Tag Archives: donor insemination

What Makes a Baby

My nine-year-old son believes that kissing got me pregnant.

Me: Do you know how we made you?

Waylon: You got that thing from Uncle Brian.

Me: Sperm?

Waylon: Yeah.

Me: And then? We used my egg, right?

Waylon: Yeah.

Me: So how are you related to Mommy?

Waylon: Well, I’ve been with her a lot. And also, when you two kissed [mimes sloppy French kissing] some of Mommy’s DNA got inside of you and then it got in me.

I love Waylon’s version of the story. Part of me wants it to remain exactly the same forever. But I also worry that we should be more strictly scientific about the mechanics of reproduction. I don’t want some playground smartypants to give him the 411.

I’ve written before about how hard it is to find children’s books about reproduction that don’t assume a gender binary (and children’s books about human sexuality that don’t assume reproduction). Most books for kids begin with “everyone is born a boy or a girl” and end with “some day you’ll make a family too,” but those are assumptions we don’t make in our family, because 1)we’re queer feminists and 2) Mommy is genderqueer.

Final Cover.inddThat’s why I was so excited about Cory Silverberg’s book What Makes a Baby. Silverberg, a Toronto-based sex educator and writer, set out to create a “where do babies come from” story that would be inclusive for transgender, gay, lesbian and other nontraditional families.

As an adult reader, I appreciate the book’s attempt to uncouple sex from gender. Playful gender-neutral figures are accompanied by matter-of-fact statements:

“Not all bodies have eggs in them. Some do, and some do not….Not all bodies have sperm in them. Some do, and some do not.”

I couldn’t wait to read What Makes a Baby with Waylon. He’s a little old for picture books, but I thought he would appreciate a story that was flexible enough to include our funky family.

When we finished, Waylon was thoughtful for a moment. “What did you think?” I asked.

“Is Uncle Brian kind of like my dad?”

Okaaaaay. Not what I was expecting. Maybe reproduction is a little too culturally overdetermined to be so easily unmoored from gender. Or maybe Waylon is more interested in the question “how did I, personally, arrive on this planet?” than in the general question of how babies are made. Still, it’s an important question, and one that we need to approach over and over again from multiple angles. I appreciate almost any occasion to start a safe and meaningful conversation.

While What Makes a Baby has broad appeal, I suspect it will be most helpful to families where two parents contributed biologically to making their child. I think it will be especially valuable in families where one or both parents’ gender presentation is different than the gender typically assigned to the role that they played in reproduction.

To continue to answer Waylon’s questions, I’ve ordered the COLAGE Donor Insemination Guide. I’ve also been talking up the idea that he’s Katy’s “brainchild,” because she contributed the single most essential ingredient in his conception: the idea to have a baby in the first place.

What Makes A Baby will be re-issued in 2013 by Seven Stories Press. Silverberg is currently working on two more books about sexuality for kids of various ages. Can’t wait!


Donor Duet, II

Before Waylon was born, I believed that my future child would not watch much television. On the rare occasions when he did watch television, I imagined, he would choose something that I liked – something witty and subversive like PeeWee’s Playhouse.

Apparently there’s a karmic debt to be paid for such hubris, because my son did turn out to like television, quite a bit. At age four, his favorite show was Thomas and Friends, a neo-Victorian boy’s tale about anthropomorphic steam engines who compete to be “a really useful engine” in the eyes of a pig-eyed industrialist called Sir Topham Hatt.

“Mom, can I watch just one more Thomas?” Waylon asked, his face a caricature of exaggerated yearning. We had spent the morning jumping waves and building sand castles and flying kites on the beach. We were exhausted and a little bit sunburned. We’d had a late lunch and a shower, I’d removed most of the sand from Waylon’s hair, and now we were lounging on the worn couch of our rented beach house, waiting for Katy and Brian to return from band practice.

“OK,” I said, cuddling him closer. “You can watch one more episode. But you have to turn it off when Uncle Brian gets back.”

