04 JUL WHERE IS THE FATHER?
By: Meaghan Peckham & Jenny MacLean
As my wife and I have been preparing to conceive, we have shared our plans with friends – other lesbian and queer friends — whose first question in response to our plan is, “Will you tell the kid who their dad is?” Dad is used in replace of sperm donor, as if a sperm donor somehow has automatic authority in our lives. Will we tell our child who their biological contributor is? Yes. We will not use the word ‘father’ or ‘dad’ as a term to define our child’s sperm donor. As far as I am concerned, “father” and “dad” are roles that someone plays. This child will have two loving, attentive, competent, and successful mothers, and no father.
The follow-up response that we have commonly got when we tell the inquirer that we will not be using the term dad with our future children is, “we want our child to have the right to know who their dad is”. Why do women, in this case, married lesbians, feel that their children need to meet the person that donated their sperm for their child’s existence? It is as if somehow their children will be missing out if they don’t have a male father figure in their life and that having two moms is inadequate. Kids grow up in a variety of family structures — single parent families, raised by grandparents, same-sex parent families, poly families, extended families, and trans parents. Does a child miss out on a dominant male figure if they never had one in their lives?
The belief that children need a dominant male ‘father’ figure in their life, and that they are missing out if they don’t have it, is rooted in patriarchy, misogyny, heterosexism, and toxic masculinity paradigms, that tell us that men can offer something different than a woman, and that a person’s life is incomplete unless a man is in it.
Individuals have different things to offer children, regardless of their gender identity. Simply speaking, women* can model and promote strength and athleticism, traits and skills that are stereotypically provided by men; and men* can provide nurturing, tenderness, and affection, traits that are commonly attributed to women. Heterosexism has limited our ability to develop and own the various parts of ourselves, making us believe that we can never be enough because of our gender (in this case, women-identified people*).
We believe that it is a challenge for lesbian women to feel that they can provide their children with what they stereotypically perceive as male roles. It is this way of thinking, informed by heteronormativity and patriarchy, that influences how their children are raised and what they think they can offer them. The heteronormative messaging we all receive is so powerful, it finds its way into how we understand and construct family. A same-sex couple, provided with messaging about heteronormativity, homophobia, and patriarchy, internalize that they are lacking something if they chose to have a family. Additionally, there is limited representation of same-sex families that actually reflect what families have the potential to look like. This can create a number of barriers within daily living, that often go unnamed and rather manifest themselves as an intense felt experience.
Our belief is that parents who provide their children with love, safety, support, attention, stimulation, and space for their interests to be fostered, will create an environment in which they get all that they need. Therefore, children of lesbian moms will not need a “father” figure to fulfill any aspect of their lives.
*This article is written from a gender binary perspective to highlight the point being made in the article, and does not sufficiently address the impact of heterosexism, misogyny, toxic masculinity, and patriarchy on parents who do not identify within the gender binary*
* The word “Women” is used to encompass women-identified people, whether or not they were born with female anatomy
* The word “Men” is used to encompass men-identified people, whether or not they were born with male anatomy
26 OCT LOVE LESSONS
Disclaimer: Many family members, including those written about in my writing, have expressed reactions to my insights. I felt it was important in this piece of writing to address this. My insights are my own. They result from experiences that I have had, sometimes which have been a result of other people’s choices and actions. My writing is not meant to negate context or be insensitive to what might have been going on for that person that might have impacted those choices. But nonetheless, they have an impact. This process for me, is the act of exploring the impact and claiming a life I want for myself. It is part of my ongoing healing and growth as a human being – a human that wants to be free of the burden of other people’s choices and learn from my experiences. I want to live consciously, which requires thinking critically about those experiences.
This piece is about the lessons of love.
I have been reading bell hooks’ book, “All about love”, and it has made me reflect on my own experiences with, and in relationship to, love. Do you remember how you learned how to love? What were the messages you received about what love is? I learned from a young age that love was obligatory and dutiful; it was not a choice. As a child in my family, I was expected to love people because they were members of my family, whether or not I felt connected to, or even liked them. I learned that love is about having your needs being met first; it does not mean sacrificing or emphasizing happiness of others before your own. To be loved meant that a roof was over my head and food was in my belly. Love did not mean care and attention. The love I felt, for the most part, felt inconvenient and burdensome. It was not shown through tenderness, patience or nurturing.
