Gender, adoption, and identity: how being transgender will help me be a better dad

Guest post by Caleb

Some of you might remember Caleb from his 2011 Offbeat Bride post, Musings from an offbeat groom. Here he is with his take on potentially impending parenthood.

Twenty-five years ago, in a Boston hospital, my parents gave me a name. Twenty-two years later, in an Oakland courthouse, I legally took another. Despite being addressed by that name for three years, despite the careful consideration that went into the choosing of it, I left the courthouse lacking. For the first time since beginning my transition from female to male, I felt true loss.

When I began testosterone replacement, I was giddy and excited. Surgery made me anxious, but I was relieved when it was over. And now: nothing. The elation I expected never came. I had rejected the most basic gift from my mother and father — I had declared myself someone other than the daughter they had welcomed two decades earlier.

When my wife and I decided to begin our family, open adoption was the obvious choice for us. We had each dreamed of adopting since we were young, and now we could make it a reality. As with every other life choice we’ve made, we wanted to be as informed as possible. And so we started to read. We armed ourselves with every recommended book on open adoption. And there, on those pages, I discovered myself.

Exploring open adoption has helped me understand and articulate the challenges and triumphs involved in my transition. As someone who has straddled two worlds, I appreciate the complexities of identity, and I will be honored to help my child navigate hers. Transitioning is complicated, whether one is changing genders or families. I believe having forged a path for my own transition will make me, ultimately, a better father.

Open is not a set of requirements, not a step-by-step procedure to be followed and checked off. Open is a lifestyle — one I have been drafted into since the beginning of my transition. When asked about my past, I am faced with a choice: I can rewrite it or I can honor it. Sometimes I leave out or alter details to make my history sound more plausible; sometimes I answer questions directly. I am not ashamed of my history, but I do not need to display it to every person I meet. It is my own, and I reveal the parts of myself I wish to the people I choose.

Open adoption will give my child the gift of knowing her history. I will give her all the information I can — I will never rewrite my child’s past. It is not mine to possess or control. It is not my right to withhold or obscure information. My child’s story will be hers. Hers to divulge or protect, to celebrate or mourn, to accept or shed. She can decide who sees which parts of her. Sometimes holding yourself back, playing your cards close to the chest, is the only defense we have. Our silence makes us secure.

When I am asked where I went to college or where my wife and I met (the answer to both questions is an all-women’s college), I am exposed, unveiled. If my child is a different color than me and my wife, she will be visibly different, her history written all over her skin. Sometimes I worry I am asking her to be too vulnerable, too brave. Living out in the open can be unnerving, but I will stand by my child so we can navigate it together.

We can’t help our histories — they are what they are. But often, the world comes along to tell us who we are because of those histories. When that happens, I will hold my child’s hand and yell back at the world. Our given names, our taken names, our birth certificates are simply pieces of our stories. The whole story is so much more. I am not just a man who transitioned genders. I bake cakes, I climb mountains, I sewed my wife’s wedding dress, I work towards providing equal access to higher education for all students. And, if given the chance, I will parent a child.

That child will be so much more than an adoptee. She will dance or sing, she will love math or books, she will play the trumpet or the drums, she will have her mother’s passion, her father’s relentlessness, her first family’s strength. She will always know where she came from, where she is headed, her whole self. From the moment she enters my life, I will honor, love, and protect that self with my entire being.

Comments on Gender, adoption, and identity: how being transgender will help me be a better dad

  1. Damn. There are so many quotes in here I want to highlight. I’m all warm and fuzzy and inspired and totally want to share this with everyone I know. Caleb, you are so grounded and eloquent. Just … damn. Fucking amazing.

  2. If this is not in your birthmother letter, it should be. Just from this I think you will be a great father. Your last paragraph is all I wanted for my daughter when I placed her. Good luck to you!

  3. I am not a yearly person but this made me tear up while a chill roles thru me. It is beautifully written. You will be a wonderful father to a lucky child!

  4. Wonderfully written and touching! You are already a fantastic father, your openness and respect for your future childs thoughts and feelings is a testament to that. So amazing that a lucky child will have the privilege of calling you their father! Best of luck to you and your wife on this journey!

  5. That was beautiful to read.

    I’m not sure how much reassurance it is, but my little sister was adopted (she was 6 months old when she came to us). She is, as far as I know, perfectly secure and happy in our family. She has known that she was adopted ever since she could speak and understand.

    There is no question of sistership, she IS my sister – to the degree that, when someone commented we looked different (they didn’t realise she was adopted), I was surprised. The fact that we look different had never really crossed my mind… not because I did expect us to look like each other, but ‘looking similar’ is not part of my criteria for siblings.

    We grew up together, we fought and played and are best friends. That matters so much more πŸ™‚

  6. Powerful thoughts, beautifully written. Thank you.

    There were many spots that had me nodding my head in agreement, but one especially stood out to me: “Open is not a set of requirements, not a step-by-step procedure to be followed and checked off. Open is a lifestyle…” I’m a parent via open adoption and I’ve come to learn this is so very true. As I’ve embraced an attitude of openness in our family’s adoptions, it’s influenced everything from how I think about my children’s identity formation to how I define “mother” and “family”. I’m grateful for the ways open adoption has changed me, the ways it’s brought greater openness into my parenting and relationships in general.

    Best wishes in your adoption process!

  7. Caleb, thank you for this thoughtful post. As an adoptee who is married to a transgender man on the precipice of starting a family, this post was especially meaningful to us. The best to you and your wife through this journey!

  8. A lot of our adoption training (we’re with the same agency as you) revolves around how to talk to your child about adoption, but as the hopeful heads of a two-mama household, my girlfriend and I never had the option of doing otherwise. And I don’t mind one bit. Thanks, and good luck to you and Sarah!

  9. What a beautiful letter. When my partner and I adopted our daughter we did not have the option to meet her mother who is one of my favorite people I will never meet.

    I will print this article and keep it as a reference.

    Touched in Rhode Island

  10. I am fairly new to offbeat mama and while stumble-ing around found this amazing article. It spoke to me on many levels, specificallly as a person who has transitioned from different forms of families and is in the process of discovering what family really can be.

    A question I have for the editors is more something I am a little confused about. Can an article be in multiple categories? I have been hunting around for offbeat papa articles and found the separate section, but it has not been used since last father’s day even though there have been great posts (like this one) about amazing offbeat papas. Would it be possible to have this article in the Identity category AND the offbeat papa category? I also ask as I have been looking to submit an article but find it fitting firmly into a few different cetegories.

  11. I have been reading offbeat mamma for about a year now and this post was one of the most beautiful, powerful things I have read! All my love and best wishes being sent your way πŸ™‚

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