Pregnancy brings out this tough girl’s feminine side.
It’s a queer thing, the pregnant butch. The first time I saw one, it was like seeing Laura Bush at a Marriage Equality fundraiser—a little creepy. Of course, when I decided to race my partner to the finish line of pregnancy, I wasn’t thinking of that butch, her pregnancy or my discomfort with this mash-up of masculine and feminine. For me, to be butch was to be masculine without giving up the feminine pronoun—but without exactly embracing all that it has to offer, either.
I have always understood my responsibilities as the butch—open doors, fix the computer, attempt to be stoic in the face of illness and pain and wear a bra that adequately de-emphasizes my breasts. Less “lift and separate” and more “compress and unify.” I did my job well.
When I got pregnant, I promptly changed…nothing. Cognitive dissonance is a nice way of saying I just couldn’t figure out how to meld the mister in me with the experience of actually having a Mr. in me. I did complain a little more, in an unbitchy way, about the nausea and fatigue. But I also pretended that these were symptoms of the rock star lifestyle I’d left behind years ago. I continued carrying the heaviest bags, the box filled with our stroller, two baskets of laundry piled on top of each other. Pregnant or not, I was still the butch.
Then my 63-year-old mother-in-law neutered me after a shopping trip by shuffling out to our car to take the heaviest bags away from me. “No, no, you shouldn’t be carrying anything; you’re pregnant now,” she chided me.
As my pregnancy progressed, I changed; I was no longer the person I had known myself to be. The stoicism I had tried to effect (and not always successfully) washed completely out in a sea of hormones. I was crying, not only at commercials, but at infomercials as well, equally devastated by ads for the Christian Children’s Fund and Erik Estrada selling lots at Lake Shastina. My ability to build, fix and install jumpies, bouncies and computers also left me. Nails thumped sideways in my grip and the growing belly seemed magnetically drawn to door frames.
I should back up to say that in the race to the plus sign, my partner, Elizabeth, was actually the winner (see her article about two pregnancies in one bedroom). In the fifth month of my pregnancy, she gave birth to our first boy, Leo. As her adoring butch, I imagined I would offer a certain soothing presence during her contractions. Instead, I sat outside the birthing tub (the water was too hot for a pregnant body not in labor) and read off a cue card from our birthing class. In my hormone-induced stupor, I couldn’t remember simple phrases like “Let the wave do the work” or “Your cervix is melting open.” OK, maybe I could remember that last one, but prior to pregnancy, I could never force that phrase out of my mouth, cue card or no.
For a while, I still had my masculine clothes, but those betrayed me too. I held on to my too-baggy jeans, my T-shirts and sports bras for months. But truthfully, it hurts to have your waistband digging into your belly when there is someone else inside pushing back. That’s how I ended up at JCPenney in Santa Rosa, Calif., with my mother. My fast-eroding butchness made her giddy, and as she swirled between the racks, I whimpered in the changing stall, “Why aren’t there any men’s maternity clothes?” Then my last pair of man-shorts wore through as we stood in line to pay for the new clothes. I went home in capri pants, thinking the last of my butchness had been tossed away. But there’s nothing girly about 24 hours of contractions, I realized during labor. Nothing femme about getting an epidural injection in your spine or using your arms to lift your numb, lifeless legs. But even I could not deny the very femaleness of pushing another human being into the world. Birth is a filthy, messy, gorgeous, aching, dark spectacle, and in the moment when I finally believed that I could do it, that my body was in fact doing it despite me, the rest of me realigned. In the moment when Charlie emerged, birth became butch.
Now I am fixing things again and building a crib. And I’m okay with all of it. I’ve learned how butch it can be to have boobs that leak. In job interviews. At parties. It’s a tough leak—you know what I mean?