Four Puberties, One Baby

Read the original New York Times article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/15/parenting/fertility/transgender-pregnancy.html

In 2012, I sat in a therapist’s office in a veterans’ hospital, defeated. My hands trembled and I couldn’t make eye contact as the words escaped me. I knew saying it out loud would turn my world upside down. I would be giving up my life, my family and the hyper-masculine persona I had spent decades creating. Then I said it: “I’m transgender.”

My conversations with that therapist led me to the medical intervention that ultimately helped me to find my authentic self. My doctor explained that starting hormone replacement therapy would make me infertile and, without hesitation, I signed papers accepting my sterilization as a result of testosterone blockers.

At the same time, a loop seemed to start playing in my mind, with hundreds of voices from my past telling me that transgender people were subhuman. Despite finally taking this first step in affirming myself, at some level I still believed the chorus of family members and acquaintances who had told me that being transgender was wrong. Having internalized these voices, I believed that I shouldn’t — and couldn’t — have children.

Though hormone replacement therapy meant going through puberty again, beginning this journey through gender felt like seeing the sun for the first time. Every experience I had had before starting hormone therapy now seemed clouded in my memory by a layer of artificial masculinity. Each new moment I lived felt enriched by an honesty of expression that most people take for granted. For the first time in my life, I was beginning to love myself.

The excitement led me to swipe right on a photo of a woman named Joanne, biting a fur coat. She was the first person I would love as my true self and the first person to love me back after I transitioned. With childlike innocence, we battled the difficulties and discrimination many queer couples face. Our love made us inseparable and I wanted to share all of myself with Joanne. But, from the beginning, it seemed there was one thing we would never share: a biological child.

In the summer of 2017, while watching Moonraker on Netflix, Joanne fell asleep in my lap. As I ran my fingers through her hair, I began imagining a small child with the same brown curls, a child who loved the beach like Joanne and who, like me, wanted to make art. I decided in that moment that I would do anything to bring that child into the world.

Despite my best efforts, I struggled to find information about transgender people in my situation, who’d interrupted their medical transitions in order to have children. Most of the examples I found, of transgender people who’d had biological children, were online or in documentaries. These included children who came before transition, transgender men who became pregnant after stopping testosterone, and children conceived with sperm stored before the transition process. My doctors warned me that even after a yearlong reintroduction of testosterone, Joanne and I still might not be able to have a child. No one really knew how long I might need to stay off hormones.

That year passed and, going through puberty yet again, testosterone changed my body and mind. I didn’t recognize myself physically or emotionally. I’d become introverted, easily angered, wound up by anxiety and severe depression. The bustle, aggression and constant change of New York City seemed to mirror my tormented emotions and the endless construction site my body had become.

One night last summer, I met Joanne at an all-transgender cabaret show. A trans woman in a sultry red dress began to sing “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Midway through her performance, she revealed an estrogen-filled syringe hidden in her bra. I watched as she injected it into her thigh, flaunting her use of the same hormone that had once allowed me to be myself.

I stormed out of the room, mid-crescendo, knocking over a chair and leaving Joanne to pay the tab. Outside, hundreds of people passed me on the streets, like salmon swimming upstream. I pushed through them with no destination in mind.

After several blocks, I heard a group of men behind me making fun of my ambiguous gender presentation. I turned around to confront them and realized that Joanne had been following me. I brushed past her, screaming profanities, ready to fight.

“LARA! STOP!” Joanne grabbed my arms and pinned me against a wall. For a moment, the world seemed to vanish, and I could see only her eyes. Joanne’s expression transported me back to a moment during our first date when she was talking to someone else, eyebrows furrowed and nostrils flared, in the middle of a joke. That moment is when I fell in love with her, and I keep the image in my mind like a photo in an old wallet.

We walked home embracing, with my head leaning on Joanne’s shoulder. I was losing control. I wanted to die. I wanted to hurt and be hurt. These were feelings I thought I had overcome when I transitioned. Instead, it seemed, they had been put on hold, waiting to resurface.

