One of the wimmin who responded to my freaking out i have a boy baby post suggested that I look back at this post in a few weeks, months, years, decades.
I agreed. What I didn't tell her is that this is my normal habit as a mama/writer. I wrote quite a few pieces during my pregnancy with my first child and in the years immediately following that all had to do with me rolling over in my head what sort of mama I wanted to be.
Last night, after reading some of the posts, I went back and looked at this piece. I have a slightly editted (can't keep from doing that) version cut and pasted in below...
A version of this piece is on my website darkdaughta.com, but that sit is down while my server makes changes and repairs. A version of this piece has also been published at: http://familypride.uwo.ca/articles/transgressing.html
Transgressing Toward The Future
It's the year 2002.
First Nations people have been forced to live under a genocidal system of apartheid in the nations known as canada and america. They have been dominated on their own land for hundreds of years. Kidnapped African descended people have lived in and around Turtle Island, first Nations' land for a few hundred brutal years. Through globalisation multinational corporations threaten to destroy the environment and exploit the world's under-classes and dark peoples on an international scale. The gap between the haves and the have-nots widens.
Twenty-six years ago, at the age of eight, I left the island of my birth. I have been a noisy, out queer for over ten years. On December 7, 2001, my child came into this world. I have been a Mama for about eight months. My child's future is now.
The clock is ticking...
When I realized I was pregnant, I grappled with the idea of having a baby and bringing another human being into this already overcrowded, cutthroat world. I decided that I would carry my baby to term with hope and let those around me know who was coming to join us. Then I rolled up my sleeves and continued on with my chosen work - influencing the future through politically conscious acts of transgression - only this time with a difference.
A friend and fellow radical mama pointed out to me recently that there is a big difference between alternative and politically radical parenting. Alternative parenting includes practices such as natural childbirth, refusing to vaccinate, birthing children at home, breast feeding past six months, same sex parenting using the nuclear family model, parenting in groups, etc.
Politically radical or transgressive parenting can involve any or all of the above. But where you can always locate a staunch right wing, politically and socially conservative faction among people practicing elements of alternative parenting, radical parenting is solely the domain of the left minded, the politically radical, the conscious shit disturbers.
I am a radical mama who thinks of herself as a cynical utopian. This world sucks. Oppression is a hellish reality for too many of my friends and family. But thankfully, I understand that the future is malleable. It can become a better place. This transformation is something I can influence through my will, through my writings, through my erotic and through politically conscious mama work.
This work, love work, mama work, is part of my chosen path. As my little one sleeps, still half suckling at my breast, I continue with my various schemes to change this society into a less oppressive place.
I influence the future when I speak at length to those who question my choices and to those who have internalized widely accepted parenting styles as the only template for child rearing and family building. These models are prevalent, romanticized and oppressive. They persist stubbornly alongside a societal reality - that even in the most evolved situations, primary responsibility for child rearing still falls mostly on the shoulders of wimmin by default.
Verbalizing, bearing witness to the everyday factuality of my own parenting model is transgressive in that I choose to follow a template designed by me, specifically tailored to my own context and needs. Claiming this truth, the truth of my mama work is an investment in the future. When I speak, I break the silence and invite others to come out of denial as well. When I speak, I often bring the chaos and confusion that comes when certitude grounded in stereotyping and mythmaking is destroyed.
And so, destroyer and creatrix, I write and speak rebelliously about mama work, dangerous work. But as a Black conscious queer woman, I don't have the luxury of simply performing radicality; my daughter's understanding of the world is hinged on me living my politic. As a sexually radical queer gyal who got knocked up the fleshy, bombastic way - with the sperm of a straight male lover ten years my junior - I'm ready to manage the disbelief and opposition of those who bear witness. I'm ready to do battle for my beliefs.
