I'm genderqueer and pregnant: how my tattoos are helping me maintain my identity

November 29 | Guest post by India
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Photo by India
Throughout the years I have experienced many different responses to my tattoo work. My tattoos are very personal — the experiences and tattoos themselves are very spiritual to me and all my work has deep symbolic meaning.

I've recently found myself 35 and pregnant (something I never thought would happen), and my pregnancy has uncovered another benefit to my tattoos.

For most my adult life I have identified as genderqueer. I'm bisexual, and to me gender has always been as important as eye color or height — not very.

I feel this has always been apparent in my appearance — I am tall and rather androgynous naturally, and have spent a lot of years with my head shaved. I wear dresses and skirts as well as suits and ties.

I've spent many years living a fairly comfortable and androgynous life in this body, and was not prepared for the emotional strain that pregnancy has brought.

My growing breasts, belly, and spreading hips quickly took that androgyny away from me, and I have had a very hard time dealing with my newly exaggerated female form. This lumbering Venus totem of a body now attracts looks of a very different kind that I am used to.

Gone are the days of being called sir by sales reps, getting checked out by cute girls in the bar, and fitting slickly into a tuxedo.

Now I get sappy smiles from little old ladies, random men opening doors for me and uninvited, intimate conversations about my private life with strangers that would have never talked to me a year ago.

The moment I began to show I also began to receive attention from family that were previously put off or offended by not just my physical appearance, but my life in whole — my body as a representative of the identity beneath.

As my body changed it seems most people believe my identity changed with it. Even close friends began to make assumptions about my life that would make no sense at all if it were not for the undeniable swollen changes to my form.

I'm not altogether comfortable with this new status. I have not become straight, monogamous, republican, or religious. It is all understandably human though; I am also prone to make judgments on the things I see, and on some days I have had the same problem. I look at myself and feel confused.

Who am I now?
Have I changed?
Who will I be when this is all over and find myself a mother?

My tattoo work has saved my sanity during this difficult time. As days and weeks pass I find myself staring into the mirror with constant horror, but the ever constant illustrations of my life and loves on my skin comfort me and remind me of who I am and where I'm from.

If not for my tattoos I would have had a much harder time coming to terms with these physical changes. Though I have always found strength and reassurance in my ever-expanding ink, I am more thankful now than ever before that I choose to express myself in this way. My skin may feel different right now but it keeps all of its stories and secrets just as before.

As I impatiently wait for our child to arrive all I need do to remind myself of who I am is to look down and see the intricately detailed symbols that have helped to define me as a person and not JUST a woman all my life.

  1. Thanks so much for this! It's amazing what tattoos can do for people. My husband (who is cisgendered) never felt quite right in his body until he got his tattoos. He says he feels way more comfortable then he ever did before. Love it!

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  2. I read this article because I didn't know what genderqueer meant and it said tattoos. Congrats on the baby and he or she will love the tats as much as you do! My daughter looks at mine and talks about them sometimes. It really cute and I think it helps not to judge people for their differences.

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    • I read this article because I didn't know what genderqueer meant and it said tattoos. It doesn't mean tattoos, although tattoos are a personal and personalised marker of their identity for all kinds of people. I genuinely don't mean this snarkily, but if you want to know what genderqueer means, a quick Google could probably sort that out.

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      • I'm fairly certain she doesn't mean that genderqueer = tattoos, but that the title has the word "tattoos" in it so she read it without knowing what the word meant. My hope is that she then went learned more about what genderqueer means.

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        • Ah, I see what you mean, it was the semantics of the sentence that threw me off. I read it as "because I didn't know what genderqueer meant and the article said it meant tattoos", but you're right that the commenter more likely meant "because I didn't know what genderqueer meant and also because the title mentioned tattoos". My bad, Sarah, sorry!

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  3. Great piece! I really felt the pressure of the attention while I was pregnant, and was just reflecting the other day on how quickly that goes away once you're settled in as a mom. It's kind of funny. Once that belly is gone and the attention is on the kid, you're invisible (which is both a relief and a little disconcerting). It's a whole other issue to deal with. But it all makes your own sense of identity stronger in the end.

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  4. Such a great post! These emotions really resonate with me. I've not completely admitted to myself how hard it's been on me to have so much attention from people who are focusing on the wrong things. My pregnancy hasn't made me more feminine. I don't want to discuss it with people I'm not close with. And nothing has changed about who I am since I conceived. I've definitely avoided a lot of social situations where others will only want to discuss pregnancy, touch my belly, and pepper me with invasive questions. I try not to let looking more like a Greek Goddess than Joan Jett affect me too much, but I do need to be honest with myself about how difficult it is for someone who is less feminine to be pregnant. Thank you so much for sharing!

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  5. Such a well written interesting piece! You should start a blog , I would be a regular reader :)

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  6. as a bisexual, i felt similarly after getting married. it felt like somehow i had inadvertently chosen a "side" when, really, that was not the case. being married has not made me a straight person, i am still very much a bisexual, but it took me time to adjust even though i never regretted the decision at all.

    now i am also pregnant, and while i wouldn't say i'm very androgynous, i am definitely not femme. this has been strange too, but i think a little easier to adjust to (maybe because of the earlier adjustment period? i don't know). so, i love this post in SO many ways.