Our life had become an endless cycle of arguments and hormonal imbalances. We’d put our relationship in danger without any guarantee of an eventual pregnancy. After a little over a year, we realized that my part of our fertility journey would have to end, or our family would be torn apart before it began.

I booked an immediate appointment to have my sperm levels checked. Although the clinic was set up to serve mostly cisgender male clients, its staff was sympathetic to our situation. I ignored the selection of pornography and, as quickly as possible, left my specimen on a metal tray. After a week, the clinic revealed I had marginal levels of sperm, enough to store a vial. I’d thought I would cry tears of joy. Instead, I sat silent, emotionally overwhelmed.

I restarted estrogen injections immediately after storing sperm and, as I entered puberty for the fourth time, I could again feel the same sparks I’d felt when I first transitioned. I booked a flight to London on a whim and there, walking along the Thames, I began to feel like myself again. A gaggle of geese floated by and I noticed an old wooden sign near a collapsing pier. The sign, painted pink, white and blue — the trans flag colors — read “Promises Becoming.”

I called Joanne. I’d left on bad terms, running from the thought of us becoming a family. The year off hormones had created a rift between us, and I questioned whether we would continue as a couple. Joanne’s voice sounded worried, and she wondered why I hadn’t checked in. She revealed she’d been vomiting, nauseated for days. After going through the meals she’d had that week, looking for clues, we realized her period was late. Lost in the middle of London, I learned Joanne was pregnant.

As I held the phone against my ear, watching red double-decker buses passing by, I heard Joanne talking, but I couldn’t make out her words. My vision blurred; tears poured down my face. I’d forgotten our goal, until now. Yes, we wanted a child, but I never considered it could actually happen. All the videos of cells multiplying into a human form I’d watched were happening in real time, inside the woman I loved.

“I’m a parent,” I thought. I remembered all the lessons I had learned traveling between genders. Working through my own trauma, I had dug deep into what it meant to be masculine or feminine, learning to exist between the two. And our child could learn things from me that most people wouldn’t understand.

The old voices still play in my head sometimes, telling me that transgender people shouldn’t have children. But imagining Joanne and myself on a beach with our child makes it easier to ignore them. I think of Joanne’s furrowing eyebrows and of the child who will soon share our love. Our baby is due this summer, and we’re going to be great parents.

Traveling Solo as a Trans Woman in London

Originally part of Into Digital Magazine: https://www.intomore.com/you/traveling-solo-as-a-trans-woman-in-london

It was when the cashier converted my US Dollars into British Pounds that I knew the trip was real. I was going to London, alone. I had never been and didn’t know anyone there. How would people react to me? My accent? I considered adjusting my look. How do British people dress?

The one thing I couldn’t adjust was my transgender identity.

The UK and I have always had a long distance relationship. We stayed connected through my obsession with Robbie Williams, Doctor Who, and British Bake Off. We needed to be together. One morning, I impulsively booked the cheapest flight I could and secured an Airbnb. I was going. Not even Brexit or reports of increased violence against the LGBTQ community could keep me away.

My makeup was perfect and I wore a feminine floral dress. I was afraid to disturb binary gender standards while abroad. After the six-hour flight from New York, the first person I spoke to was an immigration officer. I feared being detained and somehow ending up in a cell full of men. Mercifully, I breezed through and had my passport stamped.

One of my first stops was Buckingham Palace. I felt compelled to take a selfie. As I took the photo, I noticed a man staring at me. I followed my first instinct and fled. Through the Canada Gate and past Green Park, I thought I lost him. I was wrong. His clothes and demeanor told me he was a business traveler looking to get laid. He matched my frantic pace and wore a diplomatic smile.

“Are you a man or a woman?

“I’m a woman, obviously.”

“I’m so sorry, I was on a trip to Thailand before and needed to know. Can I walk with you?”

“…..”

“I’m so sorry I asked you that. You are very beautiful. I wanted to meet you. Do you live here?”

“Yes. On the other side of the Thames. I have friends coming soon.”

