Published on September 23rd, 2014 | by Thea Hillman1
Thea Hillman on THE POWER OF ANTI-DESIRE
For me, girltalk is not what it used to be. If it’s about sex, it’s about the lack of sex. If it’s about relationships, it’s about how to find one. And if it’s about being a girl or actually, a woman, right now and for the last few years, it’s about being a mother. That and only that. Everything else has fallen away.
First there were folders for writing a book. Then those folders were replaced by folders for having a baby. Now the baby is born and there are lots of empty folders. And plenty of piles. And many ideas. Especially other people’s ideas.
For years I watched other people have babies. It took me a while to realize I was sad I wasn’t having a baby. And even sadder because I didn’t think it ever would be me. I was intersex. I wasn’t sure whether I could have a baby. Whether my body was viable. I was queer, and boldy sex-positive. I had fought hard for the right to call myself a freak and I did so, loudly and publicly. And still, despite all that, some deeply ashamed part of me wondered if an intersex queer freak like me should have a baby. That voice was overridden however, by the voice that wondered how I, as a single intersex queer freak would actually go about having a baby.
Years ago, someone told me just to take a step, to see how it felt. And if it felt okay, to take another one. And if not, to stop or change course.
I got older and older and waited for life to happen or for some huge desire to overtake me. But when it came down to it, the only thing I really felt was that I would regret it if I didn’t have a kid. It was so strange, this lack of overwhelming desire. After all, that’s what I’d come to trust in relationships: passion, urgency, undeniable momentum. When it came to having a kid, all I knew was that it might be a mistake if I didn’t do it.
I came to think of it as anti-desire. And I decided to trust it, accepting and trusting that it was okay to move forward, or at least take a step, without the comforting surety of passion to propel me. It was no wonder I wasn’t hurtling forward. I was undertaking a huge task and there was so much to consider. I joined a support group for LGBTQ folks, the q for questioning whether to have kids or bring kids into a family. I joined a group of lesbians trying to get pregnant (“thinkers and tryers”). I read books about getting pregnant as a lesbian, books about trying to get pregnant as a queer couple, about an infertile couple trying to have babies, about older parents trying to have babies.
I interviewed my straight friends with kids, my queer friends with kids, my single queer friends with kids. I asked my lesbian doctor what I could do to prepare myself, and she said, start saving up money, referring to the cost of reproductive technology. I began fantasizing about tripping and falling on an erect penis, which I thought would take care of the decision and the exorbitant costs of reproduction in one fell swoop.
I envied my friends, single and in couples, the luxury they enjoyed of getting pregnant by mistake. And after all I’d been through to make my “decision” I found I had more empathy, and came to believe that hardly anyone gets pregnant by mistake. Denial maybe, but not mistake. After all, who in their right mind, if they really thought about, would think that they, them, should make a human? It’s just too existentially big of an idea. I began to think that if more people had to think more, even a fraction as much as queer folks do, about having a baby, a lot fewer people would have babies.
Years ago, someone told me just to take a step, to see how it felt.
In some ways, being a mother is supposed to be perhaps the most female thing I could do and yet my kid is the happy result of a science experiment gone right. His conception was quite far from making love and quite close to making those volcanoes that spit out smoke and lava when you mix a stranger’s sperm with Letrazol, estrogen, progesterone, HCG, acupuncture, chi nei tsang, IUIs, ultrasounds, thermometers, pee sticks, red clover, raspberry leaf, nettles, red clover blossoms, and pineapple.
And while getting pregnant itself was pretty far from a natural process, I never knew how many parts of mothering wouldn’t come naturally either. Like getting a newborn to sleep for more than 45 minutes at a stretch. Or teaching a three-month-old to use a bottle. Or figuring out how long to let your kid cry. He’s almost three and I’m learning every single day every single thing I didn’t know I didn’t know.
People ask me, how is it being a mother? How is it being a mom?
Motherhood is a flowered blouse from a clothing swap. I don’t know where it’s from and it doesn’t quite feel like mine, and yet I put it on and try to remember who I am. I don’t recognize myself in pictures, and it’s confusing with my hands that don’t recognize the body underneath them, and even more vague feeling myself from the inside out, things inside moved, broken, strengthened, altered.
I can’t imagine turning things upside down more, pushing up against what I thought I knew: I am a mother, but I don’t relate to many other people who are mothers. I am a mother, and I make choices I would never make before. My wardrobe has gone out the window. I forgo everything and anything for sleep. I live living in other people’s homes to avoid violence. I am a mother. I am perhaps not a writer, not a lover, not a worker. I am not good at the things I once excelled at. What does that make me?
A mother. Tiny wet hands pulling through my tangled hair. Little mouth tasting my sweaty skin at three a.m. Little pats on my back as he wraps his legs that barely bend and wrap around me, head on my shoulder.
Years ago, someone told me just to take a step, to see how it felt.
Becoming a mother wasn’t a decision as much as realizing a part of myself that for so many reasons seemed like it wasn’t supposed to be. In my darkest moments, it still seems like an impossibly huge task, being responsible for keeping someone else alive. Having the confidence or the arrogance or the ignorance to think I know enough to support someone else’s growth and self-realization. But I took that advice to take just one step. I trusted my anti-desire. And slowly, really, it was slowly, months after my kid was born, I fell in love. I found my desire, a desire born of long nights together with the stomach flu, of poopy baths, of more exhaustion and intimacy than I ever thought possible.
I bring this here, because I wonder what you do with information that’s different than what you always thought about yourself, when you make a decision that will change the rest of your life and it comes from a completely different place. That decision, and making it differently, was the beginning of a transition, chemical and otherwise, in which I began to not recognize myself. I didn’t recognize the way I make decisions or where I live or how small I’d become or how I’d aged or the shape of body. I use the word transition with full respect for the myriad ways trans women transition and with no illusion of comparison of my experience to a transwoman’s. I use the word transition only to reference that anyone who becomes a parent through any means goes through a transition of simultaneously becoming and disappearing. Which is complicated by being queer. Or trans. Or intersex. I wonder what your decisions have been or whether you even feel such things have actually been decisions.
Years ago, someone told me just to take a step, to see how it felt. And if it felt okay, to take another one.