Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Mother's Talk

I didn't celebrate Mother's Day.

Mother's Day is a rough holiday for untold legions of trans women. They might have tenuous or even abusive relationships with their own mothers. They might lament their inability to carry a child of their own, or even contribute their genetic material to the creation of a pregnancy. As a trans woman who has already "fathered" children, but transitioned afterwards, I face my own unique set of challenges.

On social media, multiple people offered me warm "Happy Mother's Day" wishes. I appreciated those gestures, but I was still deeply uncomfortable with them. My 5-and-9-year-old children still call me Daddy (while doing their best to switch to female pronouns). They have slipped up and called me "Mom" more than once (and my son has started occasionally calling me "Ramona," which is both encouraging and something I need to check him on), and while that's awesome in some ways, it also makes me wince. I didn't carry them for nine months. I didn't have the difficult pregnancies that my ex-wife endured. I'm not the custodial parent. My ex-wife shoulders the VAST majority of their care, and she's doing an excellent job. My children are bright, friendly, and loving- For that, their Mom deserves an immense amount of credit.

So I viscerally recoil from being called "Mom." If I'm being honest, I don't feel like I "deserve" it. But that's my own mental hang-up- If you think about it, I have every RIGHT to want to be called "Mom," even if I personally find the idea psychologically uncomfortable. Here's why...

One of the most pernicious ideas out there is gender essentialism, which is the idea that there are innate, biologically encoded traits that separate men from women. This is the main notion that motivates trans-exclusionary radical feminists like Roseanne Barr, and it has myriad negative effects on everyone under the transgender umbrella. It has been the engine behind efforts to prevent trans people from going to the bathroom in peace and the (thankfully collapsing) efforts to exclude trans women from women's colleges. It's also behind the coercive mutilation of intersex children- Our society is so invested in the idea that vagina = women and penis = man that those who fail to conform are shoved (often violently) into one box or the other.

Sidebar: You wouldn't believe the mountain of shit I've had to put up with from people (including other trans folks) who can't fathom that I don't want "bottom surgery." It's so ingrained in people's minds that surgery is the holy grail for ALL trans women that I'm often made to feel not just that I'm "not a real woman" if I don't get surgery, but also that I'm "not really trans" if I don't want surgery. Ugh.

Julia Serano has basically smashed the underlying assumptions of gender essentialism to pieces. She persuasively argues that given "variation among people of different genders and a lot of overlap between the genders...  biology, culture, and environment all come together in an unfathomably complex way to create the gender diversity that we see all around us." (Both of her books- Whipping Girl and Excluded- are essential reading, by the way)

It's harmful and exclusionary when we make assumptions that genitals = gender. It may seem benign to a cis person to assume that everyone who needs to see a gynecologist is a woman, for example- But that ignores the reality that "women's health" issues can (and do) also impact many trans men. Trans men can (and do) get pregnant and bear children (and face very specific problems during their pregnancies), so to assume that pregnancy + bearing a child = motherhood is not just problematic but inaccurate.

Beyond that, as a society we have decided (rightly) that women who adopt children, or use a surrogate to carry their child, or are the partners of a woman who bear the couple's child, are "Moms." If you ran into someone who claimed that a woman who adopted, raised and nurtured a child had no right to claim the title of "Mother," you'd rightly be labeled a raging asshole. The same principle applies to trans women, I believe.

I remember when my son was born- It was only months after I had come out to myself as trans. When my ex-wife was pregnant, I thought to myself "Having a child will make you 'normal'." After he was born, I held him. I expected to feel like a father. I expected it to snap things into place for me. It didn't. It just heightened my dysphoria, because the immediate connection I felt with him, the boundless love that bloomed in my heart the second I held him in my arms, felt more like motherhood. It was a moment that was simultaneously the best of my life and one of the most terrifying- Even this gigantic life moment of "becoming a father" didn't make feel like I could live an authentic life as a man.

I am evolving every day, and so is my relationship with my children. Eventually they'll probably both decide they want to call me something other than "Daddy." I don't know that I'll ever be comfortable with them calling me "Mom," but I know that's because of my own personal shit rattling around in my brainpan. To my trans sisters: Don't let anyone ever tell you that you can't be a Mom.

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