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Making Room for More Impossible Decisions: Reflections on Being a Trans Parent

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On July 5 of this year, when our daughter was born, my partner and I embarked on an adventure that has fundamentally changed how we understand ourselves and transformed our engagement with the world. With little sleep and lots of self-doubt, I have been trying to collect my thoughts on parenting and the many changes this little person has brought to my life in the five months since we met. In so many ways, being a parent reminds me of being trans*. The transition to parenthood creates public access to your life and your decisions: People feel comfortable touching you and your baby and telling you what is right for your body, your life and your future and how to correct the many mistakes you are making. As a trans person, this part of parenting feels incredibly familiar; it is perhaps the only familiar part. Strangers, family, friends and doctors have all felt entitled to inappropriately touch my body, ask me questions and assess the validity of my decisions. This public judgment, combined with and exacerbated by the fear and love generated by caring for a little baby, has made parenting the hardest and most rewarding thing that I have ever done. It has become another axis of identity and experience upon which all my privilege, politics and struggle are played out, and one that is complicated and enhanced by my transness.

The public access to parenthood and parenting decisions is most discussed by white, able-bodied, non-trans, heterosexual, wealthy women speaking about parenting with a certain disbelief about the judgment it has brought and the societally undervalued challenges it has presented in their lives. On the one hand I appreciate and relate to the many blogs and other reflections by this population, these self-identified moms speaking about the failure of the United States to recognize parenting as work and cultivate systemic support for the many people, mostly women, who do this work unpaid and underpaid. On the other, it is also clear that the most vocally outraged are those who have rarely experienced the failures of our systems to recognize the many types of work and survival that have created and sustained our lives and institutions for generations. Our country's lack of supportive and sustaining systems is commonly understood by people of color, people with disabilities, poor people, trans people, immigrants and low-wage workers, who daily navigate public access to and judgment of their lives. Those with the most public (that's not to say unjustified) critiques and frustrations with the challenges of parenting are those with the least experience pushing back against state systems of social control. Relatedly, this group of parents is also the group with the most resources to manage the many emotional, financial and logistical challenges of parenting.

I see this complex dynamic play out in my life as I navigate parenthood similar to the ways that I navigate transness. In both contexts I am exhausted by the struggle and lack of support, enabled to survive because of my whiteness, wealth, formal education and a host of other obvious and less understood privileges, saddened by the failures of collective resistance and inspired by the resilience and brilliance of those around me. Every day poses a new challenge with a new set of judgments and self-doubts. But for me, as hard as these decisions and experiences are, I make them in a largely protected context. My whiteness, access to resources and formal law education allow me to make parenting decisions about feeding my child, teaching my child to sleep, carrying my child, educating my child and disciplining my child without the policing of foster care agencies, shelter workers, immigration officials and the police. Similarly, I am able to make decisions about my body without having to fight the control of prison medical staff, Medicaid classification and coverage exclusion and state child welfare, shelter, immigration and police gender classifications. In both contexts I am rightfully frustrated and exhausted by a multitude of failures to nourish parents and support self-determination. However, this frustration pales in comparison to the loss of parenting rights and the loss of life that my community members experience daily. I find it essential to frame my struggle in relation to the broader set of conditions that create this struggle. These are the conditions that ensure that those with the most power define the rules and ensure that the institutional rejection of and resistance to collective support leave the most vulnerable among us with the most fighting to do.

When I became a parent, I had no idea how hard it would be and how many impossible choices would come up every day. I had no idea how many theories of proper parenting would come into my life and frame these decisions either actively or in the background. It is an understatement to say that nothing has gone according to plan from the moment our daughter was born. Any conviction we had about "proper" parenting was quickly abandoned in the face of reality. I live in a warm home with my loving partner. Every day we can provide food for our child, and when she cried nonstop for four months, we were able to buy "miracle solution" after "miracle solution" and hold her through her cries without worrying about the police or child services intervening. The fact that she is alive is a function of the resources that we have and not of any superior parenting skills we employed. We are both lawyers and have supportive families with access to wealth. As a queer/trans, biracial couple, we have fought to hide and make visible our relationship and identities in complex and very confusing ways. Constantly navigating the bounds of queerness and presumed heterosexuality, we have opened our lives to a new dimension of people unfamiliar with our existence -- midwives, pediatricians, caretakers -- and worked to create nuance and complexity for our baby while also ensuring that she is loved and cared for even by those who might be uncomfortable with or downright disgusted by her parents.

Our journey with our daughter has not been easy, but it has been perfect. My wish as a parent and as a trans person is that those of us with these privileges will stop judging each other's impossible decisions and instead leverage our power to create broader support systems that will make room for more impossible decisions to be made and more imaginative ideas regarding bodies, parenting and love to be created in the space where our judgment and divisiveness are currently eroding those possibilities.

*I use trans in the broadest sense to refer to myself as someone whose gender transgresses the expression and identity associated with my assigned sex at birth, and for others who embrace this umbrella term with its many meanings.