In my twenties, the best term I had found was ‘psychologically androgenous’. I entered ‘motherhood’ and only then discovered that I was experiencing distress and horror around the way a gender identity was being assumed for me. I fought not to have my name replaced by ‘mummy’ – profoundly uncomfortable that adults in my life now thought I should be called that when speaking to my child. I didn’t want to go to mother and baby groups. I didn’t want a social life based on interacting with other mummies.
There’s nothing like giving birth for getting you shoved unceremoniously into other people’s gender ideas. We attach a lot of meaning to ‘motherhood’. After I gave birth, members of my own family took to sending me Mother’s Day cards, which made me feel bodily sick. I had no way of explaining what was happening to me or why it was all so difficult. I did not want all the cultural gender baggage of being a mummy. I just wanted to be a parent. It’s only in recent years that I’ve found any of the language to express this.
Gender identity isn’t a conscious choice. It’s only when your gender identity is out of kilter with how people treat you that you are likely to notice how what goes on inside does not match with social expectations. When inner experiences match how you are treated, you are likely to find your gender identity seems normal, natural and inevitable. When your inner experiences don’t match how you are treated, this can be confusing, distressing, and can make you feel very much an outsider, an ‘other’.
I spent my early years as a parent struggling with other people’s language, expectations and treatment of me. I struggled with assumptions about what my parent-status meant in terms who I was and what I was doing. “You don’t need to tell me what you’re doing,” my mother said. “I know what you’re doing.” At that point, the baby in my life was not the only thing going on. I’d stepped onto the Druid path and become active in my local Pagan community and that mattered too. She didn’t know what I was doing, and that my life did not 100% revolve around the child was unthinkable. I never wanted ‘parent’ to be the biggest part of my identity, I certainly never wanted ‘mother’ to be my identity.
Generally speaking our culture allows men to be parents and to also do other things. Men are not expected to give up their work, their hobbies, their social lives, to parent. Women can be under a lot of pressure to do any and all of that, and to make the child the centre of their being. My desire for children did not include a desire to mother them, or to sacrifice my life for theirs. I parented, and I kept working, and kept doing music and hanging out with people and did my best to have a life.
I’m a person who was pregnant. I’m a person who has a womb, and for that matter a cervix. I’m a parent. I find it difficult when public discourse around gender insists that you can’t be a pregnant person, or a person with a womb, that these conditions mean woman, and mother. It feels like running face first into a wall. I have no desire to stop anyone else from identifying with femininity, womanhood, motherhood or whatever else speaks to them. I struggle with the idea that my own discomfort with these terms somehow erases people who prefer to be identified as women.