I went on to have years of lessons about love as a teenager and a young adult that further confused me. I had learned some very harsh lessons about love during those years; now only realizing it was not love at all. My first boyfriend, who I was with for 3 years in high school, was a misogynist. His main objective was to manipulate and coerce women. He did not respect them. I was constantly lied to, taken advantage of, and betrayed. Throughout the relationship, I remember knowing and believing that I did not deserve to be treated the way he was treating me, but felt confused that someone who said he loved me would treat me so poorly. I found myself repeatedly begging for his commitment and respect; unable to recognize that this was something he did not know how to give. I eventually emancipated myself from the relationship and very confidently did not look back, but I was left feeling raw and shattered. I had accepted that romantic love was selfish and self-centered.
My lessons in love taught me that my needs should be met first; that love is selfish. I did not have the experience of reciprocal love. I did not learn that love was self-sacrificing. I didn’t have experience of a relationship where it was safe to be self-sacrificing in. If I put the needs of someone else before my own, they would just keep on taking, and my needs would never be met. I am realizing that I really don’t know how to love. What I thought was love, really is not. In bell hooks introduction to her book, she identifies that, as a society, we struggle with understanding what love is. We have misunderstandings about what love looks like and feels like due to inaccurate media portrayals of love – being misogynist and patriarchal — as well as due to capitalism, materialism that promotes greed, and individual self-interest, over another person’s emotional and spiritual wellbeing. I learned at an early age that I had to rely on myself, and as a result, I became preoccupied with making sure I have enough and obtaining financially stability, which annihilates my ability to be self-sacrificing in relationships. My preoccupation with survival, believing that no one other than myself can provide me with safety, stability, and consistency, along with thinking that no one will meet my meets, have all distorted my understanding of what love is – both how it feels to experience, and what it looks like to give to another person. It conveys to my partner that they can’t be trusted to support me, and that they aren’t needed. It interferes with my ability to be present, and nurturing of the relationship.
Bell hook’s definition of love was something that was never modeled for me, neither verbally nor in expression. She writes, “love is a combination of trust, commitment, care, respect, knowledge, and responsibility”, and that it is the concern and commitment to the spiritual growth of another (pg. 54). Without having this example in my early life, I haven’t been able to provide this in romantic relationships, and have been very challenged in my role as a mother.
Most recently, with the help of bell hook’s wisdom, I have been reflecting on a relationship in my life that has been causing me significant turmoil. Someone who I love, and who helped raise me, said a hurtful, homophobic comment without me intending on hearing her. When this was brought to her attention, she refused to take responsibility for what she said, claiming that if I was offended by the comment then it was my problem. As a result, I haven’t spoken to her in months. I am so deeply hurt that this person rather stand firmly in her pride and righteousness than to apologize to me. That she rather live out her limited remaining days without speaking to me than to take responsibility and to show remorse for hurting someone she loves. Though not easy, I chose to respond by not having contact with her, even if that meant that she would die before we spoke again. I felt it was my obligation to stand up to her, something that people around her are not able to do. I was standing up for better treatment, and to teach her a lesson.
After reading “All about love”, I began to realize that I too was responding from a place of pridefulness and self-righteousness. Though I was the one hurt in this scenario, I was not responding from a place of love – commitment, care, concern, and respect for the other person. Though I don’t have the template, I imagine that if I attempt to respond from a place of love and concern, the outcome can be very different, and I can be freed of toxic feelings of resentment, and hate. I mean, what am I protecting against anyway? What is this all for? So that at the end of the day I can say, “I won”, “I stood my ground”, or “She finally learned something”? I am not sure if that is the message that matters. It is so easy for me to feel separate from others, to feel divided from community. This person also has a tendency to push people away, and alienate herself from others. Maybe what we both need, is to talk to each other and reconcile despite our differences. To identify where we can come together. Discover which parts of us we can share and offer one another. It is so easy for me to excavate the past and identify wrong-doings in others, especially when those same people are not committed to growth, reflection, and repair. But this stance only serves one purpose – to stand up for myself, and to protect myself – but unfortunately, it also keeps people away.