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    • Yes, this. I also felt that I had chosen a side when I got married, and to some extent felt that I conformed by marrying a man.

      That being said I have always felt very at home in my very female form so this article was an eye opener to me and I'm glad I read it!

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  7. "I have not become straight, monogamous, republican, or religious."

    Haha! That republican part made me LOL!

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  8. Thank you for your experience, I figure I might have a similar experience when I do get pregnant.

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  9. Very thoughtful, thought-provoking piece. While not only does it have interesting things to say about identity, what I find most striking is what it says about how others can somehow presume ownership over another person's body when they're pregnant – not only with the usual uninvited touching, but the questions, the different way of treating you, the judgement about what you eat, wear, physically exert yourself. It's strange to have your body taken over not by what's growing inside you, but by people outside. Good for you for finding a way to stay connected to your pre-baby self! It sounds like your tattoos are a wonderful touchstone.

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  10. Thanks for sharing this! I'm genderqueer, too. Unlike you, I have always had big hips and big boobs. Even in men's clothing, androgynous is the the most masculine look I can hope to achieve without binders (which I used to wear but don't anymore). Anyway, I have a similar experience with my tattoos – my body is very womanly and I am often uncomfortable with the attention it elicits, and my tattoos have helped me make peace with that.

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    • Me too! And I've gone out and added more tattoos since I became a parent. Most notably on Mother's Day this year, although it was just a small wrist piece.

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  11. LOVED this piece! While not genderqueer, I wasn't prepared for the focus on my BODY while pregnant. I have never had much of a body ,buts issue, but suddenly my body was the complete focus for strangers, family, co-workers, etc. I'm happy to be a mama, and I enjoyed the physical sensation of pregnancy, but did NOT like people focusing on something other than my mind and personality :)

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  12. This, so much. I identify as bisexual and genderqueer as well, and after marrying someone who presents as male, it was disconcerting how many people just assumed I was no longer bisexual. It felt like part of my identity was erased, though I'd never given it much thought before.

    I'm now eight months pregnant, and some days, the dysphoria can be overwhelming, for many of the same reasons you listed. While I don't have any tattoos, it is amazing how little things can help. For me, a favorite masculine wool sweater on days where I feel like I need a little grounding has been a huge help. Having that familiar thing helps me remember that, no matter how my body looks or is perceived by others, I'm still myself.

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  13. Just a quick one: posts like this are why I love Offbeat Families. Thank you for this. My partner and I have had lots of conversations about what her pregnancy brings up in terms of gender identity for both of us, but it's an issue you rarely see written about online or off. Also, if that's you in the picture, awesome ink.

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  14. This piece is so rad! Thank you so much for your thoughtful insights! It is always so great to hear experiences of other gender non-conforming gestational parents-to-be.

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  15. Oh, gods, thank you for this post. I'm genderqueer and planning on having kids in about three years, and this is the part that really freaks me out (aside from anxieties over what my parenting skills will be like). I have major dysphoria during my monthly bouts with lycanthropy; I'm not sure how I'm going to deal with nine months of pregnancy. Reading about your experience with it has helped me calm down, a lot — not that it's assured me that I'll be /fine/, but that it's assured me that I'm not alone. Also, it gives me hope that maybe I'll be able to find similar solace in my own ink.

    I'm so glad I started following this blog.

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  16. Thank you so much for this piece!

    I find myself in a very similar situation with the difference that we're planning on becoming parents plus getting married next year. So many people think that I finally act "normal" and straight… Lucky me that I have a partner who defines himself as male but also as bisexual and is able to understand my situation (or at least he is able to deal with it).

    Now I know I am not alone at all! Thank you!

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  17. Love this post! Being pregnant doesn't turn us into a cookie cutter anything! :) Thanks for this awesome piece!

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  18. I don't know if I understand or agree with the message here. To me, If gender is not that important, then what does it matter if your form is changing to reflect a female form — which is obviously what is happening that is making this writer uncomfortable. If you need tattoos to 'balance' you out, then you are concerned with your gender. Please understand that I am not attempting to be rude of facetious at all, but if you say your gender is not important, then why highlight this change?

    Your body reflects your changing biology, your female biology and we connect this biology with gender, whether some agree with it or not. Why must tattoos define you, instead of you redefining what gender means to you, breasts and hips or not.

    Gender ALWAYS matters whether we try and otherwise hide, suppress or morph into an exact other. THAT is a gender.

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  19. Thanks for having the courage to share this very personal matter.

    I'm curious to know if, as someone who identifies as genderqueer, will you "define" yourself as a mother or father or neither or both? I know some masculine presenting folks who consider themselves to be pregnant fathers.

    This must be such a transformational time for you. Your female biology has taken over, your natural hormones are changing to nuture growing life in a body that you celebrated that looked androgenous, but is now presenting as feminine. Your internal biological workings are screaming woman but your established identity doesn't want to. I hope you find comfort in that the hormonal changes will subside in the postpartum time. But your maternal, biological maternal instincts will grow stronger, and that is nature's way of bonding you to your child and inessence creating protetion for that child, but that too doesn't have to define who you as a person. It just is.

    Much love and support on your journey to parenthood.

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