I was, until recently, a pregnant man. I explored some of the issues that arose along my path to parenthood in a recent essay titled Pregnant Man?: A Conversation. My husband and I began the process of having a child several years ago when we hired a surrogacy agency that works primarily with gay male couples. After a complex process, we are now raising our daughter.
As a parent, I confront a far more sexed area of life than I have ever encountered before. Everyone congratulates my partner and me on being "fathers," even though within our home we share responsibilities and flip roles, including a mothering role, with some fluidity. The outside world, it seems, needs to box us into the "daddy" category as much as it invests women with the power of motherhood.
Some time ago, I was in a taxi with my daughter, riding to a law school event at Grand Central Terminal. She fussed a bit and the driver said, "Where's the mother. Only the mother knows how to do this." Avoiding a complex explanation that I view myself as both mother and father, I said she has two dads. He still seemed perplexed that a man could know how to care for a child. I left the taxi and wiped a saliva-soaked Cheerio from my daughter's chin, feeling less of a parent because I was perceived as only a father, and not the primary parent — a mother. It is a feeling constantly reinforced for gay male parents I know who report that when in public — at markets, stores, and restaurants — they get asked by women: "Is it mommy's day off?" It is challenging to come up with a responsible response.
Behind the confusion in faces of people like the taxi driver, whom I tell about our family structure, I can see that they are thinking that a child without a mother is akin to an orphan — taken care of, but not supported and nurtured the way only a "mother" can. Again, "[only] the mother knows how to do this." This is why I wanted to be a mother: because it was about learning and knowing how to parent in the most challenging situations. In reality, to the extent that traditional definitions of "mother" and "father" mean anything, many of us flip and shift among those roles. I have begun to wonder whether society would benefit from unsex mothering (and fathering) to foster unsexed parenting. This Article explores what that would mean and why it is desirable.