I walked fast but he kept up. He grabbed me and forced me to locked arms. I considered if I should pull away and risk a struggle. I decided to lead us to a public place. We ended up in pub called the Silver Cross. As long as we stayed in the pub there was nothing he could do.  We sat down and he ordered a bottle of Italian Rosé.

“I want to fuck you. I have a hotel nearby. If you are a woman, I want to fuck you.”

His eyes slowly scanned my body as if he were making a map. He took another sip. I hardened myself and look him in his eyes.

“I only have sex with people I love. Unless we have an emotional connection, that would never happen. Have you ever been in love?”

I disarmed him. His forehead started to sweat. I figured he was married and I made him think about it. I started to mention children. How wonderful they are. How I want to have a child.

“Excuse me for a moment. I have to go to the toilet.”

I intentionally sat close to an exit. As soon he was out of my range of vision, I ran out the door. I ran several blocks until I was comfortable with the number of people and buildings between us.

Shaken, I made my way to the Hungerford Bridge to see the London Eye. While taking pictures from the bridge, a man with a German accent must have clocked me as a tourist. He put a necklace in my hand and asked me to help him put it on. While I was savvy enough to keep my valuable near my breasts, I made the mistake of clasping the necklace around his neck.

The man turned to me screaming, “Thank you!” He wrapped his arms around me tightly. I put my hands on my boobs. My wallet and passport were safe there. A warm, prickly kiss touched my cheek and he walked away.

My valuables were with me but my sense of safety was gone. What’s next?

I headed back to my AirBnB. With the door locked behind me, I was safe again.

My eyes glazed over as I stared out the window. The view of the apartment parking lot became darker as the sun went down. I couldn’t stay hidden in my room forever. I decided to venture out again.

Close to my building was a place called Paya and Horse. I mistakenly assumed it was a restaurant. Immediately, I was offered a drink for five pounds. I couldn’t refuse. The owner was a Serbian man with a collection of hats hanging behind the bar. I noticed him change hats at least three times although he wouldn’t admit it.

One by one, a regular would approach the bar. Each time, the weathered pub owner would introduce them as sketchy or shifty; not to be trusted. Then the owner would playfully encourage them to flirt with me.

“Don’t be shy! There is a pretty girl here! Talk to her!”

Each time, they would walk off, red-faced and defeated. I was equal parts flattered and terrified. Halfway through a pint of Fuller’s London Pride, a younger man with shaggy blond hair and thick-framed glasses walk in. He carried a confidence that the other men didn’t. I watched him walk to the bar and hoped that the pub owner wouldn’t tempt him to talk to me. He did.

As he approached me, I noticed his Tapout tank top gently draping over his muscled shoulders. Fighting sports are very popular in the UK. Through conversation, he revealed that he was half Scottish and had been living in London for the last decade. His eyes revealed that he was attracted to me.

We shared stories about Mary Berry and Simon Pegg. He gave me a tutorial on how to speak with a proper British accent. We revealed that we both scream-sing “Angels” by Robbie Williams on car rides. Our eyes met as we both reached down to play with his friend’s dog. I was disarmed.

My sides started to hurt from laughing and the pub owner had to quiet us several times. My mind was playing different scenarios. One was of another life where I was born a cisgender woman and we had several blonde, muscular babies together. The other was me fighting for my life because he learned I was trans.

Several beers later, my legs were shaky. Beer is stronger in the UK. It was time to escape. I knew the way back the Airbnb, but I needed to get there without being followed. I was planning different scenarios when the pub owner started to turn off the lights. He was closing early.

We were all outside and my new half Scottish friend stayed close to me. The entire pub said goodbye and I was alone with him, his friend, and their dog. So many of my rules were already broken and I was incredibly vulnerable.

“Let’s see the Buddha! It’s in Battersea Park! We can take the dog for a walk, then take you home. We have a job in Scotland tomorrow. Where are you staying?”

“Um… around the corner. I can just find my way.”

“Don’t worry, we’re going that way, too. We can walk together so you won’t get lost.”

It was like being confronted by a coiled snake, I was afraid to make any sudden movements. I decided to walk with them.

