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← What it's like to be a transgender dad

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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Showing Revision 8 created 05/18/2018 by Krystian Aparta.

  1. So the other morning
    I went to the grocery store
  2. and an employee greeted me
  3. with a "Good morning, sir,
    can I help you with anything?"
  4. I said, "No, thanks, I'm good."
  5. The person smiled
    and we went our separate ways.
  6. I grabbed Cheerios
    and I left the grocery store.
  7. And I went through the drive-through
    of a local coffee shop.
  8. After I placed my order,
    the voice on the other end said,
  9. "Thank you, ma'am. Drive right around."
  10. Now, in the span of less than an hour,
  11. I was understood
    both as a "sir" and as a "ma'am."
  12. But for me, neither
    of these people are wrong,
  13. but they're also not completely right.
  14. This cute little human
    is my almost-two-year-old Elliot.

  15. Yeah, alright.
  16. And over the past two years,
  17. this kid has forced me
    to rethink the world
  18. and how I participate in it.
  19. I identify as transgender and as a parent,
    that makes me a transparent.
  20. (Laughter)

  21. (Applause)

  22. (Cheering)

  23. (Applause)

  24. As you can see, I took
    this year's theme super literal.

  25. (Laughter)

  26. Like any good dad joke should.

  27. More specifically, I identify
    as genderqueer.
  28. And there are lots of ways
    to experience being genderqueer,
  29. but for me that means I don't
    really identify as a man or a woman.
  30. I feel in between and sometimes
    outside of this gender binary.
  31. And being outside of this gender binary
  32. means that sometimes I get
    "sired" and "ma'amed"
  33. in the span of less than an hour
    when I'm out doing everyday things
  34. like getting Cheerios.
  35. But this in between lane
    is where I'm most comfortable.
  36. This space where I can be
    both a sir and a ma'am
  37. feels the most right
    and the most authentic.
  38. But it doesn't mean that these
    interactions aren't uncomfortable.
  39. Trust me, the discomfort can range
    from minor annoyance
  40. to feeling physically unsafe.
  41. Like the time at a bar in college
  42. when a bouncer physically
    removed me by the back of the neck
  43. and threw me out of a woman's restroom.
  44. But for me, authenticity
    doesn't mean "comfortable."
  45. It means managing and negotiating
    the discomfort of everyday life,
  46. even at times when it's unsafe.
  47. And it wasn't until
    my experience as a trans person
  48. collided with my new identity as a parent
  49. that I understood
    the depth of my vulnerabilities
  50. and how they are preventing me
    from being my most authentic self.
  51. Now, for most people,
    what their child will call them

  52. is not something
    that they give much thought to
  53. outside of culturally specific words
  54. or variations on a gendered theme
    like "mama," "mommy," or "daddy," "papa."
  55. But for me, the possibility
    is what this child,
  56. who will grow to be a teenager
    and then a real-life adult,
  57. will call me for the rest of our lives,
  58. was both extremely scary and exciting.
  59. And I spent nine months wrestling
    with the reality that being called "mama"
  60. or something like it
    didn't feel like me at all.
  61. And no matter how many times
    or versions of "mom" I tried,
  62. it always felt forced
    and deeply uncomfortable.
  63. I knew being called "mom" or "mommy"
    would be easier to digest for most people.
  64. The idea of having two moms
    is not super novel,
  65. especially where we live.
  66. So I tried other words.

  67. And when I played around
    with "daddy," it felt better.
  68. Better, but not perfect.
  69. It felt like a pair of shoes
    that you really liked
  70. but you needed to wear and break in.
  71. And I knew the idea of being
    a female-born person being called "daddy"
  72. was going to be a harder road
    with a lot more uncomfortable moments.
  73. But, before I knew it, the time had come
  74. and Elliot came screaming
    into the world, like most babies do,
  75. and my new identity as a parent began.
  76. I decided on becoming a daddy,
    and our new family faced the world.
  77. Now one of the most common things
    that happens when people meet us

  78. is for people to "mom" me.
  79. And when I get "momed", there are
    several ways the interaction can go,
  80. and I've drawn this map
    to help illustrate my options.
  81. (Laughter)

  82. So, option one is to ignore the assumption

  83. and allow folks to continue
    to refer to me as "mom,"
  84. which is not awkward for the other party,
  85. but is typically really awkward for us.
  86. And it usually causes me to restrict
    my interaction with those people.
  87. Option one.
  88. Option two is to stop and correct them
  89. and say something like,
  90. "Actually, I'm Elliot's dad"
    or "Elliot calls me 'daddy.'"
  91. And when I do this, one or two
    of the following things happen.
  92. Folks take it in stride
    and say something like, "Oh, OK."
  93. And move on.
  94. Or they respond by apologizing profusely
  95. because they feel bad or awkward
    or guilty or weird.
  96. But more often, what happens
    is folks get really confused
  97. and look up with an intense look
    and say something like,
  98. "Does this mean you want to transition?
  99. Do you want to be a man?"
  100. Or say things like,
  101. "How can she be a father?
  102. Only men can be dads."
  103. Well, option one is oftentimes
    the easier route.

