Cisnormativity while parenting

We’ve been out and about all day on our feet for hours with the twins. Predictably, once we get on public transit to return home, approximately one hour after their usual nap time, one of them falls asleep nearly immediately in the arms of my co-parent. We’ll come back to him in a moment.

The other twin is next to me, observing everyone and everything, as young children do. A young woman comes on with her mother, and they sit down in seats with a direct line of sight to us. The young woman has a hairband with two bright pink pom-poms. [I’m not endorsing the product at the link, and it’s not an exact replica, but I provide it for those who appreciate visuals.] He is captivated by the hairband. He keeps pointing at it, saying “pink” over and over, and I confirm that it’s pink, and pretty. This is all happening at a reasonable speaking sound, given the vehicle’s production of noise, I doubt either the young woman or the mum could hear our banal remarks over the sound of the engine. The young woman, if she noticed or heard anything, paid us no mind. But her mother went from looking disturbed to given cut eye, to convey her disapproval of a male-assigned-at-birth child being enthusiastic about something girly and pink. The awake twin didn’t seem to notice her, before his attention span moved onto other things.

twin ducks amir abbas abdolali unsplash
[Picture by Amir Abbas Abdolali from Unsplash. Description: 2 redish brown ducks standing on a single leg each, facing in opposite directions.]

Cue back to my co-parent with a child fast asleep, sprawling across her lap and chest. He very much needed the rest, and he is particularly grouchy if woken up mid-sleep cycle. So his mum is doing her best to convenience his sleeping, and that ended up looking like ditching her handbag so the strap would stop being a nuisance. She doesn’t blink, she tosses it to me to carry. I don’t blink. I put it over my shoulder. The twin next to me asks why I’m wearing it as I am, and not another way. We have a few laughs about different ways he dreams up of carrying a handbag, he tries a few ways, he has me try a few ways, before he concludes that yes, over my shoulder was probably the best way.

If looks could kill, I wouldn’t be typing these words. I don’t know which part disturbed the mum more. Her daughter wasn’t impressed, but she was more stuck on my “breaching of gender norms.” Presumably in her opinion I should have looked embarrassed to have the handbag anywhere near me, probably just on my lap, scarcely holding it just enough so it didn’t fall off my lap. I don’t know. I’ve never understood anyone worried my masculinity was so fragile I couldn’t hold a purse for someone.

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash
[Photo by Nik Shuliahin from Unsplash. Description: a bearded man on a couch, looking down, his right palm covering the top half of his face.]

I grew up with a lot of relatives tossing their purses at me before heading into a changing room in a store. If it can be said that it registers to me as anything, it’s a reminder of why I love pockets so much, but otherwise, I’m not fussed about carrying a handbag for someone. It’s one of the easiest ways to help someone out, it requires virtually no effort, and especially while sitting on public transit, cannot be said to be an inconvenience.

I swear with every passing minute more that handbag strap was over my shoulder, the mum was finding new ways to convey how disturbed she was about the whole thing. A new vein started popping on her face, her cut eye game got a little more intense, I was quite convinced she would break her silence any moment to tell me how “I’m everything that’s wrong with men these days”, and probably enabling the awake twin to turn out to be gay. Maybe she would have had we stayed on another stop or two.

[Photo by Anastasia Dulgier from Unsplash. Description: black and white portrait of a cat, his head tilted side ways, resting on the edge of his cat bed, seeming unimpressed.]

I couldn’t help myself. The sight of her being utterly disturbed was so absurd. I chuckled. Not loud, not while pointing out to her how ridiculous she looked, just a low key dismissal of her nonsense, and confirmation that her take on my life is of no importance to me. We arrived at our stop, and paid her no mind as we stepped off.

My co-parent carried the sleeping twin as carefully as she could for as long as she could. During that time, I got a few more looks of stern disapproval at “my” handbag. Or maybe it was for letting “the woman” carry the child. I thought how absurd that any of this was being viewed by some people as challenging gender norms. Eventually she was out of energy, and we delicately swapped the handbag for the twin, so he could continue his nap. At one point during this, I was grateful for the time spent at the gym, especially doing the farmer’s walk and isometric upper body exercises.

What matters in the end is that the twin woke up when he was ready, and was his chirpy self again, a relief to us.

Cisnormativity has messed up priorities.

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