Motherhood Redefined and Reimagined
Anthropologist Talia Molé on how other forms of motherhood are centered in her work
In the previous post, Talia defined the language and terms she uses to describe how she is childfree. In this next portion of the interview she expands on how her work centers motherhood…just not in the way we expect.
Talia, in speaking about her doctoral work, refers to autoethnographies. Here’s a definition from Wikipedia:
Autoethnography is a form of ethnographic research in which a researcher connects personal experiences to wider cultural, political, and social meanings and understandings. It is considered a form of qualitative and/or arts-based research.
Talia: Motherhood Phoenixing, which is what I am now turning into a novel, was my dissertation. In this search for who else is going through this experience, I arrived to a very dear community, which is the LGBTQ+ community.
And so “queering motherhood,” in one sense, was centered in the LGBTQ community to elevate voices of other forms of mother, motherhood, and mothering that are existing [in] and resisting patriarchal capitalism, but they're not recognized or…they're not seen as legitimate forms.
So the queering motherhood in this aspect was to elevate those voices and to make them visible, but also queering motherhood was the invitation [to] pushing back on a dominant narrative that claims that the only thing that is legitimate in this country as far as mother, motherhood, and mothering is concerned is a particular body.
And that body clearly is cisgendered female, white, middle class, Christian, Protestant, heterosexual. And so the queering motherhood in that aspect, it was a direct contestation. It's like, wait a minute! This is what you're claiming it to be. And I'm going to show you along with all the voices that shared in this project that this is simply not true.
And so, that work for me was really important. I did two autoethnographies, one centered in Miami, with a wonderful group of my friends here, part of the LGBT community, and we wrote a 15 page poem where I just overlapped experiences, one line from each person. And I did something called a prose play script where I brought in my theater practice and I wrote a play script, but I also mixed in prose into it.
And then the other autoethnography, I was able to center the wonderful house ballroom community in New York City and showcased how the house ballroom is an incredible familial kinship. And at the center is a mother. The center of each house is a mother. And this is usually a trans person or a gay man, and the members of the house are the children.
And that relationship is such an incredible relationship that fosters such incredible, deep, strong bonds, that there's no way, when you are in the presence, of that interaction that you cannot claim it as motherhood. So basically my work centers about around that.
As she is also an artist and has birthed ideas and art, Talia herself feels like a mother.
Talia: And now I am wanting to sit with a lot of the ideas about remembering as a radical act, as we remember our legacies and our ancestral messages on how to move through community and how to move with the earth.
All of that is inspiring me to turn my dissertation into a novel. So that to me is now my full focus. That, and working with other creative practitioners: I mentor and support creative practitioners through their creative practices.
Believe it or not, I, I center the idea of motherhood. All the spaces that I create, I want them to be mothering. I want them to feel like motherhood.
If we can take characteristics of what it means to be a mother—somebody that's in the service of elevating life and sustaining life and creating spaces to hold contradiction with respect, and compassion—these are the spaces that I create.
And so I definitely feel at times a mother. I feel at times a midwife to other people's creative processes. And so, yeah, I feel like I practice motherhood all the time.
The House Ballroom Family
I asked Talia to explain more about house Ballroom, which she compared to the FX show Pose. As she mentioned above, her mission is to elevate voices of other forms of motherhood that exist and resist patriarchal capitalism. And one of the toxic normalized parts of The Patriarchy is that the father is at the center and everyone in the family takes his name.
Here’s a deeper dive on that topic, and how each house subverts The Patriarchy:
Talia: So house ballroom is basically a performance dance circuit. They have competitions and events. And at the same time, it is also a familial system. A kinship in many ways where the LGBTQ community steps out to help their own when every day they're being persecuted. And so they created these systems called houses. They mimic very much the couture houses of fashion. And at the center of each house is a mother, and the members are the children, and the children take the last name of the mother. So it's very mother centered.
And also, it is a system of love and protection. It is a system that is dedicated to their survival [and the] mutual survival of their community, of their children.
So yes, there is this performance quality to it, because it is very performative. And at the same time, it presents an incredible example of what it means to be these things that we're discussing. Even what it means to be a child, and what it means to be a mother.
Talia’s Legacy as a Childfree Latina
During this season of the show, I asked all guests about legacy. Although each answer was unique to the individual, the common thread in all of them was about their impact on the people they love.
Paulette: One of the sticking points in the conversation that always plots childfree people against parents is, “what is your legacy going to be if you don't have children?” Because it's completely unthinkable that a legacy can exist without offspring [/sarcasm]. I have a feeling you feel very strongly about that.
Talia:I think that's a very good question. Again, if I think in a matriarchal way, I think as a collective. So I don't think in patriarchal ways as the individual.
If you think of yourself as an individual, then yes, you want to birth other individuals to pass on your legacy, to “keep you alive,” if you will. Because it's all about you at the end of the day.
But in this matriarchal context, I think about my communities, and I think about what are the gifts I'm leaving. That's what I think of when I think of a legacy, and I hope that the gifts that people will remember me by is that I cared, that I fought the good fight, that I loved, and that I showed up.
I forgot what show it was that I was watching, but there was something very beautiful that they said. It was actually a gay couple and they were going to therapy and one of them was having kind of an existential crisis. He was Catholic and he was like, “I was taught that if you're gay, you go to hell. That's what Catholicism shows you.”
And I liked what the psychologist told them. He said, “I believe that hell and heaven is how people talk about you when you're gone.”
It got me thinking: if people are talking about me in these ways that I helped, that I was there, that I was lovely, that I supported people when they were there, that I showed up, all these things that I mentioned, then I'm still alive. My body might not be there, but I'm alive in the minds and the mouths and the hearts of people.
Though she’s soft spoken, Talia and her work are powerful. As I mentioned in the episode, she has maternal energy that makes her very approachable. Her ideas about motherhood and matriarchal societies sound revolutionary (thanks to The Patriarchy) and yet are still appealing and inviting. Watch this space for when her novel becomes available.
What isn’t included in these excerpts was our discussions around other hot topics like Roe v. Wade, which you can hear in full on the episode:
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