Feminist theorists were among the first to begin to uncouple sex from gender. In 1949 French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir published her groundbreaking book The Second Sex, with the famous line, "One is not born, but becomes a woman," suggesting that classic female characteristics—passivity, shyness, nurturing—aren't just biological but are embedded by parents and culture. Today, after the women's liberation movement's crusade for equality between the sexes, thinkers like Halberstam are challenging the very definition of gender roles. And as with sexual desire, the idea of fluidity is gaining currency, as evidenced by an ever-expanding vocabulary: transgender, transsexual, transvestite, boi, heteroflexible, intersex. And many who embrace fluidity are adopting the term gender queer with pride. But as passionate as they are, those who live by their newly won gender freedom still find themselves at odds with the prevailing culture.
"I may hold Jian's hand in public," says DeClue (above, with Chen and Miles), who doesn't live with Chen, "but I am very aware of the looks I'm getting and prepared to receive disparaging words. I'm on guard." Last fall, her 8-year-old daughter felt the backlash over Proposition 8, the measure that bans gay marriage in California. "Some kids said they were yes on Prop 8, and Miles took this very personally," says DeClue. "She was hurt they would think her mom shouldn't be able to marry the person she loves because of being the same sex. Even in L.A. and in very inclusive schools, homophobia comes out." DeClue deals with such negative reactions by bringing up the subject with her daughter, and for the most part believes that Miles and her peers are more open to differences than any generation before. "I think the world will be in good hands when it's their turn to govern," DeClue says confidently.
Gomez-Barris is also trying to guide her daughter, now 3, and son, 5, through uncharted territory. At first they were confused over what gender to use for Jack, she says. But they came up with calling Halberstam "boy girl," and they love their mother's partner. At her son's school recently, when everyone had to show pictures of their parents, he simply produced three photos. "I have a mama, a papa, and Jack," he told the class.
"My dad is taller than your Jack," one kid said. That, Gomez-Barris says, laughing, was the only fallout.
"Jack is concerned about the future, worried that the kids will face discrimination," Gomez-Barris says, "but I tell him it depends on how we talk to them and their teachers." Then, too, the children are not the only members of Gomez-Barris's world who've had to adjust. When her own mother learned of her new relationship, she was shocked. "Women are our friends, not our lovers," she told her daughter. But Gomez-Barris understood. "Chile, where we come from, is a conservative Catholic country," she says. Eventually her mother came around. "I'm trying to be open-minded and realize that Macarena is a modern woman who has choices," she says now. "Jack is an extraordinary person, and he's very good with my daughter and the children."
Gomez-Barris has had a tougher challenge with some people in her community, from whom she's received the occasional insult and disapproving stare. "When you're in a heterosexual relationship, especially when you have a family with children, the world smiles on you," she says. "I'm having to adjust to the loss of the privileges and acceptance that comes with being in the hetero world, and it's hard at times."
Despite this, Gomez-Barris says she and Halberstam have an incredibly fulfilling relationship. "We're both very fiery. But we work as a team and have good communication. And Jack gives me space to be a mother and an academic," she says. "Jack is the right person for me."
Bridget Falcon, too, feels her efforts have all been worth it. On October 27, 2008, she and April Villa officially married in San Francisco. "It was the best thing we could have done," she says.
"We went through hell, but now we're in heaven."
We Hear You!