Two days earlier, when Brian and his wife Kathy arrived at our house in Austin, Waylon had dutifully dispensed hugs and kisses before retreating to the safety of his toys. Today was our first full day at the beach, and Waylon was still a little shy around the newcomers.

I remembered what it was like to meet some relative whom your parents always talked about. You felt pressure to produce fond feelings, to fall in love with this new person. But it was awkward, even stifling, because the relationship was pre-defined. I was thinking about how to help Waylon feel comfortable (and succumbing to a familiar Thomas and Friends stupor) when I heard the sound of boots on the outside stairs. Katy came in first, walked over, kissed us both, and sat on the couch. Brian entered next, nodded in our general direction, and headed to the fridge for a beer.

Over the past 24 hours, Brian had become increasingly edgy and withdrawn. Today’s practice was the first of only three full rehearsals for the show. Some of the band members hadn’t touched their instruments for almost 20 years. From the look on Brian’s face, I guessed things hadn’t gone so well.

He brought his beer into the living room and sat across from us, looking pale beneath his five o’ clock shadow. He looked like a different man from the rocker in Katy’s old photos. His long, bleached hair was now short and dark. He wore cargo shorts and a baggy T-shirt. It was hard to believe that he’d once pranced around the stage in eyeliner and a jockstrap. Right now he looked like he’d prefer to crawl under a blanket and never come out.

“Waylon,” I said, “it’s time to turn off Thomas.” I was afraid that the minor dramas of the station house would push Brian over the edge.

For once, Waylon turned off the TV without complaining. While Katy and I chatted about band practice, he dragged Master the robot from behind the couch and began to play in Brian’s vicinity. I could see Waylon looking at this new grown-up from the corner of his eye. I guessed that he wanted to engage, but he wasn’t quite sure how to begin. He flipped Master’s switch on and off, over and over again.

“I-am-Master. I-sense-your-fear.”

“I-am-Master. I-sense-your-fear.”

“I-am…”

“Wait,” Brian said, coming out of his reverie, “What is he saying?”

Waylon repeated it for him slowly, “He says ‘I sense your fear.'”

“No,” Brian said, deadpan. “No.” Waylon looked confused, almost heartbroken.

“No,” Brian explained, “He says, ‘I-am-Master. I’ll-buy-you-a-beer.'”

Waylon cracked up. Apparently this was one of the funniest things he’d ever heard. He couldn’t stop repeating it, talking over Master’s mechanical voice, forcing the robot to buy endless rounds of cheer for everyone in the living room.

Read Part III here.


Donor Duet, III

Surfside Beach is connected to the mainland by a string of chemical plants. Vast plantations of pipes and cooling towers squat over the shallow waters of the bay. At night, illuminated by security lights, the plants were strangely beautiful. In the daytime, they made me think of cancer and three-headed fish.

We were traversing this no-man’s-land because Katy had a mission. She had found an old picture of Brian onstage, naked except for a cigarette, a fedora, and a strategically placed guitar. We were driving to the Brazosport Mall to get it transferred onto t-shirts for the show.

“I want a shirt too,” Waylon said from the back. “I want a shirt with Uncle Brian on it.”

“Hmm,” I said. “I’m not sure that would be appropriate.”

“Oh, what the hell,” Katy protested. “He wants a t-shirt of his donor.”

“Well, you can’t wear it to school,” I said, weakly. What the hell. It was a hilarious picture.

We were just coming over the bridge to the mainland, and Katy pulled over at a store called Buc-cee’s, which was a combination convenience store, surf shop, and t-shirt emporium. They sold diesel fuel, bikinis, flip flops, and blow-up rafts, along with hamburgers, chicken wings, chewing tobacco, beer, and homemade fig preserves.

Waylon was immediately drawn to a large display of sand pails and shovels. Katy headed for the children’s clothes and started flipping through the racks for a size 4 black t-shirt. I decided to try on floppy sun hats. If you can’t beat the consumers, I figured, you might as well get something good.

