Identity / Life

5 Things You Should Know About Trans Parenthood

transgraphic1We came into this project with the idea of writing something quirky and scannable and realized that was impossible. Like so many things, being a trans parent can be murky and complicated. And it’s a very individual experience. We come with similar history – both trans men, both white and able bodied – but already our paths are very different.

1) Every Story is Different.

Levi: I identified as genderqueer for a long time before Jetpack existed, and I didn’t really seriously consider transition until after he was born. My idea of being a parent was, pre-gestation, always that of mom. It wasn’t until pregnancy, and the thinking that it brought up, that I realized maybe mom wasn’t me.

It took me awhile – a year or two – after he was born to come to grips with the reality that presenting more fully as masculine was what I needed. When he was small, before medically transitioning, I was that parent who kids looked at and whispered behind their hands over. (Is that his mom? Is that his dad?)

So, I started testosterone. I took my first shot in December, 2012. By that spring, the changes were noticeable. My neighbor across the street kept asking me when my cold was going to go away. It felt a little like I had wrapped myself in a cocoon for the winter, and emerged with the sun, a new person. I finally got up the courage to explain to my neighbor that no, my voice was changing because of second puberty. Our kids are the same age, and that was hard. With the close proximity (directly across the street) and kids who got along so well, it was pretty scary. Luckily, she took it well.

 

Dylan: I had transitioned socially before I met my partner and started testosterone during the first year we were dating. I hadn’t seriously thought about being a parent before my social transition. After I started transitioning the idea of being a parent, specifically being a dad, was much more appealing. My partner, Rebecca, was incredibly upfront about wanting to be a parent when we started dating. Not in an ultimatum sort of way or in a “let’s have kids now” way but in a “this is something that is important to me and you should know this early in our relationship” way.

We decided to try having a kid in 2011, I had been on testosterone for a few years at that point. We used an unknown sperm donor and Rebecca carried and gave birth to Little Bear. We made the intentional choice of being open about my trans identity and being a queer (for lack of a better word) couple at the birth center. We were also upfront about using a sperm donor, which I suppose was more directly medically important information. We could’ve gone stealth and pretended we were a hetero and cisgender couple but it was important to me to be out.

 

2) People Say The Most Offensive Things.

Dylan: I was once asked if I felt like I wasn’t Little Bear’s “real” dad and that felt like a punch to the gut. I think a lot of LGBTQ parents have experienced similar conversations. For me, since I’m not biologically related to Little Bear,  comments on how she looks like me are either funny (if people don’t we aren’t biologically related) or sad (if people do and are trying to make me feel better). I much prefer when people comment on how she’s like me in other ways. We both love books, music, the library, and biking. She’ll make similar facial expressions to me sometimes, and we both love a good poop joke. It’s funny, those conversations where I’m intentionally keeping my guard up are sometimes the conversations where I find myself surprised at the tact and understanding offered. My grandfather once asked if we knew much about the donor. I was pretty floored that he knew to use the word “donor” instead of something else. I didn’t expect him to know or use remotely appropriate language. The fact that he did made me feel seen and respected as a father. That respect was especially valuable coming from my grandfather.

 

Because my job is gay for pay (or queer/trans for pay in my case) I frequently find myself in “educational” situations. I get to gently point out that it’s not appropriate to ask trans people about their bodies (“Have you had the surgery yet?” “Why aren’t you on hormones?”) or make assumptions about medical choices trans people may make. Similarly, when I come out as a parent, I frequently need to remind people that there are lots of ways people create families and that it’s rude to launch into a question about how you got your kid when you haven’t even asked the child’s age or name.

 

Levi: I think a lot of same-sex appearing parents get this, but when we haven’t expressly stated that one of us is trans, we get asked which one of us is The Dad. What they usually mean is Wielder of the Ultimate Penis, Sperm-producer Extraordinaire, The Donor. No one uses biological language when they mean it, though. Sometimes that’s funny (because Jetpack is genetically each of us, we try to see which person they guess is The Dad) and sometimes it can be pretty hurtful. I imagine it would be especially for trans people who can’t produce a zygote together for whatever reason.

Another question I’m guessing same-sex parents get is “Where’d you get him?” It’s generally asked with a similar casual air as “Where’d you find mango flavored Fage?” And depending on whether you’re out, who you’re talking to, and what kind of decisions you’ve made previously, it can be anything but casual. I carried Jetpack gestationally, so the first couple times I was asked, it sent me into a panic. Depending on your orientation and whether you plan on being out, I think it is important for families to discuss these questions so they don’t catch you completely off guard.

