Where will I fit into the life of my partner-of-only-a-year’s child?

Guest post by Kavanaugh

By: David AmslerCC BY 2.0
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.

Comments on Where will I fit into the life of my partner-of-only-a-year’s child?

  1. Thanks for this great piece! It is so important to feminism actually as it so beautifully skews roles and assumptions. I loved this: “But after transitioning to male, I found I could let my guard down. No one was pressuring me to be a mom.” That’s HUGE!

    • Thank you! It’s not my life’s goal to skew roles and expectations, but my happiness has a high correlation with coloring outside the lines, it seems. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece.

  2. What a lovely story! It sounds to me like you’re definitely parent material, Dad. Good luck to you and your family as you figure out your family values and dynamics 🙂

  3. It sounds as though this is a relationship issue versus a exclusively a parenting one. “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?” In my experience, and those of people who have maintained long relationships, none of them claim it felt or feels wonderful the whole time. Relationships are hard in that we all change throughout our lives and it takes dedication and intention to stick things out. Sticking by someone is a choice that is made each day. A choice to love when things are ugly and when things are beautiful. A choice to put another person before yourself in consideration. It’s easy to love when things feel wonderful, but loving someone when it doesn’t feel wonderful is hard. But the payoff is building trust with that person, and getting permission for yourself to not be wonderful all the time either.

    Whatever your relationship becomes with boyfriend and Real Live Baby it will be of your own choosing, and theirs too. I often remind myself that love is not an emotion, which can change day to day, but love is an action. The act of showing up, listening, and having compassion for others day in and day out.

    I know a woman in her 60’s who has been married for about 40 years. She once told me that there was a period of about 4 years where her husband grossed her out and she found nearly everything about him annoying. Nothing bad was happening, she just didn’t feel in love. She spent a lot of time contemplating divorce. For reasons of her own, she stuck it out and decided to “fake it until you make it.” One day things changed. Not for him, but for her. The annoyance lifted and she moved on. She now has a 40+ year relationship with her best friend filled with love and passion and she sometimes thinks about what might have happened if she had given in to her feelings rather than choosing to walk through a difficult time.

    I don’t know if any of this will be helpful to you, but these are things I think about for my own relationship. Good luck with boyfriend and Real Live Baby!

    • I couldn’t agree more.
      We live in times where so many choices are becoming socially acceptable – partnership (of any age, gender, and social status), separation / divorce, parenthood, and even gender. We embrace making these decisions in the hope that following our true nature and feelings will make us happy. And many times it does.
      But as Stacia said, most (if not all) true long-term relationships include stretches of time that are uncomfortable or downright awful. There was a beautiful post on here not too long ago, how every day in a relationship or marriage, you make the choice of staying with the other person. It is very beautiful when people decide to go this path together and don’t back down, but it is never easy.
      It sounds like both of you might have yet to make this decision and luckily, there is no real rush to do so.
      You already have experience making a big irreversible life-long decision in your life when you transitioned, and you pointed out it took a long stretch of reflection to come to a conclusion on it. The decision whether to parent or not does not involve any physical changes to your body, but chances are it will have just as much (if not more) impact on your life and identity. And there is the additional complication that there are now two people involved, so it is no longer 100% up to who you truly feel you are, but also who your partner truly feels he is.
      Children do not (yet) think in categories, so they usually have a pretty good concept of these kinds of relationships. As long as you are affectionate to the child, you will receive affection back, no matter what your “label” is. So just be open and wait for the right time to take a decision…

    • Thank you for these beautiful thoughts, and for the story. That’s an important experience to share and reflect on. I think that as our relationship is new, we are still learning to trust that we can make that commitment with each other. We’ve both had experiences of staying in relationships thinking “it will get better; it’s just hard right now” and then later realizing, no, actually that was a big flashing Get Out Now sign. So far none of those have arisen for us.

      The idea of annual relationship summits really resonates. I think that might be a way to commit for the long haul while still leaving an escape valve that reminds us that this relationship is a choice–this family is a choice–and if things are going in a direction that is genuinely not right, we can turn things around.

  4. I have a daughter who calls me by my first name. It neatly slidestepped all the angst I had about the concept of ‘mum’. I haven’t had any negative comments either!

    • That’s something I’ve thought about…I don’t know if it expresses a special relationship, and I do think I want the kid to feel a special relationship there, whatever we decide to call it. But maybe the above commenter is right, it doesn’t matter what it’s called, the affection will be known and felt regardless.

      • Maybe a nickname that ONLY your partner and Real Live Baby can call you? One of my (many) grandmothers didn’t want to be another Grammy, Granny or Nana and somehow ended up as Dee. It has nothing to do with her given name and I have no idea how it came about, but we kids all call her that. Just a thought. 🙂

        • I met my oldest bonus son when he was three, and he inadvertently nicknamed me Kiki because he had trouble pronouncing Keri. It stuck, big time. His little brother called me Kiki as well as soon as he starting talking. It was a really comfortable moniker for me because he coined it, it had no implications of motherhood or responsibility at all (I totally identify with the “mum angst”) and yet like someone else mentioned, it was just “ours.” Fast forward three years and I can tell you this: almost my entire family and friend circle calls me Kiki now, specifically around the boys because it’s easier. (So I think I’m trying to say to pick something you can really embrace AND be okay with others using more than you might think they will, because it just kind of happens.) Second, they both sometimes refer to me as mom or mama even though I’ve made it clear they don’t have to – it was awkward and confusing for me at first, but I just try to think that they are experimenting with labels the same way I did. Obviously, my co-parenting situation specifics are much different than yours, but here’s where I’m betting we’ll find some cool common ground — like you said, it will not matter what they call you, but when the child comes to you hurt or scared, or when (s)he needs affection or help or just wants to play, the child is trusting in and engaging with the relationship you’ve cultivated, not the title you’ve given it. And it’s really amazing. I honestly feel that to be partner of a parent is to eventually become a parent as well; for me I had to get used to the kids and the routines first, but then little by little I just eased in to it. One day I was totally clueless and then eventually I bought two car seats for my car and now I have really great (although totally different) relationships with the kids. Taking things one day at a time kept me sane. I’m sorry if I’m rambling or coming off preachy, that’s not my intention. It just seems to me from reading your beautiful article that “that love is who you are” and I’m very excited for you! I wish you the best 🙂

  5. I LOVE LOVE LOVE this piece. It’s really refreshing to read something that reflects my very queer world on a site that does try to be inclusive but is still often dominated by perspectives from straight and cisgender folks.

    Thanks for writing such an eloquent piece and sharing your reality with us, and thanks to the Offbeat editors for posting it. 🙂

      • Thank you! One of the things I love about the offbeat families site is how it brings together so many differentpeople from different communities and identities. I think if I were writing for a queer site, it would have become a different piece. I appreciate the chance to share my experiences with people who aren’t necessarily familiar with what it’s like to be queer, trans, or genderqueer, but who can relate nonetheless because what we share is about love and family and building something together, and having faith that we can make it work even if there aren’t models or words for what we’re trying to do. So thank you for reading and reflecting and sharing part of your experiences with me.

  6. Congrats to both of you for making it through conceiving! That for me was one of the most emotionally difficult things I’ve ever experienced. A friend sent me the link to your article cause I’m in a similar situation with my partner, only I’m the birth parent. Thanks for writing this. My daughter is 11 months old, my partner and I have been together since I was 4 months pregnant. We’re still trying to figure out how we want our family to look and my partner’s role. I wanted to share just this one very important thought that we always come back around to: even though my partner’s role in my daughter’s life is complicated for us and for others, to the baby, it’s very simple. she sees 2 parents. 2 people loving and caring for her. I think when we chose to live together we were choosing to co-parent. A baby, cliche warning, changes everything. And, is all consuming! Especially the first year. So, if you decide not to co-parent, i would just say it is very difficult to keep that boundary and stay together. I also was solid in being a single parent, and now I’m so happy to be sharing this Incredible experience with someone I love.

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