I go to the old places that once made me feel safe and included, that made me feel proud and bold. Where I once saw myself. I look to my box of college memories where I still have a 2001 issue of Curve Magazine with Melissa Ferrick on the cover. I was a junior at Penn State when I saw this out and proud rocker perform for the first time. I stood in line with my then-girlfriend, now wife, and couldn’t stop staring at the crowd of lesbians and gender-nonconforming women waiting to get into the show. I knew other lesbians existed, but at the time, they were hard to find unless you knew where to look. We were hiding in clubs, bars and in undisclosed meeting spots found through a friend of a friend who had a number we could call to get the address.
As I swooned over the petite force playing her guitar on stage, I never imagined the life I have now. I hoped for it, and was given the strength to fight for it, but the expectation of a life with three kids and a federally recognized marriage was more wishful than realistic. All of my dreams have come true, but I am still lurking on popular LGBTQ websites, hoping to see my life reflected back.
When I try to see myself, a gender-nonconforming mama, represented in LGBTQ publications, it’s like a blanket has been thrown over the mirror. I am staring at a beautiful quilt of stories, hoping to stitch mine in place for an audience that should understand. Yet, my needle seems to be missing its thread. Who I am now is not there in the pages. I don’t need dating and sex tips. I’m not looking for advice. I am looking to see myself represented in the queer community as a queer woman and mother, but the two feel mutually exclusive.
Finding current stories about gay parenting on gay websites feels like work. It takes time and key word searches. I find news about laws affecting same-sex marriage and adoption. I stumble upon a few personal essays and a couple of columns from limited perspectives. While beautiful, these few examples of parents in the gay community do more to highlight the lack of representation than illustrate the diversity within it.
I have always maintained that gay parenting is just parenting. The joys and triumphs, the challenges and heartbreaks, cross lines of sexuality. The thread of what parenting means to me and so many others has nothing to do with who we love, if we are married, or if we gave birth to our children. Yet, it does. A parent is a parent, but a gay parent is not a straight one.
Has parenting ostracized me from my queer peers? Or has parenting ostracized me from nonparents? Yes and yes.
I understand the latter, but I am frustrated by the first. Just like I want to see my life as a queer woman, one who is interested in all LGBTQ news and stories, I want to see examples of my life as a queer mother valued and discussed. I want the queer community to celebrate sperm donors, donor siblings, surrogacy, adoption, and all of the intricate details of gay parenting as much as it values pop-culture icons, dating apps and fashion trends.
When it comes to being a parent, I feel more comfortable being a minority with my straight allies than a minority among my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. To answer Dan Bucatinsky’s question when his 2012 book asked us if his baby made him look straight, the answer is apparently, yes. Maybe gay parents aren’t that interesting. Maybe once the baby arrives, we really are just like any other parent: exhausted, dirty and overextended. In the same way I feared the world would only ever see me as gay, I worry the gay world will only ever see me as a parent.
Gay parents are so much more than that. We were some of the original champions, the advocates, the lawmakers, the ones living life out loud so that the LGBTQ youth behind us would never have to just dream about having a family, but could plan on it. Our stories are hard earned, hold value and are worthy of attention. Gay parents deserve to be a bigger part of the dialogue when it comes to queer people talking and writing about queer things.
When I was standing in the crowd of a Melissa Ferrick concert, I was at home. I held my girl’s hand and knew I had everything I needed. I was defined by all that I had to offer the world because of my sexuality, not in spite of it. I became bold. I became a wife. I became a parent. I became invisible.
Ferrick is still out and proud, as are most of us who packed rooms where she played. We are older too. For some of us, aging has come with marriage and kids and the shock of having both legally. For me, it has also come with the need to be visible again in the queer community. I hold onto my old copy of Curve because that flutter of affection for Melissa Ferrick will never die. Nor will the longing for acceptance and representation.
Amber Leventry is a writer and SAHM. She lives in Vermont with her partner, the kids, and their attention deprived dog. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
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