Over a year into the novel coronavirus pandemic, writer, dad, and educator Krys Malcolm Belc is releasing his stunning memoir, The Natural Mother of the Child. Belc, a nonbinary parent, weaves legal documents, family photos, and his own life story into a unique, surprising personal history about pregnancy, parenthood, and how we understand the body in the contemporary United States. Belc, who currently lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with his partner and three young children, finished a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree in creative writing at Northern Michigan University and is also the author of a flash nonfiction chapbook, In Transit.
Belc sat down with Daily Kos for a phone interview to talk about his incredible nonfiction work, how he balances parenting and working during the pandemic, and his advice for queer writers. We also talked about queer life and politics, and in particular, the slew of anti-trans legislation popping up across the nation. Want to hear what Belc has to say about how to make gyms safe spaces for queer folks? Or what he would tell coaches and parents stressed about trans girls playing sports? Read the interview below to hear his perspective on all of these topics and more.
This interview has been edited for length, clarity, and flow.
Marissa Higgins: If you were to sum what the spirit or the soul of your book is, in a couple of words, or a sentence or two, what would you say?
Krys Malcolm Belc: So, it’s a memoir. And to me, a memoir is about a theme and time, and some intersection of those things, in a person’s life. And so I would say this is a memoir that centers around the time in my life I was pregnant and had a young child I had gestated. So it uses multimedia means to explore what that in my life has meant to me.
MH: Okay, great. Can you share a bit about the logistical level of your process? Like were you someone who was working a part-time job? Were you a full-time student?
KMB: Yeah, so in 2016, my family left Philadelphia for three years so I could go get an MFA. I had been working as an elementary school teacher and I quit my job to go to grad school in the upper peninsula of Michigan. I wrote almost the entire book during those three years that I was in grad school. But I actually went to the MFA for fiction. So, I spent a lot of the beginning of grad school writing short stories. And then I started writing these essays … photo essays, flash essays, you know, all of these image-text document essays. I was sort of writing all of them, simultaneously in a way. And then I wrote the last section at the very end of grad school.
MH: Did you feel that in writing the book your perspective on yourself or anything changed?
KMB: I don’t. The time that the book covers is pretty simultaneous to the time that I was writing it. I was writing the end of the book and talking about my son being 5-and-a-half [years old], and he was literally 5-and-a-half while I was writing it. The earlier sections that talk more about childhood and being a teen, there’s kind of stuff from all over my life, and that stuff, I had a strong backward-looking lens. Even talking about the actual time of being pregnant, that had been four or five years ago when I was writing the book. But the part that’s about my children being toddlers and in elementary school? I was writing it at that time. Like, Samson [son] is now 7-and-a-half.
MH: Did you feel that raising a family while writing was any kind of obstacle? Or affected the process or your time management or anything?
KMB: I mean, yes. I think because, in graduate school, I was working a TAship, I only had a half-time job. Now, I work full-time, so I feel like I have less time to write than I did then. I wrote the whole book directly into InDesign. With all of the images and stuff. So I would sit at my kitchen table and look at all the stuff, doing the highlighting, starting to cut stuff on my laptop and PhotoShop. And then I would have material to work on when I actually had a few hours to dedicate to writing.
MH: I’m curious if you were interested in speaking about being a working parent in the time of COVID? When a lot of kids are either doing virtual school or kids are being sent to school or …
KMB: Sure, so I have a full-time day job. It’s an 8:30-5:00 PM job in a healthcare setting but I’ve been working from home for the past year. My two older children attend public school in Philadelphia and they have been virtual. My third grader, I don’t think he’ll be back in a classroom this year. And my first grader went back two days a week last week. And then we have a 5-year-old who goes to a private pre-K three days a week. So, there’s kind of always been children around in the last year.
I think the fact that we have middle-class jobs has insulated us very seriously. Like our jobs were never in danger. My partner works in multiple healthcare settings as a nurse. So I think there’s been stress about both of working in health care during a global pandemic, but also, we’ve had steady paychecks and our kids are safe.
Creatively, it’s been super shitty. But, that’s fine … It just doesn’t seem that important to me at this point. A lot of my day job has been helping people cope with online school, and making suggestions … I don’t always follow my own suggestions, but I try!
MH: Would you be comfortable or interested speaking to how in your home, if it’s changed at all, how the division of labor, or how your family has adapted during COVID overall?
KMB: Yeah, I mean I think that like, our parenting … I wouldn’t call it a style, but our situation has always been like … because one of us works shift work, one person on, one person off, has always been our default. One person does literally everything while the other person is working and then we just switch places. So, like, since my partner’s work hasn’t been at all interrupted by COVID, that has largely been able to be maintained. I do think that because I don’t leave the home to go to work anymore, it is a little bit more active negotiation about who is on, who is off, who is taking on more of what responsibility, what does it mean to do quality parenting when you’re the one who is on. It’s like, constantly in my mind that those are extremely gendered and influenced by society.
