Loyal Offbeat-ists might remember Aly and Elroi’s Atlanta wedding. Revisit it here!
When Ariel asked Elroi or me to write about our family for this blog, I was thrilled and full of ideas. Not only do I love Offbeat Mama, and consider myself to be one, but I’m also a non-practicing writer and figured this would be the perfect way for me to get back into writing more than quick emails and status updates. Even though Elroi is dissertating full-time, and I own my own business, and we have a 13-month-old who just learned how to run, I felt certain that I could carve out some time here or there to conjure up a little something.
For days, whenever my mind was free to wander, blog topics danced in my head. Sure, I could write a straight-forward piece about the disadvantages of being queer parents in the US. I could list all of the laws against us, or what it feels like to read that ‘”48% [of Americans] agree that “gay parenting undermines the family in our society;” [and] 45% agree that “because children raised by homosexual couples are taught that homosexuality is morally acceptable, they will have trouble learning right from wrong in other areas of life as well.”‘ (Shudder, clench teeth, sigh…) But we live in a major metropolitan area where the unrestrained hatred that other queer parents experience in smaller cities or towns is generally not socially accepted. While we are not allowed to marry here, and must spend thousands of dollars in lawyer and court fees to legally safeguard our little family instead, and yes, we have family members who’ve described our journey into parenthood as their “worst nightmare” merely because we are queer, and of course we’re angry that there are states in this country where adoption by LGBT people is either illegal or unattainable, we so far have lived a fairly sheltered queer family life.
So then I thought I should write about gender. Elroi is a sociologist, specializing in sexuality and gender, partly informed by E’s own genderqueer identity. (Which basically means that Elroi does not feel adequately described by the terms man or woman, and that I spend a lot of time negotiating around pronouns.) When asked to find an Easter dress at the store, 5-year-old Elroi returned with a camouflage outfit. Elroi’s mom acquiesced as long as a dress was worn to church, and E, though not a hunter, wore the camo everywhere else through 7th grade.
I also wanted to write about struggles with visibility—how my queer visibility has dwindled to nothing, and Elroi struggles to be visible to everyone else as Avie’s other parent.
While that’s a funny story to tell now, we want Avie to feel as unrestrained by gender as possible. We began by giving him a gender-neutral name and attempting to dress him in neutral colors and patterns (which has not been easy as we expected. Baby clothes are so frustratingly gendered). As he gets older, we validate and encourage his emotions, and intend to support him in whatever interests he develops, regardless of the gendered implications of those interests. (Except for football which is off the table because Mommy has a head injury phobia.) Our hope is that Avie remains as passionate and expressive as he is now. We know that he’ll be pressured to conform to the social construct of maleness (“Boys don’t cry,” etc) by the rest of the world but we hope that our loving acceptance of all the facets of his identity will help drown out some of those messages.
I also wanted to write about struggles with visibility—how my queer visibility has dwindled to nothing, and Elroi struggles to be visible to everyone else as Avie’s other parent. But also how, ironically, as invisible as we both often feel, we get stared at a lot. We’re never sure if it’s our tattoos, Elroi’s gender, that we’re queer, or if people are trying to figure out how a spritely 30-year-old such as I could have a son as old as Elroi, who is 35. Yes, Elroi has been read as my son before. Two or three times.
But then I realized that there’s so much more to us than laws, politics, social constructs and visibility. These things are incredibly boring compared to the wonder that is our child, and our family. Avie is our little sun, around which Elroi and I and our 4 dogs and 3 cats and 2 grandmas and multiple aunts and uncles (both the family of origin and chosen family kinds) revolve. Every day we cheer with him when he learns new things, and cuddle him when he faceplants, and laugh when he laughs when we sniff his piggies and pretend they’re stinky.
In many ways, we’re just like any other family, which is to say that we’re special and in love with each other and stressed out and hopeful and tired and just trying to do the best we can to raise a little person into an adult with qualities that we value. And perhaps this is where we are different from some other American families. The quality we hold above all others is compassion—for other people, animals, and the self. How that “undermines the family in society” or could cause Avie trouble “learning right from wrong,” I’m fresh out of ideas.