 

3) Extended family can be even harder to navigate with a trans identity and a kid.

Levi: For me, extended family situations can be a lot like being stuck in a pen with your favorite wild animals. Raccoons are cute and have interestingly dexterous little paws but sometimes they also have rabies, too.

I love my family. I also get misgendered the most by my extended family. Even after people have a solid grasp of using your new name when they ask you to pass the gravy, they (sometimes understandably) stumble when discussing your girl-scout history. And depending on how much you’ve discussed with your kid, and really, how much you want to discuss with your kid in front of sixteen aunts, uncles, cousins, and grumpy second-cousins, these situations can get really sticky. So be warned!

Dylan: My family for the most part has been pretty on board. One of my aunts once asked if I was going to be “dad” before Little Bear was born, “so we can tell Grandma and Grandpa” but probably also so they could know. I think as Little Bear gets older this will get more interesting. My thoughts about gender identity, kids, and parenting are heavily influenced by my experience growing up and coming out as trans. Having different ideas about gender, children, and parenting has already led to some friction with extended family. It’s remarkably hard sometimes to push back against the infant/child gendering that is targeted to parents and grandparents.

 

4) Paperwork adds stress.

Levi: I had a huge panic a few months ago when I signed Jetpack up for a new school district. You see, we had to have a parent there, and bring his birth certificate. Unearthing it from our files, I was filled with the horrified understanding that Jetpack’s birth certificate didn’t have my legal, current name on it.

Paperwork is irritating on a good day, but when you have the added benefit of documents with different names, different genders, and a kid, the headache is massively ramped up.

Dylan: I had changed my name before Little Bear was born. However, it did take a little bit to get my name on her birth certificate. Partially this was because my partner and I weren’t legally married when Little Bear was born. Fortunately I was able to just go in to one of the county’s service centers and take advantage of heternormativity and passing as cisgender to get my name on Little Bear’s birth certificate.

 

5) The Future is not clear.

Dylan: While right now I am pretty intentional on being out as a trans person in most spaces, I may not always want to be out. I don’t know how Little Bear will want to negotiate her own identity as the child of queer parents. I know I’m not comfortable going stealth just because she may ask me. I fear that her friends or her friends’ parents might reject her/me/our family.

Sometimes, I think I worry too much about the potential impact of my trans and queerness on her life. When I worry about her friends or friends’ parents rejecting me, I am really worried about her rejecting me and it’s just not something I should worry about. My goal is to give her tools to navigate her relationships and communities so she can make her own way. My being trans is probably not going to be as big a deal as I worry it will be. If anything, I’ve found there is something about the experience of parenting that has opened up the door for conversation around shared experiences with cisgender and heterosexual folks.

Levi: Similarly to Dylan, I think, I’m currently more or less out; I don’t always talk about being trans but I don’t hide it much, either. But I’m not 100% sure I always will be. Maybe the state of politics will become such that it’s unsafe for me to be out. Maybe Jetpack will ask me not to and then, do I respect his wishes? Jetpack is currently five. What about when he’s fifteen? Will he be embarrassed? Proud? Will it give him compassion for gender non-conforming or trans kids in his school or will he avoid them out of familial embarrassment? Will other parents avoid us?

Obviously, kids go through a lot of changes, and being uncertain about the future is part of the human experience.But I think it can be extra poignant for trans people because we’ve done so much work to make a very personal and yet very public change to ourselves. I think being a trans parent is something like being a trans-anything-else, there’s an added level of complication and a possibility for awesome, beautiful things. And I think we’re becoming more common, and more vocal, and more out, which is fabulous and amazing.

 

Dylan and Levi are both trans dads who regularly contribute here at VillageQ and at QueerDadsBlog

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5 Comments

  1. So grateful to you both for this piece! I learned. I laughed (specifically at the extended family as wild animals). I shared. Thank you.

  2. Thanks for writing this! I found myself nodding right along.

  3. Thank you for sharing this piece! It’s so informative, and like Deborah, I also laughed at the wild animal bit.

  4. Pingback: “What’s this trans thing?” | the beautiful world

  5. Pingback: 5 Things You Should Know About Trans Parenthood : A Gurlz Guide

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