“Mommy, Mommy, can I have this?”

Waylon was dragging an enormous plastic ship through the racks of bathing suits and trunks. When it was clear that he was addressing Katy as “Mommy,” everyone in the store, from the teenage girl in the bikini aisle to the trucker waiting for his food order, did a double take. I couldn’t tell if Katy noticed.

“Sure,” she said automatically. “Check out this t-shirt.” She held up a black t-shirt with an anchor on the sleeve that said “Surfside Beach.” It matched the tattoos on her arms.

“Yes!” Waylon exclaimed. They high-fived.

The line at the cash register was long. One vacationing family was buying snacks for a day on Surfside. But mostly it was chemical plant workers, grabbing coffee and donuts before reporting to shifts at Dow and Shintech. Katy scooped up Waylon and held him while we waited. “My boy,” she said, kissing his head. “My boy is going to get a shirt just like Mommy’s.” Waylon nodded enthusiastically.

“If anybody asks you who’s on the back, what do you say?”

Waylon shrugged.

“You say, ‘that’s my Donor!'”

***

That night, after practice, Brian was even more nervous. He sat silently through dinner, answering his wife’s cheerful queries about band practice with terse, one-word answers. Kathy’s daughter, Jessica, was visiting from college, and I felt bad, because Brian’s nerves were casting a pall over their mother-daughter time.

“We could build a bonfire on the beach tonight?” Kathy asked, hopefully. Brian shrugged and stared at his food. The silence was awkward, unbearable. All of the women, myself included, immediately began to fill it with airy small talk. But when Brian left the room, Kathy scraped his plate with barely contained fury, her lips pressed together in a thin line. After the dishes were done, she wiped the formica table in sharp, precise circles.

I hovered between helping and not helping. The whole scene was like a rerun of the family gatherings of my early adolescence. I knew the script by heart: men set the mood, women set the table…and cook, and clean up. As a teenager, I’d vowed to resist my assigned role in this drama. Now, stuck in the beach house, I felt angsty and oddly irritated with Katy. I didn’t sign on for this much heterosexuality! Why are you making me sit through this? I wanted to hold my hands over Waylon’s eyes. Don’t watch!

My angst was tempered by a guilty sense of sympathy. I guessed Kathy wasn’t used to seeing her husband this nervous. They had met long after he retired from Rokitt. In her world, Brian was a caseworker for people with developmental disabilities. I had seen him with some of his clients when we visited Michigan. He was relaxed, patient, sweet.

After dinner, Brian retired to the back porch to smoke. Everyone else gathered in the living room. It was clear that no bonfire was going to materialize.

“Mom, can I watch one more Thomas?” Waylon asked.

I felt ambivalent. I knew he was bored, but I didn’t want to be rude, hogging the TV with kiddie shows.

“Ask Uncle Brian if he wants to use the TV,” I answered. Just then, Brian walked in the door and started to cross the room. Waylon followed him across the linoleum floor.

“Can I watch TV?” he asked, tugging on Brian’s shorts.

“I don’t know,” Brian said, sullenly. His whole body recoiled from the responsibility that the question implied. “Ask your mom.”

***

The next day, Waylon and I escaped to the beach to jump waves. Every few minutes he yelled, “This is so fun!” as if he couldn’t quite believe his luck. I felt the same way. As a child, I would stay in the surf for so long that my body could feel the rise and fall of the waves in my bed at night. Now Waylon’s excitement was making me feel like we shared a special bond.

When he got winded, I held him on my hip and jumped for him. Waylon told me stories about preschool. I told him stories about childhood vacations. We talked until I ran out of stories, but he still wasn’t ready to go ashore.

“Are you excited for the big rock show tonight?” I asked.

“Uh-huh.” He shook his head. We’d been taking him to shows since he was a month old.

“Are you going to dance for Uncle Brian?” I asked.

“Yes, and I’m going to sing with the band. On the stage.” he informed me.

“Oh.” This was the first time I’d heard of this plan. I didn’t want to smash his dreams, but I also didn’t want him to be disappointed if it didn’t work out.

