A pregnant woman, to many people, represents the height of womanhood. But when a butch lesbian is pregnant, she challenges people’s ideas of what a pregnant woman should look and act like -- and their ideas of what a butch lesbian looks and acts like. She may even challenge herself, as A. K. Summers tells us in her funny, reflective, and sometimes painfully honest graphic tale, Pregnant Butch.
Web comic collective site Act-i-vate (www.act-i-vate.com) will be serializing the 100-page Pregnant Butch starting Dec. 5, with several new pages posted weekly. Eventually, Summers hopes to find a print publisher.
Summers grew up in California and Georgia, went to college in Ohio and Illinois, and now resides in Rhode Island. Trained as a printmaker, she is the creator of the comic zine Negativa: Chicago’s Astute Lezbo Fantasy Mag, as well as several short animated films.
The semi-autobiographical Pregnant Butch begins with Summers’ comic persona pondering what life would be like if she were pregnant. Her first happy thought is that it will allow her to wear suspenders. "I love dramatic masculine costume, but it usually comes off as drag," says her character. "Having a legitimate structural excuse to wear it is a chance of a lifetime."
Alas, her sartorial plans did not quite transpire as expected -- but you will have to read the comic to find out why. Of course, the ultimate outcome of the tale is not really in doubt. As Summers said in an interview, "You can be pretty sure this one will end with a birth."
But it is the journey rather than the outcome that is the reason for reading. Summers explained, "There is so much said and written about the importance of pregnancy and your transformation into a parent and a birthgiver." Pregnant Butch, she said, "is about my attempts to hold on to my butch self and also to allow myself to be transformed by the process [of pregnancy], and where that could occur and be positive."
Summers knew she wanted to get pregnant, she said, mostly because she herself was adopted, "and I really felt an emotional longing to experience a biological relationship to somebody."
She and her partner also wanted to leave open the possibility that both of them would at some point get pregnant. Since Summers is older, it was logical that she should go first.
When she finally did get pregnant, however, "there always seemed to be some tradeoff going on," she said. Her first OB/GYN, for example, was a gay man who was good for her "gay self," but was not a fan of the natural childbirth that Summers favored.
But when she found a midwife who accepted her insurance, "I really ran up against a culture that was not gay friendly, and that seemed somewhat punishing towards women who were not acting like women."
She explained, "I wanted to feel that I was doing things right but that I could maintain who I was. I didn’t find a comfortable place where all those things could take place."
The comic also describes how pregnancy changed her relationships with people like her landlord and the fireman next door, who had come to accept her as a butch and "treated me like a regular guy," she said.
"It was very confusing to then find me be pregnant and have me seem to have a very sexual female persona suddenly."
And after years of getting her parents "to accept my masculine appearance and style," she said, "it seemed to suddenly go out the window. ...I was being encouraged to wear feminizing maternity pants, and they were very concerned about my doing handiwork and taking any physical risks." She found it "unnerving."
Despite the challenges of pregnancy, she said she now feels like "a much stronger person than I was, and more flexible," with "a less fragile sense of self" and "not so easily cowed by other people’s experiences and the notion of a universal and correct birth experience."
After she was no longer pregnant or breastfeeding, she said, "I was able to go back and be my normal self again."
In fact, she added, "Now my son has had to get quite accustomed to explaining that I am in fact his mother and not his father."
With blogs enabling more and more people to write about their parenting experiences, Summers feels that comics nonetheless hold some advantages over text. "You can show many more things than a blog makes possible," she contended.
It is also "very easy to get drawn into the medium," she said. Comics "suck people in pretty instantly."
Some readers will recognize the similarities between her character’s appearance and Tintin, the classic comic book character of Belgian artist Hergé. Tintin, she said, has been her masculine role model ever since she was a kid. She explained, "I loved the idea of wearing things like knee britches and berets and cutting that kind of Tintin-esque figure, rather than being like a ’50s style butch who’s really going for something rougher and tougher."
Hergé may never have imagined a pregnant Tintin, but we can be grateful Summers did. Pregnant Butch shows us a little-explored facet of LGBT parenthood, in a medium that should have widespread appeal.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian, a blog and resource directory for LGBT parents. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.