Continuing to Come Out

They say that coming out is a lifetime process. As our identities evolve, as we meet new people, there’s always new opportunities to tell our stories. Such has been the theme as of late.

I’m an active member of an online chat group that is a social spin-off of a cloth diapering focused community. The group of mostly women and a few men is raunchy, sassy and uplifting. There are few rules, but the ones they have mostly involve not judging each others’ choices, especially as it relates to parenting. I’ve developed a really good rapport with the group members and the moderators have become friends of mine.

To that end, I decided to take a risk and come out to the group. I posted the photo of K and I holding our legal marriage license and told our story. Group members had a lot of questions, which I answered openly and honestly. I talked about E’s birth story and told them how proud I am of my amazingly brave husband. I continue to be overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and encouragement from people who know so little about transgender identity and the complexities of gender, sex, and reproduction.

Ever since Saturday, I’ve been hearing from friends and coworkers that they keep seeing the footage of K and I holding our marriage license in local news broadcasts. It occurred me late on Sunday night that someone at E’s daycare may have seen one of the broadcasts and could very well ask us about it. We decided that we should prepare for this possibility and coordinate the messaging we felt comfortable conveying to them. Nothing is worse than being caught by surprise, stammering or rambling while coming out to someone. It certainly doesn’t communicate confidence in your identity.

It’s a good thing we prepared because when K picked E up from daycare on Monday, one of the teachers in E’s room said that the lead teacher mentioned that she’d seen us on the news. K told the teacher about his trans identity and explained that the law views us as a same-sex couple, even though that’s not how we identify. We decided not to tell the daycare, at this point, about E’s birth story. As we suspected would be the case, the teacher was really supportive.

It’s nice to feel a renewed sense of authenticity and feel the warmth of new allies. What was your last coming out experience and to whom?

Commence heteronormative parenting group

The hospital system through which E was born offers optional parenting groups based on a baby’s age and family’s location. For six months, a group meets every other week for two hours – the first half of the session is typically dedicated to a topic of interest to the group and the second half is for social time. While we have a lot of rad parents and kids in our lives, we liked the notion of connecting with parents whose children are experiencing similar milestones and challenges around the same pace. K and I decided to be brave and enroll in one of the evening groups and our group started this week.

Birth story aside, I knew that we’d be the weirdos of the group, and I say that mostly with pride. Even most of our mundane parenting choices and preferences (cloth diapering, baby-led weaning, babywearing, baby with a hyphenated last name, etc.) put us on the fringe of most circles. Oftentimes, the knowledge of our stark differences leaves us with the expectation of needing to defend our identities and choices, which doesn’t make for a very comfortable setting. Still, we figured that we’d be interacting with mainstream parents eventually and decided to dip our toes in when we still had the option of dropping out of this particular group.

I was right in our assumption that we were rather different from other parents, but I was expecting more judgment or hesitation from the other members. Instead, we were greeted with warm smiles and friendly questions. I also expected more stay-at-home mothers in the group, but I believe all are households in which both parents work outside of the home, likely because it’s an evening group offering. I imagine that our group feels and looks a bit different from the groups that are offered mid-morning and likely attract only mothers. I was also surprised to see that one of our group members is a local elected official who is very progressive.

K and I are on the fence about whether or not we will eventually tell the group members about E’s origins. We plan on being very open with our baby, family members and friends, but when it comes to the rest of the world, we’re kind of the standpoint of disclosing on a need-to-know basis, and I realize the privilege in our ability to make that decision. Ultimately, I want E to have as much agency as possible with regard to the disclosure of his birth story, and that can’t happen if we’ve told everyone and their brother. With that in mind, K and I were a little nervous when our icebreaker was to tell our birth stories. To sidestep the issue of needing to get into something so complex with literal strangers, I opted to tell a very vague but hilarious tale surrounding E’s birth, when he made his debut and promptly peed an arc above everyone in attendance. “He has enjoyed making a big first impression since day one,” I quipped.

E was very social and smiled at parents and babies alike. I think he might have been the only baby present who didn’t cry at least once. He had a great time wiggling on the floor with some of the other kiddles, and when we took a group picture of the babies, E had his arms casually slung around both of his neighbors, as if to say, “I’m hangin’ with my bros!” (There is only one girl in the entire group!)

