Claimed: Motherhood and the Privilege of Heteronormative Life
Jul 08, 2019
By Pamela Kallimanis, Member of St. John's Lutheran Church, Greenpoint
Marked with the cross of Christ forever, we are claimed, gathered, and sent for the sake of the world. ~ Metropolitan New York Synod, E.L.C.A.
As anyone in New York was aware in June 2019, this was the fiftieth anniversary of Pride also known as the Stonewall Uprising. For an entire month, anyone with a pulse was sent messages from corporations that this was indeed, Pride 50, and thanks to the magic of social media – folks in the LGBTQI community got notices all the day long about how we were special and that we needed to buy rainbow gear. In the community, there was a rift – whether to align oneself with a more wholistic and grassroots rebellion or to continue the work of Pride with the corporations. There was a counter march, and there was also a grand opening and closing ceremony to mark the world’s biggest Pride. For a month, my inbox was full of reminders of events in and around New York City – and I did take part is a few of these events. So, on the day of the actual Pride Parade, I was searching myself for some representation of who I am, a Christian – and that’s when I decided to make a sign, “Get Your Mom Hug!” I’d seen the founder of the movement on RuPaul’s talk show, and I thought, “Yes, this is how I am, now. I’m a mom.”
So, I made my sign, “Get Your Mom Hug!” and off I went with my extended chosen family to the Pride spot where we’ve set up our chairs for the past so many years, I bet we can’t agree on how many years. We always meet nearby for breakfast, bring coolers, camp out our spot, and we sit on the sidelines watching the parade with our kids.
This year was no different. I am, after all, married to a woman Pastor and we are mothers of one child. So, I do consider myself a mom, and I am part of the LGBTQI community, but that’s about the only thing that was familiar in feeling and experience. This year was definitely different. The first few moments of Pride, I wondered if I shouldn’t have this sign, “Get Your Mom Hug!” Across the way, there was a woman with the slogan, “Free Mom Hugs” written on her shirt. But my sign was larger written with electrical tape. I wondered if I was doing it right. Am I alright? Am I participating in my community? Am I really part of this? With the current political climate, am I enough? Is it enough that I marched thirty years ago for AIDS awareness? Is it enough that I was counted?
If I begin with the term, “married to a woman,” does that make me less of a mom somehow? Being a mom, does that separate me from the movement?
Before I could really get into my own thoughts, right away, people starting running up to me for a hug! They came up like toddlers, arms open, big smiles on their faces. It was remarkable. So many of the people going by would literally stop, turn back from the march and run into my arms like two-year-olds. My friends and I were so joyful. We laughed about it. We always have a great time. My one friend, whom I consider to be my sister, was wearing a shirt that read, “Fierce.” And people stopped to comment on her. “Yes, girl, you are fierce.” And she really is. Her mother is lesbian. And she is a lesbian mom.
Yet, as soon as they spotted my sign, all innocence came across their expression and they ran towards me. It was such an incredible feeling for me, to give a hug, to hold them briefly. Some of them cried in my arms. Some of them told me their stories. From the __________ organization, I, too, had this same moment of anticipation. Some of the marchers were dressed in sexually suggestive outfits, some in drag, some were allies, some were also moms and told me so. Some of them were gender non-conforming, some were trans, but I honestly felt the same way about every last one – I felt I loved them all, every child in the rainbow.
But then I also had an erasure of sorts.
Everyone assumed I was heterosexual.
Every single one.
And, I’m wondering after three decades in the LGBTQI community, why do we erase parents from the equation at this point in time? I mean, I think I understand why my generation would assume that lesbians had children from heterosexual relationships… but I don’t really fully understand why the kids born after 1984 would not question that a woman who calls herself a mom could be queer!
So, I thought, maybe I’d see if there were any statistics on mothering. And there aren’t very many. In as early as 2000, the gayby boom was going in full force on both coasts. As Ilene Chaykin wrote, “NOBODY SHOULD BE SURPRISED that lesbians are going to extreme lengths to have babies. Whatever it is that makes people gay--a gene, a fluke of nature or nurture, an elusive confluence of the two--does not impede the biological, even tribal, human drive to create families.” I think it is true still. People want to be in families, and Pride 50 confirmed that notion for me. We all want to be claimed by our mothers and hugged by them. The statistics are still staggering, many people are rejected when they come out. Myself included, my parents weren’t too pleased or welcoming of my coming out process. And churches are not making things easier. We’re still having the same conversation about sexuality, family and faith.
And then I started to wonder about surrogacy and motherless kids who have two dads or one dad or one mom, and then it just sort of opened up this amazing moment for me – I, too, am losing the labels of the former experience. One study in The Journal of Family Issues determined, “Gay men are increasingly becoming involved in reproduction despite significant barriers limiting their access to reproductive technologies or legal parentage in many jurisdictions.” (Murphy, 2018) Additionally, the rules for parenting have been evolving for quite some time with gay men which can challenge heteronormative assumptions as the study further argued, “Although parenthood for the participants in the Murphy study was related to choice, it was also closely associated with a resistance to dominant ideas that equated homosexuality with childlessness and therefore as a justification for their exclusion from normative social institutions such as marriage. So, in some ways, the gayby boom is continuing, and yet there’s a kind of invisibility for those in the LGBTQI community as we continue the work of Stonewall 50.
For instance, my child, who identifies as “fluid.” The younger generation doesn’t see the need for labels. In the best of circumstances, none of us do. However, there is still an assumption about parents, that there are two, and that they are straight. Even though, so many children are the product of divorce and there are plenty of gay parents in 2019, people still assume moms are straight cis women.
In this, I think we can all do a little bit more to make less assumptions about the origin of family. I want to go back to the parade and my sign, “Get Your Mom Hug!” because the great part of the whole day – getting hug after hug and people saying, “thank you for being here.” Well, that was pretty amazing, but the best part of the day was when my own kid claimed me. After all of those hugs, the real moment for me was when my own child, whom I have raised from birth, said to one of the marchers, “This is my mom!”
What a wonder it is to be claimed. We all need to be loved.
After a few hours of staying with the moms and celebrating as we have for sixteen years, my child jumped the barricade and joined in the march, and I watched them go off into the sunset, quite literally, with their own tribe, a younger group of marchers under a banner of rainbows, and then I was back to the crowds of people. If you’ve ever been to the Pride march, you’ll know what I mean.
Next, we walked a little further uptown to find the Lutheran float, with three Bishops – all of whom had a sign that read, “This Bishop Loves You.” And, to be sure, I was really proud of the Lutherans. So, I held up my “Get Your Mom Hug” sign, and I got a few more hugs from some of the Lutherans, including one of the Bishop’s wives, also a mom, and I thought about why it matters that we’re all in this walk together, erasure or not – because God does love us all. And that is us running like toddlers to be claimed. I hope someday I have that kind of reception in glory after all.
Pamela Kallimanis is married to a Lutheran Pastor and lives in New York City. She is a poet and Adjunct Instructor at Hunter College in English Rhetoric, Literature and Creative Writing.
Chaykin, Ilene. "babes IN ARMS." Los Angeles Magazine, July 2000, p. 105. General OneFile. Accessed 1 July 2019.
Murphy, D. A. (2013). The Desire for Parenthood: Gay Men Choosing to Become Parents Through Surrogacy. Journal of Family Issues, 34(8), 1104–1124.
Polikoff, N. D. (2018, Spring). Neglected Lesbian Mothers. Family Law Quarterly, 52(1), 87.