Friday, April 27, 2012

Navigating Gender Segregated Space: Parents = Men or Women

My partner and I recently enrolled in a series of classes called "Maybe Baby," offered through a local LGBT families organization, to help us learn more about our options and legal rights for someday building a family.  After we "signed up" (i.e., emailed somebody to get on a wait list for the next course), I learned that the series is usually gender segregated - male couples meet in one class and female couples in another.  This makes some amount of sense, I suppose, at least for those considering pregnancy as an option.  Still, I was rather taken aback.  I had envisioned a class with lots of different kinds of families and people - men, women, whatever.  I hadn't envisioned Maybe Baby as a "lesbian" space, perhaps because I don't really embrace a lesbian identity, though I am sure most people perceive my partner and I as lesbians.  I was surprised and disappointed that the organization running the class - an organization for and of queer families - had apparently just assumed that everyone taking the Maybe Baby class would be cis-gender  and/or in identifiably same-sex relationships.  What if an FTM and his female partner wanted to take the class?  Would they be in the men's or the women's version?  If pregnancy were on the table they'd probably have a lot in common with folks in the women's class, but would they feel welcomed and comfortable there?  What if an MTF and her male partner were interested?  Pregnancy wouldn't be an option for them, so they might want to be in the men's class to learn about surrogacy, but would they be comfortable or welcomed there?  What about genderqueer or gender non-conforming folks?  What about a transman and a male partner?  Would they be automatically shuffled into the men's class even though pregnancy could in theory be an option for them?  It's not clear based on the information that was emailed to me after we signed up.  No one even asked our preference.  And what about adoption, which my partner and I are also interested in and will also be a topic of discussion in the series?  I can't imagine there's much about adoption that can't be discussed in "mixed" company, and as it turns out, enrollment appears to be low for the upcoming class series, so many of the topics will be discussed by a combined "men's" and "women's" group.

Still, I'm planning to mention some of my concerns to the organizers of the class and ask if anything like this has come up before and how they have addressed it.  I'd like to suggest that they consider how they present information about the class and to make changes to ensure that they don't assume anything about the gender identity of anyone who expresses interest.  If anyone, it should be an organization like this that knows that not all queer folks who want to pursue parenthood necessarily fit neatly into the categories "men" and "women."  If a class like this is not a safe space for genderqueer and trans parents to share their experiences and seek advice, then what will be?