Our family unit is very far from perfect, but we had done a lot of work about the gendered nature of our parenting labor in the past. I had never really been the breadwinner … We talked about me quitting, me scaling back. I’d always been the default parenting person but that doesn’t seem to be the case in my community or any kind of large-scale level. It’s been tough but it’s something we’ve always been actively working on and negotiating.
MH: What’s one thing you would want physicians or related medical staff to know about pregnant people who are not women?
KMB: Focusing on appropriately explaining their medical care options and what’s about to happen to them should remain the priority. I gave birth in a birth center, so that was predicated on the point that there would only be like, two people there, which was a big benefit for me. But I have heard stories of trans people feeling like they were an object of interest on a larger floor kind of situation. So I think being mindful that it’s really not groundbreaking medical care for a trans person to seek OB-GYN care of any kind. Unless they’re getting a gender-affirming surgery, in which case, they’re being seen by a specialist provider.
So I guess, while maintaining that you should use friendly language and the terms that people prefer, the basic medical care you’re providing is going to be the same. So not making a huge spectacle out of someone’s medical care is something you should always be striving for when you’re caring for someone who's not your typical patient.
MH: There’s been a slew of state-level bills that are focused on legislating trans girls and non-binary kids out of girls’ sports. What’s one thing you would tell coaches or parents who are concerned and are buying into this conservative hysteria?
KMB: I think asking medical experts who have already been through this a long time ago what they think of trans girls and sports. The answer has already been more than said. I started doing women’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu so, so, so many years ago, and have been to a women’s Brazilian camp with trans people and it wasn’t an issue that they were competing … At the time, I remember thinking like, they’re allowed in the Olympics! Obviously, this has already been hashed out. And if that extreme meathead sport can be over it …
Well, I do get it. Because it’s a very low-cost, effective way to distract from the absolute disaster of pandemic management. I understand that trans girls and trans women are a very easy attack point when things aren’t going well in other areas. Intellectually, I understand that. But I’m also like, there are experts who can tell you all about trans girls participation in sports, and they’ve been writing about it and talking about it for a very long time. And they’re still writing op-eds! That information is so easy to access even if you just Google.
MH: Conservatives are pushing legislation that would not only bar physicians from providing gender-affirming care to people under 18 but would also make it a felony to do so. What would you want parents or community members who are buying into this hysteria to know?
KMB: I guess the most practical answer is the same answer to your other question which is like, There are experts in this! I also think that people tend not to realize that a lot of things we do in our lives are transitional activities. Like, I think pregnancy is a trans thing to do; your body never goes back. It’s a choice some people think you shouldn’t get to make. I feel a lot of cosmic similarities whether or not I take testosterone at any given time. It’s similar to other things I might or might not do to my body, or that might happen to my body with or without my consent. So, I would just encourage people to think of the body and medical care on a more global level. Everyone has a relationship with gender and the trajectory of gender that their body takes throughout life. So, that is like something I think people could do well to sit with a little bit.
But I also think if we’re talking about kids who are like, 5 years old, I think there’s a lot of misperception about what medical providers actually do with small children. And I think a lot of people just have a lot of misconceptions they need to air, and then it’s like, wow, when you’re five, it’s just allowing someone to use certain names and use certain pronouns. And yes, there’s a medical aspect to that because it’s very helpful to see an expert who affirms that this is a good parenting practice to have. It’s not like they’re doing surgeries on people who are obviously too young to know what that means.
It would really benefit people to have a significantly more user-friendly understanding of what hormone blockers do and what they’re for. Like exactly what they do to the body and at what age might you start them. I just think people have a knee-jerk reaction and think they’re going to be giving 8-year-olds testosterone the first time they go to the doctor. And that’s just very far from what happens to the point where a lot of parents of teens wish they could access care much younger, even if they’re not in one of these states.
MH: Is there anything you were hoping to elaborate on? Anything I didn’t cover?
KMB: I’m just excited about any book that expands the conversation about who is parenting. Because everybody is parenting, but what gets published in parenting literature is very narrow. I was very excited to read Detransition, Baby [by Torrey Peters], just like everyone else. I’m just so amped about learning about other queer writers writing about parenting. And non-white people writing about parenting. So, I think that in our conversation talking about parenting and writing about it and all that kind of stuff,I haven’t had the privilege of being in tons of diverse conversations about parenting, so I’m hoping this book is a way to participate in them!
You can check out Belc’s new book, The Natural Mother of the Child, out June 15, 2021, here.