20 Questions About Lesbian Fatherhood
By Polly Pagenhart on March 22, 2010
BlogHer Original Post
Partly in service to the students in the class I spoke to the other day whose online questions I didn't have time enough to answer in person, and partly in service to the random assortment of you readers who may have asked such questions at one point or another, if goaded to by a class requirement, I offer up the following smattering of Qs and their As. To make matters reasonable, I am going to pull off the feat of keeping all the answers to Twitter-length, otherwise known as 140 characters or fewer. For those of you who are not Twitter denizens (Twenizens?), you will see, over and over again, both its strength and its weakness. Brevity: the soul of wit, but also of vast oversimplification.
When kept to this constraint, we can see that sometimes a pithy reply is best. Many Twitterers (-erers), however, myself included, are compelled to post strings of related tweets when one won't do. Do let me know if you think a thought/conversation ought to be strung out a bit more, and we can carry on in comments or in another post.
For context, students were assigned the six-part essay I excerpted here a few years back: "Confessions of a Lesbian Dad."
Q: Has your brother, brother's wife, partner's mother and spouse adjusted to you referring to yourself as "baba" or lesbian dad?
A: Easy, on the one hand: I’ve never been anything else. But family slipped a little 1st few wks; newbies do weekly. I explain; it all works out.
Q: How old is your child, and how is your child handling having a mom and baba? Does the child refer to you by those titles or has the child opted for something else?
A: Girl 5, boy 3. They’ve only known us, so our family’s the baseline reference pt. Gal often calls me Babbi. I try not to think of the kid in The Brady Bunch.
Q: Do you regret not being the one to bear the child or labeling yourself as "baba" or lesbian dad?
A: Never, never, & never. Much to my great relief on all points. I use descriptor “1/2 way betw. a mama & papa” most often. Makes sense to all.
Q: " ... the more we talked, the more I realized ... how clearly the existing paradigms make space for biomom and biodad. Bio, bio. And then me: nonbio. I was off the radar, legally, socially, viscerally." What did the term "bio" mean to you? How did you define it? And did it change after your child was born?
A: Good Q. It meant a ton more before kid than after. But 1st yr was challenging. Now? Hardly relevant, except in eyes of the law. There? Huge.
Q: Did you suffer from an identity struggle? If so, how did you overcome it?
A: I’ve not met the queer person my age who didn’t. Closest I got to suicide: 1st yr in love w/ my best friend. Overcame slowly, w/ community.
Q: I found it particularly interesting that throughout all of the articles, one main thread that wove the events together was the concept of legitimizing. Whether it was your relationship, your feeling "non-mommish," the idea Baba. How important do you think it is to express and begin to formulate concepts like the kind you have made recently?
A: H-UGE. W/out sense of clarity re: who I am, parentally, this all might not have been possible, or so easy/rewarding. Me AND kids benefit.
Q: All of these articles resonated innovation of ideas, definitions, and behaviors that go against the ones society is used to. How have you dealt with this in the past before, that has helped you when dealing with something like parenthood?
A: I think it was great that I was very stable w/ my gay identity before parenthood. Faced, won the battles. P-hood requires focus on the KID.
Q: How has your role as a Baba evolved or grown than what you expected it would be like?
A: I find I’m who I’ve always been, just now the parent version. But I do float in space between straight dads & moms. That’s been interesting.
Q: What is the toughest part about being a parent?
A: 1. LACK OF SLEEP! 2. Obligation to confront own character flaws daily (ouch). 3. That it’s all so very transient. I love this gig.
Q: How do you express your masculinity and femininity?
A: With as much flair as possible. I feel most akin to an 18th. c. dandy.
Q: Looking at your first blog [ed note: essay excerpt], I noticed that you speak in sociological terms of the concept of gender. Do you have an educational background in sociology?
A: Why yes, as a matter of fact I do! Ethnic Studies minor + Sociology coursework at Berkeley. American Studies Ph.D. program at Minnesota.
Q: Why do you think that humans need to place themselves in categories? What else in your life have you tried to categorize, define, or identify?
A: Mysterious, but: makes “thinking” simpler. Sometimes helps, usually hinders. As a scholar type I seek to identify & define a lot, & categorize AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE.
Q: You mention that children are the easiest to explain being a “Baba” to. Who, or what type of people, are the most difficult to explain to and why do you think that is?
A: Kids lack preconceptions & their biases are gut- & experience-based. Adults w/ disdain for innovation find new ways of seeing harder.
Q: did writing and reading what you thought help you understand something you over saw when u were thinking?
A: Absolutely. Always does. That's gift #1 of the writing process.
Q: do think the title of "baba" gave you the confidence of being the parent figure or if you didn’t have it you would have been as determined or confident as a mom or dad figure?
A: Interesting. I do feel like making/using a 3rd name has ultimately been BRILLIANTLY LIBERATING. Must. Escape. Reductive. Dichotemies.
Q: What is it about the term "father" that you feel is inaccurate to describe your role and title in your family and our society? Why is it that the term "mother" needs no alteration or even produces any hesitation in a lesbian-couple family?
A: The term describes my *role* OK. Lots of mannish lesbians love stretching the meaning of “mom.” More than those who want to stretch “dad.”
Q: Do you think that with the dynamics of what gender is to our society these days that we should re-evaluate all gender-role based terms we encounter in order to better reflect the true feelings behind each person or party?
A: That'd be nice. Language does evolve with both our conscious & unconscious help. In the end, we all probably hear what we want to anyway.
Q: What do you think is the most important message your feelings, experience, and explanation of your role as a lesbian dad or baba offer to adults and/or children?
A: Other than love conquers all? That parenthood betwixt conventionally fixed genders offers both parent and kid a TON. It’s available to all.
Q: What role did a father/father figure play in your life, and how did that influence your perception of parenthood and your identity as “Baba”?
A: My dad is one of the beacons of love in my life. My mom, now gone, had a bigger hand in daily parenting. Pops sees us both as 21st c. dads.
Q: Are you still concerned with verifying your authority to be a parent in the eyes of those who are less understanding of same-sex parents? If so, in what ways do you confirm your authority to them?
A: Getting my kids to see me as an authority figure is way more pressing. Truly? It all boils down to them, & they love me, hell or high water.