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Butch Mom, Wearing Words Any Way They See Fit

Debbie says:

If you can’t blog your friends really good posts, what’s the point of having a blog at all? I’m a frequent visitor in Lori Selke’s household, so I can confirm that when they (Selke’s preferred pronoun) say, “I am a butch biological mother in a queer parenting threesome in which the other two members are male-assigned and I would probably have to arm-wrestle at least one of them for the title of ‘most butch,’” it’s no exaggeration.

Selke is responding to a Lambda Literary Review article in which Sinclair Sexsmith interviews Jack Halberstam. (Jack Halberstam, until recently, has been better known as Judith Halberstam: in either identity, a prominent and interesting gender theorist). Here’s the Halberstam quote that got Selke steaming:

Sometimes I get really irritated when I’m around other queer couples where one person is kind of clearly butch and the other is clearly less butch, but the butch partner is still called “mom.” I think, what’s that about? Why do you want to be called mom? Nothing could be further from my desire, in parenting, than to be called mom. So, we’re doing this queer parenting thing, but the roles of mom and dad have remained completely stable? Only women can be mom, only men can be dad? What’s that about? It’s another frontier where we need better and more interesting ways of thinking about how gender interacts with social functions like parenting.

And here’s Selke’s response (well, part of it):

The idea that because my kids call me mom, I believe or support the idea that only women can be mom and only men can be dad is ludicrous. Now we are using the word “mom” to determine who is hip and happening and genderbending and questioning and exploring how gender and parenting interact, and who’s not. Apparently, by not chafing at the label M-O-M, I’m not.

Even though they also call me “Mister Sir” (and sometimes “Mister Sir Mommy Sir”)? Not making that one up.

… I want to open up the word “Mom” to be as inclusive as possible. Butch moms, femme moms, none-of-the-above moms. Stud moms. Trans moms. Mister Sir Mommy moms. Male moms.

I want other words, too. New words and coinages, and the repurposing of old terms, both obscure and forgotten and otherwise. I want to rip vocabulary from the clutches of the hegemony and wear words any way I see fit. I want to mix codes and confuse the masses. And even if I didn’t want that, it happens in my wake regardless. I’ve watched the ripples of consternation follow me all my life, both before and after I became a parent.

And I see using “mom” for a butch parent as very clearly a repurposing. It’s not a word for everybody, and if Halberstam had stuck to “I have absolutely no desire to be referred to as ‘mom,’” I wouldn’t be writing this. But please. If I can be called a Mom, that lights a fuse to a lot of stereotypes about what Moms can and can’t do, look like, be.

I’m right there with them, all that range of Moms. Just the concept makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

But I have a question (more for Halberstam than for Selke, and also for anyone who wants to answer): where are the dads in this article? Is it different to talk about femme dads, and sissy dads than it is to talk about butch moms? It’s one thing to be stuck in the binary of “mom” and “dad” the same way we’re stuck in the binary of “male” and “female,” but it’s something else again to have dads go completely invisible. Halberstam talks some about butch dads (by which he means dads who have also been coded female, presumably by birth and phenotype, since the context rules out dads who have been coded female by femme behavior and dress). Selke talks about the male-assigned parents in their household.

Dads, who aren’t butch, whether they are cis-male dads, trans-female dads, genderless dads, are completely invisible in the conversation. And perhaps because I am so taken with Selke’s desire to mess with vocabulary and codes and confuse the masses (and the words they use to describe that desire), I miss the presence of the range of dads that I’m confident both Halberstam and Selke can imagine.

One Response to “Butch Mom, Wearing Words Any Way They See Fit”

  1. One of Mungo’s friends’ parents is a woman and a dad. When we first met, four or five years ago, her clothing and makeup were gender-ambiguous enough that I didn’t know what pronouns were appropriate. Now they’re unambiguously feminine.

    Once I said, to my son and another friend of his, “Jeffrey’s mom said Mr Peterson wants you there at 6:15.” Mungo looked at me like I was stupid and said, “That was Jeffrey’s dad.” And I thought, duh! Why are you making assumptions? And if you are going to make assumptions, why would you assume that Jeffrey’s dad has to be something other than Jeffrey’s dad now?

    Names for parents do get a lot of policing. Both my kids went through phases of addressing me as ‘Susan’, which bothered some people so much that they burst through their own inhibitions against correcting a child in his mother’s face to say, “She’s your mommy! You should call her mommy!”

    I never got over how paradoxical that was, to demand respect for me as a parent by disrespecting the way I was parenting. That Jack Halberstam quote seems to contain the same paradox.

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