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.
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?
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.