Battersea Park at night is pitch black. The lack of visual clues allows other senses to take lead. The texture of the ground. The cold crisp wind from the Thames River hitting your skin. The smell of hay from the park zoo.

As we walked down a trail, I felt his shoulder and elbow touch mine. He wanted to lock arms. I pulled away and asked about the zoo. Anything to create space while we walked home. We walked through darkness and I used his friend’s dog to divert any physical contact between us.

My voice. My pitch. We were engulfed in darkness. I had to raise it higher than usual. Under no circumstance could I be read as a trans woman. I never hide my transness. I’m proud of it. This was different. I had to keep it a secret. My life could depend on it.

We started to see street lights and I asked questions about the city. As long as they are talking, I’m not the focus. I’m safe. They started telling jokes about movies like The Matrix. Lilly and Lana Wachowski’s transition from masculine to feminine came up. I braced myself.

“Maybe I’ll cut my balls off. Then I can make a solid film.”

I looked at them and burst into laughter. Laughing at the situation I was in, not the joke. I couldn’t believe what I heard. This wasn’t the place to defend my position on transphobic jokes.

Finally, we made it through the park. It was time to say goodbye. We all hugged and I said goodbye to the playful shepherd dog.

My half Scottish friend wrapped his arms around me and before I could react, kissed me on my lips. It was a gentle kiss that begged me to move to London and start a new life. I stood in shock, I watched them walk away.

He was so sweet to me while assuming I was cis. Would he still be sweet if he learned that I’m trans? I’m still the tall, olive-skinned beauty that sings “Angels” in the shower. I never want to know the answer.

I made it back to my Airbnb in one piece. Behind the locked door, I sat on the bed and fell into a trance. My mind had trouble processing the day. All the adrenaline flowing through my body made my hands tremble. Hundreds of what if scenarios speed through my mind. I started to question whether solo travel abroad is a good idea. Would I ever travel like this again?

The answer is a resounding, yes. Is it more dangerous for a transgender woman to travel alone? Absolutely. I can’t stop being transgender. The dangers I face are real everywhere I go although they change based on the environment and the culture I’m in. I won’t let discrimination based on my identity stop me from living life.

I will see the world and the world will see me. Trans-identity included.

Fighting Notions of Toxic Masculinity in a Trans-Inclusive Mixed Martial Arts Class

Link to original Them.us article: https://www.them.us/story/mma-class-trans-inclusive

When I first approached an abandoned-looking building in New York City in hopes of attending my first MMA lesson, I found myself circling the area, searching for other people who may have been heading to the same free class for women and nonbinary people. It was getting dark. My palms started to sweat and my heart started to race. I double-checked the address on the flyer. This was it.

I ran through my internal defense checklist — I’m a trans woman, and I’ve been confronted in public about my gender before, so I’m always on guard and aware of my potential vulnerabilities. I held my bag close to my body to decrease the amount of area one could grab onto. I pushed my chin down to protect my neck and leave less of my face open to an attack. I looked straight ahead and prepared to spot any sudden moves in my periphery.

I then realized I was tapping into self-defense skills to get myself to a self-defense class.

I was facing a fear by going to Pop Gym’s free, weekly MMA class for women, trans, gender-nonconforming and nonbinary students. It wasn’t traveling alone while queer that I was afraid of; I was going back to an environment that was never welcoming to me or to other queer people, to a sport that re-enforced the internalized transphobia that I am still working through today.

Finally, someone showed up with a gym bag and a book I recognized from the LGBTQ+ section of the bookstore. I was in the right place. Another person arrived with Muay Thai shorts. They greeted us, taped a sign on the old weathered door, and we were in.

From the outside, I had assumed we were walking into an abandoned warehouse, so I was surprised to enter what looked like something between a scene out of Paris Is Burning and the ending of Enter the Dragon. There were mirrors, chandeliers, walls painted with murals. I could feel the queer magic everywhere. I started to imagine I was in an LGBTQ+ version of a Bruce Lee movie. Already, I was sold.

The instructor introduced themself as Grey, using the pronouns they/he. I was stunned. This person, wearing martial arts clothes, holding a bag full of boxing wraps and Muay Thai kicking pads, wanted to know my pronouns and introduced themself with their own.

