This blog is an adapted transcript of a story delivered by Trystan Angel Reese with The Moth at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church in New York, on 8 February 2018
It’s a bright spring morning in the middle of the backwoods of Oregon, and I am volunteering to cut trail with my partner Biff. He is just ahead of me on the path, and just suddenly I know that it’s time for me to ask the questions that’s been building up between us for months now.
“Hey, Biff, do you want to have a baby?”
Silence. He turns around, and I see that he is laughing at me. “This is the stupidest idea you have ever had. No, I don’t want to have a baby.”
In his defence, we had our hands full. We were actually already parents. One year into our relationship, his sister couldn’t take care of her kids, and they came to stay with us for a little while. A little while became a long while, became forever, and our adoption of Hailey and Riley had just become final. They were five and seven, and we were just starting to get that taste of freedom that comes when you have big kids.
The second reason that he said no is because he knew that when I asked if we could have a baby, I was asking if I could get pregnant and give birth to a baby. This isn’t some kind of feat of modern science, I’m just transgender. For me, that means that I was born female and raised as a girl. The best way that I had, when I was a teenager, of explaining what was going on with me, was I used to joke that I was a gay man trapped in a woman’s body. And as I got older, that literal feeling of feeling trapped in the wrong body, got more and more pervasive and painful until it became literally unbearable, and I wasn’t sure I could keep going.
And then, I met a transgender person, and I realised that it wasn’t a joke at all, I actually was a gay man trapped in a woman’s body. And this was great news, because it meant that there was a solution to this problem, and there was a name for it, and there was a community of people that I could go to. But most importantly, it meant that I could stay alive, and I could transition and I could be happy, which is what I did.
I started taking testosterone, and that made me look like I do now, like every other gay man in Portland. And it turns out that I’m the kind of transgender person who was just like, fine with just hormones. I didn’t have any other surgeries or anything, which means that I have a fully functioning uterus and totally healthy eggs. Biff is not trans, he’s just a normal gay dude. He’s not normal, he’s special, but you know what I mean. So, between the two of us, even though we are two men, we have everything we need to make our own baby.
And we’ve known dozens of other transgender men like me with beards and everything, who have given birth to happy beautiful children. We knew it was possible but it had been hard for pretty much all of them, and Biff was really worried about my safety, navigating the world as a pregnant man. But I live in a world of rainbows and unicorns, and I just hoped that it was going to be okay, and I also am not good at taking no for answer.
So, eventually, he did say yes, and I went to a doctor, and everything was in good working order. I stopped my hormones, and we started trying. And a few months went by, nothing happened, and I started to think maybe it wasn’t going to happen for us after all. And just when I started to feel peaceful about that, I woke up one morning, and I felt really gross.
And I had read all of the pregnancy books, I knew everything about pregnancy and I had been tracking everything on the app, you know? But it wasn’t the right time for me to be pregnant, and so I refused to take the pregnancy test, and then Biff made me, and I took it, and there were two lines, and I was pregnant.
And there was going to be a baby, and I was so excited, but also super scared, because you have to do a lot of things to get ready for a baby, like pick a name, and buy diapers and learn how to take care of a baby. Haley and Riley had been toddlers when they came to live with us, so I didn’t know what to do with a baby.
And then, my body started to change really quickly. And all of those markers of femininity, everything just got bigger everywhere, and I had anticipated this, that it would be the worst part of being pregnant. But it actually ended up being okay, and I think it’s because really early on in my transition, I just had to accept the fact that my body is going to be different. I can’t go back in time and be born with a body that’s more like Biff’s or my dad’s, and I could spend the rest of my life obsessing over all of the things my body cannot do... or, I could get excited about the thing that it can do that their body can’t, which is to create life. So that’s what I did. I just leaned into that, and then I just let everything else go.
And right around this time, we had a chance to tell our story publicly. I don’t know about you but basically every story I’ve ever heard about a transgender person has been something terrible has happened to us, and that’s, I think, why it had been so scary for me to come out as trans, because our lives are misery, says the media. And I thought maybe we could tell a different kind of story. Because, yes, there is hardship in being transgender, especially for trans people who are not like me, transgender women and trans people of color, but for all of us, there’s also joy, and love, and resilience and family. And I wanted to tell that story, and I hoped the world was ready.
And we didn’t think it was a big deal for me to be a pregnant man, but everybody else did. And I don’t know if they still say go viral, but that is what happened to our story. Basically, overnight, pregnant man was everywhere, like Yahoo News, CNN, Washington Post, People magazine. And I thought that maybe this is good, maybe people are ready for this next evolution of what it could mean to be transgender. And I live in Portland, and let me tell you, people were ready for my story in Portland.
