PARENTING & THE FLUX OF THE MATTER
May 7th, 2015
by Kiersten Holden-Ada
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke
Learning through doing is the way I tend to learn best, which is why this idea of “living the questions now” resonates with me. Though I can certainly fall into reading and research, fully absorbed, I try to find ways to bring the learning into my body: my physical body, my intellectual body, and my emotional body. Seeking an embodied understanding. Becoming a parent propelled me into living some of my own long-standing questions in new ways. It has drawn me into a more profound and nuanced understanding of something I’ve been grappling with, to varying degrees, for most of my life: my gender identity.
Growing up, I often felt somehow not quite girl enough. But also not quite boy enough. It wasn’t until adulthood that, thankfully, queer community and discourse broadened my understanding of gender and moved my allegiances beyond the stable binary of boy or girl; I could conceptualize other options. Yet it wasn’t until after having children that I was ready and willing to explore how some of those options might harbour space for myself.
The cocktail of hormones that ruled over me during my two pregnancies, in concert with my fulfillment of roles prescribed as essentially “female” (pregnancy/birthing), caused me to settle into some aspect of my femininity. During those periods of time, I didn’t feel so divided or unsure —it was as though my gender was suddenly on solid ground. A calm contentment, the likes of which I was unaccustomed, settled in on the landscape of my gender identity. There was a marked difference: some of the questioning quieted. This noiselessness was not something I had expected or necessarily imagined, just something I noticed. It felt, admittedly, like a relief; I relaxed into it. But it didn’t last. As my babies slowly grew and became less dependent on my body, as I grew back into my own physicality and independence, my old way of being and feeling unsettled returned. With it, a familiar and disquieting dysphoria.
The contrast was so striking. In reflecting on the remarkable ways in which I had experienced my sense of gender shifting during my transitions into and out of pregnancies, and recognizing my body as a site of learning, I was compelled to adjust the approach I’d been taking to working with my gender identity issues. After a whole lot of years spent fumbling around trying to get comfortable with and attempting to connect wholeheartedly with my femininity—essentially trying to find ways to “feel more like a woman”—I decided simply to acknowledge my masculinity. Rather than wish it away, I chose to turn towards it and embrace it. At thirty-one, I started to ask myself if I might be trans; one of the ways I felt inclined to live that question was to take it out and dress it up. Treat it right. Enter Maximus.
I don’t look like this everyday. Generally, my presentation falls in the realm of tomboy-femme. Some days/weeks/months I feel more masculine and feel inclined to express that. This might mean presenting as visibly masculine in public (if/when/where it feels safe), sometimes this simply means my longer hair is tucked away for days, sometimes this means wearing facial hair at the breakfast table or stealthily sporting boxer briefs. These occasions do NOT negate my inclinations to still rock a skirt or some lipstick when that feels right. In fact, what often feels most comfortable is a creative combo.
Now in my mid-thirties, after a few years of digging into and mucking around in all of this through progressions of asking, doing, witnessing, and reflecting, my gender identity is something I’ve come to recognize and appreciate as fluid. A living process. As a pansexual individual, I am familiar with fluidity. However, only in recent years have I felt ready and willing to embrace this flexibility as an aspect of my gender identity as well as my sexual orientation.
My gender identity was something I had long been struggling to figure out, nail down, simplify, even ignore. But that has shifted, by and large. My gender identity is no longer a locked room, inaccessible and unlovable. It is a wide-open moving target, keeping me on my toes (good thing I love to dance). It is something I am owning, appreciating, and celebrating as a unique aspect of my personhood. This isn’t to say it hasn’t been hard and heavy work. Patience has been a necessity as the process of embodying this learning, amidst being a working parent of two young ones, has been a slow course. And while acknowledging this unfolding as part and parcel of the anxiety/depression that has tinted the last few years, I can be grateful for this questioning having bound me to my identity during a time in which, as a new parent, losing that connection can be involuntary. There are certainly still challenging and confusing days when it all feels too messy and complicated, but I have arrived at a more thorough understanding of myself and my mercurial gender. And with that, a sense of self-acceptance that is so nourishing. I have found love for parts of myself I used to loathe.
I am a complicated beast of fluid nature, but I’m learning to work with that fluidity and my family is too. My five-year-old will sometimes ask, “Mom, do you feel more like a girl or more like a boy today?” and my youngest occasionally calls me “Mommy/Daddy.” My heart swells. My long-term partner is well accustomed to a ride that is neither straight nor narrow.
Connections to queer and trans* communities were and remain integral to my widening understanding of gender and my ability to move towards, and into, a gender identity and expression that feels honest and true to my unfolding selves. People are the richest of resources, and I am infinitely grateful for the conversations I’ve been welcomed into and support I’ve received while exploring my own gender identity.
If parenting itself has taught me anything, it is that growth and change are constants—you’ve got to be fluid on your feet. Malleable and resilient. Present amidst the turmoil of learning. Leonard Cohen said it smoothly: “If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick everyday.” A sentiment that can apply to so many facets of life.
Kiersten Holden-Ada is a parent and working artist living in Halifax, NS who currently processes while putting heat and hammer to metal, revels in adventures with rascals, and marvels at the ocean.