This was a culture shock. It wasn’t too long ago that I was attempting to convince my friends and family that I was happy with the male gender I was assigned at birth. In my mind, there was a checklist of everything I was taught to be in order to be accepted as a “normal” cisgender man; for me, that meant creating an aggressive, hypermasculine persona. Mixed martial arts was my preferred method to achieve this.

Just looking the part of a trained fighter was a leap into the hypermasculine appearance I trying to sport. A shaved head, defined biceps, a thick wrestler’s neck, and facial hair was the baseline. My tone of voice was similar to a drill instructor without a platoon. I left most people with the impression that at some point we would end up in a fist fight. It was perfect.

I spent most of my 20s trying to be the strongest, fastest fighter I could be. I would ride my bike for miles to the gym. Once I got there, I would full-contact spar with multiple opponents. I was a master at Bas Rutten liver kicks, Georges St. Pierre double-leg takedowns, and the Eddie Bravo rubber guard.

Being a fighter was a way to convince myself and the rest of the world that I was a masculine person, a cis man who belonged in mainstream society. My ultimate goal was to fight in the UFC, believing no one would be able to question my masculinity if I fought my way to facing people in the Octagon.

Fast-forward to the fully actualized, feminine person I am today. I don’t need an outlet to prove my gender. My unique blend of femininity and masculinity is more powerful than any submission hold or right hook I could ever throw. My authenticity in the face of constant adversity is more fearless than challenging the toughest opponent in the cage.

At most, an MMA fight lasts 25 minutes. Fighting oppressive cultural norms is a lifelong battle. In the cage, all you have to do is tap out. There’s no way to tap out of discrimination.

At the MMA class, Grey made sure to include people of all gender identities. I couldn’t hear the first exercise instructions because one of my classmates was asking me for transition advice about hair removal. I followed the other students’ lead in a circle where we duck-walked around the portable wrestling mat. I couldn’t help but practice my voguing under the giant chandelier.

This was a far cry from the toxic MMA environment that I was used to. I was waiting to be misgendered, or for my femininity to be seen as a weakness. My mind replayed transphobic comments from Joe Rogan’s interviews about Fallon Fox, a transgender MMA fighter. I thought of Dana White, the president of the UFC, giving a speech in support of Donald Trump at the Republican Presidential Nomination. I remembered the existence of the alt-right MMA fight clubs that are increasingly popping up worldwide.

None of those things were present at Pop Gym. Grey, who reminded me of almost every member of the original Power Rangers, led us through different Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu jitsu techniques and practical self-defense escapes for different situations. I found myself teaching my training partner ways to gain the upper hand while scrambling with an attacker on the ground.

I hadn’t stepped on a wrestling mat in eight years. I’ve always loved the chess match that happens between two opponents who are similarly skilled in MMA, and I had missed the bonds that form after challenging your body and skill with someone. It’s hard for me to find it in any other sport. I didn’t realize how much I yearned for it.

Going to Pop Gym gave me a chance to face my fears and revisit a sport that has been a source of physical and emotional trauma for me. It gave me a chance to prove to myself that MMA doesn’t have to be toxic or transphobic. More importantly, the classes allow queer and trans people to feel safer.

As strange as it sounds, it helps to be reminded that a sport where the goal is to render someone unconscious isn’t necessarily gendered, at least in theory. A right hook isn’t masculine and a gogoplata isn’t feminine. They just are, the same as skin, hair, and halter tops. Taking this class helped me to realize that I had been projecting gender onto MMA. I was creating a problem before I even walked into the gym — each time I did so, I carried the cisheteronormative ideals I was trying to escape with me. I wanted to hurt people and I wanted people to hurt me. I wanted someone to choke out the gender roles that were forced upon me. I saw every person who hurt me on the other side of my fists. Being assigned male at birth, this was the only way I knew how to let out pain: with violence. But not anymore.

