As we grow up, we start to understand what has been missing in our life and we begin to search for it. For some of us, we are lucky enough to find someone to give it to us, but for many of us we have to learn to invoke it in ourselves, claim it as giver and not receiver.
“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood,” goes one mantra of the pop psychology movement, but Ms. Rachelle preferred her friends version: “It’s never too late to grow up.” I suppose that is a version of the slogan, “You are only young once, but you can be immature forever.”
My mother was never particularly good at mothering. In fact, between her narcissism and Asperger’s, she was downright awful at it. She was always furious at her mother for not mothering her enough — my grandmother was not a warm woman –and by always, I mean that after I did my grandmother’s eulogy, my mother told me that it was very nice, but she still hated her mother. My mother was 75 at the time.
As I took care of my mother as she got older, I often sympathized with my grandmother. If she was forced to deal with as wilful a child as I was forced to deal with wilful charge, well, no amount of caring could get her out of her blackness.
What my mother wanted was someone to make her feel happy, an impossible task. Only she owned her own happiness. But she imagined that someone should have done the trick, understanding and caring for her in such a personal and intensive way that she would finally be the happy child that had escaped her in her youth. She wanted a mother, in other words.
I knew this truth from an early age: someone had to be the mommy. And I knew that if someone was going to do it in this family, it would have to be me. If I never had the kind of mom who was considerate, empathic, supportive and loving, the best I could do was be that kind of mom.
Lots of women figure this out. But the vast majority of those women aren’t saddled with the challenge of being seen as a man in the world, aren’t laden with the abusing stigma of being trans.
Other women may be able to start a family of their own, to find some kids who need love and invest in their future. They can channel their own maternal urges and needs into actually being maternal.
For me, though, the best I could figure out how to do was to be a power-femme drag-mom. I am so damn femme that I never wanted to be the father to children, even though I could play bits of that at times, just another breeches role to serve kids who needed that figure in their life. Believe me, if you could have children after trans surgery, I would have done it in a heartbeat, no matter how crappy I would have looked, but sex changes are still far beyond the primitive hormones and surgery we have today.
What this meant, of course, is that I got to do all the work of a mom (and much of the work of a dad) all the dutiful daughter stuff mixed with the obligations of a son, without getting any respect, acknowledgement or reward for it. No corsages, breakfast in bed, dinner out or any of that for me. People in the trans communities couldn’t imagine that they were growing and needed a parent, even as they made adolescent demands on those around them, and people in my family couldn’t understand the emotional demands of my role.
In the 1990s, I spent a lot of time in queer spaces talking about the role of the parent in society, being the organizer of community. This call to become the parent is still difficult in queer spaces today, because when we are emotionally in our twenties, we are dedicated to running away from the habits of our parents rather than consciously creating our own parent role. By the time we take on that parental role, we have less time to be queerly political and less need to demand our own independence. We have accepted the third stage, going from dependent child to independent youth to interdependent adult.
I spent a lot of time in the last decade of my parents life comparing the obligations of a parent with the obligations of a caretaker. Mostly a parent gets to see growth everyday, while living in a context of social support networks and loving children, while a caretaker gets to see decline everyday, while living in a context of invisibility — aging & disease are not cute — and parents who are getting more and more frustrated and upset at their oncoming limitations. A parent lives in hope of better days, while a caretaker lives in certainty that worse is coming.
I spent myself not on building a future, but on cleaning up a past, and I did it without the simple respect and appreciation for what I had to put out. While my mother expressed gratitude at the end, her wishes for me were destroyed by family who never learned to take responsibility and play their part.
I knew, I knew, I knew that someone had to be the mommy. And I knew that my mother in the sky put that nature into my heart. I just also knew that the world around me called me sick and a liar when I tried to say that out loud.
Today, my choices and my path probably would have been very different, but I wasn’t just born twenty years ago. Blessings to all the transwomen who know your own maternal hearts today; may you find ways to be the mother in a real, full social context. May your babies change the world.
Somebody had to be the mommy. And that somebody had to be me. So, like any mom, if that effort left me depleted, well, it was my calling, my duty, my nature, my life.
So be it.