'MotherStruck' series explores how queer women of color are redefining family

“There was almost no blueprint for queer women of color to have children, let alone by themselves,” performance artist Staceyann Chin said.
"MotherStruck" stars Staceyann Chin, center, as herself, as she navigates an unconventional path to parenthood.
"MotherStruck" stars Staceyann Chin, center, as herself, as she navigates an unconventional path to parenthood. Isaac Rosenthal
By Gwen Aviles

Like many women, the performing artist Staceyann Chin was worried about becoming a mother before she was financially and emotionally ready.

“When we listen to the soundtrack of our childhood, we were told, ‘Don’t get pregnant,’ over and over again, so we took it to heart,” Chin told NBC News. “I sighed with relief when I discovered I was gay, because I thought that meant pregnancy wasn’t an option."

Yet by the time she entered her late 30s, Chin realized that motherhood wasn’t as far beyond the realm of possibility as she had originally believed. She eventually decided she wanted to have a child. The only problem was she wasn’t sure where to begin.

“There was almost no blueprint for queer women of color to have children, let alone by themselves,” Chin told NBC News.

Chin, who moved to New York City in 1997 after being attacked for being a lesbian in Jamaica, her home country, said her confusion surrounding pregnancy was compounded by the fact that as a single black immigrant, she was subjected to harsher stereotypes regarding motherhood.

“There’s this notion of the single pregnant black woman in America, black women on welfare, Mexican mothers crossing the borders," she said. "There’s this lie that black and brown women are taking from the country instead of contributing to it."

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The pathway to motherhood was arduous, Chin said. In addition to finding a sperm donor, Chin underwent in vitro fertilization. Once she became pregnant, she said she was constantly being judged by strangers.

“I was walking around pregnant and people would ask, ‘Where’s the father?’” Chin recalled. “There would be these unexplainable silences as they stared at my stomach. They couldn’t conceive of a black woman having children of their own or that black women are in full control of their agency.”

Chin chronicled her experiences in “MotherStruck,” a one-woman off-Broadway play that debuted in 2015. The performance was directed by “Sex and the City” actress Cynthia Nixon and produced by TV personality Rosie O’Donnell. But Chin isn't finished telling her story.

The author and LGBTQ rights activist has collaborated with Scary Mommy, a media and entertainment brand for parents, to adapt "MotherStruck" into series. The series premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April and will be making its way around the festival circuit before eventually being available to the public.

Like its theatrical version, “MotherStruck” stars Chin as herself, trying to make sense of it all as she navigates an unconventional path to parenthood. Both versions “use humor to cut through the notion of survival and tragedy,” Chin said. In the series version, however, Chin is joined by friends.

Comedians Gina Yashere and Janine Brito play romantic partners and Chin’s friends Gina and Nina, respectively. Laura Gómez of “Orange Is the New Black” plays Marta, the bohemian friend who stresses the importance of “feeling centered” and “visualizing yourself as a mother."

“That’s a crucial part of the series, that the queer community shows up for one another,” the series’ producer, Sekiya Dorsett, said. “Friends become family as queer individuals. During Thanksgiving, during weddings and other events, queer friends are the people you can rely on. They eat with you, they break bread with you. … That’s why you see Staceyann’s friends with her throughout every part of her journey.”

Dorsett said highlighting the LGBTQ community in all aspects of production was important to her and the cast. From the fashion to the spaces used in the series, Dorsett said they wanted the series to reflect Chin’s “unapologetically queer” story. Even the extra actors featured at a party scene in the series were all queer people of color.

“Our goal was to make it as queer as we could,” Dorsett said.

While the team behind “MotherStruck” want the series to expand viewers’ definition of motherhood, they also hope the story appeals far beyond mothers, according to director and co-writer Micaela Birmingham.

“One thing that continuously bugs me is that people think once you become a mom, you only want to watch shows about changing diapers and making school lunches, but we have opinions, and we want to be entertained with great stories after we become mothers,” Birmingham said. “Yes, ‘MotherStruck’ is a story about getting pregnant, but it’s also a larger, well-formed piece that you don’t necessarily have to be a parent to dive into and enjoy.”

Chin’s daughter, Zuri, is now 7 and co-stars on Chin’s YouTube channel, “Living Room Protests.” The channel began one night after Chin couldn’t find a sitter and was unable to take Zuri to a protest with her. Instead of physically attending the protest, the pair decided to contribute to the resistance by having honest conversations about the world from their home.

Thus far, Chin and Zuri have discussed everything from gender to smoking to whether giraffes have “boobies.”

“Zuri is smart and talented. She throws tantrums similar to other kids,” Chin said. “She’s doing this other amazing thing living with a mom that’s out, and I’m learning how to make sure she has the tools to be a good and happy human being.”

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