Comfy world

One of Bean’s games is to construct a pillow fort of sorts; a pile of soft furnishings and fluffy toys on which to luxuriate conspicuously. She dubs this created space Comfy World, the declaration of which is generally accompanied by the revelation that my partner and I are excluded from her world; we inhabit a whole other nation, derisively referred to as Tuchus World.

Who knows what lies beneath a child’s imaginative play? But I can’t help but wonder if Bean is really acting out her own alienation from comfort.

For the first four years of Bean’s life I was, to the casual observer, a straight woman. That is to say that for her formative years, Bean’s family fit the social norm. Her family structure — mum, dad, kid — was represented in almost every picture book, almost every television programme, and was replicated in almost all if the suburban homes around her. Our family was visible, in that we were allowed to be seen anywhere, and invisible in that we appeared so normal as to be entirely unremarkable. Obviously, her parents weren’t happy back then and things were complicated. But in any social situation, there was a level of comfort that most take for granted — that Bean experienced as a reality of her life — and it is not so surprising that she is missing that.

In dealing with homophobia in my daily life, I’m coming to see just how fiercely straight adults also hoard the soft furnishings of social ease.

I never made many friends with other childcare or kinder parents, but in the past I entered those spaces without being stared at. I walked into play centres holding hands with my partner like it was nothing. I hadn’t felt the way that people’s eyes glide around the simultaneously hyper-visible and invisible queer couple. As a kinder mum I had not experienced people try hiding from their own discomfort by a strange kind of not-looking, but now it is a palpable and constant part of any visit to Bean’s school.

Beyond these personal interactions, it is clear that queer parenting means making forays into heterosexist territory. My friend Jackie says she asks her first year students to consider why, if heterosexuality is so normal, is there so much advertising for it? And there certainly is plenty of advertising at school pick-up — the aggressively heteronormative My Family stickers proudly displayed on the back windows of mid-priced four wheel drives are emblematic of suburbia.

Certainly, not everyone is so happy to see these back-window flags of suburban pride waved: there are a number of Facebook groups dedicated to deriding them. It seems to me that if stick-figure decals on a car provoke such fierce hatred, even on aesthetic grounds, they must wield power. We associate cars with status, power, technology, freedom; there is currency in branding this most visible of possessions. But it’s worth noting that the backlash against the My Family stickers has largely been characterized by frustration with the cynical foregrounding of families with children in electoral politics, a feeling of superiority over suburbanites and, insidiously, misogyny and anti-child sentiments. Groups like ‘My Family Stickers Suck!’ are hardly founded upon queer dissent. This can feel disappointing, given how many queer couples are raising children.

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“My Family” sticker featuring a stick figure family being chased by the chainsaw-wielding horror movie character Leatherface. Caption reads “No one cares about your stick figure family.”

But as Bean shows us daily, sometimes there is strength in playfulness. My partner and I are visibly queering up the suburbs every day: why should our car not be part of that?

"My Family" sticker featuring two women, a child and a cat.

“My Family” sticker featuring two women, a child and a cat.

Reclaiming this little patch of advertising space does not feel like anything close to restoring social comfort: if anything, pushing at the boundaries of heteronormativity is more discomfiting for us than it could ever be for the straight folk we encounter, who after all remain in a world which constantly validates their relationships. But it does feel like making my family visible, displaying our My Family flag, is staking a little piece of territory. That it is one small attempt at giving Bean permission to claim a piece of the world in more than just her play.

15 Comments

Filed under Motherhood and Parenting

15 responses to “Comfy world

  1. Is the last image your stick figure family? I assume you buy the stick figures individually, so the practice could easily be subverted.
    Great post!

    • Yes Helen that is us! You do buy the figures individually: interestingly on the website we got them from, the page of women stick figures does mention that ‘some families have two mummies’. The page of men has no such declaration about two-dad families. And basically the range of images available is rigid gender-role enforcing rubbish — no surprises there.

  2. Hendo

    Look, I hate those stickers purely because they are yet another reminder, in a world saturated with reminders, that I don’t have kids and I really want them. They are just another smug promotion of the happy family ideal: the idea that you don’t count unless you’ve got more than one person on your team. You’re not enough on your own – you don’t get to play. I mean, I wouldn’t put a sticker of a lone woman on my car- that’s make me a nice target on the off chance someone wants to mug someone in a car. And I wouldn’t put a bloke sticker for my boyfriend, because he has his own car. I will say that there is a car I see regularly at the shops which has a single mum and child stickers on, which I like; and if I saw yours I’d smile too.