Many people need to see mamas as soft, gentle wimmin who push strollers, blushingly expose their mammary glands for public breastfeeding, change lots of shitty, pissy diapers, who always treat their children with vulnerability, humour, patience and care. Contrary to popular belief, even these seemingly basic day-to-day aspects of mamahood are not universal. Mamas aren't all the same. We aren't cardboard cut-outs or undeveloped characters out of fairy tales. Our experiences are many and varied.
There is no universal, Pampers commercial perfect, white, young, obviously hetero, able-bodied, middle/upper class, serene mama, her left hand strategically sporting a wedding band, her clothes crisp, clean, her hair impeccably styled, her cheerful, attentive peer-aged/older hubby hovering nearby as they both dedicatedly watch over their healthy, smiling, well-dressed, good-sized, blue eyed, blonde haired child. This image is grossly inaccurate. A billion mamas consciously or unconsciously bucking imposed cultural norms as they mother with a difference can't all be wrong.
Transgressive mamas, militant mamas are situated at different points along the continuum of mamahood. We consciously define our relationship to notions of mothering, to our children, to our families, to other mothers and to society, in order to radically shift prevailing societal customs and conventions.
As bio mamas, our roles are infused with layered significance. Everyone on this planet has had a biological mother. Every human being was carried in the uterus of a woman who is their biological mother. All of us were birthed into this world via a biological mother.
Life after birth, the unfolding of the mother/child relationship is varied. Mothers and their children traverse the terrain between joy and pain, presence and absence, openness and distrust, care and neglect, love and hate, excitement and boredom, contentment and sadness, memory and forgetfulness, truth and denial.
I myself have only begun to scratch the multi-layered surface of my relationship to my own mother so shattered by immigration, so rooted in patriarchy, so founded in the destructive historical legacy of African people's experience of slavery in the West. As the biological mother of a new human being I observe many of my fellow community members attempting to deal with my presence in their lives as it triggers them around their own mother/ mothering issues.
I'm sensing that some allies may have difficulty reconciling my mamahood with my stance as a sexually radical queer or as a fellow revolutionary bent on future change. To them I offer these words: Unless you support the mamas who pass on the concepts of defiance and revolution, without mamas to raise babies-to-tots-to- children-to-teens-to-adults to fight the power, you're just conducting temporary skirmishes in the streets. You will loose the war. The changes you struggle and die for will disappear when the last of your peers passes over. You will not bring about lasting societal metamorphosis because you will have failed to recognize and support those warriors, us militant mamas, who will bring on the future.
Now that I've given birth, recovered from labour and have some energy again, I work feverishly with increased commitment to struggles against domination. My babe-in-arms comes with me wherever I go, not as a burden but instead as a tiny sistren in gurgling, giggling solidarity.
She attended her first woman of colour conference in-utero. She's been to my readings. She's been to a pro-Palestinian demo. She's been to an anti-war conference. She's attended workshops on queer community and racism, fat phobia and internalized racism. She went to the Dyke March and slept in her stroller as I marched topless. She went to Queer By Nature so she could have an environmentally conscious Pride. She slept on a comforter as her Mama helped coordinate Pride radio programming for one of the city's campus radio stations. Already this one is more politically active than I was at her age.
I raise my child with future sight. She is a phenomenal gift and thats what I've named her. I see her not just as built-in company or as a daily responsibility for the next twenty or so years, but also as a gift to future times and generations. She was born bearing a destiny that will unfold over time. It's my job to make sure she discovers who she will be. I rear her with hope for something different to come when I am long gone from this place. It is my chosen task to transmit my value systems so that she will one day have enough awareness to contribute to this society in some meaningful way...even if it means burnin' the whole corrupt sham to the ground and rebuilding it piece by piece.
But I'm not the only mama with a dream. All parents hope their children will grow up in a particular way. My dreams are just a little more left of centre than most. Like my vision of baby heading Microsoft and funneling their capital into affordable housing projects for the working class and poor. Or maybe she could become president of the whole world and turn the white house into a massive squat and its lawn into a tent city. Or maybe she could take over NASA and start space-busing people of colour, third world people, wimmin, the poor, the disabled and all other dispossessed peoples to whatever planet the rich, powerful and famous are saving for themselves when this earth finally gives up the ghost.
