Mother’s day takes on a particular meaning for a two mom family, not just because it is entirely unclear who will be delivering the well-appointed breakfast tray I have seen in so many commercials, but also because well-meaning strangers go the extra mile to tell us on this day how wonderful our family structure is. Specifically, I keep hearing that my daughter is lucky to have two moms.
Nothing could have entirely prepared me for all of the outlandish or offensive or ridiculous things that people would say to me upon finding out that my daughter has two moms. I could not have imagined the amount of personal information strangers would feel entitled to about how we conceived (a good old fashioned pansexual orgie, if you must know) or how frequently I would hear the phrase “real mom” (like I said, orgie, so who knows who the “real anyone” is). There is some great writing about this here and here. But I don’t just want to talk about the invasive questions or homophobic comments, I also want to talk about the compliments, and why those are troubling as well.
I will admit that, at first, I was charmed by the notion that our daughter was lucky. When we were expecting, a straight coworker told me a story about her daughter, who, upon finding out that her cousin had two moms, was so jealous she was inconsolable. She insisted it just wasn’t fair and having a dad did nothing to console her. I loved this story, I retold this story ad nauseum. This story made me feel right, in that way that all too often settles with embedded implication that someone else is wrong. It wasn’t until later that I stepped back to think about what this story, and the compliments I was receiving, insinuated about other kinds of family structures. It was a welcome change from invasive questioning, and so it was all too easy to relax into the privilege I did have. A privilege that was afforded to me by various overlapping dominant cultural scripts, including those that tell us that two parent households are superior, that women are “natural” mothers, and that mothers are the ideal caretakers for children. Therefore having double mamas could only mean extra healthy attachment and nurturing goodness, right? How nice it was to be acknowledged in this homonormative blanket of gender-essentializing acceptance. The more I heard variations on this tale, the more it started to bother me… here’s why:
1. You Don’t Know Me
When straight strangers tell me how great it is that my family exists, I know it often comes from a good place, still I have an urge to tell them that I am actually hooked on heroine and that my wife has a gambling problem, chain smokes cigars in the nursery, and disappears for unexplained stretches of time. Because the truth is, these people have no idea whether us becoming parents was a good decision or not. These compliments can feel like an overcompensation that serves to mask the fact that many people are still profoundly uncomfortable meeting a family like ours. I spend a lot of time patiently educating folks about our circumstances in ways that often make me feel completely uncomfortable, vulnerable, and awkward. I try to remain understanding since many people are earnestly confronting these kinds of family models for the first time. But this emotional labor is taxing, and sometimes I worry that after all my hard work, all I will be is the unrelated anecdote they can tell the next same-sex family they meet, as they begin to ask them the same list of invasive questions—but now they have “gay mama friends.” I know people gather these stories from somewhere, as I am constantly told about everyone’s former co-worker, dental assistant, or second cousin who is also some kind of queer parent. I do want to clarify that anyone who wants to tell me my daughter is lucky to have us, in our particular glory, as parents is more than welcome, that never gets old.
Though anyone who wants to tell me my daughter is lucky to have us, in our particular glory, as parents is more than welcome, that never gets old.
2. Women are not “born” mothers (or anything else).
The prevalent fiction that all women are somehow the same positions motherhood as the ultimate fulfillment of an innate feminine nature. When women choose not to become parents, they are constantly asked why, as people poke and prod them to admit their inevitable regret. Somehow, for women, not breeding is considered an extreme choice. Somehow, becoming completely responsible for another human, or multiple humans, 24/7 for 18+ years, is supposed to be an obvious happy default for anyone assigned female at birth. The lack of generalizability in the “female experience” is further evidenced by the growing number of queer parents who are not moms.
3. I bet you haven’t congratulated the comparable luck of a single parent, or gay dads, recently.
I have had multiple people confide in me that they think lesbian moms are great but that they “don’t understand” how two men could parent. Why? I always ask, but I know what they are getting at, before they inevitably stage whisper: “who would be the mom?” When I started making this connection, I realized that by politely receiving the compliments I was accepting a set of assumptions about gender that I tried to vehemently reject elsewhere. These statements also hit a personal chord, having been raised for a good portion of my early childhood by a single father. I learned first hand what society thought about a child without a mom. Remembering back on all of the pain that was caused not by the fact of having a parent that was less present, but by all of the ways I was made to feel inadequate and unfortunate, because the parent I did have was male. Having one invested, loving, consistent caretaker, regardless of biology, age or gender, is wonderful. More is not necessarily merrier.
I bet you haven’t congratulated the comparable luck of a single parent, or gay dads, recently
4. Why are “moms” most qualified to raise a girl?
So this isn’t explicitly tied to the luck of two moms, but at this point it’s been reaffirmed in parallel so often, it’s hard to divorce the two. When people say that my daughter is lucky, I suspect they’re less likely to say this about lesbian moms with sons. Not only have I heard from other queer mamas a whole set of ignorant statements people make about the problems they foresee with two women raising a son, but I have had enough people remark that we must have been so happy to have a daughter, that their underlying assumptions have become crystal clear. They assume that we wouldn’t know what to do with a son. That a son would inevitably be born with a gaping hole called “daddy” and simply refuse to model any behavior he saw performed by womenfolk. Maybe they are worried that we would not understand that some penisis are attached and, inconveniently, can not simply be removed for cleanings.The truth is that the bylaws of our man-hating lesbian separatist community would make it impossible for us to raise a boy child to become anything but an age-appropriate ritual sacrifice to an angry goddess. They have us there.
The feminist killjoy in me must remember that sometimes the joy I need to kill is my own.
So, Thanks but No Thanks
As two white able-bodied cis femmes in our 30’s, we experience various forms of privilege that allow many people to easily see us as fitting a mom box. I don’t mean to dismiss the real difficulties that come with being a same-sex couple, I just want to remain aware that our queer card does not trump all other issues. Whenever I am actually confronted with one of these compliments, I have to resist a voice that says that as bisexual woman I should always “just take the compliment.” To choose otherwise is to run the risk of revealing myself to be an angry lesbian, undoing all of the assimilationist goodness that, like it or not, I am indebted to. On many occasions I will take the compliment with a slight mumble or joking shrug because the alternative labor of educating may be impossible in a given moment. One thing that intersectional feminism continues to teach me is that at the very least I can resist internalizing compliments that serve hierarchical structures of oppression, no matter what the primary intentions of my enthusiasts are. But inside, at least, I can swallow it with caveats. The feminist killjoy in me must remember that sometimes the joy I need to kill is my own.
This piece previously appeared in MUTHA Magazine: Exploring real-life motherhood, from every angle, at every stage.
More articles up at MUTHA: