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Trans*? Want to Be a Parent? Society Might Say 'No,' But Ignore the Haters.

Transgender and gender-variant people desire families, just as our not-so-variant peers do. But when I was first considering whether I might be a transgender man when I was in high school, my dreams of one day having a family practically flew out the window.

Somehow, I thought that if I was trans, that ended the possibility that I could one day have the family I wanted. But I couldn't have been more wrong.

A lot of trans people worry that we won't find a partner or won't be able to have children; some who dream of getting married or having a biological tie to our children think that these dreams are over once we start transitioning. But that's simply not the case. Today, I'm a husband planning my own future family. It was my personal desire to be partnered and my choice to become married (not everyone has to do these things), and I know now that I can become the father I've always dreamed of being.

But as a teenager, it was easy to believe that I couldn't have any of that. Why?

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Part of the problem, as I see it, was that I didn't experience a lot of images of trans or gender-nonconforming girlfriends, boyfriends, husbands, wives, or parents around me -- not on television, in art, or often in the wider world.

And part of the problem was that society was sending me a message that being trans meant I was unlovable or unattractive or unfit to experience life fully. I also somehow internally received the message that being trans would mean I would be "harming" my future children. I've heard a lot of other trans people tell me they've had similar thoughts.

If you're thinking that as a trans person you won't find love or raise a family, I suggest considering where those thoughts come from (and I admit, this is easier said than done...it takes time, and often reading or talking it out with others). Are they the truth, or did you assume that based on negative portrayals of trans people you've seen around you?

If this is the case, no need to feel ashamed that you believed society's fears about trans folks -- it's just time to actively resist those thoughts.

Because the truth is, messages that we, as trans people, are unlovable or less capable as parents are based in transphobia -- the fear of transgender people. Society is often afraid of what's different than the "norm," and the people around us fall in-line and repeat those messages because they're afraid of being seen as different too.

But the reality is, as trans people, we are 'different,' in some ways, from the 'majority' -- but that's a good thing. Yes, we're the 'same' in the sense that we're men and women too, but we're men and women with unique life experiences. Those experiences means we get to "look behind the mask" of these distorted social messages -- and all the other narrow ones about what it means to be a "real man" and a "real woman" -- and see where they've led us wrong.

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When I started doing this kind of thinking in college, I started to see the "bigger picture" of why I was only getting these negative, limited ideas about being a transgender person.

Part of it was that “transgender” identity is still contested in its definitions -- and for too long those definitions haven't been decided by trans people themselves. Among doctors and scientists, for instance, homosexuality was de-classified as a mental disorder a long time ago, transgender patients continue to receive a psychological diagnosis of “gender dysphoria”. While feeling dysphoric is real for a lot of trans people who feel their body and mind doesn't match, the medical practice of coding transgender people as socially and medically 'sick' or 'deviant' because of it has led to stigma and discrimination.

A lot of trans people, over the years, have felt too stigmatized to even come out to their doctors as trans; or if they did, they felt too stigmatized to admit they wanted help in building a family. So, for decades and decades -- long before my birth -- transgender people were generally absent from public and scientific conversations about parenting and families, except in references to mental illness.

Our invisibility and marginality (that is, the fact that our experiences are shuffled off to the side and therefore rarely discussed) have led to inaccurate assumptions about trans people and our desires around having children and the fact that trans people are just as suitable parents as non-trans folks.

So I say: don't listen. If you want to be a parent, that's your right. Some people might resist, but but they don't define who you are. Don't give up on becoming the woman or man you need to be, which includes becoming a mother or father if that's what you know you want. I haven't given up, though sometimes it's felt hard-- and it's helped me see the full potentials of my life. It all started with me questioning.

If it feels right to be a man, why should I accept anyone else telling me it's wrong? If it feels right to want to be a father, why should I accept someone telling me I can't?

 

Photo courtesy of Glyn Lowe Photoworks / Flickr.

 

LGBTQ Role Model Alert! *LEAHNORA ISAAK* - Transgender Politician

This month, let's applaud LEAHNORA ISAAK, a trans woman who overcame the odds to start planning her campaigns for Oregon City Council, State Legislature, and even Congress!

Leahnora Isaak has big plans. She has spent most of her life working on political campaigns and now the time has come for her to stand on the other side of the podium.  She plans to run for City Council in 2016, State Legislature in 2020 and Congress in 2024.

Leahnora recently told me “I want to be the first openly transgender congresswoman.”  If anyone can do it, Leahnora can!

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Leahnora's Story

Leahnora’s story was not always a happy and confident one. Being raised in a Mormon household within a larger conservative community, she thought for a long time that there was something wrong with her. She thought she was a "freak" because she couldn’t control her desire and dreams to dress like and be a woman.

As a child, Leahnora used to bury her female clothes in the woods so she wouldn’t be discovered. She also had a small stash of clothes hidden in her room. Her mother found her stash once. She was kind about it, was secretly supportive, and even bought her girl undergarments. Her father, however, found her stash of clothes once and became wild with rage and insults.

Into adulthood Leahnora tried to hide her desire to be a woman for fear of what people might say. She even hid it from her wife the first seven years of their marriage. Once she came out to her wife as a transgender woman, her wife humiliated Leahnora and made her live in the basement. With no support or love she lived in this way, in the basement, for 18 years

Finally one day, at age 49, she realized she had nothing left to lose and decided to come out. Leahnora said, “After 25 years, I came out and she divorced me.” By the next year, at age 50, Leahnora transitioned full-time to female, and moved from a fairly conservative community of Akron, Ohio to Portland, Oregon. 

 Vice President Joe Biden & Leahnora Isaak

Around the time Leahnora moved to Portland, Basic Rights of Oregon (BRO) was campaigning for a marriage equality bill. They needed people to collect money and signatures. This was a natural transition for Leahnora who had worked on political campaigns for most of her working career.

In the past year and a half that Leahnora has worked for BRO she has personally raised over $100,000. In this time, as an organization BRO has had three big wins: (1) The marriage equality bill, (2) A bill that forbids businesses from discriminating or refusing service because of how an LGBTQ individual identifies, (3) A bill that allows the Oregon Health Plan to cover top and/or bottom surgery for trans people, particularly if an individual is a suicide risk without the surgery. 

There have been many recent successes with LGBTQ issues everywhere. There has also been an increase in government support of LBGTQ issues in recent years. However, Leahnora believes it is not enough. She feels that there needs to be more done for transgender rights. Being out there openly as a transitioning female doing door-to-door advocacy and campaign work has been hard. While Portland is generally a relaxed, open-minded community it is not without it bigots and haters.

Further, Leahnora sees that Portland in particular has a number of excellent programs for transgender youth, but also sees that there are not enough advocacy and support services available for transgender adults. Leahnora has decided she needs to help fill this gap, and has plans to start a non-profit called Gender Justice League of Oregon. 

I asked Leahnora if she had any advice for LGBTQ youth who feel isolated like she once did. She said “Find a statewide campaign on LBGTQ issues, or find a political candidate who is pro-equality, and you will find like-minded individuals. Go to your local LGBTQ center and volunteer. If you don’t have one in your community work or volunteer for school board and city council members who you know are sympathetic or pro-equality. And make sure to learn everything you can so someday you can take THEIR JOB.”

Thank you, Leahnora, for all you do! I will be looking out for you on the ballot in 2016. 


Photos courtesy of Leahnora Isaak