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Some notes on gender and parenthood

loo

Herewith, some notes on gender and parenthood, by way of organizing some thoughts and soliciting dialog in advance of a panel I’ll be speaking on.  These notes also provide attendees a place to which to be able to trace various threads, should they like, or carry on the conversation we started.

This Friday I have the honor to be speaking  at the Dad 2.0 Summit alongside four other really smart panelists and in dialog with the great folks assembled in the room. Our moderator is Parent Hacks founder/author Asha Dornfest; co-panelists are National At-Home Dad Network President Al Watts, therapist and Father’s Forum founder Bruce Linton, and Huffington Post senior columnist Lisa Belkin.

The question organizing our chat: Can parenting ever really be gender-neutral? Framed in the program thusly:

When it comes to parenting, mothers are held to an unreasonably high standard, while the bar for passable fatherhood is disproportionately low. As fathers strive for greater credibility as parents, the gap between those standards is diminishing. But will that gap every truly disappear? And is this the only way dads will ever be perceived as having a truly equal footing when it comes to raising kids?

Below, some notes on things I consider axiomatic and fundamental, but worth stating explicitly, since so many of us come from so many different standpoints.  Also, some postulations about gender, parenting, and the relationship between pubic and private sphere power.

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GREAT GIFT FOR DAD

Home Depot, El Cerrito.
GREAT GIFT FOR DAD, Home Depot, El Cerrito , CA.

As fate would have it, I went out early the day before Baba’s Day to engage in a most fatherly of exploits: buy a lawnmower. Ours had died the week before, and a small herd of preschoolers and their families were headed to our back yard later in the morning to assemble and kind of graduate-ish. (About which, more later.)  Per early morning hardware store run custom, I stopped by the donut shop for a cup of hazelnut coffee and a maple bar, and allowed myself to drift through an aisle or two en route to the cordless electric mower my fellow co-housers had agreed upon.  I was stopped in my tracks by the exceedingly handsome grill pictured above, not because I coveted it (I would, but fortunately my brother-in-law has one just like it and I get to use it all the time, Scott-free), but because, despite the sign plastered across it, this thing would have intimidated the bejeepers out of my own dad during his own grilling days. “SCARY GIFT FOR DAD,” more like it.

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Cupcake face does not lie

cupcakeface
Post-prandial evidence, Oakland, CA.

Yes, fried donutey kind of cupcakes on a stick with extremely blue dipped icing–superman’s tights color blue, come to think of it–and a Superman “S” on the side (cake pops? I think they were?). Yes, for a girl’s party, why do you ask? This is the 21st century here people. His best friends are more or less evenly divided between girls and boys. Again, I cite the whole 21st century, full-spectrum thing.

He wanted to be spiffy, so he wore his tuxedo pants and blazer, with his favorite green brimmed hat and a flower in his lapel. He wanted a red rose (where do you get an eye for that kind of detail at five years old?); unfortunately we didn’t have one, nor did we even have a neighbor with one we were willing to pinch, so he made do with a daisy-ish looking thing from our garden. He’s little, so I can’t really say he’s a clothes horse. More like a clothes pony.

He’s his Baba’s boy, no doubt about it. Which is great, because I’m his Baba, right on back.

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Dateline: Austin, TX

I’m smack dab in the middle of Texas at Dad 2.0, a conference organized by and for dad bloggers, who, while a relatively smaller posse compared to mom bloggers, enjoy the benefit right out of the gate of not suffering the diminutive “daddy.”  So I was already in a good mood before I got here.  Also lifting the mood is the fact that most dad bloggers are men who care a lot about pushing at the edges of  modern fatherhood, making space in the discourses of parenthood for men as engaged caregivers rather than stoic providers or bumbling babysitters, thereby making more space for men who aspire to be engaged caregivers rather than stoic providers or bumbling babysitters.  Implicit in this project, for many (though by no means all), is the work of expanding received understandings of masculinity.

In other words, a ton of these guys are up to the exact same things I’ve been up to here at LD for years. Though we’re chipping away from different positions, we’re still at work on the same monolith, trying to carve out a wider understanding of who parents are and can be. For their part, and despite their positions of seeming normativity (most in this community and at this conference are white; haven’t met a gay dad yet psyche! Lazy Dad inna house!) they’re redefining fatherhood.  For my part, I’m chipping away at a bit of fatherhood and a bit of motherhood, and in the process pointing out, through lived experience, the vast overlap to be found between the two when you’re bound by neither designation.  Even if for many of these guys their paternity and legal legitimacy are unquestioned, their credibility as compassionate, even competent caregivers is often not a given. Dad bloggers are changing that, either implicitly or explicitly, and with each blog post and each new reader, most are elbowing out just a little bit more room for people in the next generation such as my full-spectrum boy child, should he chose to be a parent when he grows up, as well as for both of my kids, should they co-parent with a man.

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20+ questions about gender & sexual identity (pt. 2)

Continued from last Saturday: 20+ questions from my special niece for a middle school project she was doing.  Now answered after she began high school half a year later. (Hi, Mickey!)

  • How was your relationship with your father?
Thank the heavens I can use the present tense here. My dad, aka Pops, has, like my mom, always been my champion. And like her, always only to the best of his ability. In some ways I think he has been capable of understanding my gender variance a bit more empathetically than sympathetically, which is the best my mother could get to.  Even then, she was only partway through the process of knowing who I was as an adult before she died.  While my mom was an atypical woman, it wasn’t her gender or sexual identity that made her atypical. I think this is a tad more the case with my dad.

