Friday, September 22, 2000

Baby On Board: Leather Lesbians on the Mommy Track

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #139, September 22, 2000)


On Sunday afternoon, August 13, 2000, leather history was made when a baby shower was held at The Minneapolis Eagle—quite possibly the first baby shower ever held at any leather bar anywhere. The entire Twin Cities leather community had managed to keep the upcoming shower a secret from the two moms-to-be, PJ and Vicki Knight, and many leathermen and leatherwomen had braved the terra incognita of Target’s baby department and lived to tell about it. Ed Hopkins, the owner of The Minneapolis Eagle, was at the shower and was clearly excited and pleased about the event. PJ and Vicki were completely surprised, and totally delighted as well.

This may be the start of a trend. Vicki is due to deliver a baby boy at the end of September. Another leather lesbian couple, Kay and Shelley, are the proud parents of a beautiful daughter born in 1999. Shelley is the birth mother and Kay is a legal guardian of the child. According to Kay, “she is still on the petite side at only 22 lbs. but her vocabulary and understanding of concepts and conversation are growing at a phenomenal rate. She is quite the interesting person.” (At Kay and Shelley’s request, their last names do not appear in this article, and neither does their daughter’s name.)

While certainly there are folks in the leather community with kids, up to now most of them had their children in their “previous” lives, when they were still married to someone of the opposite sex. A relative few have become parents through adoption. What’s new and noteworthy is that lesbians are coming out in both a GLBT and a leather sense, pairing up, and then deciding they want to raise kids, and to—ahem—make them “from scratch,” even.

While it’s revolutionary in one sense that leatherwomen are having babies, in another sense it’s a non-issue. All these mothers agree that they are not raising “leather babies.” Nor are they necessarily raising future leather daddies or leather dykes. “I don’t know who this new little person is,” says Vicki. “People come up to me and joke about the future leather daddy. I don’t know if he’s a future leather daddy or not. This kid is not waving any flags for the leather community, unless he chooses to do so when he’s an adult. And that will be HIS choice—I don’t have any control over it.”

Kay says her daughter HAS waved a flag: “Our daughter rode the trolley at the head of the gay pride parade in Chicago, waving her little rainbow flag, and she went to the Pantheon of Leather this year and to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival last year. But she doesn’t really understand any of those things yet. I think our daughter will grow up more as the child of a lesbian couple than as a ‘leather baby,’ because in many respects we live a pretty dull, vanilla life, and she leads a pretty sheltered life, too.”

Shelley isn’t sure what she and Kay will tell their daughter about their sexuality and their leather/SM leanings—“That’s the big unknown for us, both philosophically and practically. There’s not much that she sees, of course: we keep our play and equipment well out of her consciousness. But for us, leather/SM doesn’t begin and end at the dungeon door. The baby sees me in my collar at home, and hears me call Sir ‘Sir’—I feel like now she’s too young to understand, but soon that won’t be true. I’m not interested in recruiting her for the International Ms. Leather contest in 2025, yet I don’t want to imply that there’s anything shameful or wrong about her parents’ dominant-submissive relationship. I honestly don’t know how we’ll handle this one. I’m just glad I don’t have to do it perfectly.”

Like the rest of these women, Vicki feels that leather is for consenting adults and not for a child’s consumption. “Leather/SM and child-rearing are apples and oranges to me—they’re two completely different worlds. I don’t personally want this kid to know anything about my sex life, or any lifestyle in that respect that I choose to follow. While we’re raising our child, that part is in the background.”

PJ believes it’s possible to enjoy leather while keeping it separate from child rearing. “When I was young, my parents would allow me to go to a friend’s house for a sleep-over. Well, I know full well NOW what they did the nights that I was gone—they were making babies. So while our child is sleeping over at a friend’s, we’ll be playing in the sling—what’s the difference there? The point is that all the toys are taken out when the child is gone, and are all packed away nice and neat before the child returns home.”

Still, parenthood brings inevitable changes. Kay describes a few: “We can’t hop on the motorcycle or go to a movie or do any of the spontaneous things we used to do. Weekend visits to see friends are logistically more demanding because children are equipment-intensive. And we don’t swear anymore because our daughter picks up on words so easily. We now live a child-focused life, but we were ready to make that commitment.”

Shelley says, with a sigh, “Becoming a parent has meant giving up a lot of the things I most enjoyed about being a leather dyke. We rarely travel to leather events anymore; it’s hard to find the time and space for intense play; and I’m 15 lbs. too big for my hottest outfits.” But she accepts the changes and says, “I’ve found I can’t have everything, but I’m happy and blessed with what I have.”

With the birth of their child getting closer and closer, PJ sounds like she’s ready for parenthood. “Right now everything seems to be like it is for every other pregnant couple getting ready for childbirth. We’ve done birthing classes and I feel like all the rest of the fathers in the room—the anticipation, the extra work, the preparations, all of it.” PJ says she needs to get a workbench together—just like her father had—so she can fix things like bikes and skateboards and rollerblades.

Vicki has had a difficult pregnancy and says it will be a relief when the pregnancy is over and her child is finally born. But more than that, she is excitedly looking forward to being a parent. She sounds refreshingly enthusiastic when she says, “I want to be involved with the PTA. I want to do bake sales and all that kind of stuff—I do! This is not a mistake. This is a choice—I’m choosing this person to be in my life, so I’m going for it!”

Wouldn’t it be great if every child could be born into such welcoming circumstances?

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Second Annual Drag-Challenged Wig Party
Saturday evening, Sept. 23, The Saloon
Walter, The Saloon’s manager, says, “I believe even some of the butchest butches have secretly wanted an excuse to put on a wig. Now here’s your chance.” No dress, no makeup—just grab a wig and throw it on. (The Ragstock store on Lake Street in Uptown will give a discount to anyone who whispers the magic words, “Saloon Wig Party.”) The event is hosted by the fabulous Tinea’. If you’re really good you may share in $500 of prize money.

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