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What it's like to be a transgender dad

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    So the other morning
    I went to the grocery store
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    and an employee greeted me
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    with a "Good morning, sir,
    can I help you with anything?"
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    I said, "No, thanks, I'm good."
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    The person smiled
    and we went our separate ways.
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    I grabbed Cheerios
    and I left the grocery store.
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    And I went through the drive-through
    of a local coffee shop.
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    After I placed my order,
    the voice on the other end said,
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    "Thank you, ma'am. Drive right around."
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    Now, in the span of less than an hour,
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    I was understood
    both as a "sir" and as a "ma'am."
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    But for me, neither
    of these people are wrong,
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    but they're also not completely right.
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    This cute little human
    is my almost-two-year-old Elliot.
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    Yeah, alright.
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    And over the past two years,
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    this kid has forced me
    to rethink the world
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    and how I participate in it.
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    I identify as transgender and as a parent,
    that makes me a transparent.
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    (Laughter)
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    (Applause)
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    (Cheering)
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    (Applause)
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    As you can see, I took
    this year's theme super literal.
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    (Laughter)
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    Like any good dad joke should.
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    More specifically, I identify
    as genderqueer.
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    And there are lots of ways
    to experience being genderqueer,
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    but for me that means I don't
    really identify as a man or a woman.
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    I feel in between and sometimes
    outside of this gender binary.
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    And being outside of this gender binary
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    means that sometimes I get
    "sired" and "ma'amed"
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    in the span of less than an hour
    when I'm out doing everyday things
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    like getting Cheerios.
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    But this in between lane
    is where I'm most comfortable.
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    This space where I can be
    both a sir and a ma'am
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    feels the most right
    and the most authentic.
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    But it doesn't mean that these
    interactions aren't uncomfortable.
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    Trust me, the discomfort can range
    from minor annoyance
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    to feeling physically unsafe.
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    Like the time at a bar in college
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    when a bouncer physically
    removed me by the back of the neck
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    and threw me out of a woman's restroom.
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    But for me, authenticity
    doesn't mean "comfortable."
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    It means managing and negotiating
    the discomfort of everyday life,
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    even at times when it's unsafe.
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    And it wasn't until
    my experience as a trans person
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    collided with my new identity as a parent
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    that I understood
    the depth of my vulnerabilities
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    and how they are preventing me
    from being my most authentic self.
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    Now, for most people,
    what their child will call them
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    is not something
    that they give much thought to
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    outside of culturally specific words
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    or variations on a gendered theme
    like "mama," "mommy," or "daddy," "papa."
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    But for me, the possibility
    is what this child,
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    who will grow to be a teenager
    and then a real-life adult,
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    will call me for the rest of our lives,
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    was both extremely scary and exciting.
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    And I spent nine months wrestling
    with the reality that being called "mama"
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    or something like it
    didn't feel like me at all.
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    And no matter how many times
    or versions of "mom" I tried,
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    it always felt forced
    and deeply uncomfortable.
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    I knew being called "mom" or "mommy"
    would be easier to digest for most people.
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    The idea of having two moms
    is not super novel,
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    especially where we live.
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    So I tried other words.
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    And when I played around
    with "daddy," it felt better.
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    Better, but not perfect.
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    It felt like a pair of shoes
    that you really liked
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    but you needed to wear and break in.
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    And I knew the idea of being
    a female-born person being called "daddy"
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    was going to be a harder road
    with a lot more uncomfortable moments.
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    But, before I knew it, the time had come
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    and Elliot came screaming
    into the world, like most babies do,
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    and my new identity as a parent began.
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    I decided on becoming a daddy,
    and our new family faced the world.
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    Now one of the most common things
    that happens when people meet us
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    is for people to "mom" me.
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    And when I get "momed", there are
    several ways the interaction can go,
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    and I've drawn this map
    to help illustrate my options.
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    (Laughter)
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    So, option one is to ignore the assumption
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    and allow folks to continue
    to refer to me as "mom,"
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    which is not awkward for the other party,
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    but is typically really awkward for us.
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    And it usually causes me to restrict
    my interaction with those people.
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    Option one.
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    Option two is to stop and correct them
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    and say something like,
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    "Actually, I'm Elliot's dad"
    or "Elliot calls me 'daddy.'"
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    And when I do this, one or two
    of the following things happen.
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    Folks take it in stride
    and say something like, "Oh, OK."
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    And move on.
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    Or they respond by apologizing profusely
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    because they feel bad or awkward
    or guilty or weird.
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    But more often, what happens
    is folks get really confused
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    and look up with an intense look
    and say something like,
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    "Does this mean you want to transition?
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    Do you want to be a man?"
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    Or say things like,
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    "How can she be a father?
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    Only men can be dads."
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    Well, option one is oftentimes
    the easier route.
