The experience of parenting is an overwhelmingly gendered one, and pregnancy is a catapult into that gendered space. When I was 12 weeks pregnant, a midwife told me that I probably wouldn’t be able to chestfeed because of my “gender issues,” as she put it. I had done hours of research looking for trans-friendly providers, called ahead to confirm trans-friendly care, and still had a woman tell me my trans-ness would make me a worse parent.
This midwife said, in her experience, patients with a gender identity different from their biologically female sex didn’t go on to successfully chestfeed. She felt my own chest and predicted I’d have the same experience, whether for biological reasons or socio-emotional ones. She just didn’t believe trans people could chestfeed. For obvious reasons, I didn’t stick with that midwife. But when my child was born, I did successfully chestfeed.
As a nonbinary parent, Nonbinary Parents Day, which is celebrated on the third Sunday in April, is both a celebration and a relief. I’m years into parenting and am still carving out room for myself in such a gendered space.
Nonbinary educator and performer Johnny Blazes created and began celebrating Nonbinary Parents Day in 2017, and the holiday seems to find more celebrants each year. When you’re nonbinary, you’re often forced into choosing a binary gender: between the men’s or women’s department, between Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Being a nonbinary parent involves so many parentheticals, but Nonbinary Parents Day is a day that’s just for us.
My son calls me Mimi, but I hadn’t landed on that name while I was expecting; I just knew that I wouldn’t be “Mom.” But every week at prenatal yoga, the instructors would end their classes the same way: “Now, mommies, put your hands on your bellies.”
To me, motherhood feels linked to womanhood, and I’m not a woman. I never have been.
Even typing this out brings back a wave of discomfort, a complete absence of belonging. There are plenty of nonbinary parents who are comfortable with the binary parental monikers, but “mom” never felt like me. To me, motherhood feels linked to womanhood, and I’m not a woman. I never have been.
As a result, pregnancy was a gender-dysphoric experience for me. Every time I was in a space designed for expecting moms, I felt like a fraud. When I recovered from labor and delivery, I slept in the “Mother Baby Unit.” I had my pronouns printed out on my otherwise abandoned birthing plan, but only a couple nurses used them. I was pregnant in New Jersey, a blue state with progressive politics. Still, I encountered provider after provider who told me they were working on being more gender-inclusive only to call me “mom” in the next breath.
Often, it comes from a good place. When a stranger calls me "mom," they’re usually making sure I don’t forget a water bottle or just trying to find the grown-up for another kid on the playground. The compassion and camaraderie between parents can be a force for good. The last time my family was dealing with a spilled drink at a restaurant, it was other parents that jumped to the rescue. Before we could even pick up the pieces of glass, parents from a neighboring table brought paper towels and jokes about toddlers. Among parents, we can joke about the messes we make and the sleep we don’t get. The idea is that we’re on the same team. The problem is that the language falls short.
Among parents, we can joke about the messes we make and the sleep we don’t get. The idea is that we’re on the same team. The problem is that the language falls short.
When I try to find a good pediatric dentist in my area, I find myself in online “mom groups.” When I create content about parenting, unless I include my pronouns prominently, I will inevitably get a comment like, “You go, Mama!” These gendered lines are meant to bring parents in and emphasize what we have in common, but as a nonbinary parent, the exclusion they entail can sting.
Certainly, there are glimmers of progress toward a more inclusive future. When going through steps for enrolling my child in preschool, I’ve noticed kind administrators crossing out “Mother” and “Father” on the forms and scribbling “Parent 1” and “Parent 2.” Even “Mommy and Me” classes I’ve attended often have teachers that acknowledge the dated language.
But ultimately, I’m a trans parent living in the South. A year after my son was born, we moved to North Carolina. There’s a vibrant trans community here, but I have a sense of caution, too. I find myself looking for friendly bumper stickers before I tell a playground acquaintance my pronouns. Every week at soccer, Coach John ends the class telling the kids to “find their mommies and daddies.” I don’t correct him. My kid knows to come find me. It’s delicate and exhausting. And it makes a holiday designed for nonbinary parents feel all the more worthwhile.
I’m lucky to have fellow nonbinary parents in my life. We’re out here. We’re everywhere. We’re just waiting for the rest of you to catch up to us. We choose all kinds of names, like Mapa, Baba, or, in my case, Mimi. When we introduce our kids to each other, we all have our own languages around pronouns. The kids never blink. These are family structures they call home, complete without strict gendered codes.
In families with nonbinary parents, this lack of gendered language comes naturally. For allies, a shift in vocabulary can be the quickest way to signal that your parenting spaces are inclusive. The gender-neutral word “parent” is already a part of our lexicon and goes a long way. When interacting with families, just encouraging kids to find their “grown-up” at the playground includes nonbinary parents but also grandparents, siblings, and other guardians by which children may be raised. Families are shaped in so many ways. Broad language allows us to include everyone.
In my little family, being nonbinary is easy. My kid knows who I am, as does my partner. And on Nonbinary Parents Day, the world can see me, too.
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