Published on November 6th, 2013 | by Charlie King-MIller10
Charlie King-Miller Contemplates Pregnancy As A Future Butch Dad
I have always known I wanted to have kids. Not just raise them, but have them – feel them growing inside me, birth them naturally, and nourish them with milk from my body. That knowledge hasn’t always been easy to hold. My body often acts as antagonist for my masculinity, soft where I want to be firm, vulnerable where I want to feel strong. Even for my partner, whom I love and trust completely, touching my body is a gamble. I sometimes feel like I’ve been land-mined.
And yet, even at my most gender dysphoric, my desire to birth and breastfeed my own babies has prevented me from seriously attempting to make physical changes to my body more permanent than haircuts and binders. I’m grateful for that restraint. Now that I am actively trying to get pregnant, I feel really lucky that I don’t have to contend with more than the normal obstacles to fertility and breastfeeding. The two weeks between our first attempt and my next period felt interminable enough, without wondering whether I am capable of conceiving because of medical treatments. At the same time, I worry that pregnancy will disrupt the tense peace I have made with my body and the world that interacts with it.
It’s not just the shape of my body that I’m worried about. I have always been able to mitigate the more feminine aspects of my appearance with clothing. I wear sports bras or binders to minimize the curve and bounce of my breasts. I wear men’s button downs or unisex t-shirts and men’s jeans to reproduce the masculine lines I’m looking for. I keep my hair short, and style it somewhere between dykey and manly.
This works for me. While I’m rarely gendered as male in public, I have enjoyed the fruits of my masculine presentation in the form of reduced objectification by men, increased visibility as a queer person, and greater bodily autonomy. More than that, I feel confident in my skin. Between my tattoos and my clothes, I walk through the world looking like the person I know myself to be.
But as my body expands with pregnancy, all of those things are likely to change. My breasts will swell, making it harder and more painful to disguise them. Binding them might even inhibit milk production, a trade-off that I’m not willing to accept. My stomach will grow out of my button-down shirts, and I will likely be unable to find replacements that suit me as well. My hips will sway more as I walk to accommodate the added weight resting on them. In my own eyes, as well as in public view, the shape of my fecund body will begin to overtake the power of my gender presentation, especially considering that my options for maintaining my butch wardrobe throughout late pregnancy are limited at best.
Until now, my masculine appearance has helped me avoid unwanted attention and physical contact in public spaces. But the memory of my life before I came out, when it wasn’t so easy to escape the street harassment and uninvited groping, is still vivid and painful. I’m not sure I am ready to give up my autonomy again. Obviously, I shouldn’t have to resign myself to no longer being in charge of my body. But I know that I will have to do just that – no matter how many well-meaning old ladies and creepy dudes I slap away for touching or staring without asking, there will always be more. Pregnancy is an extremely public process, and I will not be able to opt out of the parts of it I don’t like.
Even the parts I do like, the parts I am actively looking forward to, won’t be as simple as I would wish. Take breastfeeding, for example. For as long as I can remember, I have been extremely uncomfortable with my breasts. Their sensitivity during sex is usually more than offset by their unavoidable femininity, and I spend most of my life trying to imagine them out of existence. But their existence will be not only undeniable, but absolutely crucial when it comes to caring for my child. I need to find a way to be comfortable with them. Not just with their existence, but with their physical reality. With their being touched and sucked and grabbed many times a day.
I am not sure how to do that. In my fantasy, it just happens. Breastfeeding feels completely natural. It comes easy to us. In my fantasy, I am never shy about pulling back my shirt and feeding my child, no matter how public the place or who is watching. But I understand it doesn’t always work that way. Many people struggle to breastfeed. And it’s hard to imagine being more comfortable baring my breasts in public once they are swollen with milk than I have ever been in their current, smaller size.
Even if I am totally comfortable breastfeeding in public, how will it change the way I see myself? Will I ever be able to reconcile this part of my body with my deeply felt identity? Will I come to resent my child for the way hir world centers on breasts?
Will my child come to resent me? My gender presentation will only become more public with child-rearing. I plan to be called “dad,” despite the traditionally feminine process of childbearing. But I worry that that choice will force my child into a life of explaining hir parents wherever ze goes. Obviously, there’s a degree to which that can’t be avoided given our family, but people are becoming used to seeing “two-mom” families. From parenting groups to kids’ books, there are tons of great resources for and about LGB families. But my family, where sex ≠ gender ≠ role in the family, is largely absent from them.
That’s not all bad. I am excited about being able to define my family however works best for us, without having such ingrained gender roles to contend with. And I believe our child will grow up with a more fluid understanding of family and a more sophisticated vocabulary for describing hirself than most of hir peers. At the same time, I know that the challenges we face will make hir life harder, unfairly, than someone born of opposite-sex, cisgender parents.
Perhaps the most frustrating part of this is knowing that much of the opposition I face in defining my family for myself comes from people we usually consider allies. Even members of our family who have been extremely supportive of both our relationship and our plans for children can’t seem to get it right. One keeps referring to our donors as “dads” despite our requests to stop. This behavior is more than just a slip of the tongue – it simultaneously produces a role in our family that neither our donors nor us are comfortable with and erases my fatherhood in favor of more easily understood motherhood. And so far, no amount of clarification has solved the problem, which leaves me wondering: If our family, who cried and cheered at our wedding and who are thrilled at the prospect of our babies, can’t understand how we define our family, or at the very least respect our right to do so, what hope is there for the rest of the world?
I like to think this is getting better. Every “Heather Has Two Mommies” and “Tango Makes Three” is another step in the right direction. At the same time, I wish those narratives would expand to include other types of diversity. Instead of the old, “some families have two mommies or two daddies” line, I would like to see conversations about how many different ways to be a family there are – from queer parents and adoption to blended and interracial families. Perhaps then, I wouldn’t have to fear how the world will react when my child calls me “Daddy” in public.
Ultimately, there is nothing I can do about how the world reacts to me. Whatever judgment, intrusion, or disrespect is lobbed my way, the only piece I can control is how I react to it. So I will get comfortable correcting people when they call me by the wrong title. I will gently but firmly insist that they use the words I choose, whether they understand my reasons or not. I will make peace with my body the way I always have – by focusing on what it can do, and not what it looks like. I will feel my baby moving and growing inside of me and remember that it is the hardest, most incredible thing my body has ever done. I will defend my family from whatever bigotry or thoughtlessness we encounter, no matter how scary. I will learn to be fearless.
Whatever frustration, anger or hurt my child feels over having me for a parent (and I am sure there will be some), ze will know beyond a shadow of a doubt the ze is loved and wanted. I believe that will be enough to shield us from the worst of it.