Today a past student asked me if becoming a mother had changed my views about what I teach.
I teach that gender is a regulatory fiction. Men and women are not naturally masculine or feminine, and people are not all necessarily or naturally heterosexual. In fact, men and women are more likely to not meet gender ideals and to have to put a lot of work into meeting them when they do, and human desire across history and culture has always been incredibly flexible and irrepressible. History shows that those folks who think that gender and sexuality are fixed, unchangeable and locked to biology, and that people naturally conform, are dead wrong.
In a world that I teach about, men and women could dress and walk as they choose, love whoever they want, and both participate in and destabilise what it means to be a man or a woman, regardless of their sex. They would be judged for being good persons, not for being man or woman enough for our expectations. We would get our priorities straight, love is love when it doesn’t hurt or abuse not when it happens between a man and a woman or within marriage or in order to make one person the head of the other and her children.
Have my views changed since I became a mother? Yes, I’ve become more committed. Either you understand and agree that everyone has a right to be whoever they are or you are more invested in upholding the rules that reward some and reject others because of who they are. You can’t be anti-racist and not also anti-sexist or anti-homophobic. Well, you can, but either you are against prejudice and discrimination for all, or you are not really against it at all. I know this isn’t always the popular position in a (religiously) conservative – and often hypocritical – world, but it’s what I teach and it’s what my past student was referring to.
What does all this mean for motherhood? If Ziya decides to be lesbian or bisexual or to remain unmarried or to not have children or to not conform to rules regarding femininity that she doesn’t consider just or true, I can only love her for who she is, and support and empower her in her struggle to be authentic to herself. I can only learn more and more from her analysis, courage and self-knowledge about what it takes to be truly human in a world that reduces us to and values us for our sex, gender and sexuality, rather than simply because we are.
Being a mother has strengthened my commitment to what I teach because my hope is that the transformations that social movements are seeking will be found, enabling her to love herself and simply be. Do I now think differently about what I teach? Absolutely, now I myself am learning what it all really means in relation to Zi.