Our genderqueer family has a lesbian Dad

Guest post by Sandra

My partner JB getting ready for work with Leo's help.
My partner JB getting ready for work with Leo’s help.

Since our son Leo was born, my partner JB has chosen to go by “Dad” rather than some variation of mother. I won’t go into too much detail about her gender identity or why “Mom” wasn’t an option because it’s more complex than this introductory paragraph allows — and it’s not my story to tell. Basically, it boils down to the fact that she feels more like a dad than a mom.

We considered adopting a completely different name, as so many genderqueer parents have, but none felt right. The popular “Baba” is what JB grew up calling her grandmother, and she would never be able to think of it as anything else. The rest similarly didn’t resonate — they were too feminine, felt like co-opting a culture that’s not ours, or sounded like dad anyway.

We’d begun thinking about what she would go by to our kids way before we had even conceived, but were never able to come to an answer that felt completely right. When our due date was right around the corner, we really began to feel the pressure. If we were completely honest, we had to admit that the only thing that sounded and felt right was “Dad.” In a perfect world she would be our child’s Dad and no one would bat an eye. But we don’t live in a vacuum, and we worried about how this would affect our child and how it would affect us. Still, our options were limited: we could choose something that we weren’t comfortable with or risk making other people uncomfortable. In the end, we jumped in and went with “Dad.”

We’re only a year into this parenting gig, but I’d venture to say that we are getting a taste of what’s it’s like to live as a perceived-to-be same sex couple who answer to “mom” and “dad.” From Leo’s perspective, there’s nothing to report on. JB as his Dad is all he’s ever known and he hasn’t encountered anyone who might make him feel ashamed or badly about the unconventionality of that moniker. Even if he had, he wouldn’t understand.

For JB and I, it fits like a glove. It rolls off the tongue and captures much of who she is to our family. Sometimes it feels funny to pair up female pronouns with “Dad” and “father,” and in those cases we use male pronouns. I do have some feelings around conforming to heteronormative roles, but for every way we conform there are at least two ways we challenge them.

As for our families, we were initially met with a little resistance. There were some reactions that it was too “weird” and concern for Leo as he grows up. After that first reaction we were pleasantly surprised when everyone jumped on board pretty seamlessly once Leo came along. There was an innocent stumble or two, but very quickly everyone was effortlessly saying things like, “Where did your Daddy go?” or “I bet your Daddy picked out that shirt!” to Leo. Sometimes the pronouns will trip up an otherwise smooth sentence, but it’s always momentary, and we assure whoever is speaking that however it comes out is fine by us.

Our experience with authority figures and/or professionals has been pretty limited, but of the few situations we’ve been in no one has batted an eye at JB as “Dad.” We’ve dealt with two pediatrician’s offices (and the front desk people, nurses, medical assistants, and doctors who work there) who have been great about it. The librarians at the libraries we frequent haven’t skipped a beat. Teachers of baby classes we’ve taken Leo to haven’t hesitated to use “Dad” for JB.

From time to time there is an assumption that JB goes by Mom, but we gently correct and move on. I can genuinely say that as long as people are coming from a respectful place and making an effort to understand our family’s constitution, we are hard to offend and we have yet to deal with someone bent on offending.

Who is left? New people we meet? Other parents? Friends? The answer is the same. We really haven’t encountered any negativity. I do realize that we live in a large city, in a progressive neighborhood. We are blessed with supportive families. We choose to surround ourselves with like-minded people. We are still just beginning our parenting journey. We are lucky. There are lots of factors that make our situation unique, but I do think it’s worth sharing that things have been working out so far.

I’m still feeling good about the decision to choose the name that suits JB best. I do realize that there is a long road ahead and the hardest part will be as Leo’s awareness meets society’s prejudice. We already had a bump at that crossroads, though, with the whole lesbian parents thing. I think we will figure out how to navigate any adversity that comes up and carve a path that works for our family. For now, Leo loves his Daddy, and that’s enough.

Comments on Our genderqueer family has a lesbian Dad

  1. This was a fantastic post! Also, that picture made me get a little lump in my throat. There’s just so much love between Leo and his daddy. 😀

  2. I’m sure you thought of this and it didn’t appeal to you, but if anyone finds themselves in a similar situation, having children call parents by their first names is an option!

  3. Great post! A family is a family is a family and the labels just don’t matter. I know Leo and his Mom and Dad will have some hurdles but it seems you’ve already cleared the most important one: becoming a family. Leo is a lucky child.