    • A world saturated with reminders is right. I guess I would hope that our stickers demand not that everyone have children but that it is recognized that many children have same-sex parents, or, as you say, other kinds of families (like sole parents).

    • I see a lot around here (rural area) which just contain animals. I’ve seen one with seven horses, three dogs, six cats and some kind of bird and no people at all, which makes me wonder who was driving!

  3. Hi MySpiltMilk, just found your blog on Twitter. Sitting here squirming in case I’m one of those parents! Can I suggest maybe some parents are more worried about looking homophobic than about your (happy) family configuration? Perhaps for them not looking equates to not staring rudely at this new and probably quite fascinating situation. Also, my cousin’s 2 kids, 8 and 14 have positively blossomed emotionally and academically since she left her (struggling for words here) husband to be with the love of her life. These kids are living proof that two parents who love each other and their kids are all that matters. BTW any homophobic judgements were swiftly put down by my 80 yo mother. Gotta love opinionated women :)

    • I absolutely think that many people are worried about appearing to stare at us; that in itself is othering. It is hard to feel sympathy for those who feel momentary discomfort about my existence, I’m afraid.

    • Tamara

      Yeah, a stare moment is easily remedied with a smile.

  4. True Tamara, read it only as an awkward/clumsy first reaction. World of difference if it’s ongoing. SpiltMilk, I’m so sorry this happens to you. It takes my breath away to think of anyone “feeling momentary discomfort about (your) existence”, and I wish you all the very best in the future.

  5. Di

    Previous commenters have said it better than me, but let me weigh in with my support. I could write an essay on the 4WD-with-stick-figures epidemic, and why I dislike so many aspects of it. Really. (Let me know if you want to hear it sometime :-) ). In summary – insularity, in as many senses of the word as you can muster. It makes me angry – not aimed at the people who want to depict themselves, their lives and their choices, via an impractical vehicle and some stickers – just that the urge to conform is so strong, people so often don’t question the values and compromises that lie beneath those choices (like that one is more likely to run over one’s own or someone else’s child with a 4WD than any other car – http://www.walk.com.au/wtw/page.asp?pageid=3242). Or that one would choose to shop a stereotyped range for a vinyl sticker to depict an aspect of oneself for display to the public. (Could you plug your ears for a second while I scream “WHY?!!” Thanks).

    Re – the ‘not-looking’. It hurts to be subjected to that. But there is also an implied naivete – the quick glancers don’t know you.and your partner. If/when they do, the greeting will be different – and it will be what you are accustomed to, with names, pleasantries, everything that personalises an exchange. Last year I shaved my hair, and dyed it pink, for a lovely friend who was having chemo – because I knew it would make her smile). The flip side of that choice of mine, was to make myself the target of a lot of the uncertain stares you write of (I’m tall, already own a selection of strong black glasses, and I’m told my resting facial expression telegraphs ‘Don’t give me sh*t’). The hair tipped the balance, and everywhere I went in public, out running, on the trains, I was getting the assessing eyeball from strangers. But in time, in the words of P!nk, I figured ‘So What? etc etc. And you will, too, take back what is rightfully yours.

  6. Di

    Oh. Sorry for the poor type-checking. Being harassed at my elbow for all sorts of things here!!

  7. What grinds my personal gears about the My Family malarkey is that there is only one kind of “Wheelchair Mother” (and ditto for all the other wheelchair users). And she isn’t reading, or gardening, or gestating, or cooking, or playing sport, or taking photos, or drinking wine, like the bipeds – she’s … in a wheelchair. Which, apparently, defines her.

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  9. Every time I see a heteronormative emblem of family on the back of a car, I feel my top lip curling in a defensive sneer. YES OK GREAT you’re straight and partnered and have kids, you’re ‘normal’, stop showing it off!
    Which isn’t always fair. And yet.
    But I have seen a few around with single mothers, or two mothers, or mothers holding powertools and dads in aprons, or girl children in tutus with footballs. They make me smile. The autoshop near me sells the figures and their props separately, so you could presumably have anyone doing anything!

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