I always knew I wasn’t a girl. In my early 30s, as a single lesbian (not really identified as a “woman”) I decided to become pregnant. I chose to parent as a single lesbian transsexual, aware that my child would face an array of challenges particular to our family construction. Because of this, I felt it particularly important to provide both of us with a shared biological, racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious Jewish identity and community.
My experience of pregnancy was mostly wonderful and wondrous — other than the discomfort I felt with increased breast sensitivity and the heightened external perception of me as “female.” Internally, I was simply pregnant and then nursing as a person — as a parent.
Although I had some external support from friends, most often I faced discouragement. I heard that it would be unfair to the child, or that I was being selfish. My mother, who was not supportive, suggested that I get a dog. My father, who wanted a biological grandchild, was more ambivalent. I told my parents that they could be involved only if they respected and accepted me, my child, and our family. Once Ben was born, they were hooked.
Even when Ben was very young, I spoke openly and honestly with him about our family. Ben knew that I had used sperm donated by an unknown Jewish donor in order to get pregnant. The donor was part of his biology, but not part of his family. Nobody was missing from our family.
Before I transitioned, Ben and and I spoke about ways he could comfortably answer those who questioned him about his “father.” Of course, after I transitioned, we revisited this issue, but spoke instead about possible responses to questions about his “mother.” We came up with a range of responses. For example: “I have one parent.“ “It’s complicated.” “Ask Alex.” “I don’t want to get into it now.” “What or why do you want to know?”
I emphasized to him that parents are responsible for taking care of, loving, teaching, supporting, and protecting their children. I told him that there really aren’t separate “mom” and “dad” roles. My role was that of a parent — both “mom” and “dad.”
Before I began hormone therapy and the process of transitioning to my authentic gender, I told Ben that I was about to start the process. He was 5 ½ years old. I’d be the same person, the same parent, and have the same love and commitment to him. The transition would happen over time, and Ben could come to me with any questions, reactions, or problems. We would work things out together.
Though I told him he could still call me “Mom” when we were alone, it would begin to seem strange when we were with others who saw me as a “man.” We decided that calling me by my name, Alex, would be easiest. I described for him the process of transitioning and the changes that would be taking place.
When he said, “So, you’ll be my ‘dad-mom’ instead of my ‘mom-dad,’” I knew he understood.
For me and for many other transgender people — those of us whose original assigned gender is incongruent with our gender identity — the decision to live in one’s authentic gender identity is of critical importance to our quality of life. It is, for some, literally a matter of life and death.
The person transitioning is fundamentally the same person before, during, and after gender realignment, with an internal continuity of gender identity, experience, and self. The things that do change are our expressions of gender and our bodies.
Jewish values and ethics can be helpful guideposts in the process of gender realignment or transition — values such as treating others as we want to be treated; being honest, kind, and compassionate; cherishing life; helping to heal the world; taking responsibility for our actions; and honoring our commitments. These Jewish values help to inform my decisions and actions, especially in uncommon and complex situations, such as those that arise when one is a transgender parent.
I’m always considering how what I do and who I am, including being transgender, may affect Ben. He was mostly comfortable with my transition and the adjustment in our relationship went quite smoothly. The difficulties, stresses, and feelings that were most painful for both of us resulted from the actions of others.
Some situations are heart wrenching. Today, Ben is 26 years old, and last year, when he and his fiancée were planning their wedding, we struggled with how to explain the apparent absence of a “mother.” I did not want to impose on their very special moment. I expressed my hope for a resolution without lies and without suggesting that anyone was missing: We were a one-child, one-parent family.
A parent’s gender realignment has an impact on the entire family unit. A marriage may continue or end; living arrangements may change; relationships may be transformed and perhaps improved. Other people in the family’s circle may perceive the family unit differently. There may be discrimination or harassment. And there may be unexpected support and love.
As gender-transitioning parents undergo an adjustment process, so do our children. “The Four Children” of the Pesach Seder remind us to tailor our interactions to each child’s age, personality, strengths, and sensitivities.
Applying our values and ethical considerations to the decision-making process, keeping communication open, considering the impact on others — especially on our children — and planning collaboratively can provide the greatest opportunities for minimizing the negative consequences and optimizing the positive consequences of parental gender realignment.email print