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.
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?”
Luckily, we found three men who loved us but didn’t love children. A year and a half later, here we are with a son who shrieks with delight at the sight of the tortoise-shell cat, viciously bites Cheerios in half and then lets them slip out of his mouth on a waterfall of drool, and opens the kitchen cabinets to drag out the very largest pots, so he can drum on them with a grubby spoon. Our birth families and straight neighbors have been pretty sweet to us. The only people who’ve gotten upset are a handful of straight-identified homophobic FTMs online who started calling Matt by his girl name, because real men don’t get pregnant. One of these bigots even said it would be better for our baby to be born dead than be raised by two people who are “confused about their gender.”
Our large and loving chosen family, made up of gay men, lesbians, bisexual people, transgendered people, and straight allies, buffers us from this kind of hostility. We are also hearing from more and more FTMs who have had or want to have children. As Blake’s dads, we have created a village to help us raise him.
I started taking testosterone a couple of months before Blake was born. While he learns how to grab things, click his tongue, hold his own bottle, and walk while somebody holds his hands, I am going through my own metamorphosis. My hips are smaller, my muscle mass is growing, and every day it seems like there’s more hair on my face and body. My voice is deeper, and my sex drive has given me newfound empathy with the guys who solicit hookers for blow jobs. When I think that I can continue with this process—get chest surgery and pass as male—I feel happier than at any other point in my life. And when I think that something will stop me, I become very depressed.
Most of my dyke and fag friends have been enthusiastic about my change, and so far my therapy practice has not been shut down, nor have the writing assignments dried up. I don’t mistake the small island of acceptance that we enjoy in ultraliberal San Francisco for real freedom or tolerance. Our family configuration is bound to be controversial even among lesbians and gay men, especially those who believe mainstreaming is the best strategy for securing our civil rights. But at least among some queer activists, those who are prepared to live in a genuinely diverse society free from gender tyranny or proscribed pleasures, we can enjoy a place at the table. And we do.
Patrick Califia-Rice is the author (under the name Pat Califia) of several volumes of queer theory and smut. His recent work includes Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism.