Guest writer Jack López writes about his experience of being a trans parent in a society where parenting is based heavily on gender normativity.
by Jack Lopez
It is a pleasure to write this piece for International Family Equality Week and International Day of Families. Family life is so full on, so scheduled, so much about routine survival we barely stop to think. I love the opportunity to write about my family, not only because I am so proud of who we are, but because it also enables me to schedule a moment to reflect and share our lives with others.
Queer parenting in a dominant cis heterosexual world can feel very lonely, a mixture of mundane and feeling super alien. I know by writing this, that some other parent(s) will resonate and feel seen, will feel that spark of connection to a story often unheard. To you I send a big wave hello, and to others reading this welcome, I hope my words open up an alternative universe for you and a way to think about how special your own family unit is.
Being a queer trans man is a bit like having a superpower when it comes to raising a family, and from what I know about most superhero narratives, this means that my superpower can be both a blessing and a curse. The curse mainly arising from the cis heteronormativity of the outside world which makes being a queer family one of constant judgement and appearance that we are somehow breaking unspoken rules by our very existence. This curse is placed upon me by a rigid and unforgiving society. However, the blessing comes from looking within and the freedom to define what family means to us.
My homelife is my place of freedom, perhaps the only place where I can be consistently me, where despite any external changes in the way the world perceives me, at home with my children I simply exist in the same way I always have. The only tangible difference is one of presence, the gift that I was given four years ago when I became a lone parent to four young children. My parenting journey has been one of constant transition from one life phase to the next. Through the transformation of bodies, environment, and family making, I became me, and we (my family) became us.
I’m lucky to live in a small town in the North of England where there are more LGBTQIA+ families living close together than you are likely to find elsewhere. It means that my children exist in a social world with friends who have two mummies, two daddies, some who are trans or non-binary, others who are cis, and still others who are queer folk like me, parenting alone.. The separation I feel is that these families did not begin as one identity and have to come out into another. These families were established as queer from the outset, they had a place in the world. My children had to (unknowingly) weather the storm of me deciding to welcome the world into my private identity and to navigate all the changes that come with that.
This element of family making is not something I get to talk about with others and it is probably the thing that isolates me most. When a baby or child arrives the world looks at you and decides you are either mum or dad. If you are neither or you are faced with the challenge of transforming from mum to dad, you will find out very quickly that society is just not set up for this. And as such, society is not set up for queerness in a family context.
Now, let me come back to my trans parent superpower, my ability to always be looking from the outside in, to see the roles we are forced into without even realising it’s happening. I see that we (LGBTQIA+ folks) can also adopt the very binary, cis heteronormative parenting roles through survival and a fatigue of ‘not fitting in’. Despite that I’m a man with children, I’m not a father and I never experienced the pleasure of being called ‘daddy’ for the first time, only the dysphoria of being called mummy when I never felt like one. My children were old enough to be involved in the admin of my transition, they were 4, 6, 10 and 11 at that time. They helped me choose a new name and they have been able to have a say in what to call me as their parent. Asking to be called dad or daddy never felt ok for any of us, my children already have a dad in their life and that is its own special relationship between them and him. We settled on the children calling me Jack, whilst it may occasionally raise eyebrows in public, it works and it is practical. For me it was a relief just not to be called mummy, I hope that anyone else reading this with similar feelings will understand that on a deep level. For anyone currently experiencing this, if it helps, it took around 6 months before pronouns and parental title became natural for them, and old pronouns and title were forgotten.
Settling on my name as a replacement for traditional parenting title has however, really served to highlight the binary gendered limitations of family as a social construct. My children are school age, this means also I have constant contact with health and some social services and just the world in general. Here my experience converges with lone queer and couple same gender parents, or even those who parent grandchildren, siblings or niblings. Even though parent is a familiar and well used English word, the moment one wishes to describe oneself as such it causes people to have a cerebral malfunction. Becoming Jack and retiring the unwanted M title has served to see just how much we as individuals become erased through our function as parent. It highlights just how limiting language is when we don’t adapt well to change. This is an adult problem, the kids are ok.
With family titles comes ownership and this is where the struggle occurs – MY mum, MY dad, MY daughter, MY son. When you take the title away it becomes too difficult to express the relationship via ownership of a person. I become Jack, I’m their parent but that doesn’t fit logically into the rhythm of daily language. This is also where we learn about the significance of a title and what it means to a child. The word Jack with my younger children for example has simply replaced ‘mummy’, they say the word with the same love and connection, in their little world they’ve created a parenting role known as Jack and this works for them.
This has been a challenge though as we move into the world of adolescence where being different is most children’s worst nightmare. But again, this highlights an issue with the rigidity of society and the limits of cis heteronormative (im)possibility. Whilst my children (and I) don’t see me as dad, I have gradually become this to the outside world because functioning socially forces us to conform into the binary parenting set up.
When asked by a school, GP, hospital or other service – are you dad? We simply have to say yes because to do otherwise instantly outs us as different, and following that, being treated as different. When I’m dad, my identity and capacity as a parent is not questioned. As lone parent dad I’m awarded praise and sympathy due to the sexism inherent in our society. When I have outed myself as the birth parent, and therefore the trans parent I’m left with questions around my children being confused, being aggrieved through the ‘loss of a mother’, with professionals frantically scribbling down notes in their files. As such I generally choose not to, and once again adopt the identity forced upon me by society who are just not ready to think outside that particular box yet.
I often half-joke that any human wanting to know anything about the very socially constructed and restricted gendered roles in any society should just speak to a trans person. We live the whole gamut of every gendered expectation, we have shifted across the spectrum and we can truly define how much of a performance it is. I would say the same of LGBTQIA+ parents and rainbow families.
By our very existence we are the very experts on the limits and possibilities of family and love. If I were to offer any advice to new or existing parents I would say embrace your uniqueness, be aware that the current world is not ready for you because you have a super power. Your very existence breaks convention and shows the idea of family up to be exactly what it is, a set of arbitrary rules created to set limits on people and love. If you find happiness in traditions of westernised family life that is wonderful; if you don’t, then make your own path and traditions.
We were born blessed with queerness as part of our identities, we were born with the superpower to do things our way. Society will, as always, eventually catch up.
Jack López (he/him)
Jack is a renowned scholar and Associate Dean EDI at the University of Bradford, whose expertise in intimacy, personhood, and sexual and reproductive health is highly regarded. As a champion for LGBTQIA+ inclusivity in academia, he has played a pivotal role in designing policies to promote diversity and equity.
You can find out more about Jack's work here.
If you are interested in booking Jack as a speaker, please get in touch with us at email@example.com
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