Parenting outside the gender binary

Guest post by Aly Windsor

Loyal Offbeat-ists might remember Aly and Elroi’s Atlanta wedding. Revisit it here!

The fam! Photo by the ever-fabulous Our Labor of Love
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.

Photo by Our Labor of Love

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.

Photo by Our Labor of Love
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.

Photo by Our Labor of Love

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.

Comments on Parenting outside the gender binary

  1. Hi Aly. This is a wonderful piece and y’all look so happy. My partner and I are starting down the path of starting a family and it’s so inspiring to read about other queer experiences in parenting. A side note, I think we have a mutual friend, Maxine…I recognize your name from facebook when we’ve both commented on one of her posts. Small world.

  2. The whole gender issue you brought up is awesome. I study gender and gendering and I want to make sure that when I have kids they are free to be people, however that works for them. It will need to be negotiated with my partner still, but I was lucky to grow up female which meant way more options: I could play with trucks and wear overalls, or I could play with costume makeup and my Barbies. I want my kids to have the same freedom to just be.

  3. Just ignore others thoughts on gay parenting. I was raised by a lesbian mother and I wouldn’t change it for the world, and often think sometimes I’m better than my hetro-raised counterparts. She wasn’t as concerned about gender (partially because I was girlie girl from the get go), but I was raised to have no fear in regards to what I want to do or WHO I wanted to be. I loved that everything was accepted and embraced that I wanted to try. I never felt like I was in a box that I think some hetro-raised children felt because she left the box, I could as well. I think being raised in a gay household (while we were in an acccepting area) made me strong and value diversity more. It gave me all kinds of wonderful memories to a point that even though I’m hetro (a choice I was free to make), I want to make sure my children grow up learning from the gay world as I did because it offers so much. And trouble learning right from wrong is just ignorance talking. Sometimes I think I have a tighter moral compass than some of hetro-raised peers. Love makes the family and that’s the most important.

  4. Funny, I always thought that because children raised by homosexual couples are taught that homosexuality is morally acceptable, they will have an EASIER time learning right from wrong in other areas of life as well.

  5. Poor Avie! He won’t be allowed to play football because Mommy has a head injury phobia? But then American football is the most masculine TEAM sport a boy or girl can participate in. I recently spent twenty minutes at the sports specialty store having my ten year old son have his football helmet perfectly fitted and a head injury is the least of my concerns. It is utterly amazing to watch these little boys at practice growing individually as a player and part of a team. If they could transfer 1/100th of their intensity, focus and enthusiasm for football to academics they would all be Rhode Scholars.

    You son is in greater danger of a head injury riding in your motor vehicle, playing soccer or hop-scotch than he is playing football. You may even encourage him to play a really dangerous sport such as cheerleading which statistically has more injuries than football.

    You indicated you want Avie to feel free to choose and pursue his own interests. If he wants to play football, support his decision and allow him to take a risk because sometimes being a boy is about taking risks. If he wants to be a cheerleader, support his decision and allow him to follow his dreams.

    I would guess in his environment, your “gender-neutral” deck is stacked against him with the default being feminine so I doubt he will have any future interest in football. Football may be a moot issue.

    PS You have a wonderful family and sincerely wish you the best. Avie is a lucky boy to have two loving parents who love and care about him. If only all children could be so blessed.

    • Wow- your comment was strangely combative for someone who thinks we’re such great parents.

      Read this article for info on why helmets aren’t enough to protect the brain from injury in football:

      That aside, the anti-football comment was a joke. Sure I don’t want him to play football just like I don’t want him to be a political conservative but I have as much power over those outcomes as I do over whether or not he likes a certain food or is up all night teething. And anyway, this kid throws himself around like he’s already in full-contact sports so while I do cringe when I ear the tell-tale crack of head on floor, it’s not like I have him in helmets or we’re running off to the ER every time he swan dives off the couch.

      I’m not sure what you mean about our gender-neutral deck being stacked as feminine. I may be happily femme but my parter has very masculine interests and style. E is hopeful that Avie is into heavy metal, soccer, and muscle cars. I’m in favor of him being into animals, writing, and general outdoorsiness. Good thing all of those interests can co-exist in one kid–or he could reject them all and come up with his own bundle of interests.

      Like I mentioned, compassion is the #1 thing that we want him to learn and practice. As long as that remains his guiding principle, I won’t truly worry about much else.

