Lesbian and Gay Parenting Questions & Answers Column With Arlene Istar LevDear Ari

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Single Butch Parenting

Posted By on August 20, 2010

Dear Ari:

It’s good to find such a wonderful website that talks about single parents. I am a butch lesbian who would like to carry her own child. I’m an only child and I come from a culture where children are glorified. I just got out of a relationship: my ex had a child from her previous relationship and didn’t think it was time to have another one. Long story short, I have made up my mind to do it myself, even if it means being a single parent. I also don’t have insurance that covers fertility problems. Please give me any advice on this matter, and I’ll be very grateful. I need to know where to begin.
—Q

Dear Q:

Questions about single parenting are the second most common question that I get asked (the first being about coming-out issues). I will focus on two aspects of your letter: being butch, and not having insurance.

I do not know, of course, what identifying yourself as butch means for you, but in my experience when lesbians chose to use that term to describe themselves they are saying something important about how they express their gender and how they are perceived by others.  Although the term butch can be used in many contexts, for many butches the word is not an adjective that modifies another word (i.e., butchy lesbian), but an identity construct in itself. Some butches identify more with the father role than the mother role, and many are somewhat torn about where they fit to any parenting model—feeling outside of the heterosexual world, but yet not quite part of the lesbian models. Being butch can present unusual dilemmas when a female person with a masculine identity is doing a traditionally feminine task like….birthing a baby.

Now, perhaps I’m making too many assumptions about how this is for you, but as a woman who has partnered with butches for most of my lesbian life, pregnancy for some butches is simply an “impossible” choice, and for others something they mostly get through by dissociating and gritting their teeth.
However, it does appear that more and more butches are willing to engage in this “cognitive dissonance” in order to birth their own children. Although there is a wide range of female masculinities, it is worth noting that many FTMs (female-to-male transgender people) have also been birthing their own children, shaking the foundation of medical system: i.e., bearded, balding men, large with pregnancies, birthing the children who will call them Papa.

In my book, The Complete Lesbian and Gay Parenting Guide (Berkley Press, 2004), one butch talks about her experience being pregnant. She says, “One of my favorite things about being pregnant and butch was to be somewhere and be called Sir, and then as they looked down towards my belly the look of panic in their eyes …There is, however, very little support for butches having babies. The little (support) I found was actually on the Internet because in my real life people just didn’t know what to ‘do’ with it in their heads. …I was told by strangers and even a good friend that being a pregnant butch ‘just wasn’t right.’ I say however a baby can get here and have a loving family is right. One friend of mine who is a femme once said, ‘What could be more studly than a butch having a baby?’ Now, I have my body back and a wonderful daughter.”

Single parents, butch or not, are generally clear about what they want: they want a baby (or perhaps a child.) They must figure out how to expand their family (pregnancy, surrogacy, adoption,) and how to support the child (or children) solely on their own resources. This means having a work environment that is supportive to parents, having a stable income, and being willing to walk through the medical and/or social work appointments on their own. In a world where babies are thought to enter the world through couple relationships, going it alone, especially as an out LGBT person, can be challenging.

When you say that you do not have insurance that covers fertility problems, I am unsure if you do not have any insurance, or if they have limits on their coverage regarding fertility. Some insurance companies actually do not allow single women to utilize fertility services! If you do not have any insurance coverage, I do think this is important to secure before you get pregnant or begin a family. Complications of pregnancy, and any health issues a child may have, make health insurance an important commodity. In a country with escalating medical costs, and without universal health coverage, affording health coverage may be a daunting task, but it is an essential one. It is one of those things we need to provide for our families, and certainly should be on the list of things to think about before starting a family.

If you do have health coverage, but not coverage for infertility, I would start by assuming you will not need specialized fertility services. Most women are able to get pregnant through donor insemination without extensive medical intervention. Donor insemination can be accomplished at home for only the cost of semen. If you do have trouble conceiving, you may need to think about whether it is worth the financial cost of paying for out of pocket medical expenses (which can be quite costly,) or looking into another way of starting your family (which can also be quite costly.)

One of the first tasks for planned single parenting is making these kinds of decisions about starting a family all on your own. Many single parents experience bouts of feeling overwhelmed with managing a work life and a child, without any help with household chores, finances, and of course, the endless needs of children. More importantly, there is generally no one else who loves your child with the same care and intensity, and few people are as interested as you are in every coo the baby makes, or every drawing the four-year old brings home. Some single parents complain that it is harder not having anyone to share the joy with then the heartache. Single parents can sometimes feel disconnected from the wider LGBT parenting community, which may be perceived as a “coupled” community. This disconnection may be intensified as a pregnant or parenting butch. Nonetheless, making our own way is a wonderful way to build a family. Personally, I hunger for world with more butch parents.