After getting pregnant with her son, A.K. Summers knew that her experiences as a butch woman should be shared with the world. Firstly, there were no relevant websites, books or guides to being a pregnant butch, and secondly, it was a long nine months of dealing with issues that most women wouldn’t have to consider while they are planning baby showers and buying bassinets.
What began as a web comic is now a hard copy book out today from Soft Skull Press, and A.K.’s stories of finding the right delivery team, clothing and support from people in her life (including her partner) proves to be a fun read with a good balance of eye-roll worthy moments (like the landlord that keeps calling her “Mommy”) and hilarious tidbits (like people feeling the need to tell her she looked like she’d just put on some weight).
We spoke with A.K. about drawing herself, writing her experience and connecting with other pregnant butches.
AfterEllen.com: It’s such a personal thing you’re writing about in Pregnant Butch. What was the hardest part in writing something so private for the public?
A.K. Summers: Gosh, you know, I’ve had many moments where I wish that I weren’t doing a memoir. Definitely I would say that seeing conflict between me and another people was the hardest. I think the fact that there are other real people that I was showing and talking about was the most difficult and worrying about a backlash.
AE: I think that is always the case with memoir. I’m sure people want to know how your partner and your doctors and others featured in your book feel about it. Have you shown it to them?
AS: [Laughs] She has suffered over the course of these years that it’s taken to get the thing out, definitely. The doctors—I actually don’t go to that gynecologist anymore, I’ve lost touch with him. And that wasn’t because of anything to do with any of the stuff that happened in Pregnant Butch, but he stopped accepting patients for a while. So I don’t know. Also ditto for the midwife I showed. She’s also retired.
AE: So are you going to send them a copy or just let them find it if they do?
AS: [Laughs] No way.
AE: [Laughs] But wouldn’t it be so funny to pick up a book and be thumbing through it and see yourself when you had no idea?
AS: Honestly it could happen! Especially since I have a couple of good friends who are doulas and you know the world of midwifery and doulas is really not so far apart. So I definitely could see it making its way back that way. But I don’t think it would be a bad thing to encounter. Like “Hey, gee, this reminds me of some clients I’ve had where maybe I was uncomfortable with the fact that they were not presenting with the typical gender experience of pregnancy and maybe I didn’t deal with it in such a great way.”
AE: How typical is it—have you met a lot of other butch women who have had similar experiences?
AS: I think it’s happening a lot more often though, you know, from my cohort, I maybe know two or three others. But younger people, I think, are really doing it and I’m basing that just on people that responded to my web comic or wrote to me about “Well I’m thinking of doing this. So great to find this!” I’m getting a sense it’s becoming more and more typical.
AE: Which is great. The thing I love about Pregnant Butch is there is nothing else on there touching on the subject. When you were going to become pregnant, what did you look to outside of What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which you draw yourself reading in the book. Was there anything you could use on the internet to glean any kind of information about butch pregnancy from?
AS: You know, this was—so I was pregnant in 2003 and it seems stupid but 10 years ago there just wasn’t anything like there is today in terms of the number of blogs and other accounts of butch and trans lives that are being lived on the web. I really didn’t find much. There was the Thomas Beatty book that came out, Labor of Love, that was about “I was a pregnant man.” But that, I didn’t really feel a lot in common with that because it really was coming from that point of view of “I am trans—I’m a trans man.” But just in terms of living as a butch—I just didn’t see that perspective out there.
AE: And so now you’re providing it!
AS: In comic form.
AE: Which I think is a really fun, cool way to experience that. As somebody that is more femme-presenting, I have never—so far in my life, but I’m only 30—haven’t had the desire yet to become a mother. I was wondering if that’s something that you’ve always wanted. What about motherhood made you want to have a child in the first place?
AS: Well nothing about motherhood was really appealing. The appealing thing was the idea of having a family, and having a kid to be around. I grew up in a really warm, funny family and I wanted that for myself.
AE: And so pregnancy was something you had to get through to have a family? Is that how you saw it?
AS: It was, although I also talk in the book about the fact that I’m adopted so kind of a fascination around what it’s like to be actually biologically related to somebody. That was real for me.
AE: What is it that’s so threatening to some of the people you write about in the book that don’t know how to react, you almost have to teach them how to treat you? What is so threatening to them—can you put it into words, what people are so weirded out by, do you think?
AS: I think a lot of people are just going around with a very standard scripts in their head that links pregnancy to this ultimate expression of femininity so they have this certain slate of things they know to say, like “You are a beautiful glowing goddess!” or “Your roundness and femininity is so blah!” I just think that when you disrupt that, those associations and that kind of typical pattern, you freak people out and they feel uncomfortable. And some of them feel angry, like, “How dare you get in and mess with this thing that I think is so important and essential to life on earth.”
AE: It seems like you had a lot of support from your friends, and even some who expressed their own interest in wanting to have kids. Did you have any negative experiences with anyone who didn’t like the idea of someone being butch presenting and pregnant?
AS: Nobody in my life. Strangers, a couple of crappy experiences with people in a medical context, but nobody that was important to me felt that way.
AE: That’s good to hear. Do you feel that your experiences are similar to other butch mothers who have been pregnant or does anything vary greatly from yours?
AS: People’s experience varies a lot. A lot of it depends on where you are, how plugged in you are to a community, whether you’ve known people that have kids, particularly queer people that have kids so you can see what’s on the other side of pregnancy. Also just who people are and whether they’re easy going and mellow or whether, like myself, they’re tense and neurotic.
AE: Were you only able to connect with other queer parents after you put up the web comic?
AS: Well that was a big deal. I did join a queer parents group afterwards so I was able to, when my son was an infant, go to a regular group where we sat around and shot the shit. I think that must have just been something I found on a queer parents listserv or something.
AE: What the worst part for you to have to draw? Something that you thought “I wish I didn’t have to do this, but it’s integral to the story and it needs to be done.”
AS: This may sound odd but I found that doing the section on butch and trans stuff was really difficult. Mostly because I think it made me so fearful I was going to tread on somebody’s toes and reveal myself as reactionary ignoramus. Because I was talking about, as a butch, having some fear and anxiety around how many people were transitioning in the community. And the fact that I wasn’t, and that I had some really conflicted feelings about, “Well what does that mean? What does that say about me?” and that was a hard thing to put out there.
AE: It is always a hard thing to discuss, on AfterEllen too. Did you feel that being pregnant made you less butch in anyway?
AS: You mean, permanently or just during the experience?
AE: Wholly, as a person. Like has it altered your butchness?
AS: I think that it has made me more butch. I think that it really, on the other side, made me feel more comfortable and solid. Like, “Hey, I did that!” More of it may have to do with the experience of being a butch parent and having to go in so many unfamiliar situations in the schools and dealing with other parents and just putting myself in situations where it becomes obvious that “Hey, you know what? Actually I don’t have any explaining to do. And my kid is fine, and this is who I am.”
AE: It seems that experience, there’s even more stories to be told! Will you be doing any graphic novels about being a butch parent now?
AS: Gosh, I’m not anxious to do another memoir right away. [Laughs] That said, I have actually been thinking about doing a coming-of-age story and I’m also working on a children’s graphic novel.
AE: Awesome. What are you hoping for Pregnant Butch now that it’s been on the web and is finally in hard copy?
AS: This morning I got some good news I have a tiny snippet in Vanity Fair so I”ll just have to see what else comes along as far as getting it into the press.
AE: That’s great! I’m sure they’ve never had a pregnant butch in their pages before.
AS: I know. It’s literally one line but it’s so bizarre and fun that it would end up in that magazine at all.
Pregnant Butch is out today.