Lately, when I've been blogging about my wife, Katy Koonce, it's been about her role as dynamic front man for the "silicone cock rock" band Butch County. In honor of Mother's Day, I asked her to talk with me about mothering from beyond the gender binary. In the course of our conversation, we touched on t-ball, chest surgery, field trips, and bathrooms.
Paige: Although people on the street tend to call you "sir," around our house, you're known as "mommy." Can you talk about your identity and how motherhood figures in?
Koonce: My identity is trans-genderqueer-butch-dyke-mommy. "Mommy" is the word I used as a kid to describe the person who could take all the pain away or support me when I needed it...
Koonce: To say "I want my mommy" meant "I want a kind of omnipotent force to swoop down and take care of this problem." So, when our son Waylon was born, I chose "Mommy" as a name because I loved the idea of being that force for someone in this crazy world of ours. When I found myself really attached to the idea of being someone's mom, I realized that my gender identity was--at least for this time--landing squarely in the middle and I really love it that way. I love to hear the word "mommy" and to be called "mom" sometimes. But that has no real bearing as to how I feel in my body. For I am often not at home there.
Paige: You had top surgery when our son was 18 months old. It strikes me that there are still so few resources for transgender parents, and especially few stories about parents who transform their bodies without the goal of full transition. Can you talk about what it was like to get chest surgery as a mom?
Koonce: Well, getting chest surgery was way more anti-climactic than I anticipated. Waylon did not look up and say, "Are you my mommy?" There were no marked changes in the amount of "sirs" I receive. My psychotherapy clients did not decompensate without the breasts; they seem to have stayed latched on to the metaphorical breast. The biggest change has been the absence of my private bathroom struggle with the mirror. Tight t-shirts are now my friends and my happiness with my physical presentation has by far made me a happier mommy.
Paige: What is it like being genderqueer in places like elementary school hallways or the t-ball field?
Koonce: Now we are getting into space that feels challenging. My extroverted, jovial personality, which earned me the title of Class Clown in high school, has served me well in uncomfortable situations. Before I was ever conscious of being an outsider, I was defending with humor. So, the elementary school and t-ball field are challenges that I meet in a counter-phobic way, by diving in to what seems least comfortable. I am the field trip chaperone for Waylon's class. I help coach his t-ball team. Waylon loves this. He seems to actually (so far anyway) love how I stand out from the crowd. Lately, he relishes in literally trying to expose my "soft under-belly," by pulling up my t-shirt in public, to see if I feel shame. He wants to know I stand strong in who I am even though I have shortcomings like everyone else. He needs reassurance that I/he can tolerate our self-perceived flaws and celebrate our differences. This is why, in a queer, gender diverse family, a trip to the ball park is really always a social experiment. My usual defense is to act like I belong and laugh a lot. The song in my head is from Dreamgirls, "You're gonna love me!" All in all I suppose it is challenging but pretty awesome.
Paige: But I think you're doing more than seeking acceptance. By being present and involved, you're actually transforming people's assumptions and expanding their gender vocabulary. Just to cite one funny example, I know Waylon's friends like to create genderqueer characters when they play video games now.
We've done a fair amount of LG family events and activism. What is it like to participate in those events where the paradigm is "same gender" parents?
Koonce: I really think I am blessed to feel comfortable as someone who transgresses or transcends gender. Other people might be freaking on me but they can't sway my feeling of belonging in these spaces.
Paige: Since Mother's Day was originally an activist holiday, will you say a little bit about your recent activism?
Koonce: Lately I am have been working with staff at local Austin inpatient mental health facilities to improve access and quality of care for trans people. And I just testified to the Texas legislature about adding gender identity and expression to the hate crimes act. Last but not least, I still use the women's restroom. Word!
Paige: Thanks for sharing from your personal experience. Happy Mother's Day, baby!