When I was eight months pregnant, I watched a documentary about a lesbian couple whose baby was born without an anus.
“Hey,” Katy whispered in the dark. “I’m not sure this is the best thing for you to be watching right now.”
“I’m okay,” I said, “Shh!”
I was perched on the edge of the seat, heavy belly balanced awkwardly on my thighs. I couldn’t shift to a comfortable position until movie baby emerged from successful reconstructive surgery.
Later, I began to obsess on the possibility that our baby would be born with the same condition.
Katy tried in vain to assuage these fears. What was the likelihood, she asked, that another lesbian mom would have a baby with the same rare malady that she’d seen in a movie? But worrying about a baby with no anus was about focusing my energies: instead of worrying a little bit about each of the thousands of things that could go wrong, I worried a lot about one particular thing.
When the nurse placed Waylon on my chest, my mouth fell open. I should close my mouth, I thought, but a noise like chirping crickets was swelling in my ears, a wall of sound between thought and action.
Finally, a familiar voice distinguished itself from the din. “Paige, he’s beautiful. He’s beautiful, Paige. Paige, he’s beautiful.” Katy’s words were a trail of breadcrumbs; I followed them back to the present.
At that instant, a black lump slid across my belly.
It was meconium, the first shit. I looked at Katy: “He has an anus!” Joy and relief and love washed over me in waves. He was beautiful! And healthy! I was so absorbed that I didn’t see the puzzled looks on the nurses’ faces.
“She saw a documentary, you know, about a baby who was born with no anus,” Katy explained. “She was worried.”
A couple of years ago, I interviewed my wife, Katy Koonce, about life as a genderqueer mommy. Many things have changed since that initial interview: our son is in third grade, and Katy’s gender presentation is ever-evolving. In honor of Mother’s Day, I decided to post an updated conversation about mothering in the middle.
Paige: These days, it seems like half the strangers you encounter read you as a man and the other half read you as a woman. That’s a pretty good match for your identity, but it’s awfully unpredictable. What is it like to live with that uncertainty?
Katy: You know, it’s mixed. It feels exciting and right, but it can also be really hard. The other day, I was in GNC shopping for vitamins, and the sales guy started calling me “sir.” Then, about half way through our interaction, he seemed to change his mind. Before I left, he actually asked whether the masculine terminology was correct. I loved that! I told him I was very comfortable with both and that he “couldn’t get it wrong.” Poor guy. I think it was like a “Pat” moment and he was left more confused than before. I kinda want to go back and interview him about what made him question his assumption and where he got the nerve to ask. Part of me feels responsible, like I should try to ease his discomfort. But I also want to reinforce that it’s okay to ask. Cuz that’s how I roll.
Paige: Our son is in third grade, which has been the threshold of greater self-consciousness about his family. You volunteer in his classroom every week. What’s it like being the indeterminately gendered parent in that setting? How do you navigate that?
Katy: Several weeks ago, one of Waylon’s classmates, whom I have known for a couple of years, yelled “Waylon, your dad is here!” It surprised me so much. “Dad” does not resonate with me. I am Mommy! Luckily, about half the class responded “that’s Waylon’s mom” in unison.
My approach to the elementary school setting is very specific to my personality. I am just plain old counter-phobic. I used to be afraid of heights, so I bungee jumped and skydived. At Waylon’s school, I often find myself being extra charming and behaving as if no one should be shocked when I casually mention that I am identified as transgender and then ask them if I can pick their kid up next week for a play date at our house.
Paige: Sometimes you say you feel tempted to transition simply because the pressure of staying in the middle is too much. When do you feel that most?
Katy: BATHROOMS! Also at the mall when they “sir” me the whole time and then, when I am giving them my money, they ask for my name and address so they can send me spam.
Paige: How has being a parent affected the way you inhabit your body?
Katy: In every way possible. Waylon likes to be on me. It appears I am very comfortable to “lay” on. (In Texas, we say “lay down.”) He likes to grab my belly and knead it. It can be a challenge, because I come from a fat phobic family and my belly has typically been a source of shame and discomfort. But I really feel that he loves every inch of my menopausal body, wrinkles and all. In response to this, I have felt shame just completely transform. I can’t say it’s completely gone, but it is different, no doubt about that.
Paige: What’s your favorite thing about being mommy?
Katy: Even in a room full of people who think I am a dude, it still makes me so happy to hear “mommy, mommy look!” I love the way he loves me. I love that he knows I am the mama bear that will protect him at all cost.
Paige: Hey, I’m the mama bear! You are the mommy bear. Step off my nomenclature!
Anything else you’d like to add?
Katy: Yes. Happy Mother’s Day to the best co-parent a girl/boy could ever ask for. You really are the best!