“Um, Sweetie, Mommy is singing with the band. Did anyone tell you that you were going to sing with the band?”

“No,” he said serenely. “I just am.”

Read Part IV here.


Donor Duet, IV

The sun is setting on the beach as we make our way down Surfside’s narrow, two-lane highway. When we pull into the sandy parking lot of Stahlman Park Recreation center, I’m relieved to see that the parking lot is fairly crowded. It helps that every third vehicle is a puffed-up Ford F150, which takes up one and a half regular parking spaces.

I release Waylon from the back of our Volkswagen. He looks adorable in his black t-shirt with Brian’s picture on the back.

“Are you ready to rock?” I ask.

“Yeah!” he yells.

“We’re going to dance and clap really loud, right?”

“Yeah, and I’m going to sing with Uncle Brian,” he assures me as we walk across the sandy parking lot.

“That’s a sweet idea,” I tell him, taking his hand. “But it’s not very likely, at least not tonight.” I know that I sound like a wet blanket. I just don’t want my baby to get hurt. Waylon breaks away and charges up the wooden ramp to the rec center. Outdoor floodlights illuminate the picture of Brian on his back. “Slow down!” I yell as he disappears through the swinging doors.

The danger of any kind of reunion is finding out that you’re just not that relevant to people’s lives. I have only heard about Rokitt from Katy, and she is Brian’s best friend. I don’t have a good sense of what Rokitt meant to other folks – until I walk into the bright, air-conditioned space of the rec center. The folding chairs are filled with old rockers and their teenage kids, chatting and eating in tidy rows of 10-foot banquet tables. I spot Waylon near the kitchen, where a team of women is setting out cookies. The buffet table is decorated like a high school prom, with plastic picture cubes that displayed Rokitt photos on all six sides.

By the time I cross the room, Waylon has a cookie in hand and is making his escape. He runs straight into his Tía Sandra, Katy’s other best friend, who catches him in a bear hug. As I make my way to where they’re standing, Sandra pretends to devour the “sugars” from Waylon’s neck, which make him laugh and squeal. When she finally hands him back to me, he is content to rest on my hip and eat his cookie.

“Sandra,” I ask, “did you know Brian when he was in Rokitt?” Sandra and I are the same age – nearly a decade younger than most of the people in the rec hall – and I’m curious to hear her perspective on the whole scene.

“I went to see them when I was in high school. Some of my rocker friends took me to their show at the KC Hall. The next day, everyone was wearing Rokitt t-shirts to class. You would have thought fuckin’ Motley Crue had come to town.”

I’ve seen pictures of Sandra from the eighties, when her black, curly hair was styled in a glorious Mexican mullet. Back then, she and Katy were both identified as “butches with hair.” Now she wears it close to her head in a crew cut. She has recently been hired as an operator at one of the plants that line the beach road. One of those big, puffy trucks in the parking lot belongs to her.

A white man with hands and neck like sunburned hams is approaching. Redneck alert! Redneck alert! I pull Waylon closer to me. As the ham man walks past, on his way to the cookie tray, he gives Sandra a subtle nod. “How you doin?” Sandra says, nodding back. I marvel at how my friend has taken her place in a world of men who work in the volatile chemical plants.

Suddenly, the band members take their places. There’s no stage, so they just walk, unceremoniously, to their instruments. A skinny guy with hair like Kenny G is speaking into the microphone. I think he’s the emcee, but the people in the audience don’t seem to notice. Brian is pacing in front of the drum kit, his movements cramped by nervousness. He’s wearing Katy’s tight black jeans and a t-shirt that says “I rock,” with a picture of an antique rocking chair. His face is deathly pale. I’m afraid he might puke before the end of the introduction. Finally, the emcee hands over the mic. The band starts to play. Brian lets out a feeble whoop. The audience stops talking.

