The other night I had a spoken word gig. I had the usual pre-show jitters, like I’d sucked down five espressos in rapid succession, but a beer and some time with my pals took care of that. The next afternoon, I had to take my oldest son to his friend’s birthday party, and I was so anxious I almost puked. When I first moved back to southeastern Wisconsin, I thought I’d never find any kind of community or scene here. But I put myself out there, and found a crew of other poets and punks, artists and activists, queers and weirdos, many of whom are also parents. I have a hard time being around parents who aren’t in any of those groups.
A couple months ago, I volunteered at a fundraiser for my son’s school. I showed up in an outfit I thought was pretty tame: a black pleather jacket, t-shirt, jeans, black Docs. But the other moms treated me differently than they treated each other. It got worse when someone said we needed more duct tape and another marker and I pulled tape and a Sharpie from my bag. “You…carry those around with you?” Yeah, I’m the weird mom in big stompy boots who carries duct tape and Sharpies around in their bag. And I can’t count the number of times one of them asked what I do for work and I gave them the list—writer, performer, publisher; zines, workshops, tarot—and got one of two responses. Either “that’s…interesting” (code for: “yikes” or “I don’t know what half of those words mean”) or “how nice not to have a 9-5 job!” (code for: “oh, so you don’t really work”).
I was thinking about all that as I got ready. Thinking: if I didn’t pass as a straight, cis lady, would they even let me be around their kids? (Thinking, also, about people who don’t pass, how much harder it is for them.) Wondering what they’d think of me if they read one of my profanity-laced poems about blow jobs and intravenous drugs. Thinking: what the hell do I wear? I can’t wear my black hoodie because the patch on the back says ‘fuck’; I should probably make sure I cover my anarchy symbol tattoo and my mermaid’s tits… Realizing: the amount of respect and tolerance I get from these other parents is in inverse proportion to how much they know about me.
But the party wasn’t about me, it was about my son having fun with his friends. So I wore a non-descript outfit, made small talk with the other adults. I’ll continue to put on a front when I’m around the parents of my children’s friends, but I’ll also continue think it’s unfair, that I need to do that to be accepted, acceptable.
Sometimes I wonder how many of the parents I think of as normies are secret freaks—polyamorous parents, genderqueer folks, bedroom beatniks, midnight graffiti artists… How many of us are out here, faking normalcy, so afraid of ostracization that we cover our tattoos and refuse to talk about anything that matters?
Jessie Lynn McMains (they/them) is a poet, writer, zine-maker, small press publisher, and spoken word performer. They are the author of multiple chapbooks, most recently The Girl With The Most Cake and forget the fuck away from me. They have been publishing their own and others’ writing in zines and chapbooks since 1994, and have been performing their work across the US and Canada since 1998. They were the 2015-2017 Poet Laureate of Racine, WI, and currently write a reoccuring column for Pussy Magic. You can find their personal website at recklesschants.net, or follow them on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram @rustbeltjessie
Photo by Rick Lobs