I’m generally open about being a transgender man even if most people assume I’m a cisgender man (meaning I was born male). I’m often seen as a gay man. This is fine with me since I identify as queer, but it confuses people when they learn I’m married to a woman. One situation where this confusion comes up, but is rarely discussed aloud, takes place when I am out alone with my son.
On a good day, I’m 5-foot, 5-inches tall. My 22-month-old is the size of most 3-year-olds. Since I’m a work-at-home dad, I’m often the only parent people encounter when I take him to a class or the playground. Over and over, I find myself having a version of one particular conversation:
A parent I don’t know will ask: “How old is he?”
Me: “22 months.”
Them:: “Wow. I thought he was three.”
Me: “Yeah, he’s definitely tall for his age.”
Them: “Is his mom tall?”
Me: “Nope, but his donor is …”
What usually follows is an awkward silence. The conversation trails off. The other parent doesn’t ask follow-up questions, and I don’t offer explanations. These conversations about my toddler’s height rarely feel like an opening to disclose that I’m trans. I’m not sure if the reason is my own hesitation, the other parent’s worldview not including trans people, or simply that we are not able to have an in-depth adult chat because we are watching our toddlers.
Hesitating is not my usual impulse. Usually, I’m out and open as I lead my life as a parent community organizer and professional speaker, author, and coach. Being out is my form of transgender activism. So it feels a little weird to have this keep coming up but not to name it.
On the one hand, I respect that other parents may feel it would be inconsiderate to dig deeper. There are lots of reasons couples use donor sperm. But not everyone would be comfortable sharing them with strangers and might even find questions about infertility, IVF treatments, and medical histories rude. Part of my hesitancy acknowledges this reality.
Setting record straight about all dads
But the main reason I hesitate is that I don’t want my transgender identity, and childhood socialization as a girl, to be misunderstood as the reason I’m an active and engaged dad.
The notion that men inherently aren’t good at parenting is offensive to men AND women. It puts incredible pressure on a mom to be the primary caregiver, even when she works outside the home.
It’s also a set-up. If unchecked, these stereotypes about moms and dads lead to dads not being given the opportunity right from the start to develop their own parenting style and expertise. Moms aren’t born knowing how to parent, they learn through trial and error. If dads aren’t given the chance to be active and engaged early on, a pattern may develop that will be difficult to overcome.
As one of the co-organizers of the Boston Dads Group, I know many cisgender men who are the primary caregivers — and who necessarily deal with everything that comes with parenting while their spouse is at work. Of course, dads don’t need to be at-home parents to be capable of taking care of their children.
I try to combat these prevailing stereotypes when I run into them, as I often do when I’m out with my kid.
Them: “Is it daddy’s day?”
Me: “Every day is daddy’s day.”
Them: “Oh, how cute. You’re babysitting.”
Me: “Nope. Dads don’t babysit. I’m parenting.”
Stereotypes about gender roles and parenting are what make me cautious about when and how I open up about being a queer trans man who is very happily married to a queer cis woman and that together with our toddler (and another little one who arrives in December), we’re a happy and proud queer family.
I’ll continue to navigate these awkward moments and find ways to proudly support all dads who are active and engaged parents, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. I love the message my sons will be getting from seeing me and other dads out with their children. I’m hoping that message stays with them and that their generation will put these stereotypes to rest for good.
Also, while I look nothing like my little one, I accept all compliments for how beautiful and long my toddler’s eyelashes are. It’s the one feature that we definitely have in common. And I picked them out myself.