From the back of the room, I realize that I’m holding my breath, and I force myself to breathe naturally. They sound okay. Brian’s voice is clear and tuneful. He’s still stiff, but he manages a jaunty kick at the end of the first song. I find an empty folding chair near Kathy. Waylon scoots onto my lap as the band dives into their second number, a Judas Priest cover. I sneak a peek at Kathy’s face. She looks happy and relieved and a little teary. Rokitt is loosening up now, and the crowd gives them hearty applause. In the next row, an elderly lady with white hair turns to her daughter. “Breakin’ the law, breakin’ the law,” she quotes.

Brian is looking less frightened. “I just took some Geritol, and I’m waiting for it to kick in,” he jokes between songs. I wonder if anyone under 35 has ever heard of Geritol. “Feel free to dance, if you can find some room,” he adds. “Any time.”

I’m from Austin, where there’s an unspoken thirteenth commandment: thou shalt dance when thy friend’s band plays. At the Stahlman Park Recreational Center, the folding chairs dominate all but a tiny space in the very front. People are behaving like they’re at a church social – grabbing plates of potato salad and catching up with their neighbors while the band plays. Between the chatter and the bright lights and the absence of an actual stage, the whole thing is lacking a certain intensity. I’m worried about the energy of Brian and the other guys. I just want people in this room to bear proper witness to the miracle of middle aged men making music together.

Katy’s up at the front, bouncing and head-banging, but she’s interrupted every few minutes by someone who wants to catch up on old times. Katy was elected “Howdy Queen” at her high school, an honor bestowed on the friendliest freshman girl. However, even as Howdy Queen, Katy didn’t look like a girl. I’ve seen the coronation photos, and she looks like a football player in half-hearted drag. Throughout high school, Katy’s mom outfitted her daughter with Jane Mansfield-style bras that made Katy’s boobs loom in front of her like alien orbs. Twenty-five years later, she has a surgically flattened chest and can wear her clothing of choice: jeans and a muscle shirt. Her body is still ambiguous. And her warmth and enthusiasm still have the power to charm people who would otherwise be frightened by the mystery.

It doesn’t hurt that she’s the daughter of a football coach. When Katy comes up to sing with Brian, the little old lady in the front whispers something to her daughter. I imagine it’s along the lines of “Who’s that tattooed dyke?” Her daughter answers and the lady shakes her head excitedly. “Oh, that’s Katy Koonce.” She taps her husband on the shoulder. “That’s Katy Koonce!” she yells in his ear. He shakes his head too. People here remember the days when Brazoswood High went to the state championship. Katy ran onto the field with her dad after every game.

I figure the people must have some kind of fond memories of Katy, because the crowd is cheering as Katy humps Brian’s leg through the chorus of “Talk Dirty to Me.” It’s hard to believe that the Stahlman Park Recreation Center is bearing witness to such a queer spectacle. These two old friends feed each other’s energy, and their duet shifts the mood in the room. Waylon, for one, is out of his seat and dancing. As the band makes its way through original numbers like “Sweet Sixteen” and “You Make Love Too Tough,” he bounces and bangs his head. Occasionally he throws in some Kung Fu moves and King Tut poses. Every time he gets too close to the band, I have to run up in front of the folding chairs and drag him out of the spotlight. “That’s Katy Koonce’s lesbian lover,” I imagine the old woman saying to her husband. “And their gay love child!”

After the tenth time that Waylon rushes the band, I pull him aside for a little talk.

“Mommy was singing with the band because they invited her,” I explain. “You can’t keep going up there and getting in their way. It’s Uncle Brian’s big night.”

Waylon nods obediently, and then runs away. An old friend of Katy’s stops to talk to me, but I’m distracted, trying to spot Waylon in the crowd. By the time my eyes find him, he’s already back at the front. He’s somehow managed to take apart one of the plastic picture cubes, and he’s holding a handful of old photos. As the band launches into the final song, Waylon crawls up to the microphone and carefully lays the pictures at Brian’s feet.

“You show us everything you’ve got,” Brian growls into the mic. “And baby, baby that’s quite a lot.”

