Mothering Toward Stronger Communities
by Lucky Starrs
I am disabled in a way where I cannot have biological children, nor do I want to. What I want instead is gay people on a farm, nurturing each other, holding each other’s babies, growing mushrooms. I want us to take turns laying in a sun filled field of berries we grew while we change diapers and tell stories about our lovers. I want my hair to turn grey as the trees around us continue to grow. I want to uproot what it means to be a mother outside of birthing my own children.
Growing away from my own ability and into a heightened state of disability, I have been forced to re-examine how I define care. The way “caring” for someone is perceived is often closer to “providing.” When I go see my doctor for the fourth time this week, she will give me a questionnaire to fill out. The questionnaire will include a list of questions about whether or not I can bathe myself, walk myself to the bathroom, brush my own hair. I will answer her the same way I have for two years now, saying that I can do those things about fifty percent of the time. I will need someone else to help me with the rest. As my girlfriend allows me to lean on her shoulder to walk home, I will catch myself thinking about my mother, who rarely, if ever, helped me do these things as a child. I won’t think about her with resentment, but rather with compassion and curiosity for her own lapse in caring and being cared for. I know that she received less care and in turn was able to provide less care because she grew up poor. Our world has defined care largely within the confines of the nuclear family, which has continually proven not to make individuals feel cared for. The sense of community is lacking. Her sense of community was lacking.
The older I get the more I see how precarious our notions of care in relation to motherhood are. The feminization of poverty created a structure that caused my mother to focus on providing rather than caring. She was consistently under pressure to provide materially for her children rather than nurture her relationships with them. When she finally left my father, this dynamic became even more apparent. Her experience became one of radical survival; she was coping with the loss of what she was conditioned to view as a community, while trying to physically provide for two children. While she was busy with the task of survival, I became busy with the task of nurturing. This made me, a sex working fifteen-year-old heroin addict in rural Oregon, responsible for the emotional wellness of a thirteen-year-old boy in addition to my own.
It goes without saying how deeply unsustainable this is. Almost every other person I know from that town who was socialized as a woman has a similar experience. I have felt immense pressure to break this cycle of harm that stems from poverty, until I found out I could never birth my own children three years ago. I felt a profound sense of relief, like my own independence would save me. The more chronic my illness becomes, the more I realize that couldn’t be further from the truth. My ability to do something will always be in relation to someone else's ability and desire to assist me. The way I access care will never be an independent act. Up until recently this made me existentially nervous.
When my mother gets nervous she refuses to eat. When I get nervous I pretend I am in my own womb. I think to myself, “If I try hard enough, maybe I can be my own mother.” Is it possible I can birth my own fully abled body? I envision the soft tissue of my empty cavity swelling up to cradle my failing organs, asking them for forgiveness, an act my mother and I both struggle to do. I want to swaddle my own inflammation, provide stability for my own body. I envision my belly swelling up so full I can’t see my own toes. Inside my womb is an entire community, one so large and rooted I feel it pressed against my rib cage like a tree trunk. Strong.
This image comforts me always. I wish I knew what comforted my mother. I wish she knew it is nothing short of a miracle that her and her children made it with only themselves as each other's community. I want not only her but everyone else to know that mothering is not an individual task. Mothering is a mode of operation, a way for a community of individuals to collectively provide care. We must be dependent on each other in order to nurture our relationships. I think this involves obliterating the idea of raising children in nuclear families. Beyond it feeling unnatural to many people, it is a perpetrator of violence, especially for those surviving in poverty. In order to transform the way we mother, we have to transform the way we live in relation to children. To do this I think we need to explore our sense of obligation or rejection surrounding raising children. I think to engage in mothering as a community task, we need to switch our way of living to being genuinely communal. My hope is that this will allow me to commit to their care, as well as my own. This will require collective imagining, then reimagining, and actions coming from a place of radical love. For me, the imagining looks like dreaming towards the reality I want to see.
I want to see a bunch of little children running barefoot in the grass as I teach them how to press poppies, while someone else is getting me my meds because I can’t walk inside to get them. It will look like everyone having two to three partners because it makes us all happier people. There will be one person brushing another mother’s hair, while another person kisses their cheek, and another washes the babies spit up off their dress. It will be cherry pies the kids baked for their mothers because they feel cared for, and mothers helping their teenagers learn to eat right. I am envisioning a natural occurring cycle of abundance. More than anything, I want to dream my own mother there.
Lucky Starrs (they/she) is a queer artist, sex worker, and activist focusing on creating work that nourishes their community. Themes of their work include the intersection of capitalism, intimacy, and sexuality as it relates to modern relationships and sex work. Through their practice they want to create radically non men spaces for marginalized genders. Their goal is to transcend and transform present realities by rewriting past ones and writing for future ones. More of their work can be found on their Instagram @luck.ily666.