  104. Option two is always
    the more authentic one.
  105. And all of these scenarios
    involve a level of discomfort,
  106. even in the best case.
  107. And I'll say that over time, my ability
    to navigate this complicated map
  108. has gotten easier.
  109. But the discomfort is still there.
  110. Now, I won't stand here and pretend

  111. like I've mastered this,
    it's pretty far from it.
  112. And there are days when I still allow
    option one to take place
  113. because option two
    is just too hard or too risky.
  114. There's no way to be sure
    of anyone's reaction,
  115. and I want to be sure
    that folks have good intentions,
  116. that people are good.
  117. But we live in a world
    where someone's opinion of my existence
  118. can be met with serious threats to me
  119. or even my family's emotional
    or physical safety.
  120. So I weigh the costs against the risks
  121. and sometimes the safety of my family
    comes before my own authenticity.
  122. But despite this risk,
  123. I know as Elliot gets older and grows into
    her consciousness and language skills,
  124. if I don't correct people, she will.
  125. I don't want my fears and insecurities
    to be placed on her,
  126. to dampen her spirit
    or make her question her own voice.
  127. I need to model agency,
    authenticity and vulnerability,
  128. and that means leaning into those
    uncomfortable moments of being "momed"
  129. and standing up and saying,
    "No, I'm a dad.
  130. And I even have
    the dad jokes to prove it."
  131. (Laughter)

  132. Now, there have already been
    plenty of uncomfortable moments

  133. and even some painful ones.
  134. But there's also been,
    in just two short years,
  135. validating and at times transformative
    moments on my journey as a dad
  136. and my path towards authenticity.
  137. When we got our first sonogram,
  138. we decided we wanted to know
    the sex of the baby.
  139. The technician saw a vulva
    and slapped the words "It's a girl"
  140. on the screen and gave us a copy
    and sent us on our way.
  141. We shared the photo
    with our families like everyone does
  142. and soon after, my mom showed up
    at our house with a bag filled --
  143. I'm not exaggerating,
  144. it was like this high and it was filled,
    overflowing with pink clothes and toys.
  145. Now I was a little annoyed to be
    confronted with a lot of pink things,
  146. and having studied gender
  147. and spent countless hours teaching
    about it in workshops and classrooms,
  148. I thought I was pretty well versed
    on the social construction of gender
  149. and how sexism is a devaluing
    of the feminine
  150. and how it manifests
    both explicitly and implicitly.
  151. But this situation, this aversion
    to a bag full of pink stuff,
  152. forced me to explore my rejection
    of highly feminized things
  153. in my child's world.
  154. I realized that I was reinforcing sexism

  155. and the cultural norms
    I teach as problematic.
  156. No matter how much I believed
    in gender neutrality in theory,
  157. in practice, the absence of femininity
    is not neutrality, it's masculinity.
  158. If I only dress my baby
    in greens and blues and grays,
  159. the outside world doesn't think,
    "Oh, that's a cute gender-neutral baby."
  160. They think, "Oh, what a cute boy."
  161. So my theoretical understanding of gender
    and my parenting world collided hard.
  162. Yes, I want a diversity of colors and toys
    for my child to experience.
  163. I want a balanced
    environment for her to explore
  164. and make sense of in her own way.
  165. We even picked a gender-neutral name
    for our female-born child.
  166. But gender neutrality is much easier
    as a theoretical endeavor
  167. than it is as a practice.
  168. And in my attempts
    to create gender neutrality,
  169. I was inadvertently privileging
    masculinity over femininity.
  170. So, rather than toning down
    or eliminating femininity in our lives,
  171. we make a concerted effort
    to celebrate it.
  172. We have pinks among the variety of colors,
  173. we balance out the cutes with handsomes
  174. and the prettys with strongs and smarts
  175. and work really hard
    not to associate any words with gender.
  176. We value femininity and masculinity
  177. while also being highly critical of it.
  178. And do our best to not make her feel
    limited by gender roles.
  179. And we do all this in hopes
  180. that we model a healthy and empowered
    relationship with gender for our kid.
  181. Now this work to develop a healthy
    relationship with gender for Elliot