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    Option two is always
    the more authentic one.
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    And all of these scenarios
    involve a level of discomfort,
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    even in the best case.
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    And I'll say that over time, my ability
    to navigate this complicated map
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    has gotten easier.
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    But the discomfort is still there.
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    Now, I won't stand here and pretend
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    like I've mastered this,
    it's pretty far from it.
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    And there are days when I still allow
    option one to take place
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    because option two
    is just too hard or too risky.
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    There's no way to be sure
    of anyone's reaction,
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    and I want to be sure
    that folks have good intentions,
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    that people are good.
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    But we live in a world
    where someone's opinion of my existence
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    can be met with serious threats to me
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    or even my family's emotional
    or physical safety.
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    So I weigh the costs against the risks
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    and sometimes the safety of my family
    comes before my own authenticity.
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    But despite this risk,
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    I know as Elliot gets older and grows into
    her consciousness and language skills,
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    if I don't correct people, she will.
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    I don't want my fears and insecurities
    to be placed on her,
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    to dampen her spirit
    or make her question her own voice.
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    I need to model agency,
    authenticity and vulnerability,
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    and that means leaning into those
    uncomfortable moments of being "momed"
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    and standing up and saying,
    "No, I'm a dad.
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    And I even have
    the dad jokes to prove it."
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    (Laughter)
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    Now, there have already been
    plenty of uncomfortable moments
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    and even some painful ones.
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    But there's also been,
    in just two short years,
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    validating and at times transformative
    moments on my journey as a dad
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    and my path towards authenticity.
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    When we got our first sonogram,
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    we decided we wanted to know
    the sex of the baby.
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    The technician saw a vulva
    and slapped the words "It's a girl"
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    on the screen and gave us a copy
    and sent us on our way.
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    We shared the photo
    with our families like everyone does
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    and soon after, my mom showed up
    at our house with a bag filled --
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    I'm not exaggerating,
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    it was like this high and it was filled,
    overflowing with pink clothes and toys.
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    Now I was a little annoyed to be
    confronted with a lot of pink things,
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    and having studied gender
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    and spent countless hours teaching
    about it in workshops and classrooms,
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    I thought I was pretty well versed
    on the social construction of gender
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    and how sexism is a devaluing
    of the feminine
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    and how it manifests
    both explicitly and implicitly.
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    But this situation, this aversion
    to a bag full of pink stuff,
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    forced me to explore my rejection
    of highly feminized things
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    in my child's world.
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    I realized that I was reinforcing sexism
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    and the cultural norms
    I teach as problematic.
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    No matter how much I believed
    in gender neutrality in theory,
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    in practice, the absence of femininity
    is not neutrality, it's masculinity.
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    If I only dress my baby
    in greens and blues and grays,
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    the outside world doesn't think,
    "Oh, that's a cute gender-neutral baby."
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    They think, "Oh, what a cute boy."
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    So my theoretical understanding of gender
    and my parenting world collided hard.
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    Yes, I want a diversity of colors and toys
    for my child to experience.
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    I want a balanced
    environment for her to explore
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    and make sense of in her own way.
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    We even picked a gender-neutral name
    for our female-born child.
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    But gender neutrality is much easier
    as a theoretical endeavor
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    than it is as a practice.
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    And in my attempts
    to create gender neutrality,
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    I was inadvertently privileging
    masculinity over femininity.
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    So, rather than toning down
    or eliminating femininity in our lives,
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    we make a concerted effort
    to celebrate it.
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    We have pinks among the variety of colors,
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    we balance out the cutes with handsomes
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    and the prettys with strongs and smarts
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    and work really hard
    not to associate any words with gender.
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    We value femininity and masculinity
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    while also being highly critical of it.
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    And do our best to not make her feel
    limited by gender roles.
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    And we do all this in hopes
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    that we model a healthy and empowered
    relationship with gender for our kid.
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    Now this work to develop a healthy
    relationship with gender for Elliot
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    made me rethink and evaluate
    how I allowed sexism to manifest
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    in my own gender identity.
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    I began to reevaluate
    how I was rejecting femininity
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    in order to live up to a masculinity
    that was not healthy
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    or something I wanted to pass on.
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    Doing this self-work
    meant I had to reject option one.
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    I couldn't ignore and move on.
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    I had to choose option two.
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    I had to engage with some
    of my most uncomfortable parts
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    to move towards my most authentic self.
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    And that meant I had to get real
    about the discomfort I have with my body.
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    It's pretty common for trans people
    to feel uncomfortable in their body,
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    and this discomfort can range
    from debilitating to annoying
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    and everywhere in between.
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    And learning my body and how
    to be comfortable in it as a trans person
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    has been a lifelong journey.
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    I've always struggled
    with the parts of my body
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    that can be defined as more feminine --
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    my chest, my hips, my voice.
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    And I've made the sometimes hard,
    sometimes easy decision
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    to not take hormones
