At some point, Ari Fitz kind of forgot that she even has a womb. The YouTuber is a masculine, black, queer woman — and in embracing her masculinity and watching family and friends embrace it as well, she tells Refinery29, she lost touch with the idea that something society codifies as purely feminine, like pregnancy, is even possible for bodies like hers.
It took another masculine YouTuber, Frankie Smith, getting pregnant to jolt Fitz out of that idea and to make her think about the intersections of butchness and pregnancy. The result is a gorgeous short documentary called My Mama Wears Timbs, which explores Smith’s experiences as a pregnant, butch woman of colour.
Early into her pregnancy, Smith approached Fitz about doing a maternity clothing fashion video for her YouTube channel, but when Fitz started googling maternity photoshoots she realised that pregnant women like Smith are hardly ever represented.
"The images are not anyone who would look like myself or my friends," Fitz tells Refinery29. "They're all of a girl in a flowy dress with her boyfriend or husband and she’s in nature and she has a flower crown." You know the type.
There's nothing wrong with these kinds of photos, of course, but they paint a picture of pregnancy that will never reflect women like Smith. It was then that Fitz knew this was a much bigger conversation that needed to happen. She created the documentary to show that "masculinity and motherhood can co-exist and it’s not that deep," she says.
She's right. The fact that Smith is a cisgender woman who has always wanted a baby and decided with her partner that she would get pregnant is not a difficult concept to grasp. Yet when people look at Smith in her snapbacks and men's jeans they have trouble connecting her pregnancy to her identity as a butch woman.
"By being gay you're already outside of the norm. And then by being a tomboy as a woman you're already outside of the norm again," Smith says in the video. "So whatever you are, you're put into a category and you're expected to not do anything that goes outside of that category."
Fitz theorises that Smith and butch pregnant women like her get weird looks or confuse people because those people essentially think of them as men. The problem, she says, is that people struggle to understand intersectionality.
"There are people who will embrace your masculinity, but they do it through the knowledge of male-hood," Fitz says. "People think in their minds that they're accepting, but they’re fitting you into the box that they understand."
The box of masculinity that we as a society understand doesn't allow for "feminine" desires like wanting to carry a baby. If a masculine-presenting queer woman is in a relationship with a feminine-presenting woman, as Smith is, the automatic assumption is that the more feminine woman would carry their child. Yet that's not always the case, and the way that a couple like Smith and her partner gets a baby doesn't really matter.
"Children don’t care about how you’re dressed," Fitz says. "A newborn isn’t worried about the fit of her mom’s pants or whether or not she wears a dress."
It's been two years since the release of My Mama Wears Timbs and, as Smith tells us over email, "life has been great", though hectic – they have since had another child who was carried by Smith's wife Tia. The couple are too busy embracing the joys and challenges of parenthood to think of their family unit as anything other than normal, until people begin asking questions.
"Honestly, sometimes I forget that we’re lesbian parents until someone in Target asks Tia and I if we’re sisters. Or the good ole 'omg who’s the mom?!' question is one that we get a lot too. When Cody was first born, we’d get shy and sometimes even say 'yeah we’re sisters' just to get out of what felt like an awkward situation or to avoid being judged by a stranger. But now, we ALWAYS tell people 'No, we’re not sisters, we’re married and these are OUR children.' We are too proud of our family and too secure with ourselves to hide the truth to make other people comfortable. Plus, it actually feels really good to be able to take part in normalising the idea of queer families."