  182. made me rethink and evaluate
    how I allowed sexism to manifest
  183. in my own gender identity.
  184. I began to reevaluate
    how I was rejecting femininity
  185. in order to live up to a masculinity
    that was not healthy
  186. or something I wanted to pass on.
  187. Doing this self-work
    meant I had to reject option one.
  188. I couldn't ignore and move on.
  189. I had to choose option two.
  190. I had to engage with some
    of my most uncomfortable parts
  191. to move towards my most authentic self.
  192. And that meant I had to get real
    about the discomfort I have with my body.
  193. It's pretty common for trans people
    to feel uncomfortable in their body,
  194. and this discomfort can range
    from debilitating to annoying
  195. and everywhere in between.
  196. And learning my body and how
    to be comfortable in it as a trans person
  197. has been a lifelong journey.
  198. I've always struggled
    with the parts of my body
  199. that can be defined as more feminine --
  200. my chest, my hips, my voice.
  201. And I've made the sometimes hard,
    sometimes easy decision
  202. to not take hormones
    or have any surgeries to change it
  203. to make myself more masculine
    by society's standards.
  204. And while I certainly haven't overcome
    all the feelings of dissatisfaction,
  205. I realized that by not engaging
    with that discomfort
  206. and coming to a positive
    and affirming place with my body,
  207. I was reinforcing sexism, transphobia
    and modeling body shaming.
  208. If I hate my body,
  209. in particular, the parts
    society deems feminine or female,
  210. I potentially damage how my kid
    can see the possibilities of her body
  211. and her feminine and female parts.
  212. If I hate or am uncomfortable
    with my body,
  213. how can I expect my kid to love hers?
  214. Now it would be easier for me
    to choose option one:

  215. to ignore my kid when she asks me
    about my body or to hide it from her.
  216. But I have to choose option two every day.
  217. I have to confront my own assumptions
    about what a dad's body can and should be.
  218. So I work every day to try
    and be more comfortable in this body
  219. and in the ways I express femininity.
  220. So I talk about it more,
  221. I explore the depths of this discomfort
  222. and find language
    that I feel comfortable with.
  223. And this daily discomfort helps me build
    both agency and authenticity
  224. in how I show up in my body
    and in my gender.
  225. I'm working against limiting myself.
  226. I want to show her
    that a dad can have hips,
  227. a dad doesn't have to have
    a perfectly flat chest
  228. or even be able to grow facial hair.
  229. And when she's developmentally able to,
  230. I want to talk to her
    about my journey with my body.
  231. I want her to see my journey
    towards authenticity
  232. even when it means showing her
    the messier parts.
  233. We have a wonderful pediatrician

  234. and have established a good relationship
    with our kid's doctor.
  235. And as you all know,
    while your doctor stays the same,
  236. your nurses and nurse practitioners
    change in and out.
  237. And when Elliot was first born,
    we took her to the pediatrician
  238. and we met our first nurse --
    we'll call her Sarah.
  239. Very early in in our time with Sarah,
  240. we told her how I was
    going to be called "dad"
  241. and my partner is "mama."
  242. Sarah was one of those folks
    that took it in stride,
  243. and our subsequent visits
    went pretty smoothly.
  244. And about a year later,
    Sarah switched shifts
  245. and we started working
    with a new nurse -- we'll call her Becky.
  246. We didn't get in front
    of the dad conversations
  247. and it didn't actually come up
    until Sarah, our original nurse,
  248. walked in to say hi.
  249. Sarah's warm and bubbly and said hi
    to Elliot and me and my wife
  250. and when talking to Elliot
    said something like,
  251. "Is your daddy holding your toy?"
  252. Now out of the corner of my eye,
  253. I could see Becky
    swing around in her chair
  254. and make daggers at Sarah.
  255. And as the conversation shifted
    to our pediatrician,
  256. I saw Sarah and Becky's interaction
    continue, and it went something like this.
  257. Becky, shaking her head "no"
    and mouthing the word "mom."
  258. Sarah, shaking her head "no"
    and mouthing the word "no, dad."
  259. (Laughter)

  260. Awkward, right?

  261. So this went back and forth
    in total silence a few more times
  262. until we walked away.
  263. Now, this interaction has stuck with me.

  264. Sarah could have chosen option one,
  265. ignored Becky, and let her
    refer to me as mom.
  266. It would have been easier for Sarah.
  267. She could have put the responsibility
    back on me or not said anything at all.
  268. But in that moment, she chose option two.
  269. She chose to confront the assumptions
    and affirm my existence.
  270. She insisted that a person
    who looks and sounds like me
  271. can in fact be a dad.
  272. And in a small but meaningful way,
  273. advocated for me,
    my authenticity and my family.
  274. Unfortunately, we live in a world
    that refuses to acknowledge trans people

  275. and the diversity
    of trans people in general.
  276. And my hope is that when confronted
    with an opportunity
  277. to stand up for someone else,
  278. we all take action like Sarah,
    even when there's risk involved.
  279. So some days, the risk of being
    a genderqueer dad feels too much.

  280. And deciding to be a dad
    has been really hard.
  281. And I'm sure it will continue
    to be the hardest,
  282. yet the most rewarding
    experience of my life.
  283. But despite this challenge,
    every day has felt 100 percent worth it.
  284. So each day I affirm my promise to Elliot
  285. and that same promise to myself.
  286. To love her and myself hard
  287. with forgiveness and compassion,
  288. with tough love and with generosity.
  289. To give room for growth,
    to push beyond comfort
  290. in hopes of attaining and living
    a more meaningful life.
  291. I know in my head and in my heart

  292. that there are hard and painful
    and uncomfortable days ahead.
  293. My head and my heart also know
  294. that all of it will lead
    to a more rich, authentic life
  295. that I can look back on without regrets.
  296. Thank you.

  297. (Applause)