  4. Honestly, i think “mom and dad” will be easier on him in the llong run. the kids at school wont bat an eyelash when that all familiar phrase rolls off his tongue. He might have more playground issues or awkward questions with any other names. I think your choice is perfect.

  5. I’m a masculine-identified, biologically female genderqueer person (yeah, that’s a mouthful, but you know what I mean). My wife and I wondered what I’d go by if we ever had kids, and we came to the same conclusion. I could never be a mom, but I’d make a great dad. Our friends agree. Sometimes, an old label can fit in a new way. Best wishes to your whole family!

  6. Lovely post, Sandra. 🙂 I hope we get to read more, here.

    My partner and I are Mommy and Mama, respectfully, but I’m betting baby Cady will choose her own names for us as she grows.

    I’m also of the opinion that two incredible parents (or one! Or more!) could be called pooface and butthead, but would still be beautiful, loving parents. 🙂 A rose by any other name, and all that…

  7. This was lovely, thank you.

    Oddly enough, I didn’t decide on my own parent name until my daughter was about 6 months old, and it wasn’t nearly as big a decision.

  8. My mom came to visit me at the coffee shop I was working at one day. I turned to her “Dude, what do you want to drink?” She ordered and as I was making it I noticed my co-workers staring at me. So I asked them what was up “You called your MOM ‘Dude’!” I didn’t even notice I had and neither did she. I refer to her as my mom but my whole life she has been called different names Dude, Momma, Woman, Lady, Randi, Hobbob(grandkids ya’ know), Grandmom. It’s not the title but the meaning behind it that matter. I’m happy that she loves being a Dad.

  9. In our family (a triad), since Mom and Dad were already “taken”, we had initially planned for me to be Mutti (since we also had grand plans to raise the children bilingually, and that’s the German for mom.) but once our first actually *arrived*, it just … sounded wrong. So I ended up being “Poppy”, which is a blend of Papa and Mommy, which arrived along with a lot of jokes+truth about me being “more of a husband than a wife”. 7 years later, it’s worked pretty darn well, even though a few people assume that my mother named me after a flower.

  10. This article is so beautiful and speaks volumes of the love between parent and child.
    I am curious about how this information is relayed to child care providers. Example: I provide child care in a Unitarian Universalist Church and we have many children (non-verbal) who have 2 parents of the same gender. It is important to know; yet difficult to choose the words to ask what the parent “nick names” are. Any suggestions?

    • I’m also a childcare, worker, and I frequently ask (opposite gender) parents what their children refer to them as, so that I can also use that language with the child. I also sometimes ask for a list of people in the house (siblings, extended family, etc). As a gay woman, I would not be offended to be asked the same question. I think that if it is asked in good faith there should not be a problem 🙂

  11. I’m glad that you found something that works for you.
    My partner and I have decided to have our future kid (due this week!) call us by our first names, instead of using any sort of gendered terms since we try to use gender-neutral terms in other aspects of our lives (e.g., mail carrier vs. mailman). We have also developed names for relatives…GG Bob and GG Janet (for the grandparents), TT Kristin, TT John (for aunties, uncles, friends), etc. Not all family/friends are down with our choice and we’ll see how it plays out once the baby is here and can talk! But that’s the plan anyway….

  12. I love this, I love all of it. I’m more “onbeat” than “off” when it comes to lifestyle, but the consideration and meaning that go into decisions like this in a family like yours(decisions that are made without thought in a typical hetero relationship) make me all warm and fuzzy.

  13. Looooved this article. Made my heart all warm and fuzzy. I am curious to know about how things change, or don’t change, as Leo gets older! I have many trans/genderqueer friends who do not yet have families, so I love learning and sharing with them about what it could be like for them on the other side of parenting.

  14. As a Grade 1 teacher, I just have to say, make sure you explain family situation when your child enters school. Kids around the age of 5 – 7 are often very rigid around gender, and it may cause confusion for Leo’s classmates.

    This past year, we had a student at my school who was a little boy, but had these long curly locks (while his brother had a very short cut) and an ambiguous first name. Everyone, even his teacher, thought he was a girl (the office was busy and didn’t forward the kid’s paperwork). Anyways, within his first week, I had one of my students come to me and say “X says she’s a boy, but she’s a girl!” and then argue with me about the kid’s gender.

    I was so glad that X’s teacher had mentioned that X was in fact a boy, because it seemed to be an ongoing issue for him with other kids. I know I had to correct kids from other classes after they freaked out about him using the boy’s washroom.