In a commitment to myself to live more deeply and connected, and to create closeness rather than distance between myself and others, and to experience true, real love in my relationships, I have to focus on reconciliation in relationships that I chose to remain in, or accept when reconciliation is not possible. I am challenging myself to put aside my defenses and offer love instead of hate, even when wounded. We will see where that takes me.
06 JUL THE DAY THAT I WAS CHANGED
I was 12, it was a warm spring afternoon and school had just ended. I finished up a conversation with my friends before setting out to head home, making plans for the next day’s lunch hour. I remember having a sense of happiness, connectedness, and belonging. I remember feeling carefree, and excited. As I walked through the catwalk at the top of our street, I planned what I was going to eat for an afternoon snack, and what show I was going to watch on TV when I got home. I thought about my friends and the excitement of my day. I didn’t have a worry in the world.
As I walked a few more meters to the peak of the hill overlooking my house, my world came to a complete halt. Standing frozen at the top of the hill, looking at my house, I saw a large white truck in the driveway. Unable to comprehend at that moment what was happening, I began to panic. I ran. I ran so fast down the hill and up the steps of my house. I ran through the front porch and stood at the opening of the front door. Blurred images of strangers carrying boxes filled the space behind my mom. My heart pounded out of my chest as my throat closed in. My vision narrowed and I began to sob.
Terrified, I ask my mom what was happening? She stated that “we are moving”, that we were leaving that hour, that we were going to live with my grandparents, and that my dad didn’t know we were leaving. As I took in this information, the ground became unstable. The edges of my world became undefined; blurry and permeable. I was losing contact with myself. I recall screaming and crying, but I was no longer in my body. Psychologically, that 12-year-old was dying, and I would never see her again.
What emerged was a child who was anxious and mistrusting of people. This child learned that her needs and safety were not important. This child became angry and closed off and no longer looked to relationships for safety and comfort. She was no longer the adventurous, risk-taking, trusting, loving, sensitive 12-year-old girl who she once was. Instead, she became controlling, uptight, angry, and very sad. Instantly, my life was unpredictable, as was the relationship with my mother. The only person I could rely on was me.
These qualities, though useful for my survival in what my nervous system deemed life threatening, are extremely limiting in relationship. I don’t trust people. I can’t trust that someone will have my back, or that they will think about my best interests, or put me first. I don’t believe that someone, anyone, will not hurt me. This translates into not being able to open up about my feelings in fear that they will be used against me, or even just misunderstood. It means that I look over my partner’s shoulder when she is making breakfast for me in the morning, making suggestions for how it can be done, not trusting that she can do it; that she is competent. It translates to me feeling like people can’t do things right. I become distressed when a decision gets made by my partner that results in an undesirable outcome, one in which in the grand scheme of things doesn’t even matter. It all evokes the same feelings I had that day when I was 12-years-old and my belongings were packed up for me, and a decision was made about my life without warning, consideration, and without care and concern. It feels as significant of a threat that my life, and my internal world, can be turned upside down in an instant. My inability to trust also makes it very difficult for me to be vulnerable in relationship. As a result, my partners rarely hear about how I feel, or receive tenderness from me.
The impact on my partners (past and present) is that they don’t feel needed. They feel alone, questioning their place in my life. They feel unsatisfied and unfulfilled in relationship with me. When I get feedback of what I am not doing, what I am not providing in relationships, and when I recognize how my past still continues to impact who I am in relationships, it makes me feel scared, alone and unworthy of love; the same feeling I felt 18 years ago.
I have been working to process this for the last 9 years, but this is the first time I am putting this in writing. Just when I thought I have worked through this traumatic event, it reemerges in a new way. Being in relationship highlights the consequences of that day, over-and-over again. I hope to rediscover the child I was before the ground was ripped out from beneath my feet. I want to find the beauty in my own vulnerability. And most importantly, I need to find a way to trust the people I love.
