Parenting Without Labels by Azureé Harrison
Updated: Sep 1, 2021
When my wife and I first began planning to have kids, I couldn’t envision what being a parent
would look or feel like. I knew I wanted to become a parent and felt as ready as I was going to be. That was about it. I had no way of knowing that becoming a parent would push me to
question my relationship with myself at my very core.
I’m a masculine-of-center lesbian and my wife identifies as a femme. We have always honored equity in our relationship, making sure that roles are shared and can shift fluidly, depending on what’s needed at any point in time. To me, role sharing in a relationship is just best practice. I get that some people view masc/femme relationships as parallel to a stereotypical man/woman relationship, but I don’t believe in certain things being a “man’s role” or a woman’s role” to begin with. And what the heck would those beliefs even mean in a relationship between two women?
There is no man in our relationship and that’s kinda exactly the point.
Anyway, when quarantine first hit, my twins who were two-years-old at the time, were home
because their daycare closed. I am a teacher and my school also closed its doors, shifting to a distance-learning format. My wife, on the other hand, works 10-hour days and is considered essential, so I entered into quarantine assuming the role of primary caregiver. I love my kids, don’t get me wrong, but being a full-time stay-at-home parent is a bit of a mindfuck. Every choice has to center around the kids’ needs. So my personal needs and identity as an individual quickly faded to the background by necessity.
Being a parent of toddlers requires a great deal of softness. Toddlers need clear boundaries
to be set, yes, but they are also very emotionally-sensitive beings. They need, arguably more
than anything else, for their adults to comfort them, nurture them, to be gentle with them. I love my kids and had no problem with the act of pouring love into them in this way, but a storm was beginning to brew within me. I thought that I had evolved beyond the construct that defines softness as anti-masculine, but all signs were pointing towards I actually hadn’t. The more time I spent embodying that softness, the further away I started to feel from my masculinity.
It took me some time before I realized that even though my masculinity doesn’t threaten my
wife’s femininity, it has always been at odds with my own feminine energy. As a child, I hated
that femininity was imposed upon me. My childhood bedroom was pink, despite my many
objections to the color. I was made to wear dresses and other “girly” things on special occasions and told it was not my choice. I grew up with expectations for me to think and behave in feminine ways because of my gender. I was a tomboy, but only to the extent that it didn’t challenge people’s expectations for me as a girl. I went along with it for a really long time because my survival depended on it.
When I came out in my early 20s, I fully embraced the masculine energy that I’d been
suppressing. I ditched the dresses and feminine decorum and shopped unapologetically in the men's section. I carried myself in ways that felt true to who I know myself to be, at one point joining a women’s travel flag football team. I loved the freedom of expressing my masculine energy in such ways. My friends, who were mostly all masculine-of-center lesbians like myself, responded to my masculinity in affirming ways. I never thought twice about whether or not feminine energy existed within me. My womanhood no longer depended on feminine “markers” in order to be valid.
I developed a very complicated relationship with my feminine energy and then ultimately
abandoned it. I had to fight so hard for most of my life to claim my masculinity that I viewed my feminine energy as something I grew out of, rather than something I could have potentially grown with. Becoming a parent, and especially parenting under these current circumstances, brought it all right back to my doorstep.
So where do I stand right now? I guess I’ll say that I see myself as a parent neither particularly
masculine nor feminine. Rather both. My identity as a parent is becoming its own nonbinary
expression. I’m working on allowing myself to express love in whatever way feels right in that
moment, and forget about which box it might fit into. I’m beginning to embrace this new
understanding with a sense of pride rather than shame, confusion, or disgust. Earlier this
afternoon I held one of my twins as they drifted gently off to sleep. I thought about how
comforted and protected they must feel to be able to fall asleep in my arms like that. Labels like masculine-of-center and stud don't matter to them, only that I love them unconditionally and keep them safe. At that moment, I felt both soft and strong. And for the first time, neither of those elements were at odds with each other.
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