I plan to go back to Pop Gym to practice the martial arts moves that I once used as a badge of masculinity. I’ll return to the sport without the toxicity I previously used to hide my queerness. You can find me locking on a rear naked choke without gender and throwing the queerest liver kicks you’ve ever seen. I can be as feminine or as masculine as I want, and redefine what it means to be physically strong without regard for social norms.

One punch and kick at a time, I will overcome toxic masculinity.

Happy Birthday to Sylvia Rivera, Who Taught Me How to Be an Activist

Link to original Them.us article: https://www.them.us/story/happy-birthday-sylvia-rivera

It was almost the end of my shift at my Tribeca coffee shop when my partner texted me with an address, telling me I needed to get there ASAP. With my apron in hand, I rushed 26 blocks to the West Village. It wasn’t an emergency per se, but apartment hunting in New York brings its own kind of urgency.

The flat’s hardwood floors creaked, and the fire escape looked like it was about to rust off the building. The bathroom tub leaked and everything was crooked. The place was falling apart — and it was perfect. It wasn’t just that it’s in the West Village, the center of the ‘70s LGBTQ+ rights movement in New York. But the apartment, which we did end up renting, was a few doors away from Christopher and Hudson, also known as Sylvia Rivera Way.

Our street, of course, is named after Sylvia Rivera, the Latinx activist at the forefront of the Stonewall Riots in 1969. As a Latinx trans femme myself, she and I share the same POC family that takes over Christopher Street at night. We both know what it feels like to be hungry while everyone else eats. We know what it’s like to have no option other than survival. Some people have Mother Teresa or Ghandi, but I have Sylvia.

As I began to walk the same streets that Sylvia walked, I saw her everywhere. In the gentle waves of the Hudson River, I felt her. These piers that were once her home became mine. Sylvia and I walked the West Village together.

Images of transgender people were almost always negative back when I started transition in 2012, cautionary tales of what would happen if you dare defy the gender binary. Sylvia became my long-lost, half-Puerto Rican auntie; a role model, someone who was always looking for family, just like I am now. Although the black and white images of Sylvia that exist hid her olive brown skin, I could see the indigenous features much of my Latinx family shares. Her images and descriptions reminded me of home in times where I was not accepted. I dedicated my life to carrying on her legacy.

In 2017 I co-founded a transitional housing project called Trans.formation house in North Carolina. The idea was that transgender people could live in the house for six months to a year to get on their feet. I found a donor that provided us with a house, achieved 501c3 status, and assembled the board. I wanted this to be the southern version of Transy House, the housing project that Sylvia ran for homeless trans women, where Sylvia also lived until she passed away in 2002.

The project started to gain momentum and we already had clients who needed the house. I dedicated six months to finding funding and volunteer support. In the end, it wasn’t enough. The house closed and the non-profit dissolved. I wanted to follow in Sylvia’s footsteps, but my efforts weren’t enough. I left North Carolina feeling like I had failed the community. New York represented a new start, a chance to grow and learn from the people who had been doing the work. If I wanted to be like Sylvia, this was the place to do it.

The truth is, as much as I try to emulate her, if I were alive in the ‘70s I know I would have been scared to transition. The only reason I’m brave enough to be myself today is because of people like Sylvia. I wouldn’t have fought the police. I likely would have ran out the back door.

But when I watch the Hudson River moving under the sky, I’m reminded that Sylvia was also human. She suffered from depression, and once attempted suicide in that river. She stopped doing activist work for many years after being ostracized by the gay community. She felt pain just like i do.

While it’s important to have a small street sign on Hudson Street called Sylvia Rivera Way, it’s equally important to acknowledge that the average trans woman of color can’t afford to live here. Sylvia herself was homeless for much of her life; nearly a third of transgender people polled in the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey said they have experienced homelessness at some point in their life. Nearly one third also said they were living in poverty, compared to 12 percent of the general population. Black transgender women face the worst of this economic disparity.

Most days I find myself looking out my second floor window, wondering what Sylvia would be doing if she lived in our age of cellphones and memes. Would she still push her way to the front of the Pride parade with a makeshift sign? Would she disrupt the corporatization of queerness? Of course she would.