My dreams may seem a little too politicized for some. I've even had folks accuse me of being a cult leader because I'm bent on at least trying to teach my politics to my child. What about the millions of people who encourage their children to follow the herd everyday?
Surfing the net and meeting other mamas made me realize that so many parents have been indoctrinated into homophobia and heterocentrism, white domination and racism, imperialism, classism, capitalism, elitism and conservatism, transphobia, misogyny and patriarchy, erotophobia, ableism, fat phobia, lookism, ageism etc, in their early years. And although they may not always be able to articulate their agendas and though they may go to great pains to seem "progressive", "liberal", "open-minded" or "tolerant", one of their primary roles in their children's lives is to inculcate them with the stuff dominance, oppression and privilege are made of. But these people are not cult members. They're obviously concerned citizens and upholders of traditional family values.
Non Cult Members Include:
* consumerist, capitalist parents who fight against social reforms that offer even distribution of wealth and access to all people. Instead they hope their children will be among the few to get well-paying jobs and that they will never be laid off or that they will grow up to be CEOs of large corporations;
* classist, conservative parents who deny their own class privilege while sending their children to the most elite schools they can afford in the hopes that their progeny will rub elbows with the offspring of the supposed "elite", thereby accruing some sort of power or privilege by association;
* parents of colour with internalized racism who often knowingly try to raise their children to disassociate from their darkness and from their cultures in the hopes that they will assimilate into white dominated society;
* white/north american/western/euro parents who hire third world wimmin as nannies and proceed to exploit their vulnerability, their time, they energies in the service of raising their own children. As an added bonus these children often grow up to expect care from wimmin of colour/third world wimmin whom they see as mammy figures and caretakers;
* euro descended parents who raise their children in environments where hatred/fear/exoticization/domination of people of colour is considered acceptable.
* christian/religious parents who have been known to enforce the beliefs of whatever god or religious leader they themselves follow in the hopes that their children will do their own missionary work when they grow up.
* parents with unresolved sexuality issues who may opt to raise their children to be ashamed of their bodies and unwilling to see sexualness as anything more than a monogamous prelude to procreation;
* parents who believe fervently in the patriarchy and raise their boy children to despise powerful wimmin and their girl children to obediently follow the dictates of men;
* and parents raised in the confines of families with strict rules around gender expression who attempt to raise children obsessed with outward manifestations of masculinity and femininity rigidly corresponding with biological maleness or femaleness.
Of course, this is not to say that these non-cult members always succeed. Who birthed and raised me? Who pushed all my lefty, queer, poly-lovin', anti-oppression minded peers out into the world?
This conscious parenting is by no means an exact science. For all I know I could be raising a Black Martha Stewart or a little, female Clarence Thomas. But I'm not willing to abdicate my responsibility as a militant mama just because the results may not be one hundred percent predictable. And since the work of maintaining and passing on values and belief systems largely falls to those who breed, I figure the future is contingent on lefty parents doing our part to shamelessly raise our children with our politics. Future change is not going to simply be legislated or demonstrated into being, it will also be born.
My daughter isn't the first or the only one being raised in an anti-oppression environment. Mamas transgressing toward the future are many. I'll never forget a particularly hilarious conversation I had with a Black conscious, African, activist, professor, writer and political ally who is also a mama and a friend. With a tone of mingled frustration and proud amazement, this mama pointed out to me that her pre-teen daughter exercises her own free will by stubbornly resisting her parents whenever she disagrees with their decisions and that she recently challenged a white, male peer's blatant racism by letting him know she would not be speaking with him again until he did some sort of anti-racist workshop and dealt with his race issues.
