an activist, mama, part-time professor, and a contributing writer
at The Bilerico Project. Her personal blog is How to Bring Your Kids Up Queer. This post is
cross-posted at the Bilerico Project.
A while back, I attended a workshop for LGBT families. At lunch,
the organizers asked parents to break into small groups and talk
about “things that sustain us.” My group was chewing its sandwiches
in awkward silence, so I decided to plunge in: for me, one of the
most sanity-preserving practices has been staying connected to my
“You do that?” asked a gay dad in his late thirties. “How do you do
His incredulity got me thinking. Chosen family and subcultural
networks are two of the great blessings of being queer. For many
LGBT folk, our queer communities have sustained us through better
and worse, richer and poorer, sickness and health. So why is it
that, after they have kids, so many people end up missing from the
potluck and the film festival, the protest and the dance floor?
Is it exhaustion? Fear? Finances? Some kind of internalized
oppression that says queer spaces are not kid spaces?
I have to admit, when Katy and I decided to have a baby, some of
our friends were less than excited. They thought they weren’t going
to see us anymore. It felt like they were mourning just when we
were celebrating, which was hard to take.
In spite of my friends’ skepticism, I was determined not to
disappear from their lives. It took me a long time to come out, and
there was no way that I was going to trade my hard-won
multi-generational queer subculture for a re-run of the nuclear
family with two moms at the helm. It sounded boring, and it went
against everything that I wanted to teach my son about community,
engagement, and survival.
We’ve been parenting for six years now, and even our most dubious,
anti-breeder friend has had to admit that things are turning out
really different than she expected. These days, I feel closer and
more connected to the people who really matter to me, but it’s
taken intention and effort to maintain those connections. With that
in mind, I offer the following tips about what has worked for
1. Include your queer friends in your parenting.
Dykes and fags love a good softball game, right? Well, recently
we’ve found that they love a good t-ball game too. Our son, Waylon,
has chosen “aunties” and “uncles” of various genders and
orientations. They show up for his games, take him on adventures,
and even babysit on occasion.
2. Include your kids in queer community events.
Waylon is an old hand at rallies, vigils, and protests. (As long as
he gets to make and hold his own sign, he’s pretty happy.) He’s
been to conferences like Gender Odyssey (hooray for Gender Spectrum
Kids Camp). He has attended innumerable concerts, festivals, and
parades. Last year, at Houston Pride, people were so excited to see
a gayby that they were just handing over their beads, glow sticks,
and other swag. By the end of the parade, Waylon looked like
80’s-era Madonna, completely weighted down with necklaces and
bracelets. (Now, I know that some of you are worrying that parts of
the parade might not be appropriate for young children. It’s true:
one year a bunch of purple-robed gay evangelicals who were marching
in the Houston parade tossed Waylon a coozie with a picture of the
crucifixion and the words “He Died For You.” I thought that was a
3. Have your friends over after the kids are in
bed. Sometimes you need grown-up time with your friends.
For the past five years, an evolving group of friends has come over
on Sunday nights to watch L Word. It’s not because we love the show
(love to hate it, maybe), but because it gives us a chance to hang
out and catch up with our friends without having to pay for a
babysitter. Now that L Word is finally over, we’re transitioning to
a Sunday night salon/potluck with a different theme every week.
4. Get a sitter. This one takes a little planning
and prioritizing, but it doesn’t have to cost loads of money. We
regularly trade with the parents of Waylon’s friends for free
babysitting. Waylon likes this system, because it means that he
gets to have extra play dates and even the occasional sleepover. We
like it because we get to know Waylon’s friends and we get to go
out without draining our bank account. We also factor babysitting
costs into our budget. Paying a good babysitter is expensive, but I
think of it like one of those cheesy Visa ads; Babysitter:
$13/hour. Staying in touch with your queer community:
To be perfectly clear, my queer communities include people who are
gay, bi, and straight, people who are gender non-conforming and
people who are (mostly) gender conforming. What’s queer about these
networks of friends and chosen family is not necessarily the
identities of the individuals. It’s the commitment to forging new
ways of being together. It’s the creativity to look beyond the
nuclear family and to find new ways of caring for each other. My
friends have helped helped me survive illness, career change,
political depression, bio-family drama, and the ups and downs of
being a parent. Nurturing those networks is a skill I hope to pass
on to my son.
The tips above have been helpful for me. I hope other parents will
pass on what works for them.