Family Values

Two Dads With a Difference—Neither of Us Was Born Male

Our mornings follow a set routine that any parent with a high-needs baby would recognize. We stagger out of bed, sleep deprived and anxious. Our eight-month-old son has reflux, and has only slept through one night since he was born. He usually wakes up every two or three hours, frightened and hurting. We have become expert at consoling the inconsolable child. While Matt shovels food and medication into the baby, I try to assess how much my fibromyalgia is going to hurt me today, and eat some breakfast. Somehow we coordinate showers, getting dressed, and packing Blake up for his stint at day care. Matt heads out with the baby in tow, and I am off to work as well, either in my therapy office or the home office downstairs.

Since the baby arrived, there are precious few moments when Matt and I can meet each other alone. The occasions when lust can break through the fence are even more rare. We are oddly shy during these adult-only interludes, as if becoming parents has made us strange to one another. The house is sticky. Piles of clean laundry that we can't find time to put away topple over and get mixed up with the dirty clothes. Yet we continue to be loving and kind with each other and with Blake. Matt especially is a monument of patience. I am often struck dumb by his profound and consistently deep love for our son.

Matt and I are doing something most people take for granted. We are two people in love who live together and raise a child. We plan to be together for the rest of our lives. But our family is not like other families, and so we are always afraid that some malicious person or powerful institution will take action against us and disrupt our lives. That's because we are both transgendered men (female-to-male or FTM), and my boyfriend is the mother of my child.

Patrick (left) and Matt with their son Blake
photo: Timothy Archibald
Patrick (left) and Matt with their son Blake

It happened like this. I met Matt nearly 10 years ago, as one of the "jack-booted dyke thugs of ACT-UP Chicago," as Matt called himself then. This was before he transitioned. I was living in what was supposed to be an open relationship. But my primary partner couldn't tolerate the threat of my torrid affair, so I broke things off with Matt. We connected again three years ago, after Matt had been on testosterone for several years, had chest surgery and a beard, and was a bartender at the Lone Star, San Francisco's notorious bear bar. I had been single for more than a year, and was dealing with my mother's impending death from breast cancer.

I chased Matt shamelessly, alternating sincere and humble apologies for my bad behavior in the past with X-rated e-mail. I probably didn't deserve a second chance, but he gave me one anyway. Our relationship was a scandal. We were generally perceived as a fag/dyke couple rather than two gay/bi men in a daddy/boy relationship, which was how we saw ourselves. When I had to go to Utah to care for my mother in the last month of her life, Matt came out for her funeral, and was promptly fired from his bartending job. That was when I started talking to Matt about maybe transitioning too.

I was having early symptoms of menopause, and I simply couldn't see putting estrogen in my body on purpose. As a child, I frequently told people I was going to be a boy when I grew up. Puberty made me even more uncomfortable with my female body and identity. I investigated sex reassignment in my twenties, but was discouraged by the poor quality of genital surgery and terrified of the isolation. I wasn't sure I could separate the effects of misogyny from gender dysphoria. So I tried to be a different kind of woman, a sexually adventurous gender-fucking dyke who enjoyed every possible male prerogative. But it just wasn't enough.

At 45, I was terrified of changing my gender, afraid it would mean that I'd no longer be able to make a living, since my income was based on being a lesbian therapist and journalist. But I didn't know what else to try, and the cognitive dissonance had worn me out. Matt started talking to me about wanting to raise a child. He had been unable to take testosterone for a couple of years because of side effects like blinding migraines. He didn't think he could adopt a child, so he wanted to have one of his own.

I had always believed there wasn't room for a child in my life. But when my mother passed away, I realized I had also been afraid of her disapproval. A staunch right-wing Mormon, my mother never accepted my queerness, and she would have moved heaven and earth to prevent me from raising a kid. It seemed to me that it was part of Matt's spiritual path to be a parent. Witnessing my mother's death had opened my heart. I needed to be part of creating a new life.

We didn't want to do anything that might harm the baby, so we got the best medical advice we could. We went to see a lot of doctors, who all told us that what we wanted to do was unusual, but biologically possible. So we started auditioning our betesticled friends for the role of sperm donor. That turned out to be quite a soap opera. Guys who thought nothing about throwing away their sperm daily, in Kleenexes or on the floor of a sex club, got very precious with us about their sacrosanct bodily fluids. Time after time we went through the same scenario. The guy we asked to be a donor would say, "I don't want to be a father. I don't want the responsibility." We would say, "That's OK. We don't want you to be a caretaker. And we'll be using multiple donors so nobody will know exactly whose gametes got lucky." Then the guy would freak out and say, "But how can I tell if the baby is mine?"

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