One thing that I greatly dislike about the group relates to the hospital’s organization of it. At the time of each baby’s birth, the hospital promotes the parenting groups and gives everyone the option of signing up if it sounds interesting to them. Before we were discharged from the hospital with E, I sent an email to the parenting resources coordinator at the hospital to sign up for the group. In my email, I relayed the requested information including my full name, my husband’s name, our location and our baby’s date of birth. When the group was formed, K – not me – and a list of clearly all women received a mass email with the details, even though I had never sent his email address to the parenting resources coordinator. Then, the night of the group, our volunteer facilitator passed around the group roster, saying that this information was provided by the hospital, and asked us to update or change anything we needed or wanted. Luckily, she handed me the roster first, which allowed me an opportunity to black out inaccurate/inappropriate information before others saw it. The roster was a bolded list of all women’s names, including K’s legal/given name (again, I never disclosed that to the parenting resources coordinator), their contact information, babies’ names, and husband’s names with the word “father” in parentheses after the men’s names. E’s last name was listed as being K’s last name, which isn’t on ANY paperwork anywhere, and my name, which was in the “husband” area (not labeled, but clear that’s what the intention of that spot was) had parentheses with nothing inside of them, like they couldn’t even figure out what my relation to this family was! Now, it’s clear to me that the parenting resources coordinator used health information on file at the hospital instead of the information provided to them by the parents as they were signing up for the groups, and that does NOT sit well with me. I plan on reaching out to the coordinator right away to let them know that we are displeased by this fact and that we never consented for this information to be relayed to others.

For now, K and I plan to continue going to the group unless or until we decide it isn’t meeting our needs, or if the downsides end up outweighing the benefits. Hopefully, there are more interesting anecdotes to come..!

On privilege

[This post was written on December 28, 2012, but since we weren’t yet making Falco’s sex public, I couldn’t post this until now.]

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it will mean to be parents of a small person who, from the time of his entry into the world, will already be gifted a whole lot more privilege than either of his parents received and experienced. Falco’s privilege gift basket includes but is definitely not limited to:

  • Being a cisgender male. Sure, Falco, your daddy walks through the world as a man and, as such, receives a lot of unearned privilege as a result. It is so very different to be a cisgender male, to have your biology and body match your gender identity, and to have a penis in a world that seems obsessed with the phallus. How in the hell are we going to deal with this when neither of your parents can relate?
  • Being a white person in a world that values whiteness, equates beauty with white standards, and routinely and systematically oppresses people of color. Your mommy and daddy believe that parenting around white privilege will be quite a challenge, but as people who have experienced white privilege their entire lives and actively and carefully work to consider and address issues of racism, we feel prepared for this particular challenge.
  • Being a person whose parents are perceived to be a heterosexual couple. Nevermind that you were birthed through your papa’s vagina, Falco, or that your mama will not yet have legal recognition as your mother, as the majority of the world will never know this. Once you are here and in our arms, the public will see what they perceive to be a mama and papa wearing you, carrying you, and loving on you. They will interpret our family unit as “normal,” which is gross and unfair. Luckily, you will have a lot of people in your life who are queer, have queer parents, and love queer people. Your father and mother also grew up with parents who were perceived to be heterosexual, and we will make sure that you have access to all sorts of family structures and thoroughly understand that family is not about biology, gender, sexuality, or number of adults that one might have in their lives.

Everytime someone tells me how I will soon see that raising a son is “easy” – and trust me, it happens with shocking frequency – I want to scream at them, “If raising a son is so ‘easy,’ you’re fucking doing it WRONG!” One of our friends, badass feminist blogger Cristy C of UpRoot fame, has uttered the following many times and it really resonates with us: “It is easier to teach someone to resist their oppression than it is to teach someone to refuse their own privilege.”

Raising a son who understands and rejects the nuances of the privilege he is handed simply for being born who he is will quite literally be the largest challenge we will ever experience. Bring it.

Titty Committee

I received an email today that caused a literal tidal wave of emotions to flood to the surface and I feel like one of the few places I can truly express them is in this semi-anonymous setting.

K and I used to work for an organization that serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Dysfunction was rife and took many forms at said agency, but one of the most horrifying was their health insurance policy that specifically excluded transgender-related healthcare. This agency’s own equal employment opportunity policy referenced treating people equally, regardless of gender identity/expression, and the policy extended to benefits, hiring, firing, etc.

Since K clearly wanted to be able to access healthcare needs that were relevant to his identity, and his job at the time involved healthcare advocacy, he approached the CEO at the time to inform her of the extraordinarily problematic nature of these exclusions, and how they personally impacted his life. She basically told him, “Yeah, well, we can’t afford inclusive coverage, and since it doesn’t impact me, tough $%^&.”

The only other option was to file a formal grievance with the President of the Board of Directors. We were the first in the several decades’ history of the agency to file a grievance. Upon filing the grievance, according to documented procedure, the Board President convened a group of people to discuss the grievance and to make a decision. K and the President served on the committee, and they each selected a representative to serve (K chose me), and, if memory serves, there was another person who wasn’t affiliated with the agency who was asked to serve.

The committee met several times, during which we openly and awkwardly discussed K’s body and identity (why is having chest reconstruction surgery relevant to your identity?, why is this a medical expense vs. cosmetic surgery?, but do you really NEED a “breast reduction” in order to look/feel like a man, and why should we pay for it?). It was such a objectifying and demoralizing experience that, in order to maintain our sanity and trudge through it, K and I jokingly referred to this group as the “titty committee.” At the end of the process, the President basically said, “Yeah, we’re not equally providing benefits, but we can’t afford inclusive coverage, so tough $%^&.” I’m fairly certain that, to this day, this agency still does not provide inclusive health insurance to their transgender employees (if they even HAVE trans-identified employees these days).

Time marched on, and K and I have found much better employers that provide us with great healthcare coverage and celebrate our identities. We have mostly healed from the trauma and humiliation that this agency caused us on a fairly regular basis. I still avoid the place like the plague, though I continue to receive their email updates, mostly as a way to remind myself just how far we’ve come since then.

However, as I referenced above, I received an email from them today that triggered me and stopped me in my tracks. Their new Executive Director was trying to help a media outlet locate LGBT people who have experienced employment-related discrimination and would be willing to talk about it on the air. It took everything in my power to not reply with, “YOU! YOU DISCRIMINATE AGAINST TRANSGENDER PEOPLE, YOU F***ER!” I’m still so damn angry that, more than an hour later, my hands are ice-cold and my heart is pounding in my ears.

I will keep repeating, “We have survived and we are safe.” But what about those who come after us? I sincerely hope that they’ll find a way to create the change we were unable to make (or find another opportunity), because I need (and WANT!) to focus my energy on my growing, loving family.

Deep breaths.

More disclosure at work

Well, outing myself as transgender and pregnant at work has continued to go well.

I feel incredibly lucky to work in a department/research center with such progressive, loving, family friendly faculty and staff.  I am almost certain I would have faced more strife at my previous place of employment (an LGBTQ community center)  If this sounds strange to you, just trust me, even the queer and trans community can have rigid gender expectations at times.

Today I finally met with the second faculty member I work with to disclose my news.  I admit I was dragging my heels a little to meet with him.  First, his communication style is a bit awkward.  Second, I’ve never ever had a non-academic/non-work related conversation with him.  He breezed in the office wanting to meet 8 minutes before his next meeting.  Ugh…okay, 8 minutes I thought to tell a really LONG story.  So he got the very condensed version that ended with …”so basically I’m 6 months pregnant!”  He really empathized with our challenges as a queer couple trying to bring children into our lives.  He even revealed that him and his wife struggled with fertility issues and used IVF to conceive their children.  He was warm and congratulatory.  I do think he was a little surprised that I was already 6 months along and he was just finding out…or maybe that he couldn’t tell/didn’t notice I was, uh, growing larger in the gut.

Regardless, it’s a weight lifted off my shoulders because I have to admit it was getting a little strange going to a meeting where he was the only one in the room who didn’t know.Image

In other news, since more people know at work I wondered what my experience of being pregnant and open about it would be.  Thus far people are acting as if the pregnancy is invisible.  I’m not sure if they are doing this out of respect for my transmale identity or maybe they are uncomfortable, and wonder if they should ask a pregnant guy the same questions they ask other pregnant women.  On the one hand I like this strategy.  I can come to work and fly under the radar.  But, sometimes it feels a little strange to have such a big thing happening in my life ignored.  But…there are plenty of non-work related people in my life to love on my preggo man self and make me feel visible so it’s really not that big of a deal.