I perceive this nine-year-old's resistance to her parents' wishes and her willingness to speak out against oppression as linked.
pain infused by political awareness, as a formerly childless, young(er), queer woman who observed many children of potentially radical mamas, mostly daughters attempting to develop their ability to resist initially through fighting their own mamas' dictates. The choice to squash them and the seedlings of their defiance or to support them, represented a frustrating challenge for their parents and to their parent's supports, myself included.
Did we choose to raise stubbornly intelligent children with their own ideas, equipped to survive consciously in this society even if it meant sacrificing our peace of mind in the moment? Or did we decide to enforce societal hierarchies at the family level by forcibly bending them to our will? Often we chose the latter and failed to give precedence to the larger picture.
Some would say this dilemma is the crux of transgressive mama work. This is where we show our commitment to social change or to convenience in the short term. I know at some point, my chile will be old enough to demand liberation in her own words. Initially I will be the power she must fight. I prepare myself as best I can for the time when I must differentiate between guiding and protecting her from harm as she grows into a human being of integrity or having her do my will in all things thereby instilling her with a fear of/respect for (my) power simply because I'm her mama. I will have to decide which kinds of dominance I will defy or support in a family context on a daily basis. I understand that my actions will not be particularly inspiring or perfectly politicized at all times. The best I can hope for is that I'll always be real.
Until she can speak in words, sentences and paragraphs, I move through communities and society demanding revolution for us both. Usually my work goes unnoticed or misunderstood. Each day as I feed baby, play with her, bathe her, dress her and leave the house, I know the stakes are high. There is very little margin for error. This is dangerous work.
There are those who maintain a fierce investment in keeping things the ways they are. They are scared of a future too markedly different from what they've grown up with. Instinctively they see my approach to mamahood as a threat to be neutralized. No single or polyamorous mamas. No kinky queer wimmin getting pregnant while fucking straight men. No matriarchal families. No substituting the nuclear family model with a fluid, extended/chosen family. No men as purveyors of sperm but not intrinsically central to the family unit.
But these terror stricken people don't rule me and they don't get to control my dreams. I've just got one really basic hope for my pride and joy: that she grow into a powerful individual whose world view has moved so far from mine, so far into the future, that I will have to study and ask questions of myself and her if I am to ever understand her. If I do my mama work well, she will one day push me to grow as she challenges my perceptions and my politic. When this time comes, and it will, I hope I will recognize it and encourage her to commence her own struggles for change as I content myself with once more bein' bad by myself.
In the meantime...
The clock is ticking and I've got nuff work to do.
Below, I've included a proactive list of everyday revolutionary acts for militant mamas who want to make sure their child-rearing packs a punch and kicks the hell out of the powers that be. If messing with notions of family, motherhood and parenting throws a wrench in the basic workings of society, then I'm opening my toolbox and giving away all my tools.
Politically Transgressive Mama-work Tips:
#1 Change the future through guerilla spam attacks. Search the net for writings by other aware mamas and spam the hell out of friends, family and strangers, alike. This lets people know you're not an isolated, oddity-turned-mama, but that you have lots and lots of sistren with similar ideas out there. This makes folks stop and think: If it isn't you making these ideas up, then what the hell is going on in the world?
#2 Write, draw, sing, dance, take photos! Whatever your medium, draw attention to what you're doing and question parenting norms as loudly and publicly as you can.
#3. If you are one, come out as a sexual, non-monogamous or poly, leather lovin, s/m mama whose family is under attack because of prevailing oppressive morals, assumption and conservative understandings. Demand that monogamous, vanilla sexin', married mamas who define as radical, alternative or lefty, question their privilege and deconstruct their social positioning not solidify it, romanticize it or justify it.
#4 If the kind of support you need doesn't exist, do it yourself. If you're feeling isolated and in need of other lefty mamas start a group for politically active mamas and their tots. The now defunct one I started in Toronto was called Militant Mamas.
#5 My child isn't old enough for me to test this one out yet. But don't drive your child crazy with your politics. Power struggles with any child leads to polarization. I'm going to try modeling my beliefs to her not enforcing them.
