“I know that if anyone were to challenge any of my coupled queer friends’ abilities to parent, I’d be the first to defend them. So why won’t I do the same for myself?”
When I decided to become a single-mom-by-choice more than five years ago, I thought long and hard about whether I was ready. Being the sole parent meant I would have to be “on” all the time, without a second set of hands to help out. It also meant living on only one income and navigating the highs and lows of parenthood on my own. I even considered how becoming a mom would potentially alter dating in the future and how, as an openly queer woman, I would be received in the broader community. I knew I would inevitably wind up spending more time with heterosexual couples, but here’s what I didn’t anticipate: having to come out to other kids’ parents, again and again. (“Queer” is a term I prefer to use to describe my sexuality. While once considered derogatory, it has since been reclaimed and used consciously by educational institutions and within the LGBTQ community.)
I know this isn’t exactly high on the list of major issues that queer parents face—most of which are rooted in discrimination—but on an individual level, it comes up repeatedly. This is often what the situation looks like: I meet another parent—usually a mom—and our kids become fast friends. We set up playdates for our kids and chat often. At first, we talk almost exclusively about the kids, but eventually it turns into recaps of our weekends. Gradually, details about our home lives, families and living circumstances arise. When it becomes known that I’m single, it’s often met with exclamations like “We need to set you up!” For better or worse, it doesn’t usually happen, but it just ends up reminding me that I’m not “out” to my new friend.
It’s a thing I tend to take for granted—something that people who know me well have already known for years. I had my first queer relationship in high school: I brought my partner home to meet my family without warning. After that, I rarely found the need to come out as I got older—people either already knew or didn’t need to know—but it does come up with other moms, and more than I expected. It seems to be one of the handful of things that is specific to being single, queer and a parent.
What occurred to me the other day—which doesn’t seem like rocket science in retrospect—is that this is something straight and coupled parents don’t have to think about. Of course, this isn’t the case across the board. I don’t want to dismiss the experiences of coupled bisexual parents, but for many bisexual parents in that boat, their sexuality is presumed by their current relationship (or former relationships) and heterosexuality is the default assumption for uncoupled parents.
Somewhat ironically, I think queer people don’t read me as queer because I have a child, which is presumed to be a “product” of heterosexual couples. I wonder if there are others in my situation who feel the same way I do: that they’re made somewhat invisible by the assumptions of others.
When I think about having to come out to other parents, I’m surprised at what a coward I am. I realize I don’t know everyone’s politics and religious beliefs up front, and I know it’s not just me I have to consider because whatever judgments are taken out on me can also affect my now-five-year-old daughter, Anna. But the truth is, I know I would be out to these same parents if I was in a queer partnership and my sexuality was known through that visible relationship.
There’s something deeply personal (and possibly inappropriate) about discussing queerness in a schoolyard. And it’s incredibly frustrating, too, because heterosexuality isn’t sexualized at all. Explaining that I got pregnant by choice via a known sperm donor brings its own assumptions from others, but telling people I’m also a queer parent can bring up a whole new type of prejudice. I know that if anyone were to challenge any of my coupled queer friends’ abilities to parent, I’d be the first to defend them. So why won’t I do the same for myself?
Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a five-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.
This article was originally published online in December 2015.