    • FeministJerk said,

      “sometimes being a boy is about taking risks”

      This is exactly the kind of gendering and upholding gender-stereotyped expectations that we’re trying to avoid.

      Why do you have to hate on us:
      “I would guess in his environment, your “gender-neutral” deck is stacked against him with the default being feminine so I doubt he will have any future interest in football.”

      Equating gender-neutral with feminine is inaccurate. And if that’s what you assume Avie’s environment is about based on Aly’s story, then you missed the point, or drew your own conclusions based on false, inaccurate assumptions about queer parenting.

  6. I’m so happy I found this blog! I was searching for resources on queer parenting & this piece popped up. Seeing as it was written in July, I’m a little late to the game though. I’m not a parent yet, but my partner & I have been considering our options for quite a while now. We’re both queer – I ID as femme and my partner IDs as genderqueer. Some days we’re read as a straight couple and sometimes we’re seen as lesbians. I joke that on any given day I don’t know if I’m straight or gay! We so badly want to start a family, but we’re honestly hesitant to raise a child with all the obstacles we’re faced with. We live in a large predominantly liberal southern city, but the surrounding areas are extremely conservative. We’ve gone back & forth on having a child not because we don’t want to, but because we’re unsure of whether or not it would be fair to a child. Your blog’s really touched me. You seem like such a loving family that makes things work despite some unsupportive family and some rude stares. Although they really are probably staring at the gorgeous & happy family! 🙂 In a way, I feel a little less alone in my desire for family. So, thank you! I was wondering though if you have any resources you could share that specifically have to do with family planning and parenting for queer parents? I’m surprised at how few resources I’m finding.

    • Thanks for the comment, Anon! We’re also in a large, southern, predominantly liberal city: Atlanta. As for other queer parenting resources, the two that I’ve leaned on the most over the last few years are the Mothering queer parenting forum located here: and the IVP (internet vagina posse) network of blogs which you can find here: Most of these blogs are written by lesbian-identified women but I’ve found some femmes and genderqueers here and there.

      I personally feel like kids of queer parents are usually extra-lucky because they’re not only *always* wanted, but they’re also struggled for. I can’t wait to tell my son all that we went through to bring him into this world and how worth it it all was. 🙂

      • Thank you, thank you!! I think those websites will be an incredible help! 🙂 We’re also in Atlanta. Well, just outside of it in Decatur. And you’re so right about kids of queer parents always being wanted & struggled for. I know the road ahead will not be easy, but I’m positive that it will be worth it too. I wish you & your beautiful family the best! 🙂

  7. i remember reading about elroi and aly’s wedding back on off-beat bride. it’s great to see how their family has grown — wife and i find ourselves very similar to their family. currently trying to conceive, living outside the gender binary…i’ve even been referred to as my wife’s ‘son’ before as well.

  8. I was in tears by the end of this…i am a hetrosexual woman in a relationship with a great man…not the father of my 5 kiddos their father is a straightlaced no nosense Marine turned cop…my partner and i struggle everyday to teach the kids to be who they r and embrace everyone around them for the person they r! if only everyone worked to raise their little kidlets to be adults that lived life with compassion, a true sense of self and a sense of humor how wonderful would our world be!

  9. Thank you for this fantastic article. Both me and my husband have little interest in traditionally masculine thing and so we hope that our household will foster a more gender neutral environment for our son (coming this Autumn). I think that girls are often given more of a chance to pursue their interests regardless of gender than boys in society and so I am hoping that we will be able to offer a home to our son that supports his interests regardless of gender stereotypes. I don’t mind at all what he is interested in as long as he has kindness, compassion and thoughtfulness for others I would be happy as a parent. Thank you for this article as I have been thinking a lot about gender issues since finding out I was pregnant 🙂 Congratulations on a beautiful family.

  10. This is the absolute most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. Me and my girlfriend are going through a tough time with not knowing if we should stay together or not because her mom refuses for us to be together. I don’t want to see her sad anymore but I’m 100% inlove with this girl .. She is going to be the mother of my children. You and your family has inspired me to not give up because we aren’t “normal” thank you for inspiring me to keep it up. Love your family !!!

  11. i’m here from genderfork and i really loved this post! you two sound like such great parents. i’m glad you are doing this for your child. it’s inspiring!

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