01 MAR THE IMPACT OF HETERONORMATIVITY
In the summer of 2013, I was confronted with my attraction to women. I was going about my heterosexual life when I saw a woman, at a distance, who immediately made my heart stop and triggered butterflies to take flight in my stomach. This feeling scared me. I was married to a man who I had been with for six years and we have a beautiful child together. What did my obvious attraction to this woman mean about my sexuality? I thought about this for half of a year before sharing it with anyone, and by that time, I couldn’t ignore my attraction to women. My male dominated lens had been turned off, and suddenly, I only saw women; evvvv-errrry-where. While there are benefits to viewing a world in which only women exist, this new awareness put everything I had known about myself for the last 27 years into question.
The last three years of my life have been incredibly challenging to navigate. I have come to understand myself in a completely different way. The question that I keep coming back to is: how could I have lived 27 years of my life oblivious to who I truly am?
I began questioning all of my experiences, including all the guys I had dated and been intimate with, as well as the challenges I faced with intimacy in my marriage. After sifting through all the bullshit that insisted I was the problem, I determined that each of those experiences were shaped and informed by heteronormativity and heterosexism. I had spent years seeking the attention of men, confusing that with heterosexuality. Instead, what it really meant was that I was trapped within social constructions that convinced me that I was need of validation. I was seeking validation of my femininity, attractiveness, and desirability, because that is what I was taught to be valuable. My worth was determined by the acknowledgement and acceptance of men.
Throughout my life, I was never fond of the male body. As you can imagine, it really got in the way of reciprocal, healthy (hetero)sexual relationships. But for all of my adolescent and adult life, I just figured I was the only reasonable heterosexual woman who admitted to not liking them. There had to be more women like me. I didn’t realize that those women, who are not sexually attracted to men and penises, were called “lesbians”.
I came to realize that I was mistaking my disinterest and repulsion of the male genitalia as a flaw within myself. How could a straight woman not like penises? Something definitely must have been wrong with me. I must not be woman enough, if I don’t like penises. Women are supposed to love the male body, like most of my friends do. Not once did it occur to me that my lack of attraction to the male body was because I am gay. I did not think that fantasizing about having sex with a woman, or desiring having a family with a woman could mean I am a lesbian. I thought every heterosexual woman fantasized about having sex with a woman.
While these are just a few examples of the many ways in which I have come to understand the indicators of my sexuality, how could all of these very obvious signs of my sexuality have been ignored? I thought that maybe if I had parents who explained that sexuality took various forms, or that there was life and relationships outside of the heteronormative bubble that surrounds us, I may have been able to recognize these experiences as evidence of non-heterosexuality. While that would have been helpful, I recognize that the same system that oppressed my understanding and options, oppressed their understanding of sexuality as well. Heteronormativity oppresses us all.
The impact of heteronormativity is profound. It is so powerful, stifling, and constricting, that it made me internalize these experiences as evidence that I was defective. It did not give space for any other possible explanation for my experience. Heteronormativity, heterosexism, homophobia, misogyny — male privilege and the sexual objectification of women, brainwashed me to believe that my existence is only valid if it involves men. I am only a woman if I dress femininely, evoke the attention of men, seduce men, please men, and eventually marry and have children with a man. My womanhood was defined by men. Heteronormativity imposes and instills the belief that something is wrong with you if you if you do not fit within this reality.
Retrospectively, there were so many indicators that I was a lesbian, dating all the way back to my childhood. Those clues were overlooked, because our culture taught me to deny parts of myself that didn’t fit into the dominant heteronormative discourse. As a consequence, there has been an aching misalignment between my internal and external self. The world knew a version of me, one that conformed to dominant heteronormative expectations. My authentic self was imprisoned within my internal world, protected from rejection, judgment, and abandonment. As a result of this discrepancy between two worlds, I was so unhappy and uncomfortable within myself.
Despite living a lovely life, full of achievement, love, and adventure, I felt empty during all of it. I was dissociated from a significant part of myself. The same part that holds compassion, truth, respect, honesty and vulnerability. Internalized heteronormativity, heterosexism, and homophobia contributed to 27 years of disconnection, isolation, and unhappiness. While I have slowly released my authentic self, I am now left with the pain of grieving the loss of the last 27 years of my life in which I had to pretend to be someone I was not.