    or have any surgeries to change it
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    to make myself more masculine
    by society's standards.
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    And while I certainly haven't overcome
    all the feelings of dissatisfaction,
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    I realized that by not engaging
    with that discomfort
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    and coming to a positive
    and affirming place with my body,
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    I was reinforcing sexism, transphobia
    and modeling body shaming.
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    If I hate my body,
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    in particular, the parts
    society deems feminine or female,
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    I potentially damage how my kid
    can see the possibilities of her body
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    and her feminine and female parts.
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    If I hate or am uncomfortable
    with my body,
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    how can I expect my kid to love hers?
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    Now it would be easier for me
    to choose option one:
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    to ignore my kid when she asks me
    about my body or to hide it from her.
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    But I have to choose option two every day.
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    I have to confront my own assumptions
    about what a dad's body can and should be.
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    So I work every day to try
    and be more comfortable in this body
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    and in the ways I express femininity.
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    So I talk about it more,
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    I explore the depths of this discomfort
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    and find language
    that I feel comfortable with.
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    And this daily discomfort helps me build
    both agency and authenticity
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    in how I show up in my body
    and in my gender.
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    I'm working against limiting myself.
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    I want to show her
    that a dad can have hips,
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    a dad doesn't have to have
    a perfectly flat chest
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    or even be able to grow facial hair.
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    And when she's developmentally able to,
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    I want to talk to her
    about my journey with my body.
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    I want her to see my journey
    towards authenticity
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    even when it means showing her
    the messier parts.
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    We have a wonderful pediatrician
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    and have established a good relationship
    with our kid's doctor.
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    And as you all know,
    while your doctor stays the same,
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    your nurses and nurse practitioners
    change in and out.
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    And when Elliot was first born,
    we took her to the pediatrician
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    and we met our first nurse --
    we'll call her Sarah.
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    Very early in in our time with Sarah,
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    we told her how I was
    going to be called "dad"
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    and my partner is "mama."
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    Sarah was one of those folks
    that took it in stride,
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    and our subsequent visits
    went pretty smoothly.
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    And about a year later,
    Sarah switched shifts
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    and we started working
    with a new nurse -- we'll call her Becky.
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    We didn't get in front
    of the dad conversations
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    and it didn't actually come up
    until Sarah, our original nurse,
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    walked in to say hi.
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    Sarah's warm and bubbly and said hi
    to Elliot and me and my wife
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    and when talking to Elliot
    said something like,
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    "Is your daddy holding your toy?"
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    Now out of the corner of my eye,
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    I could see Becky
    swing around in her chair
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    and make daggers at Sarah.
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    And as the conversation shifted
    to our pediatrician,
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    I saw Sarah and Becky's interaction
    continue, and it went something like this.
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    Becky, shaking her head "no"
    and mouthing the word "mom."
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    Sarah, shaking her head "no"
    and mouthing the word "no, dad."
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    (Laughter)
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    Awkward, right?
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    So this went back and forth
    in total silence a few more times
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    until we walked away.
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    Now, this interaction has stuck with me.
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    Sarah could have chosen option one,
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    ignored Becky, and let her
    refer to me as mom.
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    It would have been easier for Sarah.
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    She could have put the responsibility
    back on me or not said anything at all.
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    But in that moment, she chose option two.
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    She chose to confront the assumptions
    and affirm my existence.
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    She insisted that a person
    who looks and sounds like me
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    can in fact be a dad.
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    And in a small but meaningful way,
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    advocated for me,
    my authenticity and my family.
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    Unfortunately, we live in a world
    that refuses to acknowledge trans people
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    and the diversity
    of trans people in general.
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    And my hope is that when confronted
    with an opportunity
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    to stand up for someone else,
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    we all take action like Sarah,
    even when there's risk involved.
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    So some days, the risk of being
    a genderqueer dad feels too much.
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    And deciding to be a dad
    has been really hard.
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    And I'm sure it will continue
    to be the hardest,
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    yet the most rewarding
    experience of my life.
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    But despite this challenge,
    every day has felt 100 percent worth it.
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    So each day I affirm my promise to Elliot
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    and that same promise to myself.
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    To love her and myself hard
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    with forgiveness and compassion,
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    with tough love and with generosity.
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    To give room for growth,
    to push beyond comfort
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    in hopes of attaining and living
    a more meaningful life.
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    I know in my head and in my heart
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    that there are hard and painful
    and uncomfortable days ahead.
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    My head and my heart also know
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    that all of it will lead
    to a more rich, authentic life
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    that I can look back on without regrets.
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    Thank you.
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    (Applause)
Title:
What it's like to be a transgender dad
Speaker:
LB Hannahs
Description:

LB Hannahs candidly shares the experience of parenting as a genderqueer individual -- and what it can teach us about authenticity and advocacy. "Authenticity doesn't mean 'comfortable.' It means managing and negotiating the discomfort of everyday life," Hannahs says.

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Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDTalks
Duration:
13:44
  • The TEDx version of this talk is available for translation at https://amara.org/en/videos/Zcv2UJ0fFDlp/info/finding-authenticity-in-discomfort-lb-hannahs-tedxuf

English subtitles

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