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Op-ed: One Trans Man's Unexpected Journey Into Fatherhood

Op-ed: One Trans Man's Unexpected Journey Into Fatherhood


A trans father-to-be shares how he and his wife conceived their child with the help of IVF and a gay friend.

Henry Miller said, "All growth is a leap in the dark, a spontaneous unpremeditated act without the benefit of experience."

My transition 15 years ago was like that. Armed with a sense of purpose and a need to liberate myself, I went forward with my transition, not having a clear sense that I was a man but knowing emphatically that I wasn't a woman.

My journey to fatherhood has been a leap in the dark of similar proportions. My wife, Rachel, and I determined with relative ease that we wanted to have children, either through adoption or through her bearing them. This decision set us apart from many in our community. These days, as a queer and trans leather man, I find myself reminding people that the sexual freedom and liberation I believe in includes the freedom to choose monogamy or parenting without shame or stigma.

Our parenting journey started a few years ago with anonymous banked sperm. To be well-prepared, my wife and I felt we had to have heavy-duty conversations about what mattered to each of us in terms of a sperm donor, and I had to face myself with some deep questions: Does it matter to me that my kid looks like me? Will my kid connect with me as a father? In addition to things like appearance, health, and personality, we looked for additional characteristics. Rachel required that the donor be the sort of person she could meet with for coffee, and I required that he have some sort of a social justice mind-set. Both of these were tricky to identify in the handwritten questionnaires the anonymous donors completed.

We did three cycles of anonymous sperm, and it felt ... off. We began to investigate friends and family. We half-jokingly used our Facebook lists to look for donors, eliminating nearly everybody -- not close enough to us socially, too close to us socially, medical conditions that multiply my wife's existing ones, etc.

One day, I was scrolling through my feed, and my cruising wife joked, "Get me some of that," pointing to the man who would later become our donor. A friend of a friend, he is 6 foot 4, a beefy and muscular leather bear with wit and geekiness in equal measure. We laughed about it and then slowly came to the realization that it wasn't actually an outlandish idea after all. He met her "coffee condition" well since we'd had dinner with him and mutual friends already. My "social justice condition" was also very much met by his politics and his work as a public defender.

I took the leap in the dark and asked. We had many conversations about our lives, our goals, what the process might look like, and the relationship structures we'd each imagined for the various circuits in which we'd soon find ourselves. Then we set forth on this journey after preparing legal paperwork to back up our intentions.

He first shipped sperm, then later we received direct donations at his place, hand-delivered by his husband. After months of unsuccessful trying, we decided to pursue IVF -- yet another leap in the dark.

We three successfully navigated an "LGBT-friendly" fertility clinic that was anything but friendly. Our little unit grew more and more connected through the adversity, calling ourselves "Team Thunderkitten" in a nod to the movie Juno. After one IVF cycle Rachel became pregnant, and we were equal parts excited and anxious. Things went along swimmingly week after week, until we were set to exit the fertility clinic at eight weeks.

We went in for what we thought was an ordinary ultrasound only to find that Rachel had miscarried. Rachel and I took the news as one might imagine -- we were devastated and raw. However, we decided we would be as transparent and open with that process as we had been with our IVF process. Another leap in the dark -- this time into grief.

Little by little, community members and family came out of the woodwork to say that they too were a part of "the club nobody wants to join." We lived and loved each other openly through the grief, and we three came out the other side determined to proceed with another attempt before my insurance would reset on the first of the year. The second attempt, last December, was a success, but we found ourselves guarding the information and not taking any steps whatsoever. We surmised through experience that to speak excitedly of a child was to spell their doom.

The first trimester came and went, and we began to realize that this child may actually be a reality after all. So hurriedly and excitedly we have been making preparations. And this Labor Day, my wife will give birth to our kid -- hopefully with a midwife and a doula and a bewildered version of myself at her side.

This process is something for which I am wholly unprepared. Sudden big feelings arise about things I never cared about previously. Case in point, I recently found myself as emphatic about jogging strollers as I have been about health policy. I definitely didn't see that one coming. Strangers and relatives inquire daily, "Do you know what you're having? Boy or girl?!" As a trans person, I want to flail at them. It is as if they have learned nothing. As if biology is still destiny, when I am living proof that it is not.

The truth is this: I do not care what parts my kid possesses. I care that my kid is healthy. I care that they are kind most of the time and that they apologize when they are not. I care that they have the self-determination and comprehensive knowledge to make the best decisions. And if the best decision for them ever includes coming out or transitioning, I will love and support them through whatever comes. I may mess up on pronouns from time to time, but I will apologize and make a renewed effort to get it right. After all, even trans fathers are human.

RILEY JOHNSON is the executive director of RAD Remedy, an organization with a nationally collaborative review database for trans, gender-nonconforming, intersex, and queer health referrals. Follow him on Twitter @lovefortified.

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