Waylon is jumping up an down, elated. He knows this song! Brian leans down toward him for the chorus.

“I wanna rock and roll all night,” he growls.

He extends the microphone to Waylon. Waylon contemplates it for a beat.

“And party ev-er-y day!” he squeals in his high, four-year-old voice.

Brian leads into the chorus again, and Waylon sings his part. He’s on the beat now, and people in the room are beginning to laugh and look at one another like, “Who is that kid?” By the time the second chorus comes around, the two have fallen into an easy call and response: first phrase low and gravelly, second phrase high and squeaky.

“I wanna rock and roll all night,” Brian calls.

“And party ev-e-ry day!” Waylon answers, looking proud. Every time he hits his line, people in the crowd hoot and clap. It’s a magical moment, the kind that you wish would never end because you can’t quite believe it’s real.

Katy comes up and puts her arms around me. I can feel her tears sliding down my neck. I look around the room and see Sandra against the back wall. She’s smiling and crying big butch tears too. Sandra helped raise two nieces in this community. Now she and her girlfriend are thinking about having a baby of their own.

Brian nods to the band to play the chorus one more time. “I wanna rock and roll all night.”

“And party every day!” They sing the last line together. Then Brian hangs up his microphone and sweeps Waylon into his arms. Waylon throws his arms around Brian’s neck, and they hug for a long time. Brian turns to the audience and makes the devil horns. Waylon painstakingly folds his middle fingers down to imitate Brian’s heavy metal salute.

The crowd is shouting and clapping and calling for an encore. They’re honoring Rokitt and honoring their youth. It feels like they’re honoring our queer family, with all of its twists and unexpected turns. For the moment, I’m so glad that we decided to step into this particular unknown.


Donor Duet

Originally published on The Bilerico Project in May 2011.

Two days before our sperm donor was due to arrive in Texas, my wife walked in the door with a bulging sack of secondhand toys.

“Waylon already has too many toys,” I said, shaking my head. “His birthday was a month ago! He’s barely four and he has enough stuff to fill two closets.”

“I know, I know,” she replied, looking sheepish. “But he’s going to be the only kid at the beach this weekend.”

This is one of our most familiar family dynamics: Katy indulges, Paige worries, Waylon gets the loot. But for once I wasn’t worried about my son’s consumer character. I was more concerned about my wife’s impulse to play Santa in July.

On the surface, her justification for the new toys was entirely plausible. We were about to embark on the kind of trip down memory lane that only the middle-aged can appreciate. Katy’s best friend Brian, Waylon’s sperm donor, was coming to Texas to play a reunion show with Rokitt, his hair metal band from the ’80s. But rather than the gritty Texas blues clubs that they played in their prime, this time Rokitt was planning to electrify their die-hard fans from the fluorescently-lit comfort of the Stahlman Park Recreation Center on Surfside, a tiny island south of Galveston.

Surfside Beach is not exactly the Riviera of the Texas coast. But Waylon wasn’t exactly a beach snob. He played in the sand all day long at his preschool, digging holes and tunnels and rivers. Every night at bath time, he reluctantly parted from a personal reserve of sand. Despite Katy’s worries, there could be no doubt that he was looking forward to a vacation that involved beaches full of unlimited sand.

When it came to the ocean, however, Waylon’s expectations were as murky as the waters off the Texas coast. We had taken him to the Gulf of Mexico a few times before, but it wasn’t clear that he remembered. When I asked if he was looking forward to playing in the waves at Surfside, Waylon remained vague. “Uh huuuuuh,” he murmured, looking off into the middle distance.

It was pretty much the same situation when I asked if Waylon was looking forward to seeing “Uncle” Brian. They had only met once, when Waylon was about 18 months old, and I knew Waylon didn’t remember. Brian called him at Christmas and birthday time, and Waylon communicated with the harassed politeness that children everywhere extend to long-distance relatives.

With the Rokitt reunion on the horizon, Katy had been pulling out old pictures and trying to enlist Waylon’s enthusiasm for the band and its sperm donor front man.

