Growing up, I never planned on having kids. They seemed expensive and exhausting. Not only that, but I had also witnessed a great deal of controlling and harmful parenting that left me feeling like most people, including me, were likely ill-prepared to raise children.
I had encountered homophobic parents who told their kids that certain toys were “for girls” and certain clothes were “for boys.” I saw these messages reproduced on television and in popular movies. Moreover, I was diagnosed with a congenital heart disorder called Marfan Syndrome when I was 13. As a result, doctors said I would likely never carry my own kids. I was relieved I would never have to take on the burden of shaping another human.
As a young queer girl, I never dreamed of having a nuclear family with 2.5 children, a dog, and a picket fence. I didn’t dream of marrying a man. Instead of the myth-making that preoccupies so much of childhood, I dreamt of briefcases, pencil skirts, and board rooms. I wanted a talk show and a law degree.
But, when I was 17, I met the man who would become my best friend, spouse, and father of my children. When we realized we wanted to have children, we also learned that our choices would differ. We are both queer. He is asexual, and I am a lesbian. I am also polyamorous.
In choosing to raise our children, we wanted to nurture them outside of the normative expectations of gender and sexuality. We wanted to dismantle gender essentialism, or the idea that there is only one way to live in our gendered bodies as “man” or “woman.” Our goal has always been to provide alternative versions of what gender embodiment can look like for Black people, so we start at home. This is to teach our children how to be decent citizens, yes. But, more importantly, it is how we avoid them having to unlearn all the toxic and violent lessons we often encounter in childhood.
This is especially important in a society that sees being Black as the first offense. Black children are not protected in a world that seeks to eradicate anyone and anything that appears to be the “other.”
In rebellion, we don’t assign them a gender. We ask them. They dress themselves and have done so since they were very young. We honor and respect their choices about how they want to be named and addressed. And, we never assume that they are heterosexual or cisgender.
By modeling these behaviors for our children, we have taught them that there are many ways to do gender and sexuality. We have shown them that all experiences with people’s bodies, whether they fit into normative standards or not, are valid as long as they are not harmful or reproductive of oppression and violence.
Though I thought parenting was never in the cards for me, I take the call on my life very seriously as a mother of Black children. My partner and I both know that our children, our tall, brown-skinned, confident children, deserve more expansive visions of the world than what we were offered. We also know it’s our job to show them.