If anyone assumes that I am straight, I correct them, but I revel in many other addresses that I don’t notice that I resemble until somebody else says them aloud. I love being”mam”-ed or “sir”-ed before a restaurant host hears my high-pitched voice or sees me head to the men’s room. I adore being shown to a bathroom door with nervous trepidation on the part of my guide. I dance on the inside whenever I get called – most correctly – “dyke,” “fag,” “trans,” “queer,” or “homo.” I can handle being called “bi.” I will accept any gay-ish title, because I have reflected and identified with many queer titles at one time or another, and they’re all awesome. Are you calling me gay? I’m down.
Even when it makes my past as a pregnant person invisible, I can’t help but be delighted when my queer-as-shit appearance overshadows my identity as a parent. Even when I am holding my baby, I suspect I often just look like a dirty, lesbionic manny, nanny, uncle or auntie, which I have loved being many times in the past and will never turn down. I look so frigging gay, that the surest way for me to code as any kind of parent is to hold hands with a femme – because two lesbian parents makes much more visual sense to everyone than some disheveled man child having birthed a tot with a bio-guy life partner. Me turkey-baster-ing a femme is clearer than me marrying a dude with a bio-penis.
One day, when the baby, Partner, another faggy friend and I were out looking for some sausage (heh heh) for lunch, I ducked around the corner of a different food cart in the mall area. As I was out of sight of the sausage server, he rightfully, wonderfully assumed that Partner and Faggy Friend were gay parenting together. It was awesome. Sausage Server beamed and beamed at them and the baby all throughout the meal. Not only was it really nice to have queerness assumed of a family unit, but who doesn’t want to be smiled at for thirty minutes in a row while stuffing one’s face with bratwurst and mustard?
As soon as I realized that our combo of three adults and one baby put me in the role of lesbian friend meeting the gay dads for lunch, I embraced it and better understood the happiness of every grinning liberal on our sunny walk home. I also do not look like a parent if I am together with a gay male friend and a gay female friend – then they get questioning, maybe-they’re-straight looks, and I am still the lesbian friend. If I am with a straight couple, they look like the parents and, again, I am the lesbian friend. If there is a femme anywhere in the area, I am definitely not the first choice of strangers who are looking to make eye contact with the parent of the baby stealing their french fries.
When I am by myself in the pizza store picking up dinner and I wave at somebody else’s kid, and I want to re-assure them that I’m just friendly and not totally creepy, I still announce my nanny status rather than my parental status, because a lesbian nanny is still more believable than a barely twelve-year-old boy who has given birth.
The closest I come to looking like a parent while walking with my partner (instead of holding hands with a femme) is when we are all decked our in rainbows and one could suspect that he, the flaming faggot, turkey-baster-ed me, the dorky dyke. Or maybe if we had hats on and nobody could see our hair, and if I was wearing men’s jeans that were so dirty that they hugged my hips, and if I was too warm to wear my butch winter vest, and if I had put on too much cherry Chapstick that made my lips pink, and if Partner wasn’t wearing his rainbow messenger bag …. then maybe, just maybe, we could look like a nerdy male programmer and crunchy female mom who belong together carnally, genetically.
On the other hand, nobody seems remotely confused by the gender of our toddler. Because his body is so ambiguous under a bulky diaper, fashion is the only clue that guides people’s decisions about his gender, and they decide very, very quickly. A stranger can decide which gender my baby is within the three seconds it takes them to sing, “Well, helloooooo!” Reactions to my toddler’s clothing are helping me clarify gendered fashion rules that I could have guessed, but wasn’t completely sure of in terms of ratios of certainty. Folks absolutely commit to the gender of the baby they are greeting.
If you want your child to look like a boy, you can’t just dress it up in any old blue and assume you are coding for a child with a penis. If you are dead set on signaling “boy,” only some shades of blue, in some cuts of shirts, with certain patterns code as “boy.” If the blue is too teal = girl. If the blue shirt has any ruffles, ruching, bows or is snug-fitting = girl. If the pattern has flowers, hearts, anything sweet, or even just stars, which I could have sworn were gender neutral = girl. If you dress your child in knit cotton jersey that reflects Valentines Day, Easter, spring, or any animal that is not incorrectly known for biting people = girl.
If you dress your child in a navy blue hat, a navy blue tee-shirt with a football on it, and navy blue pants with a dinosaur on the butt = boy. The same outfit with a pair of pink flip flops or pink mitten clips = girl. The tiniest sliver of pink may lead everyone to believe that your child is a girl, which is just fine by me. Not only do I enjoy when people speak sweetly to my son because he is dressed head to toe in pink (which is often), but I relish the chance to announce, “He’s not insulted by girls,” when they apologize for using “she.” Until he makes his own mind known on the topic of his favorite colors and verbalizes them to strangers, I am just going to go ahead and dress him in anything adorable that goes with the weather and was on clearance when I walked through the Goodwill.
I am so uncomfortable when my neighbors, relatives or acquaintances who know that I am married to a man assume that I am straight, that when somebody assumes that I am a queer non-parent of a girl-child who wears purple sneakers with green pants and a yellow sweater, I am so damned relieved that I could pee. I don’t mind opening my mouth to talk about how I exist and identify in the world, or to help people relax about which outfit my offspring is wearing, but it is also pretty great to observe the wild range of reactions to the visual appearance of my family. As long as you look at me and do not, under any circumstances operate under the assumption that, “Huh, this person is going to love it when I say something closed-minded and douche-baggy,” we’re cool. As long as you assume that I am friendly and crazy, we’re fine.