“Waylon,” she said, holding out a picture from an amateur photo shoot circa 1987, “Do you know who this is?”

Waylon looked up from his blocks, scanned the picture of a man in a ripped tank top and lace tights, and shook his head.

“That’s Uncle Brian!” Katy explained, in a sing-song Barney voice. “Remember, he gave us the seed that we needed to make you?”

This line about the seed was what we’d been telling Waylon ever since he was old enough for us to tell him something about the way we made him. I worried at times that it was too euphemistic, but it was technically accurate. Thus far, although Waylon loved to hear stories about how his parents met and decided to have a baby, he hadn’t expressed interest in the mechanics of conception. From what I could tell, it hadn’t yet crossed his radar that his moms couldn’t make a baby on their own. Whatever we were saying about seeds just seemed extraneous.

Regardless of what Waylon understood, Katy’s enthusiasm for her best friend and his erstwhile band was hard to resist. Over the last few days, Waylon had begun to recognize the guy in the pictures and to look forward to seeing Rokitt play. I was getting excited, too. But I was also scared.

Brian wasn’t part of our queer milieu of chosen family. He had a wife, an ex-wife, and a son in high school. The few times that we’d met, I hadn’t been able to decipher his dudely, understated manners. From my vantage point, it wasn’t clear if Brian was really down for new and complicated family ties. I worried that this vacation would prepare Waylon to expect a relationship that would never materialize.

When I wasn’t fretting about too little connection, I worried about too much connection. I imagined Waylon, fifteen and leather-jacketed, leaving home in a storm of adolescent angst. “You just don’t understand me,” he yelled as the backdoor slammed shut. “I’m going to live with my Dad.” Dad. Dad. Dad. In fantasy, the forbidden D-word lingered in the air as Katy and I huddled in the kitchen, broken apron strings dangling limply at our sides. What if Waylon and Brian had some kind of mystical masculine bond? What if Waylon decided to abandon his moms? Could Brian love and support our son without trying to supplant us? Was Katy secretly worried about this, too? Was that the real explanation for her toy store shopping spree?

All of these questions were swirling in my mind when Waylon came home from preschool and gravitated to the big bag of toys. Katy told him he could pick one now and save the rest for the beach, so he closed his eyes and plunged his hand into the bag, feeling around until he located the largest toy: a three-foot plastic robot with a helmet and a ray gun. (Apparently, my feminist, nonviolent shopping criteria were the first casualty of Brian’s visit.) Waylon was in heaven. Grinning, he searched for the “on” switch. And then there was sound:

“I-am-Master,” the robot announced. “I-sense-your-fear.”

Read Part II here.

Photo by Steve Keys is covered by a Creative Commons licence. Some rights reserved.


That Damn Family Unit

Family-Tree-Poster---Englis.JPGIt’s that time of year again. For Texas families with elementary-aged kids, back to school season means the obligatory curriculum on families.

My son, Waylon, is in third grade, so we’ve been around this thorny mulberry bush a few times before. But this year the path took a new turn.

“Mom,” Waylon asked, “how come some people don’t have kids?” He was hanging on the back porch door and swaying in and out of the house in a fidgety eight-year-old kind of way.

I was in the middle of draining a boiling pot of noodles into a colander, but I still wanted to provide a wide-ranging answer. It came out something like this: “Maybe-they-don’t-want-to-or-they don’t-have-the-money-or-the-support-or-the-interest. Maybe-their-pet-is-their-baby-or-their-work-or-their-art…or something else.”

“But what about carrying on the generations?” Waylon asked.

Perpetuating the ancestral line is not something we discuss much in our donor-inseminated domestic domain. As far as I am concerned, my family’s dominant genetic traits are early baldness, alcoholism, and a propensity for moles. If the Schilt line had stopped with me, the chief mourners would be rich dermatologists.

It didn’t take me long to surmise that Waylon’s preoccupation with generation was a by-product of the classroom curriculum on families.

