Family / Parenting

You can ask




Ezekiel blogs with Gail, his partner of 12 years, at First Time Second Time.  He is a 35-year-old trans dad of two.  I recently discovered the blog when I was updating our blogrolls, and I am so sad that it is took me this long.  I love First Time Second Time for so many reasons: the quality of the writing, the interaction of their voices, their candor, and the fact that it makes me think about transition and parenting in a way that is new to me.  I am so honored that Ezekiel was willing to cross-post this piece with us and hope you will take the time to pop over to his blog so you can come to love his family as I have. ~Clare


As Gail and I have made more connections with trans parents, both online and in person (there were several great parenting conversations at Philly Trans Health several weeks ago), I’ve noticed that for those of us who had our kids before we transitioned, parental title can be a sticking place.

I’ve met several trans men who still go by mom (or something mom-like) with their kids, and several trans women who go by dad. For some folks, this seems truly comfortable, a way of recognizing who they once were and perhaps providing continuity for their kids, but far more describe discomfort with their old title’s persistence.

A little over a year ago, I was at Pride with my friend J and his family. At the time, I knew my name, but the only people using it were Gail, and four close friends, including J. I hated meeting new people at that time (very unlike me in general). I didn’t want to say the old name, but I couldn’t yet introduce myself freely by the new one. We were in a big group, many introductions were made (that I studiously avoided). It was awkward. At some point J muttered under his breath “I just refuse to say the old one.”

A bit later, with my name on both of our minds, J and I were walking together and he asked “What are the kids going to call you?” *

My heart seized up and my shoulders tensed “I can’t make them change. I want them to call me Aba but I can’t ask that. It’s too much.”

J said, “You can ask. It’s not too much.”

That was it. That was the whole conversation, but it was the permission I needed. For me, parental title was particularly fraught. I had a lot invested in being “Mama.” I had pushed hard to claim some recognizable “mom turf,” and as a non-gestational parent, the name had provided a lot of security, particularly in my early relationship with Leigh.

In addition, like for so many parents in similar shoes, a huge concern in figuring out my path forward in transition was my kids. But I was coming at the situation with a lot of assumptions — assumptions that a change this big would hurt them irreparably, that the better thing to do as a parent was to hold back, to deny what I needed, or to do only the bare minimum, in order to keep things constant for them. In reality, I was ascribing my own fears to them — using them as an excuse not to push forward, not to take the (scary) steps I needed to take, but for a reason that sounded really good — “I have to think of the kids.”

With all that baggage, I needed a friend to say it was OK, to remind me that I wasn’t overstepping, that we couldn’t predict how it would go, but that I could tell my kids what I would prefer they call me, that I could ask.

We have some old posts about how that asking actually went, but the short version is that gradually, probably over about 3-6 months time, the kids shifted first to calling me a mix of Mama and Aba, then a mix of Mama and Aba and Dad, and now all the time Aba with the occasional Dad** thrown in. In our case, I think it helped a lot that Gail, and also Gail’s mom (who sees the kids a lot) and later, our daycare providers, were consistent in how they referred to me, and that while I did state to the kids clearly what I would prefer to be called, I did not force them to change all at once. For a long time I responded to both names, and then, once Aba took firmer hold, I gently reduced/delayed my response to the old title. While some of this was quite purposeful, much of it felt like it just happened without trying.

In retrospect, a shift in my parental moniker seemed to give my kids something concrete to latch onto, and was a good way for them to process what was happening. Important conversations with both of our kids centered around what they called me, and for both, a firm switch in parental moniker was a marker of increased comfort and security.

All of this is to say, I get it. I get why a change in parental title is so hard, why trans parents who are transitioning after they’ve had kids might feel they should hold back on this front, and might struggle to find a way to engineer a shift. Whether it will be possible depends a lot on your family structure (e.g. will your coparent support a change?), the age of your kids, and the personalities of all parties involved. But do know a shift might be possible, and don’t assume, like I did, that it will automatically be easier or better for your kids if you don’t ask.


*As a bit of a disclaimer — I don’t recommend asking this in general — J had clearance because he is a very very close friend. If you happen to know another family in a similar situation, or really ANY queer family where parental title may be non-obvious and you are trying to figure out how to refer to the parent, first try to figure out parental title from context, but if it’s not clear, it’s probably OK to say “Can I ask, how does (child) refer to you?” — but steer very clear of prying about why or offering alternative ideas. Just take it at face value unless they seem keen to discuss.

**The differences in kids between when they use “Dad” are interesting. Our oldest uses Aba when talking directly to me, but “Dad” when talking about me to people outside our family. Our youngest always calls me Aba, unless he wants a snuggle or is being silly, in which case he often calls me “my sweet Dada. Can I snuggle you Dad?”




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  1. Thank you so much for this, Ezekiel! I’m among those who were huge fans of First Time Second Time, and then crestfallen (though comprehending: lard knows I’ve waxed and waned) when the blog fell silent. And then both amazed and overjoyed and even more grateful (now in a new way) when you all returned.

    I am amazed at the power of naming, and how supplely our children navigate the symbolic significance of what they call us and when. This topic just keeps being so relevant because we who are redefining parent (and gender, and stasis, biological destiny, and family) keep relearning its cardinal significance.

    Thank you for asking. And also, thank you for sharing the sharp-edged intricacies of this process with us.

  2. As someone who understands the deep power of title and name, this post struck a chord with me. Thank you so much for sharing it here.

    Subscribing to the blog now!

  3. First, YAY! WELCOME HERE! So good to see you!

    And second, we go by Mommy and Mama and notice that Roozle calls us that to us, but refers to us as “my moms” to her friends and interestingly has started calling MCB who is Mama, “Mom” and “my mom” to her friends but if she is just talking about me to her friends, she refers to me as “my mommy.”

    We noticed this happen recently and wondered if it’s because most of her friends don’t have a mama, but do have one mother figure that they call both mom and mommy, so Roozle is somehow using language that they can relate to. Wondering if something similar is happening with your oldest.

    • First, thanks for the warm welcome. It’s really nice to be here.

      And yes, Casey, I think that’s exactly what’s going on with Leigh when she interchanges Aba and Dad. She’s done the same for her mom for a long time, referring to her as “Ima” in our home, and “my mom” to friends. I find it really lovely to see how our kids navigate the space between language in our home and language out in the world, and it sounds like R is doing the same.

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