voices speaking on this subject are (and are addressing) heterosexual couples. However, that’s not the whole story. As a queer man with a partner who is a queer woman, I find that as helpful as much of the prevalent online information and community-building is, there are gaps through which a lot of our experience falls. I want to shore those gaps up, both for my own purely selfish reasons and because I think there are others like me, even if only a handful, for whom seeing this will be useful and interesting.

Moving onward:

My partner (S) and I identify as queer. We both used to use the term “bisexual” and have since abandoned it. I grappled with that for a while, and finally dumped the term because it reinforces gender binarism in a way I don’t like, and which does not accurately reflect my physical, mental or emotional attractions to others. But do a search on queer parenting, and you’ll almost exclusively find gay and lesbian couples adopting, conceiving with artificial insemination, and other permutations of same. Our situation is different, in that my partner is biologically female and I am biologically male. Genderwise, she and I are closer to the same somewhere-in-between gender than the traditional butch/femme dyad represented by the popular conception of an XX/XY couple. Still, at first blush it would be all too easy for us to disappear in the background noise of heteronormativity in the world of parenthood unless we speak up, and so that is exactly what we are doing. We are here, we are queer, and we are going to be parents. We aren’t married, and we aren’t getting married. But we will be doing our utmost to provide a safe, stable, loving home for our child. With luck, they’ll be as committed to building a better world as S and I are.