Queering the parenting narrative: On co-parenting, uncoupling and polyamory
By: Frankie van Kan
In the back room of Cafe Gummo, my friend and I sit in front of the fireplace, engrossed in a conversation about queer love, relationship trauma and conscious uncoupling. We are here for a queer hens night; they’re a friend of the brides, and I’ve been booked as part of the entertainment.
My friend, a trans nonbinary writer I have shared the stage with many times, runs purple manicured fingers through their mane of blonde curls.
“I think it’s incredible what you’ve done. Choosing to have a baby outside of a romantic partnership is the only way I would do it,” they say.
They must catch the emotion flicker in my eyes, as they quickly add: “Obviously I don’t know the ins and outs. I’m sure it has its difficulties, but it makes so much more sense than doing it with a romantic partner.”
Images by: Lisa Sorgini
It did make sense. When my ex-partner and I chose to have a baby together two years after we broke up romantically, it made sense. It made sense to use the embryos that were left over from when we’d been through IVF as a couple.
Choosing to carry the child of someone who knows me on a deeper level than anybody else made sense. And then I went and caught feels.
The stage manager taps me on the shoulder to give me a 20-minute call. While on stage, I tell a story about three queer loves. My babe’s other parent is one of them, but there are two more. And there will be others.
I strip while I speak, and end the piece completely naked, inviting a level of vulnerability onto the stage that I couldn’t quite lean into moments before with my friend.
Our babe is three now.
Our babe being born at the very beginning of several years of lockdown led to two parents, who’d never intended to live together, sharing spaces and falling into old patterns of intimacy and navigating conflict. Over the past year I accidentally became entangled in a version of a relationship I walked away from five years ago.
I began to throw around terms like ‘nesting partners’, and through a series of miscommunications, I led myself into a space where I believed we were on the same page. I believed we both wanted this big gay poly family, with our relationship as primary.
When other people and dynamics started to enter the picture, the error of my ways came to light; I realised I was alone in my feelings. As my disillusionment engulfed me, I shattered the day-to-day intimacies of our family. The spaces we shared became separate, and the time we spent together became strained and snapped, eventually disappearing.
Through the breaking of my heart, I allowed my world, and my family, to crumble to the ground.
I felt like a failure. A failure to queerness for co-designing this progressive family narrative, then being a part of its undoing. A failure to polyamory for being rocked by insecurity, and being unable to flow smoothly through shifting dynamics.
A failure to my co-parent for allowing myself to feel outside of the boundaries we’d agreed on. A failure to myself for taking something beautiful and complicating it with unwarranted feelings.
The most crushing piece has been feeling like a failure to my babe, who’s held me in the evenings while I wept, and said “Papi’s not home” with soft acceptance when we’ve walked in the front door.
I have felt immense gratitude for our babe’s presence, their gentleness, and for the strong grounded foundations the past few years have given them. I am grateful for the secure attachment they embody, which I still struggle with.
I have found comfort in Ocean Vuong’s words: “Honour the tradition of learning through failure, because I think in this country we shame failure. When people fail, we cast them aside. But for queer folks, failure becomes a necessary practice towards success.”
I have found comfort in the words of Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron: “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.”
As the fog of my inner turmoil begins to lift, I am beginning to taste the freedom this disentanglement brings.
I can feel the transmutation of heartbreak. I can see a future reflected in the community around me; it makes the rainbow family dream I birthed this babe into feel possible again.
When the babe runs into the house sing-song-ing the name of a new person in their life, it doesn’t sting the way it did a month ago.
“During a time when most people turn away from one another for good, we turned toward one another and made the biggest commitment you can make with another human being.”
I came across these words in a piece I wrote last year, before the feels and the fallout.
Over the past few months, I have turned toward myself to heal, and toward my babe to nurture. I can feel a softening happening. I know my co-parent and I will turn toward new versions of each other. We’ll let go of what we’ve been through, and turn toward the commitment we’ve made to raise this child together.
We’ll turn toward our babe, and see our community splashing rainbows over the queer family we’ve created. This family includes partners old and new, as well as the friends and family that raise us all. As we raise our babe, we raise ourselves.
I am coming back to the dream we had of a rainbow family that works for us, for our lives and for our creative pursuits.
We were always going to queer the parenting narrative, and not just because we are queer. Because we are committed to living creatively. Because I am a sex worker, and a sexual being, and refuse to step into the role of Mother Mary without bringing my whore along with me.
Through my acceptance of all that’s happened, I am finding creativity again through writing, movement, sex, community and collaboration.
When I cry now – which is often – it is not the guttural, agonising wrenching that wracks the body, but the deep tender ache of acceptance. I am embracing the discomfort, and I am grateful to feel with such intensity.
I am curious about the personalities that will come together to raise this babe. I hope we all come with a willingness for growth and a willingness to reimagine family.
I hope we all come wanting to let go of the socially ingrained frameworks of what family and support systems may look like, thus finding what works for ourselves and the babe.
Maybe in queerness there is willingness: a willingness to look into the sticky, mucky mess of ourselves with compassion, to wonder what could be, and to strive for it.
Frankie van Kan is an interdisciplinary queer artist, writer and sex worker living, loving and learning in Naarm/Melbourne. Follow her @frankievankan.
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