    So anyways, I can just imagine how some of my kids last year would have reacted to hearing about a Daddy who is a woman. One kid in particular would have made a huge fuss. (I had to have a talk with the class after he decided to hide the Disney Princess books so that a couple of other boys couldn’t read them.).

    Anyways, as a teacher I know I would appreciate a heads up.

  15. My wife, who also ID’s as gq, and I just had our daughter in February. My wife has chosen to go by the Hebrew word for father- abba. I know it took her a long bit of the pregnancy to decide on a title, and now that our baby is here, it seems to really be a great fit- not that the baby can say it yet!

    Not only was my wife looking for something that felt more fitting to her gender than a variation of “mom”, but we also wondered how two mom-type names evolve as the child gets older. I’m from the south, and no matter what you called your mom as a kid (mama, mommy, mum, etc), it always morphed into Mom around puberty, so that you were no longer using “baby talk”. In our case, my wife’s gender identity helped us around that hurdle.

    Anyone using two variations of mom care to share their experience with this phenomenon?

  16. I just stumbled across this post, and would be very interested in a follow up now that your child is a little older.

    Although my parents went by the traditional titles, I did grow up calling my grandparents their first names. I didn’t even realize that was strange until highschool when someone that had not grown up with “Ted and Hazel” asked me about it. To be honest, no one knows where it started, it has just always been. My fiance calls his mother “Lady” and once again, it has always just been… interesting how little something like that matters to an outsider (may have something to do with the fact that even the most conservative of societies have been dealing with multiple grandmothers and grandfathers for…. ever)

  17. thanks for this…i am frustrated with language. we are married. i am wife, but i have no name for my partner, other than partner. it feels insufficient, and i am jealous of this ease with which het women get to say, “husband”. and now, with a child on the way, as we consider what we should be called….no clear names there either. it’s demoralizing. anyway, i’ll keep reading…hopefully come up with something that works. is anyone else demoralized by all of this being left out of language stuff?

    • I appreciate your feelings about this! I am an EMT (emergency medical tech), and usually two people who work together on the ambulance are called “partners.” It’s very confusing for my coworkers and fellow healthcare community when I refer to my (life/romantic) partner as pregnant. People have accused us of being selfish for using a “confusing” title for our relationship, or insist that we are “married” or “wives,” but this is unacceptable, frustrating, and invalidating.

      1, my partner IDs as genderqueer and uses they/them for pronouns. “Wife” is a gendered title to which they don’t relate. 2, we are registered, legal domestic partners. “Partner” is our official governmental title. 3, we are life partners, business partners (we started a small business together), romantic partners and best friends. Our partnership is deep, complex, filled with love and respect. I refuse to let people’s preconceieved biases sway our commitment to each other and language we use.

      Related to this post, my partner is pregnant(!!!), and is planning on being Mama. I am femme gq, and I plan on being Ema, Hebrew for mother. To my heteronormative friends, I joke that I’m Dad, as a tongue-on-cheek about the fact that I am the breadwinner and supporter of my family. In reality, I love being a femme gq Dad-Ema EMT who loves her gorgeous and pregnant partner, and though others question what we’re about, we will continue to fill each other, our bb, and our community with love and patience.

      Hope you and your partner find something that suits you!

  18. Thanks for the great post. My partner is Dada or Dad to our toddler son. I do wonder about how it will be once school starts but it really reflects the truth of our family. We tried Mum for my genderqueer partner for the first few months of our baby’s life but it really didn’t fit. Our son started calling my partner Dada and it’s just stuck and feels right.

  19. I just wanted to say that this post helped reassure me so much. My partner and I are planning a family and this has been a discussion that has come up regularly. Nothing feels more right to me than being called dad. Thank you so much for your post.

  20. This was a fantastic post, I found it while searching for alternative names for “dad” I myself am pre- op transmen, genderqueer, my wife on the other hand is very femme. We live a very “hetero” lifestyle, if there is such a thing. She is in her first trimester of pregnancy and I’m now thinking of titles, labels (which annoys me) but we’ve decided it’s a nessasary evil. I’ve taking on the attitude of defining what dad means. We just hope to be able to explain it In a way that a child understands it clearly and feels proudly about having a awesome but, different family. Good luck to everyone!

  21. Thank you! I’m so glad i randomly found this while browsing the internet. I’m getting married soon but had two previous children. My daughter being under two had started to call my love “dada” which is what she wanted. Mother just wouldn’t work! We go back and forth from male and female pronouns all the time. It is hard because my lesbian friends always consider themselves the other mom… so part of me felt alone. Thank you soo much for writing this!

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