Refuse. Resist. Rebuild.
As an early years educator, I’ve always had a complex positioning in my centre as an othered person. For me there have been three types of this othering.
The first was feeling sufficiently worried about my queerness and polyness that I lived an erased and hidden existence, only acknowledging my primary partner in conversations in the staff-room, and only mentioning past partners of the opposite gender. This is safer emotionally in one way, but over time degrades the spirit, while feeling quite necessary. There are fewer questions about the self and less policing of relationship dynamics. Less gaze, and less forced advocacy and forced spokesmanship for all queer and poly people (something which makes me feel very uncomfortable – I can only speak as an ally for trans people, and frankly find being positioned as the Bank of Knowledge about trans folk is fraught, as I am not, and can not be, and should not be).
Then there’s the kind of othering when you’re out: the scrutiny. Pointed and personal questions about your sex life and sleeping arrangements, doubt cast on your ability to parent effectively (or if you should at all), narratives about risk and danger injected into and overlaid on interpretations of your relationships, outright disapproval, moralism, unprompted offering of religious viewpoints (sorry, was I asking by existing?), and extra eyes looking at how you move with curriculum, your conversations with children, your “appropriateness”.
And then there’s the third: the liminal space, which is where I currently live. I am out to some, but not everyone. I have dropped strategic knowledge bombs in safe(r) places, I have revealed myself to those I think I trust, I have found acceptance and care from my direct co-worker (who despite her normative heritage is some kind of butterfly who transforms herself with every conversation and makes me eternally grateful for her). Of course I know that staff gossip means that these things get around, but I’m hoping that this occurs in such a way that I don’t need to directly confront total bigotry, that the idea that “some things are private” works in my favour so that the most opposed never have quite the opportunity to come out and tell me how terrible I am, how I will ruin children. So far this works for me. I move by stealth, being excellent at my job, winning hearts and minds in the classic way that queers always have had to – proving ourselves more to protect ourselves from judgement. If they just like me enough, they’ll overlook my queerness, my aberrant relationships. This is what queers have always had to navigate.
It is worth noting here that I never feel not othered. I know I am the other and I know because everything in my milieu confirms I am the other. Acceptance is not a thing I feel I can demand.
Yet now as parenthood looms, with a tiny fledgling pregnancy growing inside of me and my name on the waiting list at my centre, I find myself thrust into needing to be out to everyone because I have always known that when it comes time to parent, I do not want to teach shame to my children. I cannot teach my children this if I keep one foot in the closet. I cannot hide my relationships from my coworkers for much longer, and the closer I come to needing care, the closer I come to opening the mouths of bigots around not just me, but my child.
The Early Years Learning Framework preaches a lot of things that educators simply do not practice. I know this because I work in the industry eight hours a day, five days a week. The idea that families should be celebrated in all forms is not holistically practiced; that home culture should be intentionally included in meaningful and non-tokenistic ways is not holistically practiced; educators in professional learning forums openly agree that reading a book about rainbow families to children in care is dangerous, not appropriate, likely to offend other families (and therefore best censored, because according to many educators, upsetting conservative families is the worst thing you could do. I have a belief that most of this white noise comes from private for-profit centres, but I have no data to back that up). And if rainbow families that follow a conservative two-parent, monogamous family model are too scandalous to incorporate into curriculum, too dangerous – what does that mean for my family?
What will I make of pressure to be normative for the regard of the parents whose children are in my care, in my room? What will I make of the closet I’m expected to make my home so I can still be regarded as an upstanding educator? And what does that mean for how I will advocate for my child, how I will demand quality of care and inclusion for them? My days in my liminal space are numbered, and I know it.
I have seriously considered sending my child to a different centre so I can enjoy the kind of remove that other parents do. This would be difficult financially, and practically. The current hole of desperate waiting lists and scarcity that childcare in Australia is lost inside weighs heavily as I make decisions about best outcomes for my child. Yet opening up my family to critique by enrolling them in the centre in which I work and feeling torn between hiding and advocacy makes me inwardly tremble. I do not want to be the queer poly poster girl, but nor do I want to be the chameleon.
Quality care and lack of real inclusion is what is wrong here. Structural inequalities are so weighty and so intense that negotiating them as an individual worker with the complication of parenthood feels exhausting. I know that no matter how many documents educators are force fed about “same-sex families”, conservatism is stronger. Real inclusion is something a minority of educators practice, and as an educator I know that. As a parent, that knowledge robs me of the hope some parents who use our services might otherwise have: I have the disadvantage of knowing how little is actually happening, and how slow change is.
The early years of my child’s life will be so soft and malleable and complex and delicate that I want messages of love and acceptance to be the norm. Moving my coworkers towards this so my child can have the quality care that most children do not get, because educators do not regard anti-bias curriculum as critically necessary, feels gargantuan and boggling, yet still worthwhile. Critiques around the unfair burdening of individuals in social struggle are so relevant here: and rendered more nuanced and layered by the straddling I will have to do of dual roles.
Scarlett the Brave
© Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates
All Rights Reserved 2014
EDIT: It seems that the term ‘poly’ is a little misunderstood. Scarlett clarifies:
In my own words, this is how I’d define it: Poly/amory is a newish term for a pretty old way of doing non-monogamy, and literally means “many loves” – appropriated from Greek. It is an umbrella term that includes many different types of non-monogamy, and in my life it means that I have a primary relationship with my husband with consensual and negotiated relationships with other beautiful people. They are part of our lives in different ways, and each relationship is unique. All of them will be a part of our home and our child’s life, and our child will be raised in loving awareness that Mum and Dad have other lovely people in their lives. More love, more support, and a brilliant understanding of the idea from the start that they have a village to take care of them.