Also, he always has, and continues to invite and delight in lengthy philosophical conversations about society.  He has taken an interest in conversations about gender and sexual identity for as long as I’ve been willing to have them with him, and I think I was a way better Intro Women’s Studies teacher as a result of the hours I’d spent trying to make elemental cases for my dad.  At ninety, in many ways he’s still a very open, curious person. Even if strong and complex feelings confound him.  As they do many.

  • Did you feel different from your peers as a child?
No, but then again, boys in the neighborhood and the occasional scrappy girl were the people I considered peers. I had years and years of youthful refuge in the socially acceptable gender space tomboy. There’s a word for the kind of gal I felt myself to be; people know it; it’s not automatically pejorative. Only hitch was, it was time-dated to expire at the onset of puberty, at which point I was supposed to become a proper girly-girl, interested in boys that way. That’s where I began to feel like a weird imposter. Since I tried to fit in, conventionally, ’til I got to my first year or two into college, where I found a lot more elbow room again.

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20+ questions about my gender & sexual identity (pt. 1)

{Ed. note: As one mechanism for staggering through National Blog Posting Month (did anyone notice I stumbled on Thursday? good! didn’t think so! out sick that day!), I’m going to root around in my COPIOUS  unpublished draft file and try to finish the ones that have withstood the test of time. }

About a million years ago, I received a series of questions for a middle school project from Mickey, one of my special nieces. “Special nieces” being the daughters of my friends, one of whom is one of my oldest continuous friendships, dating back to September 1980, the other of whom is her former spouse and the donor chum and thus special uncle to our children (more on extended familial nomenclature here). The whole family, thanks to the bond we’ve forged with love, trust, and biology, is more than special.

But so! Way back when, I told her I would try to answer them all, and since she is internet-savvy (what person over the age of 12 isn’t these days?), and knows I write here (for better and for worse, I’m sure!), I asked what she thought about my answering via a post, so as to have the whole conversation get wider. She liked the idea, and said she would link to my reply in her Tumblr site. So! Hey, Mickey! Here! Months upon months–indeed, a whole school later, ya big ole high schooler–below are my replies to your questions:

  • Where did you grow up?

The suburbs of the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area.

  • How big was your family as a kid?

Four people: a mother, a father, and a sister. We didn’t see the extended part of it very often during my growing up years, so it felt pretty “nuclear,” for all intents and purposes. Even if I knew there were others of our clan somewhere a few hours or states away.

  • What gender do you identify as?

Female.

  • What is your PGP (Preferred Gender Pronoun)?

“She” is totally fine by me, but I am never disgruntled when people read me as a he, and only “correct” people  if our exchange goes on and on and I figure eventually they’ll get embarassed if they all of a sudden realize they initially got it “wrong.” On a recent trip to New York I counted well over a dozen references to me as “Sir,” and was quite tickled. I consider it a sign I’m dressing smartly.

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A brief gender-nonconforming kid resource roundup

lastyearsprincess

Halloween trick-or-treating peanut, Berkeley, CA (2010).

Visual coda to yesterday’s post, in which I mentioned our boy’s Halloween costume choice of last year. I wrote a few words about it at the time, here.  If I were to have to guess now, I’d say there’ll be a long gap ’til the next such outfit makes a Halloween appearance, though of course I could be wrong. In the intervening year, his haberdashery pace car has shifted from Big Sister to Main Boy Chum at Preschool.  For all the complex reasons that are behind such evolving self-understandings. Advancing years, increased exposure to peer groups, push of culture, pull of self, survival instinct; you name it.

The costume  above met a glowing reception throughout the neighborhood last year, though, and not just because there were blinky red lights underneath the tulle (yes there were).  I mean, really. The kid looks better in that outfit than I ever could.  Also? At least the grown-ups in our neighborhood love kids unconditionally and clearly share our conviction that the best thing we can do for them is clear the runway ahead and help them take flight.

Re: clearing the runway and helping kids take flight (into a world they’re in the process of making) – below, I’ve collected a smattering of nifty resources by and for parents of gender nonconforming kids. Halloween’s pretty much the primo occasion for this, since it’s the one day of the year kids have a wide(r) berth to explore performing different identities.

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Treat or trick!

Halloween: not just for kids. As any student of Bakhtin or Butler will tell you, grown-ups get a lot out of dressing up, too.  For many years, since the kiddles became of trick-or-treating age, I’ve dressed up as a Fred MacMurrayesque dad. Moustache, tie, plastic pipe, sweater, newspaper under my arm, slippers. (Fred would have been cleanshaven, but I couldn’t very well walk around simply looking like a mannish lesbian, could I? I mean, where’s the theatricality in that?)

IMG_2091_2Not realizing the careful periodization in the 1950s, a straight woman friend, mom of one of my daughter’s chums, thought maybe my dad outfit might be improved by rigging up a TV with a sports game on it somehow extended in front of me, maybe with a bowl of chips affixed to one wrist and a beer to the other. At the time we were talking, her husband was off at a day-long 49er’s game (if you factor in the generous tailgating time built in pre-game) while she was saddled with both kids: who’s to blame her for veering toward the Archie Bunkeresque?

A rolling Barcalounger would have really been the only proper way to execute this concept, but then how would I be motivated to get up and reposition it from house to house? The kids are too little yet to be able to push me in a wheeled Barcalounger. You can see the challenge.

One sad year I was a walking ballot, with the exact language of Proposition 8 written out on one side, and the line-up of presidential choices on the other. Suggested votes “X’ed” in, natch. (In the fog of the intervening years, the kids now have it that I was one of the sycophantic playing cards in service to the Queen of Hearts in Alice’s Wonderland. All in all, I felt just about as effectual.)

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