24 Apr 2016

Teaching my child about the transphobia our family faces

Things were easier when my boy was a baby. If someone questioned my gender or asked where my baby’s mother was, my infant was unaware. Now, he just turned five years old, and he understands everything. He is perceptive. And he is due to go to kindergarten in September.

When it was simple: feed and hold the baby.
My partner and I have always been completely open with our kids about how they came into this world. They know that I carried them and gave birth to them, and they know I’m transgender and what that means. When I became pregnant with our second, we used CorySilverberg’s fantastic “What Makes a Baby” to explain conception, pregnancy, and birth. Silverberg’s book uses correct terminology like egg, sperm, uterus, and vagina but does not attach those terms to gender identities. Our son learned that to make a baby, you need an egg and sperm, and you need a place called a uterus for the baby to grow. Some people have eggs in their bodies, and some have sperm.

I transitioned before my kids were born. They are growing up knowing me as Trevor, their Dada. Since we live our lives this way every moment of every day, this is our normal.

So how do I explain to my kid that other people see our family as incredibly unusual (if not immoral)? How do I explain that it really isn’t a funny game to open the bathroom stall door at a crowded public market before I’ve got my pants up again after having a pee? How do I explain why people ask us over and over again where his mother is or where we got him from?

In “Like Me and You,” the renowned children’s entertainer Raffi sings that everyone is “the child of a mother and a father.” My partner and I frequently sang loudly over the lyrics, “the child of a Dada and a Papa!” One day, about a year ago, I pressed pause after that line, and said, “He’s forgetting some families, isn’t he?” My son nodded. We talked about our own family, and some of his friends who are raised by single mothers, or two moms. It was the beginning of an ongoing conversation.

We’re not religious, but we live in a conservative, rural area where most people attend church regularly. Last week, a lesbian mom made our local news because she asked her school board to lift its prohibition on classroom discussions of same-sex relationships and diverse family structures. She received some good public support and also a lot ofbacklash including a threat that she reported to police. 

Also last week, my son asked me what God is. Oh, the questions of a five-year-old! I tried to explain how different people have varying beliefs about God and evolution. And then I told him about the Bible. I told him that it says a “man shall not lie with a man.” I said that some religious people take that rule very seriously and others don’t. I also told him it says things like you shouldn’t wear clothing made from mixed materials, and that no one seems to pay attention to that particular rule.

I told my son that the law says it’s okay for two men to love each other and live together and have a family, even though some people don’t like that. I reminded him that we have family friends who believe in God, and that those friends also believe that the Bible tells them to love others and treat them kindly regardless of their gender identity. I reminded him that we have always been welcomed by that family. I did not tell him that the mom expressed to me how worried she is that attending school here could adversely affect her daughter’s current open acceptance of gender-diverse people like us.

My son heard me gasp aloud the other day when I saw a headline about the latest “bathroom bill” in the US. “What?” he asked. I said that some politicians passed a law that would require transgender men like me to use the women’s bathroom, and transgender women to use the men’s. His eyes widened and he said quickly, “But that’s in other countries, right?” Yes, I assured him.

It feels like a lot for age five. But don’t you dare tell me that I shouldn’t have had kids because I am transgender, because “look how hard it will be for them.” Instead, you can teach your kids that some families have two moms or two dads, and that some people transition. I don’t want to have to teach mine why certain families keep their distance from us, why we are treated by some like a curiosity, or why kids of LGBT parents are getting bullied at school.

If school kids aren’t proactively taught to respect diverse family structures equally, then I am left needing to teach my kids about the transphobia and homophobia that is directed at us. Calls to keep education about LGBTQ families limited to discussions within the home are in fact calls for LGBTQ families to teach their kids how to grapple with bullying and discrimination in schools without support from teachers or administrators. On the other hand, including classroom discussions about diverse family structures would remove some of that burden.

It sure feels much easier as a parent to explain love rather than hate in response to the endless ‘why’s that come from a young child.

17 Apr 2016

Questions Not to Ask a Pregnant Transgender Person*

* Or any pregnant person whose gender identity you are not absolutely 100% certain about, so really, ANY pregnant person.