In Portland, maybe if you see a pregnant man at Starbucks, that’s not the weirdest thing you’ve seen that day. They were into it, you know? And trans kids would come up to me with their parents, like in the grocery store, and just say thank you for helping them understand that there’s more than one way to be a man, and more than one way to be trans. A lady once told me that she adopted her niece too, and she thought it was marvellous that my body could give me the life I deserve while also bringing new life into the world.
But outside of the Portland bubble, not everyone was ready for this story. I became really good friends with the puking emoji, because I would just get hundreds of messages on Facebook that was just that. People would tell me that I wasn’t a man at all, I am just a really ugly, hairy woman, and that I was going to give birth to a monster. And then, one woman sent me a message that said, “As a Christian, I hope that you give birth to a dead baby, because that baby would be better off than a baby that has to be born to someone like you”. I was six months pregnant when I read that message.
Now, I have been trans for a long time, 15 years. Actually, at age 35, I am past the point of average life expectancy for a trans person in America today. I think that I am resilient, and strong and powerful but the truth is, I started to lose hope for our country and for trans people, that we would ever be loved in the way we deserve, and all of those stories started to seep in.
One night, I had a really horrible nightmare where I was giving birth, not to a baby, but to a monster with two heads, and a forked tongue and a tail, and I woke up, and I was crying and shaking, and Biff was like, “What’s wrong?” and I couldn’t tell him. All I could say was, they hate us. And I didn’t really know that before, that people hate us. And that fear that I was going to give birth to a monster came with me into every doctors visit. I would always look at the ultrasound, and ask the technician, “On a scale of one to ten, what are the chances that I’m going to give birth to a monster?” and I carried that fear with me until I had to call the hospital to let them know I was coming in to give birth.
I talked to the head nurse on the phone, and I said, “Listen, I’m a man, and I’m coming in to give birth in your hospital, and it is my expectation that you will make sure that I am treated with integrity by every single person that comes into my room, doctors, nurses, midwives, the person who comes to change my trash, I want them to understand what they’re walking into, because I can’t deal with that on top of dealing with this.” And she said, “I got it,” and she did. And every single person that I worked with at that hospital was amazing, and Biff was there, and my dad came down from Canada to be there, and my mother-in-law.
And it was two days of labor, which it’s called labor for a reason, it’s hard work. But then, before I knew it, they’re putting the stirrups up and telling me, oh, it’s going to be time to push soon, like, not a big deal. And I realised, I had learned everything about pregnancy, but nothing about actual child birth.
My brain flashes to a book sitting unopened on my bedside table. It’s called Prepare To Push. I had not read it. I was not prepared to push. I start hyperventilating, panicking. I turn to Biff and I say, “I’m so sorry, but I am not, I can’t do this, I’m not strong enough.” I turn to the midwife and I say, “I’m going to die.” She is not phased by this, she has heard it before, I guess, and she bends down and gets nose to nose with me, and she says, “You are doing a good job, the best job. No one on earth is doing as good a job as you are right now.”
And this was like a magic spell. I realised I could do this, and I held Biff’s hand, and I held my dad’s hand, and I pushed. And I pushed as hard as I could, and at one point, I looked down and there’s just goosebumps all over my arms and all over my legs, and then I don’t know what’s going on, but I start puking all over everyone. And because I’m Canadian, I start apologising to everyone for throwing up on them while I’m in labor. But eventually, they start screaming at me to slow down and stop pushing, just push in teeny tiny bits. And everyone is yelling, and there’s all this noise, and then everything stops, and there’s this wet slurping sound.
And then, he’s out. And I hold my baby up in the light, and he’s glistening, like all those movies you ever saw. And he opens his mouth, and he lets out his first cry, and his voice echoes through me, and all of that hope that I thought I lost, it all comes rushing back, because a baby means hope. It means you believe there will be a tomorrow, that the world is good enough for your child. And they put him on my chest, and he feels like a baby bird. And before Hailey and Riley run in to meet their baby brother, I look down at him, and he has ten fingers and ten toes, and a full head of black curly hair just like me. And that’s when I realise, he could have been a monster. He could have had two heads, and a forked tongue and a tail, and I would have loved him just the same. To me, he would have been perfect.
Trystan Reese is a transgender activist and parent. For more information on Trystan and Biff, visit their website here