Biologically, a mother is the woman who contributes half of her DNA to the creation of a person, and the father is the man who contributes the other half. But social and cultural contexts give us more flexibility in defining parenthood.
Some communities live the creed, “it takes a village to raise a child,” meaning that a person’s entry into the world is guided both by those whose genes they share, and by those who’ve chosen to love them regardless of DNA. Still, broadly speaking, biological parents are the ones assumed to be the primary persons responsible for teaching a person about the world. But biology is only one way to experience parenting.
I was raised in a mostly traditional southern Black family, with parents who were active in my life. Their end game was for me to be a quality person, but their end-end game was for me to be a wife, and supremely, a mother.
I got all of the right messages: get educated, be independent, learn to cook, and know how to clean…so you can find a husband. “Boys don’t like girls with nasty houses,” my mom would say. This was the 90s, before we got progressive notions about separating patriarchal world views from the lessons that we teach children.
When I started dating women, I found that there was no universal instruction about what girls were supposed to do in courtship. For some women I met, no one had addressed what girls who like girls thought about girls … who kept nasty houses.
Who teaches you how to navigate queer courtship and romance?
Just as the rules of romance can be different from the rules of friendship in straight relationships, the same applies to queer ones. Sure, queer relationships, by definition, are different from heteronormative ones. But that difference is a matter of personality rather than gender roles.
So I’m often curious about how queer folks were taught to attract or be attractive to someone of the same gender. How were we taught to navigate those relationships as they evolve? For example, I asked my wife if it mattered whether I got down on one knee when I proposed. We didn’t have to conform to conventions, right?
Wrong. I took the knee, friends. Some traditions hold.
But what is “tradition” in queer relationships? What are our courtship rituals?
I was a freshman in college when I met a girl who was into me and it was the most exciting thing in my life at the time. It was new in a way that walking is new for a toddler. The whole game had changed – the board was reset.
Before I started college, I worked with a woman that was cool in a way that the other women weren’t. I didn’t clock her as a lesbian because this was Columbus, Georgia so I had zero experience using gaydar. In hindsight though, her sweater vests were a dead giveaway.
One day, she dapped me up, but when she did, she wiggled her middle finger inside my palm. Every time I tell this story and give the demonstration, people shriek. I get it. But I didn’t take it as a come on. She was letting me know her teas, and I was intrigued in an entirely non-sexual way.
What sprang out of that handshake was a kind of parenting that I never expected.
Eagerly, I watched the way she interacted with women. She was cool, man. And confident. Her energy was easy and got her into trouble because it sometimes made “straight” girls forget that they were “straight.” She was particular about everything – obsessed with vacuum lines, and keeping her car immaculate. She was sharp and always smelled good. She made beautiful meals that I’d never had before. She opened doors and picked up the tab.
She was a gentleman, and I rocked with that. In her, I saw myself. She’d helped me find my first identity in the queer world. I was a gentleman, too. My biological parents taught me what I needed to know to grow into a high functioning, independent adult.
My gay mom – my muva – taught me how to impress and be impressive to women.
After I got my first girlfriend, I couldn’t wait to tell her about it. I came home for a visit and popped over to her place for dinner and a catch up session. I thought I was dropping the story of the year on her, but she wasn’t nearly as surprised as I thought she’d be.
She might’ve even hit me with “bout damn time!” in response.
Muva had already seen me.