Being a transgender parent isn’t always as complicated in real life as the media portrays it. While the nuances are rarely covered in magazines, shows like Amazon’s Transparent, which is heading into a fifth and final season, highlight what the trans experience is like long after the children are born. But today’s science is more sophisticated than in decades past, which has opened up the opportunity for trans folks to conceive children even after they’ve transitioned.
“Trans people having children is not a new thing at all,” affirms Trystan Reese, director of family formation at the Family Equality Council (FamilyEquality.org). “It’s newer in terms of how much other people may know about it but it’s been happening for a couple of decades or so.”
Reese is a trans man who gave birth to a baby boy named Leo in 2017. Leo is the first biological baby for Reese and his husband, Biff Chaplow, but he’s their third child (they had previously adopted Chaplow’s niece and nephew).
The Oregon couple admit that trans people giving birth has been relatively under the radar. Being an out trans person can be dangerous in many parts of the country, where education about the trans experience is limited. Despite these difficulties, Reese continues to promote fertility rights for transgender people. His efforts included hosting the council’s recent Seahorses & Unicorns event, which helped share as much information about transgender fertility options as possible with the community.
As more trans people look into birthing children, doctors have begun updating their language. Many now refer to egg freezing and sperm freezing as simply gamete freezing, dropping the gender identity of the process. Whether freezing eggs, sperm, or embryos for future assisted pregnancies, gamete freezing is gaining traction among trans people before transitioning lessens their reproductive ablities or they change their gender identity with medical assistance like hormones and surgery.
Dr. Briana Rudick, director of third-party reproduction at New York’s Columbia University Fertility Center and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University Medical Center, specializes in gamete freezing.
“I think it’s kind of a more culturally sensitive way of planning,” Rudick says of using gamete freezing versus more gendered terminology. But the interventions themselves are still very much the same, depending on the person’s specific situation.
“The process of sperm freezing versus egg freezing are two very, very different processes, and to some degree have to be done in different places depending upon where that couple is in the process of building a family,” Rudick says. “But they are two very different things, and they have very different success rates and different costs and different kinds of procedure associated with that.”
Full disclosure: Utilizing assisted reproductive technology, such as egg freezing, can be expensive. And some insurance companies don’t cover all reproductive options. But there are many more cost-effective ways for transgender people to have biological children, including at home using the genetic material of a partner or a known donor.
“I think it starts at $600 if you want to freeze your sperm,” says Reese. “And you have to pay thousands of dollars every single year to preserve it.”
Rudick has conducted surveys on gamete freezing too. She points out another significant reason trans people ought to consider starting the process is also a universal one: the biological clock.
As more celebrities have high-profile pregnancies in their 40s and 50s — often with expensive intervention that’s out of reach to the average American — some prospective parents are waiting too long to have children, says Rudick. Most are unaware of declining fertility until it’s too late.
Rudick hopes her work will help change that, but, she admits, “there are many doctors who don’t counsel patients regularly about the importance of freezing something for the future.”
Meanwhile, Reese, the father of three, just wants trans people to know that all sorts of families are an option today.