A Mother as a Gender: A Journey to Mother as Queer Non-Binary Person

Pregnancy and parenting as a queer non-binary person

“To be the Mother of the house, you have to have the most power. Take a real family, it’s the Mother that’s the hardest worker, and the Mother gets the most respect”.

–Willi Ninja, from Paris is Burning

I never felt that being a mom would invalidate my queerness. In fact, I believe that the process of me having a child is the queerest thing that I have ever done.

Even at a young age, I was usually the person providing care based on my stern demeanor, willingness to give protective care, and creating space for folks when they needed it.  A fortune teller once told me, “you will raise more children than you will physically have.” In looking back on the amount of compassion I have offered over the years, she was absolutely right. I have always been a Mother, in some way, to someone.

Parenting and the gender binary

It wasn’t until I started coming into my queer, non-binary existence that I began to see how my experiences of caregiving play a part in my gender identity.

As a professor and therapist, non-binary gender identities is a complex concept I am able to teach. Yet harder to articulate in my personal life.  For me, being non-binary validates the floating between the margins of masculinity and femininity that I have been doing for all of my life. I was never quite boy enough for the boys, and my girl was too boy for the girls. I was just right to be a tomboy. But even then, there was the expectation for me to come back to some essence of expected femininity. To everyone, I was “just a girl”.

Deciding to become a parent as a non binary person

I had always wanted to birth children, but the ‘why’ is a bit more difficult to come up with. It is an expectation to have children in my family; it’s what makes you a ‘woman’.  Yet, my thoughts about what my family was going to look like were unconventional. It was important to me to figure out what Motherhood was going to look while joining it with the other growing parts of myself. I wasn’t going to have a child to cease the journey in who I was going to be; this kid was coming along for the ride and enjoying my rewards.

When I decided I wanted to be a mom, I didn’t grappled with desire to have children, but what I saw was the feminization of the act as a standard for the process.  The only process of Motherhood I was seeing out in the world were extra feminine, deemed unjustly as super emotional (as if they didn’t have the right to be), paired in heteronormative relationship dynamics as the expectation, and the ultimate example of what womanhood should be. Motherhood was peak womanhood, and there was no space for this to be any different.

As a result, when I found out I was pregnant I felt lost.

Could I still be masculine with my ball cap and round belly? Would my growing breasts invalidate my pronouns?  Will my pregnancy further feminize me in ways in which I don’t feel validated as a woman, but in this society it’s the only way to be seen as a mother? AND, why are maternity clothes so hideous and gendered? The answers that I had to create and wholly believe were all in some ways, yes. I had to settle with the discomfort that not all of these answers were ones that would eliminate the dysphoria I was feeling.  For me isolation and lack of representation furthers that divide between how I feel about myself and how I am seen. I lost my ability to feel grounded when my Sun and my Moon are further pulled apart.

For me, Motherhood was the next state of my existence.

The process of pregnancy and motherhood for me meant I needed to be the creator of my own universe…one that allows me and my child to be who we wanted to be and survive in the world we’re placed in.  For me, Motherhood was the next state of my existence. I wanted to have a child to grow into a certain level of existence unlike the one that I just abided by due to tradition. For my Southern roots and legacy, to be pass along the ones that have healed me.

In order for queerness to survive, we have to expand.  Hand off the fruits of our labor, or they die with us. Having a baby, for me, means the hope of a Queer future has a chance to extend to over another span of time. Someone will be able to carry the revolution, in all of its Black, Queer, Non-binary glory.

But of course, to get there we need Mothers, and pregnancy isn’t the only way to achieve Motherhood.  A Mother doesn’t need to be someone who birthed a child, but is someone that creates an opportunity for a birth to happen. Being a Mother is someone who validates another person, people, or themselves, just by being present. It’s not having all the answers but knowing where and who to get them from.  And even if we don’t know, we figure it out anyway.

My gender as a Mother is neither masculine nor feminine; it ascends those concepts. Not because it’s better, but because they are not enough.  

Masculinity and femininity in my Motherhood are layers I wear to be seen, I don’t need them to be felt.  I need for my meaning of Mother to illuminate all facets of who I am, allowing me to no longer pick a shore. Mother is the gift of an anchor I can give my child in order for them to create their own way of being so we can all find our own way to survive.  Even when this life is over, through Motherhood, through my child, I have created a way for my Sun and Moon exist in the same sky.

Shane’a (he/her) is Oshun’s daughter, Oya’s sister, and Zeyah’s Mama. The artist, writer, professor, therapist, book nerd and ratchet TV enthusiast’s superpower is encouraging healing, light and self-awareness in others. Through his magic, Shane’a is building her life’s work on the foundation that all people have the right to exist and to love and be loved, without pain or persecution.