Mother’s Day has always been Mothers’ Day in our house. My ex-partner and I are no longer together, but for the time we were married, we were, or at least seen as, a lesbian couple. My kids were born into a family with two moms. My oldest child is 9 and my twins are almost 7. Until 18 months ago, I used female pronouns and introduced myself as female. I have always been proud of my parental status and feel a strong sense of affection when I hear my children call me Mama—okay, maybe not now; this pandemic has tested all of my tolerance for the sound of their voices saying anything. And I have proudly advocated for my queer family and the rights of all LGBTQIA+ families and individuals.
But since coming out as nonbinary I have struggled with being labeled as a mother.
Before my oldest child was born, I started to Google information about what it meant to be transgender. I was assigned female at birth and had known from a very early age I was gay; I also have very vivid memories of being a tween and wanting to be a boy. I chalked it up to my desire to present in a more masculine way or to the fact that I liked “boy things.” Did I want to be Patrick Swayze because he was a boy or did I want a girl like Baby to look at me the way she looked at Johnny?
As I got older, I adopted the words queer, gender nonconforming, and genderfluid to describe myself. I questioned if I was a transgender male, but after a lot of research I knew that wasn’t the whole story. It took over 30 years, sobriety, and finding the right vocabulary for me to realize I already was a boy; I am a girl too. I am nonbinary.
For years, I struggled with gendered language being directed at me, especially female labels. I also fought my own body and the perceptions of what others assumed my gender was based on what folks think male and female bodies should look like. I hated being constantly put into a female box, but jumping into another binary label wasn’t right either. My transition included changing my female pronouns to gender neutral they/them pronouns, and a year later I had gender affirming top surgery to remove my breasts.
Both of these changes reduced my anxiety, helped my depression, and improved my body dysphoria. My kids have taken it all in stride. They practiced, and have become comfortable with my pronouns — and will correct people who get it wrong. After my double mastectomy, my daughter helped me wrap my chest during the weeks I still needed to wear compression.
My kids have asked if there are gender neutral names for nonbinary parents and I told them that many nonbinary parents have come up with their own parental titles. I also told them that it was okay that they still call me Mama. For the most part, I still believe that. My struggle comes when people other than my children use a “female” word to describe me. When others call me Mom, Mama, and wish me a Happy Mother’s Day, the implication is that they see me as a woman. The words don’t sit well, and I feel like I am being shoved back into a box that is not authentic.
Mother’s Day has never been a big deal in my house. My ex and I have never gone out of our way for each other because why should we if the day is supposed to be for us? Mother’s Day in a two-mom house looked like school-made gifts from our kids and ordering takeout. It wasn’t a lack of respect, just a lack of energy. And we don’t use Father’s Day to separate the celebration because neither one of us are fathers. I am my children’s non-biological parent, but just as much a parent as their biological mother. My ex and I never thought I should have to step aside on Mother’s Day just because she gave birth to our children. While the label of mother was one I fought for, I am now struggling with how that word fits my identity.
I am not sure what the solution is, but I know I’d rather be celebrated for being a parent and not specifically a mother.
I don’t have the heart to tell this to my kids right now because the pandemic has taken away so much normalcy and predictability; the last thing I want to do is cause more uncertainty, insecurity, or thought for them. They make it seem like brushing their teeth each day is crossing a line they can barely crawl to. Not that my transition has harmed them, nor do I think adjusting to a new parenting title would bother them or make them feel less loved, but any change right now is too much change for them. It’s a lot for me too, and even though I am feeling more and more uncomfortable with people assuming I am a woman because they overhear my children calling me Mama, I’m not asking my kids to stop using their preferred term for me.
And I truthfully don’t mind hearing Mom, Mommy, or Mama when it comes out of their mouths because they see me for who I am, and I know that. They see all of me and not a gender. When they call for me, they are calling for help, love, reassurance, snacks, and all of the other things I provide them as a parent. They don’t equate being a mom to also being a woman, just like they know some women aren’t moms. I feel seen by my kids and perhaps that’s the most important gift of all.
If my kiddos do think to create something for me or tell me Happy Mother’s Day, I will take their gifts in stride and feel appreciated, but I will also be quietly working out a way to be true to myself. Maybe by next year I’ll have it figured out.