Being a parent is weird, alright? 

Let’s face it. This tiny person gets born, they can’t do a thing for themselves and you spend months trying your best to keep them alive on about 3 hours of sleep a night, with an aching body and an anxious mind. Then they start to get a little more independent and mobile and the whole goddamn house is a hazard. You’re scrambling to babyproof and introduce real food and keep this tiny whirlwind from toddling off down the stairs when you look away for .3 seconds. THEN before you know it, they’re talking and asking “why” about EVERYTHING under the sun and the realization hits you that this is a whole, complex little human being in a very uncoordinated little body and it’s up to you to make sure they turn out to be a decent person. But at least, through this whole process, you have the support of other moms and dads who are living the same circumstances and sharing encouragement and camaraderie. Right? 

Well, you’d be mostly right. 

Before I get any farther, I should introduce myself. My name is Riley, I’m 31, I have a cat, an ex-husband, and I’m a mama to a very sweet four year old. 

I’m also not a woman. 

There comes this assumption that if you’re a mama, you’re a woman. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong, because there is a large portion of mamas who are, indeed, women. But there’s a lot of us who are, simultaneously, mamas and not women, because for some of us, Mama is a social title, not a gendered one. 

I’m not shy about the fact that I birthed my child, and nursed him until he was two. I’m a late bloomer, in queer terms, considering I didn’t come out as nonbinary until 2018 and I just started my physical transition this year. I’m a hell of a lot closer to being a man than I am a woman (despite the fact that I am actually neither), but mama is a title I refuse to give up. And it’s not because I endured pregnancy or the physical aspects of motherhood (though I am very proud that my body was capable of all that) because those facts don’t make me a mother any more than they didn’t make me a woman. 

I claim motherhood by role. I have always been my child’s primary caretaker, the one who gets up with him in the middle of the night, the one who makes the bulk of the major decisions in his healthcare, and the one who coaches him through the tantrums, sings him to sleep, and encourages his gentle nature. And here’s the thing, a father can and often does do ALL of those things very well, but here, it’s more expected of mothers. But there is a social culture around being a mother that, well let’s face it, I just don’t fit into. And I feel a little more comfortable in dad culture, but there’s often an overlying “let’s rag our wives” tone that makes me very uncomfortable, particularly because I’ve been on the wives’ side of the fence. So what’s a queer, nonbinary parent to do? 

I’ll let you know when I figure it out. The way I parent doesn’t fit into general American binary parenting culture, and you know what? I think I’m ok with that. It brings me a great deal of joy to hear my kid yell, “There’s Mama!” when I pick him up from daycare, and simultaneously have our daycare provider call me “him”. I’ve stopped caring if people like it, or even understand, because for every cisgender Mom or Dad who gives me the side-eye, I find another queer, trans parent who goes, “oh hey, you’re like me.” 

There’s more of us out here than you think. And we’re all in this same boat of trying to raise tiny humans to be decent people. Parents come in a myriad of shapes and forms but as long as it boils down to basic respect for others and raising good hearted folks, who cares what they look like or what title they use? 

So no, I’m not a woman. But I am a mama, and no one gets to tell me I’m not. 

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Written by Riley North (he/they)

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