Personal Stories

Queer Parenting In A Crumbling World

Tumbling into patriarchal systems of marriage and childbirth may have become a thing that we do - what else is there when ‘everything is going right for you’? My awakening out of this system happened after the birth of my children. Cuddling with them, feeding them, holding them, cleaning them, loving them, I wondered about the world they needed to be informed of.

Queer Kid 1 (10 years): [While in a fun play-flight with their sibling] You have no humanity!

Queer Kid 2 (8 years): I am non-binary! I have a lot of humanity.

Queer Kid 1: Sick burn!

Not many of us have too many choices to work with. That’s the world we live in. This is especially the case if you’ve been told that cis-heteropatriarchy is the only structure by which to live by. The options for you as a person are few and far between. The advertisements about great places to visit, retreats to go on, clothes to wear are just fluff; it’s to keep you distracted from the very little choices you have as a person in this confinement that is cis-heteropatriarchy.

Becoming a parent is one such “choice” for most of us. So many of us who are parents know this intuitively. Here is the important discernment I want to make at the go: how you commit to being as a parent, is an altogether different matter from bringing young life to earth/to your home.

Have you ever wondered how having children became the most obvious, “natural” option? How is it that when we think about our lives, we think about romantic relationships and then having/not having our own children? So many of us (or should I say, all of us) come to a place in our life where we think about having children at all, and what the right time to do that is. When we are younger, we perhaps swear to never have children and when we are older, we are probably yearning to bring children into our lives. The idea of being a certain age and thinking about children is such a fundamental feature of all our lives. Why is that?

Cis-heteropatriarchy is the answer. Marriage seems to be the only choice we are shunned into when we yearn for community. To grow within our community, to have a family, we are told birthing children is the right answer. Think about the many friends you have had to leave behind to enlist yourself into the system of marriage. Think about the friends that needed to leave you behind to do so too. If marriage didn’t do that, then the struggle of getting pregnant, birthing and parenthood (motherhood especially, if you are in a cis-het relationship) will do that to you, make you abandon all that is related to building a safety net of your own. Weren’t these friends once family? We have been trained for years into believing that we are lonely souls without a partner. That we don’t make whole until we have a family, one of our own. It’s the reality of all our lives; we question ourselves and others if we don’t have what our neighbour has, what the movies say we ought to have, and what our parents believe needs to happen, even if it didn’t show up in their lives in much the same way.

Tumbling into patriarchal systems of marriage and childbirth may have become a thing that we do – what else is there when ‘everything is going right for you’? My awakening out of this system happened after the birth of my children. Cuddling with them, feeding them, holding them, cleaning them, loving them, I wondered about the world they needed to be informed of. I wondered what their childhood could potentially also include – alongside the toys and pretend-play and the certain allowances only children are able to manage. They’re also ceremoniously gendered at birth; it’s a girl! It’s a boy! Called out right away in the hospital rooms, our choice of clothes and sheets based on “hints” we have at who may arrive, how does one deal with gendering little people?

How does one talk to children about love, jealousy, greed, sadness, hope, joy? How does one hold space for disappointment, dejection and invalidation that they will all experience in so many moments of their young life? Do we have conversations with them and “prepare” them for a world of competition, winning and achieving or do we do that subtly by shaming them or making them feel disappointment when they don’t “perform”, even when we as parents don’t perform the way we have to?

How do we deal with conversations about death, loss and grief? Wait, this doesn’t end. What about conversations about body image? About sex? About sexuality? How do we understand ideas of community and friendships? How do we hold space for them to talk about any of these things?

So many of these questions, and how we hold space for them, is dependent on how we understand these experiences ourselves and what we understand of childhood. Childhood, quite frankly, is as grimy as adulthood is. Perhaps in some ways it’s grimier. Take a few moments to ask yourself what childhood is like. If you have answers like ‘innocence’, ‘play’, ‘sweetness’ etc. and there aren’t words like ‘bullying’, ‘abuse’, and ‘difficult circumstances’, your version of childhood, at the very least, is built on denial.

What do I center as important in the journey of parenting and holding space for the two young people in my life? You see the dialogue between kid one and kid two all the way at the top of this document? It makes me utterly proud that THAT’s who the two young people in my life are. They are thinkers and feelers. They are queer and they are hilarious.

What did we do differently? Over the last ten years as a parent, and over all my life of being queer (non-binary and pan sexual) and stymied, I have known that the only way to nurture life is to get really honest with what you are discerning of the world around you, and support young people’s honest wonderment.

The questions a parent must grapple with come fast. Questions that can give a grown adult a full-blown existential crisis. How are babies born, did I drink milk from your breasts, why don’t I have toys that are not violent, why do I have to wear pink, why does this person look different than me, why should I go to school, why doesn’t anyone play with me, will you die, why did you scream at me, what is sex, when can I have alcohol, why am I in tuition, why did they not tie rakhi for my sibling, why does akka sleep on the floor, will you marry again after the divorce, will daddy never hangout with us after the divorce, will they take me away from you, am I a bad dancer, what if I want to die one day?

If you really pause and read these questions again, tell me these are not questions you are asking yourself as a grown adult too? For some reason, we brush away these questions when young children ask them. We relegate them to an image of innocent creatures who can be laughed at in endearment and that’s it. But in not answering these questions with honesty, we lead them into silence. To be silent and not ask, to be silent when harm is done to them, to be silent when someone who they think knows more gets louder. What our children are asking about are ideas and experiences of gender, sexuality, patriarchy, capitalism, casteism, disability, life, and death. Why would we as parents refuse to engage in these conversations? What are we afraid of? Why do we treat children like they are inferior? That they need to grow up to understand these things? Have we as adults understood these discourses and what stymies us with all the clarity that we’ve gained? Then, why treat children as lesser than?

This document is full of questions, but I hope you see where I stand too. Queer parenting for me involves engaging in conversations of what is, as it is. The young people in my life know that there are more than two genders, that there are more ways of relating to people than through marriage or heterosexuality, that there exists a discourse in the world that will make them go to school, make them feel like they are not good enough and take away their confidence and creativity if they don’t center it as important for themselves. That as queer, shudra born to a savarna, queer and neurodivergent mother, and as a people who see akka sleep on the floor while rest of us are on beds, they can question the oppression of caste and expect change from those they can trust. Isn’t this what we learn eventually as adults? Shouldn’t we be making the world more manageable for those after us? If yes, we need to begin these conversations early.  Another thing that matters to me is having them see that difficult emotions do exist. When the world seems all beautiful and crumbly, one has to understand this, no? I’ll tell you the beauty that becomes accessible when we do this work: life seems doable. We find ways to thrive by asking ourselves what is that kernel of truth that works for us, who are the people we can surround ourselves with, what are the ways in which we can learn and thrive and nurture the kind of world we want. For me, queering my life is about making these questions visible in my everyday life, and in my children’s. This is what having queer elders can look like.

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Arthi is an artist, poet and writer. They are a non binary, pansexual and neurodivergent person. They hang out a lot with two of their most amazing children who are their primary chosen family. They hope for a world that is intersectionality aware and compassionate in holding space for people in the world or atleast visibilisation of a strong unground movement and support for those of us whose voices are constantly erased.
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