feature image photo by Francesco Carta fotografo via Getty Images
On a snowy Sunday while my sister was in labor with her first baby, I was drinking Bloody Mary’s at drag brunch. I thought this was where I wanted to be: somewhere queer and childfree. In the name of celebration I took shots, a thing I never do. It felt like happiness was the only thing I was allowed to express, but it was hardly all I felt. An odd mixture of fear and grief overwhelmed me. Sweat and glitter reigned as the contrast between our roles in the world sharpened.
I’m not having kids. There are a lot of reasons why, but the most uncomplicated one is it’s never been my desire. I think a lot about desire and how I can live a life that honors my cravings. At twelve, I identified my first instinct that I was gay, but out of fear and spiritual abuse, I buried it for years. Now, I am committed to cultivating a life that has abundant room for my desires. And the longing to become a parent has never emerged.
But I’m at a point in life where many people I love are starting to raise children. With each friend who initiates parenthood, I feel the same complicated feelings. Where does that leave me? One of my absolute favorite writers, Melissa Faliveno, describes this perfectly in her book Tomboyland. She says, “As more of my friends become parents, like the majority of the people in my life eventually will, I’m reminded that it’s an experience I’ll likely never share. And when it’s someone with whom I’ve always felt a deep kinship — a fellow writer or musician; a person dedicated to their career; a queer person who once said they’d never have kids and who I felt, in this way, would forever be part of my childless tribe — there’s a feeling that I’ve lost someone like me…Each time another friend has children, I feel a little more alone” (188).
So how is a childfree lesbian supposed to cope with that loneliness? As my community transforms, I’ve developed a curiosity on how to transmute isolation into connection. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any queer elders who could guide me here, to the point where I could understand how to share community with friends across differing desires. I’m certainly not pretending to be that queer elder for anyone else. But I have a good therapist and a patient partner who have helped me learn how to stay connected. So I’m sharing a few things I’ve learned with the hope that another queer childfree person might find refuge and feel less alone.
First, when someone you love has a child, you should prepare to be the one putting more effort into the friendship. It won’t be like this forever, but when a new human is brought into a family it’s a huge adjustment. Whether your loved-one realizes it or not, they won’t have the space for friendship like they once did. That’s okay! Expect to stoke the fire of friendship for some time, and remember just because they aren’t able to give as much, it doesn’t mean they don’t love and care about you. It means their world has rearranged and honestly, you checking in with them probably feels soothing amongst the change.
Second, normalize your feelings, no matter how intricate they are. Joy, sadness, excitement, disappointment — all are okay to feel! This doesn’t lessen the happiness you feel for your friends, it only enriches the interconnected beauty of being in community. It’s natural to grieve when a relationship once built on mutual desires shifts. Share what you’re feeling with a trusted friend who can honor emotional nuance. Someone other than the new parent! They are processing their own adjustment to parenthood, so it won’t serve your friendship to immediately flood them with your feelings too. Be patient. A time will come when you both have the capacity to share, and you’ll be glad to have waited for the right conditions to truly connect.
Third, identify the role you want to play. This is so important because loneliness calcifies when we believe we don’t belong. But the truth is, you absolutely belong and have the agency to decide your involvement. Maybe your role is making your friend yummy food or cleaning their house, thereby showing you are invested in supporting their immediate domestic space. Maybe your role is taking them out for tea, going on long walks, or grocery shopping together — reconnecting them to the world outside the home. Maybe your role is making playlists, buying gay baby books, or sending memes — infusing their life with art, representation, and humor. Your role could be anything! As a childfree queer person you have the enchanted quality of understanding the world differently. The antidote to loneliness lies in allowing that enchantment to guide you in discovering the unique, community role you offer.
Personally, I find myself continually drawn to the role of nourishment. Providing food makes me feel like my own aunts, bringing family together over beautiful, live-giving meals. Cooking for people also satisfies my ancestral Jewish instinct for nourishing community. I make my sister’s family a meal every week. My sister’s favorite is roasted veggies. Each time I make it she texts me about how good they are. Once she even texted, “I think I could eat those veggies every day for the rest of my life.” I love hearing this 1) because I am a glutton for praise, and 2) because it affirms that my role has a meaningful impact and I do, in fact, belong.
At home, in our kitchen, my fiancée sears shrimp in a buttery sauce for tacos while I read at the breakfast nook. She pours me a glass of rosé and makes a heat pack for my back. Joy Oladokun plays softly from our speaker as we decompress from the day. Our space is peaceful, a lesbian sanctuary for plants and cats. I put down my book to watch her constellate the kitchen when she stops to ask, “What if we had to put a baby to bed right now?” I laugh because I’m obviously really glad we aren’t putting a baby to bed at this moment. She is too. I know what she means by the question though. She means, what if we didn’t have this every night? What if we couldn’t follow our desires? I get up to kiss her and help chop the vegetables. “I’m glad it’s just us, nourishing each other. Plus, I love being the fun gay auntie.” She agrees and we stay up late, doing whatever we want, content with the company of only each other.