Visual by Shreya Sharma
Parenting still remains a challenge for folks belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community. Be it reconfiguring the cisnormative notions of a family to make it more accommodative to different parenting experiences or the exclusionary laws upheld by such notions, it is difficult to avail of social benefits natural to the institution of family.The embodiment of motherhood in the bodies of heterosexual women for instance, perpetuates archaic gender roles proving burdensome to only one half of the parenting equation.
Kate Henely Averett (2021) has argued that the idea of motherhood, especially, which finds its centre in the bodies of heterosexual cisgender women is inhibiting to the experiences of the queer parents. De linking parenting behavior from gender essential notions and norms is the way forward.
In general, motherhood’s association with the bodies of cis-het women has been influencing the ways in which motherhood is perceived. This association comes about with the idea that women’s bodies are all innately different from men’s bodies, which are best suited for work in the public sphere. As opposed to women, who have historically been deemed fit for the household chores. It is assumed that care work is a given for cis-het women as a consequence of child bearing. The fact that women menstruate, can get pregnant, have a womb etc., makes it essential for them to be nurturing. There appears a heavy hand on one end being that of the gestational mother with invisible labour, opines Averett.
These distinctions create strict dichotomies as far work is concerned; limiting spheres of domesticity and the public, based on the distinction of bodily features. Such dichotomies then percolate onto the social constructs acquiring acceptance along the course, which reflects this divide and evidently, such essentialized notions also create inequalities.
Building on the work of Patricia Hill Collins (2000), Averett furthers this argument by laying emphasis on how Black Women’s bodies are perceived differently from those of white women yet are biologically essentialized. Not only is this perspective of essentialization exclusionary then, but also has underpinnings of race, class. Another setback to this essentializing is a lack of nuanced understanding in the field of research, as naturalising biological sex by researchers contributes to gender differences causing limited awareness of specific issues related to the LGBTQIA+ community, such as the issue of parenthood. These setbacks should necessitate one to look at the functioning of the LGBTQIA+ families closely.
“LGBTQ families call into question the concept of maternal embodiment in several ways. For example,it is not uncommon for lesbian families to include at least one non-gestational mother, and these mothers highlight the importance of an understanding that is not predicated on having giving birth” (Averett, 2021). The LGBTQIA+ families become an integral site as such, locating the de coupling of motherhood from the essentialized notions associated with cis-het women particularly. They call into question the cisnormative models which have been acting as a centre for parenthood.
Carmen Maria Machado, in her book, “Her Body and Other Parties'', addresses the notion of de coupling the idea of motherhood from the body of the gestational mother in the short story titled, Mothers. In doing so Machado places the maternal aspect, the quality of being nurturing and the care work on the non-gestational mother. The story about lesbian parents explores the lack of conversation around lesbian parenting, extending to their child being imaginary which is symbolic to raising deeper concerns about acceptability. The child’s imaginary nature calls for one to reflect on how the parenting experiences of the two mothers gets overshadowed by cisnormative notions of a family.
There exists other avenues of motherhood beyond the lesbian/bisexual relationships, where the aspect of motherhood isn’t necessarily attached to child bearing. i.e. Caitlyn Jenner, a trans woman who had to shift roles and affirm their identity as a mother.
A note on parental deadnaming
Using a trans gendered person’s pre transition pronoun or name for identification, refers to a deadnaming.This can also extend to the realm of parenting.
It is extremely important to view this perspective through the parenting experiences of Trans Men, which countermeasures the heteronormative experiences of parenthood. The socio, legal and medical advancements over the years have paved a path for many trans men to get pregnant yet many choose to consciously distance themselves from being termed a “mother”.This although, is a significant position to question the essentialized norms which have been determining the notions around parenthood it nonetheless, continues to be perceived by many within the gender binaries of mother and father, caretaker and money maker etc apart from being limited to a certain few countries only.
The Guardian’s report on one of its journalists, Freddy McConnell’s appeal against a high court ruling for naming him as the “mother”, on his child’s birth certificate highlights the aforementioned concern of many trans men. Laying emphasis on child bearing, Connell’s lawyer, Hannah Markham QC contended that the idea of “giving birth” was not a pre requisite to determining the parental role on an administrative document. She furthered this argument by saying, “In society, being a mother is a social construct and for a person who is trying to move away from those gendered terms because of their gender dysphoria, then that is an offence to their right to a private life, an offence to their being and identity.” Hence, parenting roles need to be de linked from gendered terms and notions.
Limited visibility of such a specific concern causes a shortage of rigorous data, manifesting itself in policy gaps. i.e. Adoption in India is only limited to heterosexual married couples and heterosexual cisgender single women, surrogacy, IVF, inheritance and guardianship laws are also gender dependent. These policies devalue the capabilities of the members belonging to the LGBTQIA+ community by limiting their rights.
A dialogue therefore is called for, to remedy these challenges of Queer Motherhood. Research as such, should be more accommodating in terms of parenting experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community while also extending to Non-Binary and Polyamorous people. Exclusionary laws and policies should be aborted, as they fail to address the pressing concerns regarding equitable and fair means to living with dignity. Such concerns are exacerbated at the intersections of policy and culture and so, discourses around de essentialization should impact culture for acceptance to become a norm. Markham raised a very important aspect of parenthood while presenting her case before the court when she said, “parenthood has many hats and what we mustn’t do is tie this up in a gendered way.”
1. Averett, Kate Henely, 2021, ‘Feminist Theory: Queer Parents, gendered embodiment and the de essentialisation of motherhood’
2. Machado, Maria Carmen, Her Bodies And Other Parties, First Graywolf Printing: 2017
3. 2020,Trans man argues against being called child’s mother at appeal court, The Guardian , March 4.
Kritika Sisodia is a postgraduate student of Philosophy from the University of Delhi with her research interests lying on the intersections of social epistemology and gender, arguing for creative ways of expressing philosophical thought to dilute the Platonic line between rhetoric and philosophy.