#6 Be prepared for those old-fashioned blue and pink colour-coded clothing junkies. Practice lying about your child's gender. Go on! Try it! Say your child is a boy when it's wearing lots of baby pink, even as you know child's little genitals are screaming female. This never fails to attack people's pre-programmed notions of masculinity and femininity at a really core level. Just watch for the confusion on their faces as you happily jump back and forth between male and female pronouns.
#7 Never take the expected route. Always come out of left field. Throw everyone, even your political friends, for a loop as often as you can. A mama who avoids pre-packaged roles by choosing her own path is a thinking mama who will raise thinking children. This is considered extremely transgressive in a world where the powers that be would like us to close our eyes, say we're too tired to reflect, shut up and just follow.
#8 Breastfeed as long as you possibly can. It's cheap. It's portable. It also really pisses the hell out of a lot of people. My pediatrician, an authoritarian if I ever sniffed one, damn near lost her mind when she realized that my daughter is still mostly drinking breast milk. Doc must have been wondering how the big formula and child food manufacturers who make billions off feeding trash to our children, would ever survive without my money.
#9 If time permits, don't put your newborn on a sleeping or eating schedule. Routines are about regimentation. They prepare your child's mind and time for the capitalist, corporate work world. Besides, don't you think your little one knows when it's hungry or ready to sleep?
#10 Get together with other parents and start an anti-oppression daycare co-op, day-camp or school grounded in the precepts of social change and justice. Basically you'd be creating a child friendly learning and development atmosphere not just for your child, but for many children where they can all grow and play without being systemically oppressed in their educational environment.
#11 Get a bunch of your lefty, academic friends together and propose that they donate two and a half hours every week to help you home school your child. This is much less time consuming than starting a whole school. It also has the added bonus of showing you who among your friends is willing to put their time where their politic is.
#12 Gently encourage your child to spend time with the children of other lefty families. This may offer your child acquaintances who might be less likely to send self-esteem damaging messages about fitting into the dominant society. And as lefties cut across all ethnicities and cultures, your child will also be exposed to different kinds of people.
#13 Become a midwife or a doula (birthing assistant). How many healthcare practitioners dealing with pregnant mamas do you know who have anti-oppression politics, meaning they are queer positive, anti-racist, anti-classist, sex positive, anti-ableist, have an analysis of fat phobia (which comes in really handy with pregnant wimmin) and lookism, etc. Yeah, our midwives and birthing assistants know how to birth babies, but wouldn't it be nice to find someone who could deliver a breech and has an oppositional world view, too? That person may just have to be you.
#14 Refuse to vaccinate your child. Mass child vaccination is a booming money maker for pharmaceuticals who have also been responsible for testing new medications on third world people, conducting increasingly hideous and unethical animal experimentation, unnecessarily prescribing antibiotics, trying to stifle/control homeopathic practitioners and medicines and attempting to stop free/affordable distribution of AIDS medication. Vaccinations have been proven to contain mercury and formaldehyde among other things that are causing infant deaths and autism. Some have likened the pharmaceutical/medical establishment/state cover-up of vaccination side effects to the way information about cigarettes causing cancer was initially buried. There is no actual proof that they work. It's more likely that disease stats have gone down due to increased hygiene, sanitation and nutrition.
vaccination risk awareness network: http://www.vran.org/
#15 Don't stop your child from watching television. A child who doesn't know how to recognize media manipulation is a sitting target out in the larger world. Instead, sit down and watch Buffy The Vampire Slayer or The Young & The Restless with your child. Point out how scrawny Buffy looks and that she must be malnutritioned. Ask your child why all the wimmin on the Y&R have fake bleach blonde hair when truly blonde white wimmin are so rare? Talk to your child about the fact that not many folks can afford the clothes and cars in the commercials and that the advertisers would really like to see Mama in debt. Ask your child why men and wimmin always feel the need to suck face everywhere they go when queers have to hide. Ask your child if thatï¿½s fair? Donï¿½t forget to do the nightly news, too. Rip 'em to shreds with your child. Then teach your child to do the same.