Lately I’ve also been looking for any indication that others can tell I’m pregnant.  This morning this woman made a very big deal about holding the door for me.  It seemed exaggerated and strange and when I started thinking about it I’ve noticed more folks of all genders trying to open doors lately.  Then I sit and wonder (obsess) if EVERYONE knows I’m pregnant!  LOL.

Still waiting for the first person to ask/say something!

Spreading holiday cheer, pregnancy edition

K and I have been planning all along to announce the anticipated arrival of our little one to extended friends and family members via our holiday cards. By this point, you know that we’ve announced the specifics of our pregnancy to those really close to us, but we needed a way to tell others without necessarily spelling out every single detail about how we’re about to become parents. We figured that specific verbiage on a holiday card could announce without specifying, and allow those who are truly interested in the details the opportunity to reach out, ask questions, or possibly even make assumptions. Here is the card that we recently sent, edited to remove our actual names, as created through Mixbook:

Joy to the World front side

Joy to the World back side

When we first started talking about how we might announce our pregnancy, I was slightly pouty, albeit understanding, that K didn’t want to do a big Facebook post (even one with wording as vague as our card) about the fact that we’re going to become parents. One of the reactions to our holiday card is that some of our friends and family members took to Facebook to congratulate us on our wall or in response to unrelated status updates. This allowed even more distant acquaintances who frequently engage with us via social network sites to hear the news.

K and I have decided that this turn of events is basically the best of all possible options for us: we had the opportunity to tell really close family members and friends about all of the exciting details and received their outpouring of support, then we told extended friends and family with the holiday card and were able to celebrate with them without delving into a story that we’ve basically determined to be a need/want-to-know only sort of deal, and then had the ripple effect of feeling the love and joy from those who definitely do NOT need to know the details related to Falco’s origin. For us, this series of disclosures has felt so much more authentic and traditional in a world that can be increasingly impersonal as we tweet about every single bowel movement and political stance. It has also felt like a natural reflection of our very intentional methods of building family and community for our little one, who will surely enter the world filled with love and support.

A day of pure work win!

I have a standing weekly meeting with our new director and yesterday was our day to meet. At the end of our meeting, she said, “So tell me more about this baby!” I had previously mentioned that K and I were expecting but didn’t have an opportunity to speak to her more about the details. It has also been really difficult to bond with her and develop a sense of trust. I decided to take the plunge with her perfect opening and just told her the rest of the story. She reacted wonderfully, asked really thoughtful and sensitive questions, and seemed genuinely excited for me! This was a breakthrough in our very new work relationship and I think I learned a lot more about her in the process.

Later that day, when I was processing and acknowledging donations, I saw that our reproductive endocrinologist had renewed an annual gift from him and his wife, and added a $1,000 donation from his clinic. When sending out major donor appeals about a month ago, I made the decision to write a note on his letter:

As survivors of domestic and sexual violence, one of the reasons why K and I felt inspired to come see you for our care is your generous support of [organization], where I work. We greatly appreciate your commitment to the women and families we serve! Best, C, Mama-to-be BECAUSE OF YOU!! 🙂

My supervisor was so excited to hear about such a major donation and directly attributed his increased generosity to our relationship with him. She even joked, “Falco is already engaged in philanthropy while still in utero!”

Also on the topic of winning, while not entirely work-related, I had an epically good hair day yesterday. Those who know me well know just how exciting this is for me!

Another work disclosure

Today, we had a department retreat to discuss next year’s goals, calendar, etc., which was led by our new director. This new director has caused a lot of anxiety and difficulties for me as of late and has not made any attempt to get to know me, either personally or professionally, before immediately enacting a bunch of procedural changes. Meanwhile, this is the busiest time of the year for us, and she just continues to pile on the work.

She started the retreat with an icebreaker in which we each selected a strip of paper that contained a question that we needed to answer, and we went around and around in the circle, selecting strips of paper and answering questions, until we’d answered all of the questions. The questions ranged from extraordinarily serious and deep to humorous and silly. I was the second staffer to select a strip of paper:

my question

*crickets*

Obviously, only one subject came to mind, and clearly, as this person has taken zero effort to get to know me at all, I haven’t told her about the fact that I am about to become a mother. I decided to just say it, because, well, I will eventually have to. I gulped, took a deep breath, and said, “Well, I’m sure we’ll talk more about this soon, but, well, my husband and I are expecting a child in the coming year and my main non-work related goal for the coming year is to be the best parent I can possibly be.”

