May 11, 2014

On Being a Trans Parent on Mother’s Day

I know that Mother’s Day is a day that can fill trans women and men with angst. For those without children it can be especially acute, as being trans and pursuing medical transition means virtually destroying the ability to ever become a biological parent (freezing egg/sperm aside, of course, but given the financial reality many trans people face that’s a slim minority who choose to). For those of us fortunate enough to have parented children before transition, the day can bring a different kind of angst. If you’re trans and a parent, which day is yours to embrace? Are you father? Mother? Both? Neither?

Answering that means answering another question first: what do these terms mean anyway? Like gender itself, they’re entirely socially defined. You can’t even say that mother means the one who gave birth and father is the one who contributed sperm, because what about adoptive parents? You could say that it is therefore about the potential to have contributed egg and sperm, but then I would counter with barren women and sterile men, and then .. well, you get the idea.

The next leap most people might make is to define them by the role they play. For example, you could say father is the breadwinner and mother is the homemaker, and you would at least be within the wheelhouse of the tradition these holidays represent. Why is Mother’s Day one of the biggest days of the year to dine out — the perception is that mom ALWAYS cooks and she deserves a day off. But feminism has spent fifty years trying to kill just that stereotype, and the modern reality of may families is that it simply isn’t true. Likewise, you might day that Father’s Day being the day to lavish dad with power drills and grilling utensils because men like to repair things and cook things with fire. But, again, that’s just a stereotype; heck, I know that when I identified as male I was not a handyman, and I haven’t owned a real grill ever. 

It’s fairest to say that mother is the parenting title tied to those who identify female and father is the parenting title for those who identify as male, which is about as far as one can take it in the gender binary. The celebrations themselves serve to reinforce the kind of binary identity that trans people, as a whole, tend to challenge (or sometimes eschew entirely).

That’s why I’m increasingly a big fan of Parent’s Day as a better holiday than either of them; it allows for those who identify as mothers, those who identify as fathers, and everyone in between. I don’t see Hallmark and the other retailers relinqishing the double-marketability of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, though. There’s too much money to be made in flowers, appliances, and jewelry in May; and power tools, grills, and home electronics in June.

So we trans parents will just have to choose our own ways to adjust and fit into (or not) the traditional holidays. For many parents I’ve spoken to, that has meant asking children to call them by the gender appropriate title and to celebrate them on the gender appropriate day. This seems to especially be the case with younger kids, who are generally the most okay with transition on the whole. After all, if gender identity is a social construct and the desire of trans people is to be given their appropriate place inside that binary system, then it only makes sense to be consistent.

My position with my own kids has been 100% consistent since I came out to them: they are allowed to call me whatever they want in terms of parenting honorific, but they have to switch to the feminine pronoun. So far they are content to stick with “dad” and “daddy,” and they’re working on the she and her. Since I’m still in that fluid, gender-neutral sort of mid-point in terms of life, presentation, and body development, I don’t mind. I’m content to ride out this socialized, commercialized wave of binary parental recognition without a firm place in it. I don’t do this whole parenting thing for the recognition; I do it for the sake and love of my kids, and that doesn’t change because what they choose to call me or when and how they choose to celebrate me.

Being daddy means that my big day isn’t today; that comes in June. In fact, my daughter has already told me that she wants to get me a purple dress for Father’s Day, since that’s my favorite color. And why not? There’s nothing wrong with a daddy in a dress. It will look fabulous on me when I’m standing in front of the grill.


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