Sunday, June 01, 2008

Where Hope is Found -- Transgendered Fathering

From the start I knew I was in trouble. I understood that there lurked a Pandora’s box waiting within the pages of rad dad that would ultimately have to be opened releasing, as the myth states, chaos and confusion into the safe easy gender dichotomy that defined men as fathers and women as mothers. But to extend the metaphor, opening that box would also release hope, release the belief that in the end despite the difficulties of walking this parental path, we will make it out alive.

In issue one, I joked about feeling excluded from the mama club at parks and playgrounds. I wrote: Damn my cock! Although I know cocks don’t always make men and men don’t always have cocks, but that’s an essay for another time. But issue after issue, I skirted that essay, avoided it; however, in each consecutive zine, it kept rearing its pretty little head: someone wrote an article exploring the relationship sperm donors have to their biological children. I also considered how my vasectomy changed my perception of myself as being able to “father.” So now what kind of man was I? Does biology make the man or the father? Absolutely not. I know this, but how to write about it, how to explore it; and of course what does challenging gender do to how we define fatherhood; one dad pondered how, as a bisexual father, he should discuss sexuality with his growing pre teen child? But finally a friend flat out told me: I love rad dad but you gotta talk about queer issues, about how fathering is constructed there?

I could hear the box opening, all those questions wanting to get out. Now my friend had volunteered to help me with the cover, and I immediately asked her if I could talk with her abut being a new mama, but finding herself by default in the position as father. Out in public people constantly spoke to her partner, the birth mother, and completely ignored her as she stood right there, clearly the “other” parent. How much of a fathering moment is that? The assumptions people make that if you’re not Mama, you don’t know about your child, his or her routines, his or her diet. Even though she identified as a woman, since she was not the breast-feeding birth mama, she was invisible, she was negligible, she was -- father. We talked about how her experience is similarly replicated across the queer community as queer parents grappled with the public perceptions of their parental roles and, perhaps even more intense, their own perceptions of themselves as parent.

One afternoon a few weeks later, we met with another person who is a transgendered man, and specifically Papa to his near two-year-old daughter. Our conversation that afternoon was a reminder to me, O.G. Papi that I am, what it’s like to be around new parents, little babies, the glowing exuberance, the love, the concern, the hope. We all traded stories about each of us feeling excluded by the connections moms created with the baby. We all shared fears of inadequacy when our child wanted to be soothed by the mom in times of need and not us. We all discussed how we tried to challenge the gender sanctified responsibilities of dads by offering to watch the baby as often as we could allowing mom to stay connected to her life outside of parenting.

It was one of those afternoons that reminded me how amazing having children and, perhaps more importantly, having community to talk about children is. I learned how parenting is so disconnected from gender when it comes down to it. I saw instead how parenting is grounded in love and nurturing and dialog and commitment. I learned that queer couples’ parental intentions force them to contemplate the meaning of parenting so much more deliberately than parents who have a child by “accident.” I learned how gender is institutionally reinforced by making the non-birth parent have to legally adopt his or her child, which requires in home visitations and hella money. A “biological father” doesn’t have to do that. I learned about the word “gaybies.”

But as engaging an afternoon as it was, the reality is that gender happens. Socially and institutionally, gender is enforced, sometimes subtly and sometimes violently. And it will take more than an afternoon’s conversation to change things but it’s a start. And I’m hoping rad dad can also be a part of that conversation. We need to reflect on what we do as parents, on how we support other parents. Working on rad dad, forcing myself to confront issues around my identity, my politics, my parenting has been one of the most difficult tasks I have done. I have fought against it, resented things I discovered, my internalized sexism, my gender privilege; but it has also inspired me, allowed me to love more openly, more honestly. Despite the chaos and confusion analyzing gender might cause in ourselves and our families (and our zines), there is also hope: hope in asking tough questions, hope in challenging each other and our assumptions, hope in the struggle.

So tell me about your hope. Perhaps your hope is found in your community, in those around you. Perhaps it is embodied in the partner you’re committed to and the family you dream of making together. Or perhaps your hope is something else, something smaller, something more immediate, something you wake at three in the morning to rock back to sleep, something you sing songs to; the hope in those moments of love and caring is powerful.

Send in your stories of what it’s like to be a transgendered parent, a queer parent, a queer ally and a parent. This the beginning, the first baby steps on a much longer journey towards redefining fatherhood, parenting even, an attempt at understanding, at support, at ultimately creating communities between all of us parents, parent allies, mamas, papas and all those in between and outside of and a little bit a both.

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