One step into a maternity clothing store, and you are hit with it: the bows, the ties around the belly and the ruffles — accessories that, outside of the 17th century at least, scream “girl!” The names of pregnancy clothing providers themselves also skew toward the feminine: PinkBlush, Motherhood Maternity, Isabella and Oliver, Fillyboo, Hotmilk Maternity, a Pea in the Pod, Séraphine. All of this can pose a dilemma for queer folks, people who identify on the more masculine end of the spectrum, and, well, those who grew out of bows and ruffles in grade school.
Before I got pregnant, friends both queer and straight warned me of the limits of maternity clothing: the uncomfortable fabrics, the less-than-desirable patterns. What I didn’t expect was the way that pregnancy clothing would affect my queer identity.
The entire pregnancy journey is an experience that is decidedly straight. Queer individuals and couples who went through a reproductive health clinic can likely feel my pain, not least of which comes from constantly being asked about the “husband” or “husband’s sperm,” despite the initial intake that indicates you are not hetero-partnered. Then there are the constant references to the female body and to being a “mommy." These happen both in the clinical setting and from (well-meaning but) clueless colleagues, acquaintances and even complete strangers. Although some pregnant queer people identify as women and mothers-to-be, I know many expecting people who do not identify with womanhood or motherhood, but with parenthood more broadly.
The issue of pregnancy clothing for queer folks can therefore be the tip of the iceberg — or the straw that breaks the camel’s back. For those on the masculine or gender nonconforming end of the spectrum, finding clothing that is true to their non-feminine presentation can be nearly impossible. This lack, combined with unwelcome changes to the body — identified by everyone from co-workers to strangers on the street — can lead to complicated feelings about identity and even relationship difficulties for those who are partnered. For those on the feminine end of the spectrum, the further erasure of our queer identity through the bows and ruffles of pregnancy clothing can be the tipping point, with our assumed heterosexuality making us feel even more marginalized in the queer community.
So, what can you do?
Choose wisely. I initially went into pregnancy thinking I didn’t want to buy any new clothing (who has the time/money?). As it turns out, this hasn’t been a possibility. But you can buy strategically. For example, make the most of just one or two pairs of basic maternity pants by combining them with a wider variety of loose-fitting tops.
Shop in stores that don’t focus solely on maternity clothing (Uniqlo is an option many have recommended). Or better yet, shop at secondhand shops. Both of these routes will likely lead to more queer-friendly options.
Find queer parenting support groups, either in person if available or online.
What can clothing companies do?
Offer more options.
Currently, advertising for pregnancy clothing companies tends to be monolithic in their presentation of bodies. There should be a wide range of pregnant bodies in advertising — from the straight-presenting to the masculine-of-center to the gender nonconforming.
Stop labeling everything “mother,” “mama” or “maternity” and maybe even come up with something more original (and less blatantly masculine-exclusive) than "PinkBlush." Wording matters.
Yes, these are small changes. And no, they won't make a huge dent in the pregnancy clothing industry overnight. That said, they could mean a lot to a large number of pregnant people who already face struggle enough to claim and reclaim their queer or gender nonconforming identities every day, during and beyond pregnancy. So these small changes would be a big deal — and they're long overdue.