"But can I still be their Mom if I have a beard?"
That really is a thought that went through my mind. Goes through my mind - daily, sometimes hourly. And though it makes me laugh to read it, it's also one of the most serious and heartwrenching thoughts I've ever had.
I have three children who are my raison d'être (I literally would have taken my own life years back if it were not for their need to have a Mommy) and I recently came out through my own gender binary from tomboy/butch to genderqueer to transman.
I never felt like I was a woman, not even when I was pregnant or nursing. But I'll be damned if I'm not a Mommy with all my heart and soul. I'm a mixed up Mommy, to be sure, and maybe my angels won't call me that when I'm further along Transition Road. But being a mother has been more than my gender that was always unclear to me. It's more than the plumbing that concieved, carried and birthed them, it's more than the breasts that fed them. I think...
But when my name and gender marker are changed, and ovaries, uterus and breasts are gone... will I still be their Mom? If I have a beard!?
I got so stuck in my thinking about that, that I gained ten pounds on Gin & Tonic and ice cream. I'd never let anybody else take away my status as a Mommy, could I (and would I) do it to myself?
Jump with me to the other side of the diary binary to see what answers I've come up with.
Recently CA Treehugger helped open my mind by recommending this book about gender diversity: Evolution's Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People. Aside from being a truly entertaining read, it highlighted the remains of my internalized gender binary more efficiently than I would have though possible. I came to see myself in the excellent (non-static, non-binary) company of a good portion of the living things on this planet. Some creatures (fish I believe) even change their sex-role more than once within a single act of mating. I shouldn't even get started on the other cool examples - seriously, read the book!
Given my new-found solidarity with all sorts of fascinating flora and fauna, I decided to revisit the intersection of Motherhood and Transgender Man. Just like with sex and gender, motherhood seems at first glance like the simplest thing in the world. A female, her child, her motherhood. But anybody who's ever given serious thought to adoption or abortion can tell you it's not that simple. Yes there is the biological relationship between myself and my children. It was my eggs that were fertilized by their father's sperm. And I do see much of myself in them. But any adoptive parent will tell you that motherhood or fatherhood doesn't need the genes. And though I've never had an abortion myself, I held the hand of a rape victim in the waiting room of a clinic. She had a pregnancy terminated because she was unwilling to be forced into the role of mother by that act of violence that enable her egg to be fertilized by a rapist's sperm.
So even without the gender aspect, Motherhood is not cut and dry. Motherhood has as many valid expressions as there are creatures on the earth. It can be something biological, cultural or emotional, and as with the fish who change roles during the act of fertilization, so can a parent change their role and understanding of the relationship as it evolves.
I was often very dysphoric during those years. I sometimes felt like they were parasites sucking the energy out of me. I loved them with all that I have, but I hated feeling sick, dizzy, off balance. I resented the discomfort and inconvenience, the things I gave up (coffee!) and the things I couldn't bear to look at any more (milk). I resented the pain. There was a lot of pain.
But there was purpose as well. I've always hated my breasts, but I knew they'd provide the best nourishment for my children. They had become "useful" for a time. And for that I was grateful that they were a part of me. I had similar feelings about the rest of the "plumbing". It felt (for lack of a better word) "yucky", but at the same time it was clear to me that it is a wondrous thing to have a child, my child, grow inside my body. All the pain and blood and bad moods over the years had been leading up to my children, and to me it was the ultimate expression of nurturing, to have my own body be the vehicle that brought them into the world.
None of that ever made me really identify as a woman, though on some level I had hoped that it would. It made me feel fat and cranky, but it also made me glad to be a female in the context of human reproduction. It was MY body, and not that of my a$$hole ex-husband, and they were (and are) MY children. I felt that I had more claim to them. I was, from the beginning of their lives, the center of their worlds: MOM.
I was 25 when I had my eldest, and I had hoped that Motherhood would fill the emptiness and right the wrongness I had carried with me all my life. It did not. Motherhood certainly filled my heart with happiness and love at times. But it didn't change the deep-seated feeling that something was very wrong with me. It didn't take away the incongruence, the feeling of inadequacy, the sense that I was missing something I could never put my finger on.
Now that they are getting older and more independent, I've had the space and time to accept my gender identity. I played my part as a female in the biological process of reproduction, but now the nurturing is different. I don't need the female body parts to continue to care for them and provide them with all they need to keep growing into physically and emotionally healthy young adults. What I need to provide them with now is an emotionally healthy, happy parent. That means transitioning. That means removing the plumbing that brought them into the world and the breast that fed them in the first, most important months of life. And it means taking the testosterone that will eventually give me a beard. Even if I shave it twice a day, it will be there - it has to be.
For me, being a mom has meant giving my children the most nurturing environment possible. From the womb to the breast, from preschool to the dinner table, from the library to the farmers market and in every other aspect of life, I've tried to offer them warmth, authenticity and a depth and breadth of opportunity, to find their own paths in life. Now the only way to keep offering them authenticity is to transition to a male body and presentation that matches my gender.
If I want to keep being the best mom I can, I don't have any choice but to transition. Will they still call me Mom when I have a beard? I don't know, but it won't really matter.