When I considered transitioning from female to male, I went through a long period of trying to get a diagnosis as a “real transsexual” from an expert as permission for me to go ahead and do it. I hadn’t grown up feeling “really male inside” from the age of three like some of the trans people I knew. The dominant narrative is that unless you are really truly absolutely sure that you are a 100% Real Transsexual then if you do anything to change your gender it can only be a horrible irreversible lifelong mistake.
It took a year of therapy and trying my best to live between and without gender to realize actually the question is not “What, in the opinion of recognized experts, am I?” but “Who do I, in my heart of hearts, choose to be?” The truth is although I have no inherent deep-down gender that could be categorized male or female, the kind of person I am is easier to express as a fey bookish queer man than a masculine woman.
As I was raised to be a woman, I got loads of messages about how eventually I would change my mind and want kids. I really did not like kids. Loathed them in fact. My relationships with my peers as a kid was fraught with painful teasing, and I internalized the idea that kids were mean and would always hurt my feelings. Even as a young adult I mistrusted them, unable to recognize that the power dynamics were now almost entirely in my favor. So I spent as little time as possible with kids and swore up and down I would never ever have any as my own. I wasn’t raised with a narrative that allowed me to see any possibility for myself outside of “mother” or “Child-Free,” and I couldn’t see myself as a mother, so I embraced a Child-Free identity with the fervor of the convert. My closest friends throughout college all more or less shared my attitude — having kids was a fool’s game. My cisgender straight or straight-ish boyfriends got vasectomies as soon as they could pay for them.
But after transitioning to male, I found I could let my guard down. No one was pressuring me to be a mom. No one was giving me knowing looks or saying “You’ll change your mind” or asking when I was due if I happened to be knitting myself a hat. In fact since I entered a friend circle of mostly LGBT folks, few people seemed to care what my opinion on kids was at all. And in a profession that like it or not seemed to involve a high degree of kid contact, I suddenly caught myself in a sea of kindergartners giving me snotty hugs goodbye, feeling… kind of wistful.
Still, of course I was not going to be a mother. And I didn’t see myself as a dad. Mentor, maybe? Weird gay uncle, definitely; I always knew my sister would be the one to have the kids and I had heaps of respect for my own weird gay uncles. But I didn’t grow up thinking of “dad” as an option for me either… and although my own dad and I are close, I don’t see myself playing his role in raising a kid.
Last year I met a fabulous genderqueer person with whom I fell into bed unexpectedly one night and fell in love with almost as quickly — a person who told me in the very first hour or two of serious conversation, right before serious cuddling became serious sex, that he was planning to get pregnant and become a single mom within a year. And I surprised myself by instantly thinking “That’s interesting… where do I fit in? How can I be part of this? Who do I want to be?”
We had many talks in the early days of our relationship. I particularly remember one tough conversation, the first and last time I ever ducked the truth to say what I thought he wanted to hear. He had explained to me all his reasons for wanting to be a single parent. He’d had a ritual honoring his decision to parent alone. He was looking for a sperm donor who, most importantly, had no interest in co-parenting. He wanted no legal challenges to his custody. So when he asked me straight out if I wanted to be a parent one day, instead of being honest about my evolving confusion, I gave him a firm no.
My own thoughts and feelings about myself as a parent had been shifting rapidly, even before I met him. I hadn’t landed on any island of certainty, as much as I wanted to be able to claim one.
Understand, I didn’t want to scare him. I didn’t want him thinking I would try to take his child away, either literally with a custody battle or figuratively by constantly telling him how to raise his kid. So the storm of pent-up grief that arose caught both of us completely by surprise. It took some weeks to circle back around to that conversation and own up to the fact that while I hadn’t exactly lied — I still didn’t think of myself as potential parent material–I hadn’t been honest either. My own thoughts and feelings about myself as a parent had been shifting rapidly, even before I met him. I hadn’t landed on any island of certainty, as much as I wanted to be able to claim one.
With or without that island, though, I still wanted to be able to support him through the ups and downs of searching for a donor, worrying about potential fertility issues, contracts and inseminations. As my place in his life subtly shifted from “guy I’m seeing” to “boyfriend” to “partner,” questions about my role in his kid’s future came up again and again and were never fully settled. Sometimes I would feel more excited about co-parenting, only to feel him pull back, and some days I’d pull back only to feel an intense longing in both of us that scared me.
We had settled in for a long period of trying to conceive. Each negative test result seemed a harbinger of many more to come. He was concerned that he might not be able to conceive at all, due to signs of PCOS. I had accepted a role as comforter and support, and maybe was secretly hoping a long enough wait might allow me time to make up my own mind.
One day on my bus ride to work, I got a phone call from him. I was a bit worried — we’d just seen each other; we frequently texted sweet nothings in the morning on my way to work but the call was out of the ordinary. I answered the phone. And the bus turned the corner into a new world, one lit by a soft golden light, where everything seemed to shine with its own luminosity. A world in which chance and genetics and the power of life had lined up to endow my boyfriend’s uterus with a pregnancy that, if all went well, would turn into a Real Live Baby.
If I settle into co-parenting this kid, it’s for life, even if the relationship doesn’t work out.
Two months in, all is going well and the Real Live Baby seems a virtual certainty. What’s still less certain is who I will be to this baby. We’re only just under a year into this relationship. Things are going great — better than anything I ever thought possible, and cheesy romance clichés suddenly take on a new realness when things are this consistently ecstatically good — but let’s face it, a lot of people’s romances seem perfect in the first year and relatively few remain so. What are the chances it’ll still feel this amazingly wonderful at two years? Three years? Fifteen? If I settle into co-parenting this kid, it’s for life, even if the relationship doesn’t work out. I’m committed to giving my partner and his kid the best I possibly can of me… it’s just that I don’t know yet what that will look like.
Because we’re queer and gender non-normative, we have a wonderful terrifying freedom to design our own family structure. Who will we be together? He (who just as happily goes by she) is set on being Mom or Mama or Mother to the Real Live Baby he’s growing inside him. My role is not set. Do I want to be a Dad, a Daddy, a Papa, or a Pops? Or an Uncle K or a KayPaw or just K? Do I want to be a parent or only the partner of one? And who does the Real Live Baby, and the Real Live Baby’s mother, want me to be?
Once again I’m finding myself needing to let go of the fear that if I don’t follow the expected model I’ll be making a horrible, irreversible, lifelong mistake. Again I need to learn to trust that if I follow my heart, I’ll discover that I have become who I was all along, and that that’s perfectly right. That the answer is always: step up, risk everything, open your heart, and love with all your strength.
Maybe that love is who I am.