I am Bapa.
I went to a therapist to figure out what my kid should call me. I know what you’re thinking. How could it be that difficult? Aren’t there only the 2 choices: Mom and Dad? And they aren’t usually choices, but assigned titles you get based on your sex and parental status. For me, it didn’t feel so simple. I’ve had a...gender journey to say the least. There’s more to it than that, but I don’t really want to get into it here.
In the months before my daughter was born I obsessively thought about what my kid might call me. It felt like a such a significant decision. And, once I made the decision I’d probably have to come out to let other people know. I’m an introverted person. I hate coming out. I feel like coming out is such a misnomer. It makes it seem like you tell everyone once, and bam, done. You get to celebrate your authenticity or something. But, this hasn’t been my experience with coming out. I have had to come out constantly over the years. And, sometimes I’ve come out and later realize I wasn’t ready, or it wasn’t quite the right thing for me. I’ve had to backtrack, clarify, wait. It can be a confusing process and it never ends. It has been a process of making statements that make me uncomfortable and waiting to see if other people are uncomfortable too. For someone who wants nothing more than to be easy to get along with, this is terrifying. I want things to be simple, easily defined. Coming out is easier when things are this way too. But, I have discovered through trial and much error that my identity is not simple or easily defined, no matter how hard I’ve tried to make it so. I find this incredibly maddening. But, this is the path I have and so I’ve had to figure out how to hack my way forward.
The anxiety around trying to figure out what my child should call me felt familiar. I had felt it over the decades spent trying to figure out if I was gay. And I had felt it over the years spent trying to figure out if I was trans. I’ve gotten a little better at dealing with the uncertainty. The feeling that something is supposed to be solid under my feet, but for whatever reason I was born to walk on slippery ground. Every step I take is one in which the ground beneath me moves and shudders. “Who am I?” has been a nearly persistent question in my life. The constant introspection gets tiring. I hate to think about the time I’ve spent trying to figure out the most simple things about my identity, things most people never spend a second thinking about.
I know there is more to this than anxiety, loneliness, and frustration. There is a positive side to counter all the negatives. I’ve learned how to sit quietly with myself and listen. I’ve learned that uncertainty is at the core of nearly everything worthwhile. I’ve worn uncertainty like a cast. It works from the outside in. It is present and heavy on my skin. But, it’s presence changes me on the inside, enough to mend broken bones. There is a grace that comes with bearing the heaviness of uncertainty.
It will surprise no one to learn that my therapist didn’t give me an answer about what my child should call me. But, she helped me with the anxiety. She helped me make some space to listen. I knew I wasn’t going to be Mom. That didn’t fit. I knew that some trans and genderqueer folks used combinations of the words mom and dad to create words like Mapa or Maddy. There were a number of people who used gender ambiguous terms like Baba or created another word derived from their name. And, there were a number of lesbians who went by Dad. The familiar and familial felt good. I went with Dad. It worked for the first few months.
As has been my pattern, I questioned my decision and backtracked. It was close, but not quite right. One of my daughter’s early babbles was Bapa. Bapa. That was it. I had envisioned that she might call me something she came up with. It felt a little like cheating to co-opt one of her seemingly meaningless babbles, but it also seemed totally perfect and fitting. It became the word for who I am to her. I am her Bapa.
What’s surprising to me is that once I settled on Bapa, I stopped thinking so much about what my kid would call me and the effects it might have. I used to worry constantly about the impact it might have on my daughter, was it a selfish thing to do, would it make us targets of people’s intolerance? Perhaps it’s because I feel more comfortable being settled as Bapa or maybe it’s because I’m so busy parenting that I just don’t think about it. The anxiety and doubt that used to be omnipresent now only surfaces every now and then when someone refers to me as a Mom. I never really know what to do. Do I come out? Do I let it go? Are they someone I will see again? Are they someone I want to share an intimate detail about my life with? Will they be an asshole about it? All these things race through my mind for a moment. Then they dissipate. I get distracted and move on.
As I write this post, that old nagging anxiety edges my mind. Not as consuming as it once was, but still there. It has taken me three tries to write this post. There is a part of me that worries what you will think. If I make you uncomfortable, will I still be likeable? Thankfully, a result of coming out so often is that every day, in miniscule increments, I get more and more comfortable with the idea that I might make others uncomfortable. But, I also believe in you. I have something so incredibly intimate and important to me and I need to entrust you with it. I need to believe that sharing something like this matters. And, I have to believe in me. I need to trust myself to be honest and authentic. I must keep faith in the power of nakedly speaking my truth. Being a parent has made me ever so slightly braver. I’ve earned a small amount of faith. I have learned something about how large the human heart can grow. It is large and magnificent, open and receptive. If I tell this story with all of my heart, will you listen with yours?