We moved to Iowa on December 4th, 2012. My wife and I made a decision to move here, because we were looking for a good legal environment for gay families that is also affordable. When you combine those two factors, you come up with Iowa. It also helped that my wife grew up in Iowa, and she had some family here. I knew very little about the Midwest before packing our U-haul truck. We had been living in northern California for two years, which we loved, but it quickly became more expensive than we could afford, especially once we started trying to expand our family.
I quickly learned about the culture of “Iowa nice.” At least at first glance, no one seemed to blink an eye when they met my butch-looking wife and me. But then, I slowly started to see past polite and notice the not-so-subtle hetero-normativity that exists here. I was surprised that people seemed more interested in (and stared at) my butch wife than they did at my brown skin. I figured it’s not PC to treat me differently. I think people want not to see race in our new “post-racial” America. But, it’s quite fine to openly puzzle at my wife’s non-gender confirming appearance.
As soon as we moved here, I felt like I did when I first started dating women. I had to come out to everyone all over again, because being next to my wife clearly indicated that I am a lesbian. We were no longer living in a city where there were plenty of couples like us. We stood out like a gay, multiracial thumb. Don’t get me wrong – I have never been closeted. Within two minutes of meeting me you know that I have a wife, and it’s not because I carry a rainbow flag. It’s because you ask me about my husband, and I have to correct you.
The fertility clinic was one of the first places where we bumped heads with the hetero-normative dominant paradigm. After we spent months preparing my body for insemination and pregnancy through lifestyle changes and alternative approaches, the clinic treated us like a hetero couple with fertility issues and expected us to follow a very medical protocol. They weren’t interested in hearing about our understanding of insemination timing, which is different when using frozen sperm versus fresh sperm like many of the couples there were using. We didn’t have many choices given there is only one fertility clinic in the area. In the end, we got pregnant by insisting on what we knew would be best for my body.
It took over 9 months to get pregnant, but once we did we had one less thing to not worry about, and a million new things to worry about. We decided to use midwives, because we agreed with their approach to pregnancy and labor. It pleased my heart when upon first meeting me and my wife, the midwife noted that there were two moms and no dads. They never asked that pesky question about the donor. They noted my wife’s name and always treated her like an equal and parent to our growing child. Even with this wonderful experience with the midwives, I realized during my pregnancy that I felt like an outsider not only because I’m a lesbian but also because I’m Latina.
At about 6 months, I went back east to visit family and friends. During that trip I realized that very few people in Iowa had touched my baby bump. Being from an affectionate culture, and now living in a culture where people are physically distant, it didn’t occur to me how little people were physically interacting with me until I was back home. At first I thought it was just the culture in Iowa, but then during a birthing class, I overheard another pregnant woman complain about the constant rubbing she has experienced at work and home since she started to show. It made me wonder, were people afraid to touch my belly because I was brown or queer? I hate those thoughts, but they do cross my mind, because I am not a member of the dominant culture group.
And that was my biggest challenge while brown, queer, and pregnant in Iowa. I have always lived in places with a significant number of people of color. I’ve always been able to find people like me, who share a culture and/or worldview. But suddenly I felt like a (pregnant) fish out of water within a culture I didn’t understand and in which I didn’t feel like I fit in. I know that my presence scares some people or makes them uncomfortable; I sense it and it’s real. I am not paranoid. And frankly, I am not the kind of person to make people feel more comfortable by acting overly nice (trying to convince you that I am a nice, safe brown person) because they aren’t sure how to act around me, because I am not like anyone they have been around. As a pregnant person, I was even less willing to cater to these fears, given that I was dealing with my own physical and emotional changes.
In the end, we have found a select few really amazing sources of support. These people don’t see me as just an “angry brown woman” now, and they probably wouldn’t even after reading this. There are elements of having had our baby in Iowa for which we are very grateful, such as my ability to be a stay-at-home mom because of the low cost of living. My wife was fairly easily able to get her name on our son’s birth certificate, thanks to marriage equality and the fights of a few couples that came before us. But mostly, living in a white dominant culture, with an overwhelming politeness that reduces discomfort and rudeness but that also inhibits real connection, has been hard on me and my family.
This has been my personal experience in Iowa as a pregnant human being. I don’t claim to represent all queer Latinas from the east coast because, frankly I don’t. I would challenge readers, particularly those from the dominant culture, to examine how they feel about my experience and question why they feel this way. Am I just an angry, paranoid, brown lesbian? Or, am I a human being with a different life experience and different perspective struggling to navigate this culture? More importantly, how can you empathize and/or relate to this experience, if at all?