By Josephine Raye Kelly
I wonder what it would be like to build a future that doesn’t cast humanity as the protagonist of the earth. What kind of future could we build that centers the needs and survival of non-human living things? I’m starting to feel my call to motherhood is about being a cross-species parent. Maybe I’m meant to continue a long queer tradition of caregiving in non-heteronormative ways. Because isn’t that what queerness is about: denying the scripts that were written for us and creating our own blueprint for life?
Most women are conditioned to envision their future on a specific track. The track is centered around marriage and sex-act based reproduction. I thought becoming a mom was a destiny I couldn’t refuse. I viewed childbirth as an inevitable rite of passage, but I’ve become suspicious of that assumption. The more I embrace my queerness and gender fluidity, the less I value the goal of a nuclear family. It’s not completely possible to untether our socialization from our inherent instincts, but if I can learn to listen and trust my desires then I can build a life I’m proud of.
I planned most of my twenties with the unquestioned assumption that I would have children by thirty. I didn’t even consider a future without children. But now when I weigh how much I value my independence and pursuit of spontaneity with the financial, physical, and emotional challenges of raising children, I realize that they might not fit with my ideal future. It’s also not an exaggeration to say that I think about the irreversible damage of colonization and climate apocalypse most days. I don’t know how to justify bringing a child into a world that might become inhospitable in their lifetime. However, once I’ve reined in my anxiety, this view actually helps me find meaning beyond individualism. As a white person, I inherited a violent legacy of ecological destruction for the sake of industrial development. This is something I am working to unlearn so that I can be accountable, interconnected, and in right relationship with all living things.
As a dog and plant mama, I follow in the footsteps of many other queer folks who have contributed to caregiving apart from biological reproduction. I won’t belittle my contribution just because it doesn’t fit in with the cultural narrative of success and fulfillment. As a queer and nonbinary femme, it’s up to me to write my own narrative. As poet and activist Alok reminds us: “There are so many ways to create life and that actually, when we just make the creation of life about conception and pregnancy, we are losing the dynamism and the artistry of what it means to be alive and to be in community with one another.” When I first heard these words, I paused and felt affirmed in a surprising and indescribable way. Along the way of becoming an adult, I’d forgotten how satisfied I am without children. Survival and reproduction are not one specific thing; they are limitless resources of skills and contributions.
Not only is reproduction more than sex, but our survival as a species relies on our ability to decenter humans and steward this planet in alignment with traditional Indigenous ways of being. Pinar Sinopoulos-Lloyd of Queer Nature has helped me envision a future for humanity beyond colonization and human supremacy. Pinar explains, “There are so many other multi-species futures we must also fight for…these are our relatives, our lifelines, our kin. Anti-racist and multi-species futures exist and we are just one species dreaming into them. Let our other-than-human kin dream, too.” Tending to plants and gardens, as well as caregiving for animals, contributes to a vision of a multi-species future where the self-involved thinking of humans doesn’t overpower the needs of a biodiverse ecosystem. While it’s different from having human children, we can parent plants and animals as a way to make a family. Tess, my tiny pug-chihuahua mutt, gives me love and fulfillment that only an animal can. She teaches me the importance of nonverbal communication, how to take up space, and how to tune into the joys of the present moment by spending ample leisure time in the rays of the sun. Not everyone understands the special bond of animals and humans, but I cherish every moment with her. I reject the hierarchy of human-only families being the only legitimate way to parent.
Parenting of any kind is a manifestation of hope, an investment in the belief that we can build a better world, with less violence and more joy. A world that authentically celebrates difference. Parenting is an invitation for transformation, a prayer for the future. Humans need biodiversity like the rest of the planet. Queer reproduction of all kinds will help usher in our multi-species future.
For the Wild Podcast Interview with Alok: https://forthewild.world/podcast-transcripts/alok-on-unruly-beauty-245
Pinar Sinopoulos-Lloyd of Queer Nature: https://www.instagram.com/p/CN_TdndAVjl/?igshid=MDJmNzVkMjY=
Josephine Raye Kelly is a writer and multidisciplinary artist smitten by the redwoods. They co-founded Ouch! Collective, a queer art collective based in the San Francisco Bay Area.