#16 Ask your supports not to buy brand label baby things. This always freaks out folks who'd like to see your child keep up with the Joneses. Instead, encourage them to seek out second hand stores or to find mamas who don't need their babies' things anymore. Reason? Baby-oriented consumerism is a big business. Sifting through my child's numerous day and evening wear ensembles I discovered that there is such a thing as Roots Girl, Gap Baby, even dyam DIOR Baby. Gotta instill some self-esteem and nip that need to become a walking billboard ASAP.
#17 Have lots of sex. When your baby is sleeping, choose to get your phreak on instead of washing the dishes. Get childcare and go to fetish nights, orgies or play parties if that's your thang. A well-boinked mama is a mama who feels and is in touch with her own body. And of course, a mama who likes her body, feels comfortable with sex and has good physical boundaries will raise children who grow into sex-positive, guilt-free beings. And eventually, by sheer force of numbers, they will put institutions like marriage and the catholic church that exploit and perpetuate relationship dysfunction and sexual shame, out of business.
#18 Leave baby with trusted friends/family a few times a month. Go out. Have a beer. Watch a movie. Play some dominoes. Shoot some pool. Dress up and go dancing. Behave like a suck if no one will stay with baby so you can go out. A social mama is a networking, vibrant mama who resists the unbelievable isolation that has become a cornerstone of mothering in the western world. That maxim about the village and raising kids is no bleeping joke. Take a woman with or without partner, cut her off from adult company, make her run a house and care for her children on her own. Watch her get extremely irritated, then depressed, then psychotic as her children become increasingly unhappy and demanding of more attention. Then when she cracks, charge her with murder and line her up next to the rest of the wimmin on death row. Sure, free Mumia. But don't forget my sistren, are in the big house, too.
#19 Wimmin, find your voice and use it often. In a child negative society where children are maimed, abused, kidnapped and just generally emotionally damaged everyday, a militant mama's first line of defense is her voice. Speak to folks who try to touch you child if you don't like it. If they don't listen, explain to them in graphic detail how nice their heads and hands will look on your mantle.
#20 Take up self defense, if you haven't already. Learn to box or kick or go for the jugular. As wimmin in a patriarchal society we're not safe. As wimmin with children in tow some will see us as fair game. These ones must be terminated.
#21 If you have stopped going to demos and marches because you thought they were just too 101, now is the time to start hitting the streets again. Baby needs to do Anti-Oppression 101. IWD/Pride/ Take Back the Night and all other leftie demos will give him/her insight plus an understanding that lots of people feel the same way as Mama. Note: Try to go to marches with other militant mamas so you can be visible as a unit should Five-0 decide to get nasty. Or alternately, go with a group of friends who are willing to stay close by and protect you and baby if necessary.
#22 Ask for solidarity, support and, if necessary, protection from those with left politics but without children. How far beneath the surface of their buttons, slogans, demos, workshops and attestations of community does their political awareness go? Find out if they're for real or just perpetrating. Point out that babies and mamas are politicized beings and community members, too. Watch to see who steps forward and stays there.
#23 Have meetings/discussions with those who would count themselves as family. Define your goals and expectations to family and friends. Make yourself clear because you can't assume your peoples will automatically understand where you're headed. Let them know that you plan on raising your child(ren) with a difference. Expect friends/family to misunderstand your ideas anyway. As long as you see they're trying to co-operate correct them if they cross your boundaries. But be prepared to deal with those friends/relatives/ lovers who even subtly in word or deed purposefully defy the choices you're making. Parenting for change isn't easy and even the most well-intentioned support may (un)knowingly mess with your programme as you attempt to step with your child(ren) into the future.
#24 Love yourself and your child(ren) fiercely.
Â© August 2002