I know many of you fight every day to make the world acknowledge you as the dads you are, rather than giving you the honorable but incorrect title of “mother.”
My partner Charlie is a genderqueer butch dyke. He is my daughter’s father, and he is also the person who gave birth to her. I have to start here before I can explain almost anything else about my family; otherwise, I find myself having to go back, add footnotes to every offhand comment. The words we use don’t always quite match the way other people use them.
In the origin story of our family, there is no simple explanation, no stork. There is a sperm donor who gave our daughter half her genes, someone whose name we don’t know, whom we may never meet. There’s a mother with whom she shares no biological tie, but who has known and adored her since she was a blastocyst; and there’s a father who nourished her in his body, birthed her, breastfeeds her, and loves her more than the universe. It’s not a long or convoluted story, but it’s an unusual one, and it complicates many of our culture’s assumptions about what the roles of parents are.
Prior to and during my partner’s pregnancy, and since our daughter was born, we’ve worked to connect with other LGBTQ parents, other families whose stories require annotation. I know a handful of people, now, who wear transmasculinity and parenthood at the same time, navigating the tensions between those identities—tensions that don’t arise naturally, since there’s nothing inherently contradictory about being trans or gender-non-conforming and raising children, but are introduced from outside by a society that sees family roles as determined by biology and nothing else.
This weekend is Father’s Day, and in honor of my partner and all the other amazing dads I know who aren’t always recognized in that role, I wanted to write a love letter to transmasculine parents—that is, people in bodies designated female at birth, but whose identities are masculine-of-center.
I’ve been meaning to write this letter for a long time, because the grace and patience and beauty and courage and love that transmasculine parents demonstrate frequently astounds me. But it feels more urgent and timely than ever as I sit down this week to write it. I’m writing from the aftermath of Orlando, from a queer body that has been crying on and off for five days, grieving half a hundred members of my family whom I never met. Several of those lost in Sunday’s devastating hate crime, the deadliest mass shooting in America for more than a century, were friends of friends; the queer world is small. Today, we are sad and angry and afraid. It’s a scary time to be visibly, proudly queer, to inhabit your body and your gender and your love and your life without excuse or apology. But we do, and we do, and we do, because that’s the only way forward. So I want to thank the people who make it possible for me to keep moving.
To all the dads I know who are butch, genderqueer, non-binary, stud, gender-fluid, trans, or FtM, I want to wish you a Happy Father’s Day.
I know many of you fight every day to make the world acknowledge you as the dads you are, rather than giving you the honorable but incorrect title of “mother.” I know many more of you accept “mother” because it’s easier than arguing about it all the time, even though it never sits comfortably on your shoulders. I know some of you go by “mother” because no one but you knows that you’re really a father, and you’re not ready to share that truth yet. No matter what, this letter is for you. I love you.
Like all parents, you’ve worked and fought for your children, for your families. Whether that meant sweating and groaning through hours of labor, or recovering after a C-section, or sitting by your partner’s side as he or she brought your baby into the world through sheer muscular effort, or waiting and hoping and doubting while you tried to become a foster or adoptive parent, or earning the trust of a partner’s children until they welcomed you as family, this has not been an easy journey for any of us, and I love you for making it.
I love you all the more for every obstacle of social norms and gender roles you’ve had to surmount along the way—fighting dysphoria in feminine maternity clothes, being misgendered by birth workers, being called by the wrong name throughout the adoption process, accepting the changes pregnancy and parenthood write on a body you may only tenuously be beginning to love, and more. For every time you’ve had to overcome your fear of being gender non-conforming in a public restroom because the baby needed a diaper change, I love you. For every time you weren’t sure whether someone was staring at you because you’re breastfeeding in public or because you’re doing it with a beard, I love you. For every night you’ve lain awake worrying about what you’re going to say when your child comes home after their first sex ed class and informs you that men have penises and women have vaginas, I love you. Single, married, co-parenting, poly, step-, blended family, adoptive, surrogate, donor, or extralegal kinship network: If you are working to raise a child with love and kindness despite this hard world, you are a blessing and I adore you.
I love my network of trans and gender-non-conforming parents for the bravery and strength it takes to be authentically themselves. But it’s not just their ability to overcome adversity that makes me adore my partner and dads like him. It’s their honesty, their originality, their willingness to chart a path that works for themselves and their families even if it doesn’t look the way romantic comedies and detergent commercials told us family would look. I am so grateful to be raising my daughter alongside a person who knows better than anyone that biology is not destiny, who will teach her by example that her body does not determine what she is capable of or who she will become. I am grateful that every day of my child’s life will be a quiet lesson in the insufficiency of labels and the complex, surprising beauty of family.
My child’s father can breastfeed a baby while changing her diaper. He can build an IKEA bookshelf (without even swearing) and make an amazing vegan sweet potato casserole. He can knit a blanket, ride a motorcycle, and turn pretty much anything into a “that’s what she said” joke. He does funny dances to “Daddy Lessons” and “Right Hand Man” that make our daughter giggle so hard she sounds like she’s crying. He is brilliant and gorgeous and an amazing parent without letting gender roles hold him back. He is the example I want my daughter, and every child I know, looking up to.
Transmasculine dads, no Father’s Day card with a golf club on the front could possibly encompass everything you do for your kids, for your co-parents, and for the world. I hope someone makes you a really good brunch this weekend. Thanks for being yourselves.
Lindsay King-Miller is a queer femme who does not have an indoor voice. Her writing has appeared in Bitch Magazine, Cosmopolitan.com, Buzzfeed, The Hairpin, and numerous other publications. She lives in Denver with her partner, a really cute baby, and two very spoiled cats. She is the author of Ask A Queer Chick (Plume, 2016).
Photo of the author and her partner Charlie, who was four months pregnant at the time, at the Denver Botanic Gardens.