I am tired. Drag-my-brain-through-the-day tired. Force-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other tired. The physical and emotional labor of being a parent is exhausting. But I am also a gay parent, and the layers of my exhaustion are thicker than other parents’. I have three kids; one is transgender. I am married to a woman and am a gender nonconforming, vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights and education. I treat my advocacy like it is another child or spouse. I am committed to it. I also use it as a shield or buffer to explain my family to others.
You know how your kids nettle you with questions all day long? Asking the same thing over and over again, wanting a different answer than the one you already gave? Wanting any answer to satisfy a curiosity or to cure an impatience that doesn’t allow them to figure shit out on their own?
Sometimes I feel that way when it comes to people’s unflinching need for information about same-sex marriage or gay parenting. You may not say it’s a big deal, but damn, you sure do ask a lot of questions.
Are you both the parents? Who is the real mom?
How did you get your kids? Did you adopt? Oh, sperm donor? How does that work? Oh, not IVF?
What do they call you? How do they know who to ask for if you are both Mama?
Are you worried they don’t have a father in their lives? Do you worry they are missing out on something?
How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? Father’s Day?
No one asks these questions of straight people or couples—families that fit society’s idea of normal.
Acceptance does not come with the need for you to understand our differences; it comes with the need for you to see and respect them. Acceptance asks that you try to empathize with how challenging it can be to be the minority. I am insulted by the expectation that it is my job to make you feel more comfortable or informed by spoon feeding you my personal information.
Don’t get me wrong. I happily tell our story, especially for those of you who really do have the best intentions. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get tired of telling it, of the need to tell it. You know that one book your kid wants you to read every night? It’s a good one, but fuck, you read it every night. You wish you could skip pages or words, but your kid will know. So in order to get through bedtime, you just read it. You have a love-hate relationship with that book. I love talking about our sperm donor, our kids’ donor siblings, and the dynamics with each, but sometimes I wonder if this is what it feels like for a band to play their favorite hits over and over. I feel grateful, but kind of sick of myself. I love advocating for my transgender daughter, but I wonder when all the information I carry will be common knowledge.
I am actively fighting against bigots and ignorance, so it is especially exhausting when I also have to help my allies and passive supporters be better allies. It takes away from the energy and time I need to fight blatant hate and inequality when I am busy trying to make allies feel okay with making mistakes. Apologize, move on. Try again and do better. I realize this is a tricky position. I want the best allies in town, but I also can’t be responsible for their creation and ongoing tutelage. I really want you to keep trying, but please don’t ask me to validate your attempts.
When my partner and I venture to unknown places with our kids, we are not always assumed to be a nuclear family. And when we travel, I worry about our safety at certain rest stops or gas stations. I am always assessing the people, the stares, the confusion or judgment on peoples’ faces. People are unflinchingly curious about who we are and how we made our family.
For those of you who don’t accept families like mine and people like me—like me, as if I am unworthy of existing or a thing that is less than human—I still tell our story. But the way I tell it changes with each person I encounter. I am constantly trying to find common ground to best have my message heard. How best to convey what it’s like to be a queer parent in a sea of straight ones? How best to help people see my transgender daughter as just a little girl who deserves love and respect? How best to tear down gender stereotypes and challenge gender roles? Yes, this is exhausting.
Because I don’t have any biological connection to my children, I may be considered a stranger to them depending on where we are. Gay marriage and gay parenting and the rights that go with both vary state by state. Yes, gay marriage is legal, but that does not stop people from discriminating against us. And if we travel out of the country, we are at even higher risk. I lose my rights as my partner’s caretaker and decision-maker in the case of medical emergencies. I lose my rights to my kids. MY KIDS.
To best protect my family and my rights, we spent money we didn’t really have on meeting with a lawyer to draft documents that legally made me guardian to my unborn children and made me my partner’s health care executor. We created wills to protect our rights to each other’s physical property and financial records. And when our children were born, I started the process to adopt them. We filed petitions to the local courthouse to skip social worker visitations and a waiting period before I could adopt them, but I had to go through rigorous background checks, finger printing, and the evaluation of my character before someone legally approved my parental status.
Raising three kids, running a house, and maintaining a marriage and career take the life right out of you. During the second-parent adoption process, I was attempting to balance my life as a parent, a partner, and individual while also trying to prove my worth in each role.
I live as an advocate. I am constantly making myself available. I wouldn’t have it any other way, but it is exhausting. I am tired. When I take my kids to the park, on vacation, or to school, I am also taking precaution. I plan ways to protect them and myself from inconsiderate comments and stares. I pack legal documents to validate my relationship to them. I bring a list of materials, requests, background information and a brain full of worry to every new doctor, teacher, coach, or camp counselor.
I live as a parent. I live as a gay parent. I am tired.
But I live with love. I lead with love. I want you to do the same. Follow my lead. Expect more out of yourselves and less out of me. Expect more out of our neighbors. I and so many others in the LGBTQ community will carry on, but we need to rest sometimes too. We are tired. Let us rest our exhausted minds and weary hearts on you.