October 30, 2013

Transgender Parenting Roles

Being a transgender parent is a difficult and sometimes messy thing to be. Having to struggle through the confusion, stress, and public scrutiny of changing genders is difficult enough for us alone; but when we have children, the whole thing becomes exponentially complicated. Am I mommy? Am I daddy? Am I both? Am I neither?  

The journal article Transsexual parenthood and new role assumptions, by Franco, Bordin, & Cipolletta, from Culture, Health, Sexuality has seen final publication this month, and it directly addresses this difficult topic. It’s a fascinating look at the way transgender people view themselves and the traditional roles of parents. 

The problem, as the authors put it, is thus: 

Because transsexuals undergo an important change in roles, they threaten the sexual dichotomy but cannot avoid comparing themselves with conventional social roles because they are judged through the lenses of others’ understandings of these roles. Transsexual parents pose a threat to commonly held beliefs about sexual identity, parenthood and assigned and personified roles because transsexual parents challenge societies in which relations between the sexes have been determined by a rigid, closed framework that has long gone unmentioned.

Using questionnaires, the authors set out to assess the views and opinions both cis and trans parents about parenting roles and where transgender parents fit into them. Participants were asked to express their views on parenting in four thematic areas: self-representation of the parental role, the description of the transsexual as a parent, the common representations of transsexuals as a parent, and male and female parental stereotypes. Their answers were analyzed using some common established methods for analysis of open-ended responses.

The conclusions, as reported in the article abstract, are as follows:

Transsexual parents accurately understood conventional male and female parental prototypes and saw themselves as competent, responsible parents. They constructed their role based on affection toward the child rather than on the complementary role of their wives. […] These results suggest that the transsexual journey toward parenthood involves a high degree of re-adjustment, because their parental role does not coincide with a conventional one.

In some ways, this is one of those “No shit, Sherlock” sort of reports. The trans parent “does not coincide with a conventional” parental role? Who could have guessed that? Conventional parenting roles are based on conventional, binary views of gender, a view that being transgender explicitly rejects. It’s no surprise, then, that trans parents are less likely to define themselves in binary ways. Still, it’s nice to have a peer reviewed study come to the same conclusions.

I recently had the pleasure of reading Jenny Finney Boylan’s Stuck in the Middle With You: Parenting in Three Genders. I think that Boylan would agree with the conclusions of these researchers: that transgender parents aren’t conventional mothers or fathers, but instead simply parents, the best ones they know how to be. 

[An earlier draft of this post appeared on Ali Finds Her Self.]

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