Her response? A very surprised, “Ohhhh…!” There wasn’t time to talk about this more in-depth, which was frankly preferable, and I laid the groundwork for a slightly less awkward continuation of the story.

It’s so funny because I’ve been fretting about how to find a way to bring up this subject in the near future when she hadn’t bothered to try to build any sort of relationship with me. The universe responded. I could have drawn any mystery question, even the one my coworker selected about what role she would be if she worked in the circus, but the one I picked magically allowed me to easily address what felt like an impossible problem. It was a great way to end a very long, tiring work week.

Another one is right around the corner… Is this year over yet?

Grandma knows

On Saturday, we went to visit K’s grandmother, who is very much the matriarch of the family. After our last awkward grandma date, it was nice to finally be able to talk more openly.

We made some typical chit-chat, catching up on mundane life happenings and the like. Then, grandma asked us about whether or not we’d be visiting either of our parents in Florida this February like we did this past year. Given that we’d be fairly far into our third trimester at that point and is the reason why we won’t be joining our folks in Florida this winter, this was the perfect segue into pregnancy disclosure.

K told her what has pretty much become our typical story, and it was clear that she was excited about the news. It’s important to note that K’s grandmother is rather subdued and WASPy, so her version of “excited” isn’t extraordinarily emotive. Grandma had given up hope at becoming a great-grandmother during her lifetime, so this news was definitely special for her.

Grandma is also notorious for spreading family news in a rapid-fire manner, so it’s safe to assume that the rest of that side of the family now knows about our baby-to-be. K told his favorite aunt earlier in the week and sent letters to his closest cousins, so a few other family members will have had the opportunity to hear the news from our point of view instead of second-hand.

It feels really wonderful to be more open and celebratory about Falco, especially with family members. Now, we’re pretty much out to everyone close to us!

Telling my boss

Near the end of October, I met with my boss and the manager for the research center where I work.  They’re both pretty busy, my boss especially, so I had to set the meeting up 3 weeks in advance.  Then I was nervous and obsessed about it for 3 weeks.  I read all kinds of articles online about telling your boss that you’re pregnant.  Most of them were annoying at best, and at worst, pretty sexist.  Anyway….none of them really applied since I was first going to have to tell my bosses that I was born female and then get to the whole pregnancy portion.

I haven’t talked much about my identity at work.  I’m very open if anyone asks me any direct questions.  I often make the mistake of assuming everyone knows I’m trans (which also assumes that people even know what that is and means in general).

So, the time finally arrives for the meeting and I was super nervous.  We all gathered in my boss’s office and sat around a small table.  I began my awkward story and I felt my face getting all red and my neck getting all splotchy (which happens when I get nervous).  It turns out neither of them even knew I was identified as transgender.  Once I got that portion of the story out of the way, I felt like sharing the pregnancy part wasn’t so hard.

First, they were both super excited for C and I.  They responded in a very congratulatory and appropriate way.  Next, the center manager quickly asked what they could do to make the work environment as safe and comfortable as possible for me.  I talked about some of my fears like there suddenly being some policy, once word got out, that I could no longer use the male restroom.  I also shared some of my concerns about meeting with the higher up HR coordinator to arrange my leave.  Both of them offered to come with me to support me when I have that conversation.

From my perspective, the meeting went great.  It feels really nice to have at least a few people at work know that I’m pregnant.  AND I am so much less anxious at work after getting this conversation over with.  I also work on a few small teams and plan on telling some of my co-workers next month depending on how quick this Falco bump grows.  I’m much less worried about their responses knowing that I have support from the important people.

I knew that my workplace would be mostly safe, and thankfully I work at a pretty liberal institution (even though the med school and health system aren’t always as progressive as the rest of the school) but I had/still have no idea what to expect.  Like I think I mentioned before, a lot of the transguys I know who have been pregnant seemed to work from home or be independently employed.  I haven’t really found anyone yet who has experiences in a big workplace as a pregnant guy.  (And if that’s you and you’re reading this please chime in!!!)

Once I start to show more I know that navigating some of the stares and office gossip will be difficult, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.  Right now I am just relieved to feel supported and to have my identity and pregnancy validated at the same time.  Yay!