Half a Person
It was cold yesterday at the playground, where my daughters spent the morning mostly playing in the sandbox when they weren’t running away from the scary, scary pigeons who coveted their Cheerois snack. It’s been unseasonably cold for weeks. I’ve broken out my extra-warm winter coat, the one with the faux fur trim and hood. It feels like I’m wearing a cozy quilt, and it looks stylish as hell, too. I love it. When an errant chill breeze brushed across my shoulders yesterday, I found myself huddling further into the warm folds of my coat. I stuck my hands in my pocket — and encountered something unexpected. A piece of paper. Was it a receipt? A coupon? I pulled it out to look.
It was a flyer for an erotic photography exhibit, complete with a striking naked woman as the illustration. And I was standing in the middle of the playground, surrounded by toddlers and their caregivers. I hastily shoved the flyer back deep into my pocket. It’s still there; I should probably take care of it before I venture out with the kids again.
Overall, I’m pretty comfortable with my dual roles as parent and sex writer. I have lots of friends who knew me before I was a parent and have stuck with me through the transition. Some of them, in fact, are parents themselves. I’ve met a handful of queer parents who are also pretty relaxed about the whole thing. I could stand to have more of this in my life, but what overscheduled parents-of-toddlers couldn’t?
It’s the casual interactions with other parents I don’t know that trip me up. When they ask what I do, and aren’t satisfied with “I’m a writer” — “Oh? What sort of writing?” When I think about inviting someone over for tea, and then remember what my bookshelves look like.
You’re not supposed to cross the streams of sexuality and parenting. The sex life of parents is supposed to be private. Very private. Moms on the playground aren’t supposed to have flyers for erotic photography exhibits in their pockets. Or a framed cover from the lesbian porn magazine Mom used to work at, hanging on the wall just across from the entrance to the nursery. (The girls call her “Anne,” because that’s her name. Sometimes they say “Hi, Anne,” as they walk by. Just like they say “Hi, Brian McBride” to the autographed photo of the soccer star that still hangs next to their changing table, a relic of the days when Dad still had an office.)
In other words, parents are supposed to maintain plausible deniability that we have a sex life at all, much less providing any hint of what it looks like. But for whose sake, really, are we maintaining the facade? Not for the kids, not at this age at least. (Although my daughter did proclaim “no kissing!” from her high chair earlier this week. We ignored her.) As far as I can tell, it’s for other parents. It’s a social facade that I suspect we all maintain — and one that I suspect those parents with non-mainstream sex lives are expected to be extra-vigilant about, unless I’m just expressing my own paranoia here.
Look, I don’t really want to talk to the parents on the playground about my sex life. I just want to feel less like I’m in hiding. Call it the Parent Closet. Call it a lamentable symptom of the wall we’ve built between children and the topic of sex in general — don’t cross the streams! Something explosive will follow, though everyone’s vague on the details. Call it whatever you like. It has the inevitable effect of making me feel like half a person when I’m in public parent spaces. I’m still figuring out how to solve this without making myself or other people too uncomfortable. Maybe there is no solution, only strategies — and I’m working on those, too, and taking suggestions from other parents in the same bind. Because one good thing about who I am and where I live: I know I’m not alone. I’m hardly a pioneer here. I have allies within a metaphorical arm’s reach. (Several of them blog here!)
In the meantime, though, I’m cleaning out my pockets.