I came out as a transgender guy and transitioned by changing my legal name, taking testosterone, and having top surgery. Friends and colleagues were generally awesome with that, and highly supportive. Virtually everyone I knew used male pronouns for me as I asked them to, and many made special efforts to help me feel accepted.

A few years later, I stopped taking testosterone and became pregnant, and my allies’ world was turned upside down. These are real questions that real people asked me. Let me explain why they are damaging, and what would be better. 

1.    Have you had surgery “down there”?

This one is a sign that somebody hasn’t thought things through, and I think it comes from the assumption that all transgender people want to transition “all the way.” Transition for a female-to-male individual must involve hysterectomy, right? Wrong! We transition in a variety of ways, to whatever degree makes us comfortable (or that we can afford). For some trans people, transition is not linear, either. You really don’t need to know whether your pregnant trans friend has had or desires any other kind of bottom surgery, such as clitoral release, urethral lengthening, or phalloplasty. Read about those procedures by Googling to your heart’s content.

2.    Are you going to keep the baby?

The person asking wants to know if the pregnancy was planned. Just like the rest of the population, some transgender people who become pregnant didn’t intend to have babies, but that’s not the case for all of us. The unpleasant implication behind the question is that a transgender person shouldn’t want to have (or shouldn’t have) a baby. A much better question would be “How are you feeling?” Your pregnant trans friend will disclose as much as they are comfortable with and might indicate how you can help.

3.    How do you know this is safe?

A lot of people assumed that because I had a beard and a low voice, I was still taking testosterone despite being pregnant. People asked me this as though I had never considered the issue before. To me, the question suggested that I was ignorant or didn’t care about my baby, or both. Even health care providers asked repeatedly if I was taking testosterone, seemingly not believing my answer.

Before trying to get pregnant, I talked to my endocrinologist (hormone doctor) and family doctor about any risks they could foresee. My endocrinologist advised me to stop taking testosterone and wait until my menstrual cycles became regular. He said that, in the form I was taking it, testosterone leaves the tissues quite quickly, typically within about ten days. He told me that my eggs should not be affected by my previous testosterone use. My family doctor just shrugged and reminded me to take folic acid!

If you have a transgender friend or acquaintance who is pregnant, you don’t need to ask this. If you’re a health care provider, knowing whether or not your patient is still taking testosterone is important. You also need to realize that for some of us at least, a beard doesn’t disappear when testosterone use is halted.

4.    Did you enjoy the process of making your baby?

This is just another way of asking a transgender person how they have sex. It’s weird and awkward. And for folks who don’t have simple access to sperm in their relationship, conceiving a baby might be separate from making love anyway.

5.    But what about breastfeeding?

I think breastfeeding is awesome, and I have been breastfeeding my kids for five years straight – but having a baby doesn’t hinge on it. I was asked about breastfeeding when I was pregnant, as if not being able to breastfeed should make me reconsider my pregnancy. The question itself put an immense amount of pressure on me. It turned out that I am able to make a small amount of milk despite having had chest surgery, and I deeply value my breastfeeding relationship with my child. However, lots of people, transgender or not, choose not to breastfeed, and that is their choice.

For friends and health care providers alike, a more open-ended question would be better, such as “how do you plan to feed your baby?” If you are lactating and interested in helping, you could ask if your transgender friend might wish to accept donated milk. 

6.    Do you know the baby’s gender?

During my pregnancies, people asked me this obsessively. I always thought to myself, do you know who you’re asking? Identifying a baby as male or female based on its genitalia has to do with its sex, not its gender. Furthermore, I never cared during my pregnancies about what my babies’ genitals might look like. I wondered if they would be healthy, happy, sleepy, curious, affectionate, serious, light-hearted, optimistic or any number of other characteristics before I thought about whether they had a penis or vulva. A better question to ask would be whether your friend has felt their baby move yet or heard the heartbeat – both are indescribably beautiful and intimate ways to connect with the being growing inside the belly.

Finally, I want to mention that a few friends have come out to me as transgender or genderqueer during or after their pregnancies. Friends, family, and health care providers interacting with a pregnant person might be unaware of that person’s gender identity. Be careful about the assumptions contained in your questions no matter who you’re talking to.