As a teacher, I can understand why a unit on families makes sense at the beginning of the school year. Getting students to talk about their backgrounds creates opportunities to examine similarities and differences. Direct talk about differences (and similarities across differences) is one of the best ways to dispel stereotypes and create real community in a diverse setting.

A unit on families is also a way to encourage students to connect to their cultural heritage. The other day, in the middle of a play date, Waylon’s friend Jimmy solemnly asked me if I would like to hear his cultures. He listed them on his fingers:

“Hopi, Cherokee, German, Polish, Canary Islander, Spanish…oh, what’s that one, oh, oh, um…French…”

All in all, Jimmy reported eight different “bloods.” Waylon was extremely disappointed that we did not have a similarly compelling list for him. He refused to be mollified by the fact that his great great grandfather was a polygamist with two wives, because Canadian Mormonism could not be distilled into a specific bloodline.

I was happy for Waylon’s buddy because I could tell that their classroom unit on families had given him a sense of confidence and pride. Theoretically, the family curriculum could work the same way for kids from nontraditional families, including kids from LGBT homes.
In reality, however, we live in Texas.

In a state where nontraditional families are decidedly outside the official curriculum, classroom discussions about family structure can be a source of anxiety instead of pride.

jocks.jpgThe beginning of third grade has meant the dawning of a new self-consciousness for Waylon. Last year he told us, “I love being from an odd family.” This year he told us that he wasn’t going to correct kids who assumed that his genderqueer mommy was his dad.

He’s more strategic about how he comes out to other kids now. He prefers to wait until he’s established a level of comfort and trust before he tells them that he has two moms. A few weeks ago, he let us know that he was planning how to break the news to an older kid in his after-school program. When the deed was done, Waylon expressed relief. “He didn’t seem like he wanted to stop being my friend or anything.”

Luckily, Waylon has never experienced anything more malevolent than skepticism (“that’s weird”), or incredulity (“that’s impossible.”) But I suspect that will change as he gets older. And, if the school curriculum continues to feature families at the beginning of the year, I suspect it will continue to be in tension with his desire to come out about his family at his own pace.

(On a side note, if I could ask one thing from traditional families who want to be allies, it would be that you talk with your kids about all kinds of family structures – including single parents, divorced parents, gay parents, trans parents, absent parents and multigenerational families – so that little kids from nontraditional families don’t have to bear the burden of educating their peers.)

At the end of the unit on families, Waylon had to interview family members and write a paragraph about his family heritage. I tried to suggest a few questions, but – as usual – Waylon had his own agenda for inquiry.

“Where did I get my blonde hair?” he asked. It was a logical kind of “where did I come from” question, because neither Katy nor I are natural blondes.

“I think you got your blonde hair from your grandfather,” I replied. “Or maybe from Uncle Brian,” I added, referencing Waylon’s sperm donor. (Waylon has a dazzlingly handsome blonde donor sib.)

“But what about from Mommy’s side? What did I get from my Koonce blood?”
Back to blood again! I was torn between being factually accurate and honoring the spirit of our queer family tree.

“Well, you don’t technically have Koonce blood… but you’re definitely a Koonce!” I hastened to add.

“I know I’m a Koonce,” he retorted, as if I’d just said the most obvious thing in the world. “And I do have Koonce blood in me.”

“Oh really,” I said cautiously, “tell me about that.”

“When you and Mommy kissed, some of her blood got inside you. And then it got inside of me when you made me.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling thoroughly enlightened and instructed.

Third grade is definitely a turning point. I remember it as the year I looked up every single cuss word in the dictionary. The year I learned what “virgin” meant and realized that I wasn’t the smartest kid in my class. It was also the last year I really believed in Santa Claus.

Maybe it’s wrong, but I hope he’ll keep believing in his own magical version of his family “blood” for just a little while longer.

(Poster image from the LGBTQ Parenting Connection. They have a whole host of inclusive alternatives to typical family tree assignments. Check it out.)


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