Sylvia was a flame trying to burn in a world that wanted to snuff her out. After being verbally attacked by the gay community on the pride stage in Washington Square Park, she came back. After being abused physically and emotionally throughout her life, she still fought. She stood up for herself and her chosen family over and over again. No matter how many people tried to extinguish her, she never stopped.

I want to be that flame, too. I’ll create sparks that grow into their own fires. I’ll stand my ground and demand my place in this world. I’ll get weak and rest. I’ll take care of my own. I won’t let labels get in the way of my authenticity. These are lessons Sylvia taught me and I will always be grateful. And today, on her birthday, I promise myself to carry on her legacy.

Happy Birthday, Sylvia

I’m a Trans Woman Who Detransitioned to Become a Mom

I squeezed Joanne’s sweaty hand. We sat motionless in the women’s clinic office, listening to the doctor explain to us that I would have to stop taking hormones for at least six months. I heard the doctor talking but my mind stopped processing the words. I found myself staring at the beige wallpaper remembering what it felt like to live in a body filled with testosterone.

My trance was interrupted with a question, “Do you really want to do this, Lara?” The doctor must have noticed my expression. My mind raced with a thousand reasons why I shouldn’t. Starting hormones saved my life. I was able to be myself, inside and out. Why would I stop?

I spent the morning convincing Joanne to come with me. I’d done research online and already knew that detransition was probably the only way I could have a child with her, but I wouldn’t be able to stop my hormone prescription unless Joanne was there. I needed a physical reminder. This could be the mother of my future child. Her body and mine becoming one human being. All I had to do was say the words.

Joanne looked at the doctor and asked, “Would you want to have children?” Her expression became cold and she told us about the yearlong struggle her and her husband had trying to have a child. She explained that her husband recently died in a car accident and she would never have a child with him. In a blink of an eye she had become a childless widow. All because she waited too long.

After this there was no question. I’d do whatever it takes to have a child with Joanne.

My entire life has been a struggle to counter the masculinity that was imposed at birth. To create my own version of femininity. Through medical intervention and deep spiritual development, my goal has been to find myself; my gender. Then I met the love of my life.

We met early in my transition. We matched on Tinder and naturally I stalked her social media. I saw terms like “gold star lesbian” and rants about her cisgender ex-girlfriends. It was clear that she was attracted to me. I worried if her attraction would remain when I took off my clothes. I hoped my femininity would overshadow not having a vagina.

I also noticed an article she posted about in vitro fertilization. She wanted to have a child. A family. A wife. I fantasized about being a stay-at-home mom with a baby in a stroller. In theory, I could produce sperm again and make a child with her. I wouldn’t learn until later in our relationship that she was thinking the same thing.

Our attraction grew along with our relationship, and my desire to be with Joanne overcame my gender dysphoria. My body mattered less and less. I had to be a part of her. It was the first time since I transitioned that I didn’t care about my gender.

Naked. Her and I. Alone. We weren’t gendered humans. We were bodies with skin that needed to be liquid. Her curves, her breath on my neck, and her assertive masculinity. My muscles left over from my former life combined with my soft femininity. We were beyond the archaic ideas that were imposed on us.

When I imagined having a baby, I started to see my body as a vehicle I was navigating, instead of a prison.

My goal was once to be read as a cis woman. I lost weight and muscle mass. I took classes to perfect my “female” voice. I mastered makeup and age-appropriate clothes. My goal was to blend into what mainstream society claimed femininity to be.

As I matured into my own version of womanhood, I started exploring masculinity in a way that reflected me as a feminine person. I had reached the opposite end of the gender spectrum and still couldn’t find myself. Being read as a cis woman wasn’t important to me anymore. Instead, being completely authentic with my gender expression was the priority.

Still, nothing could prepare me to be reintroduced to testosterone after I stopped taking hormone blockers and estrogen to have a child. Without medical intervention, my body quickly reverted to its former self.

Each day without estrogen brought on characteristics and mannerisms that I had forgotten, little things like the more aggressive way I moved my hands or how I found myself having the urge to meat again, after becoming vegetarian in early transition. I wasn’t getting the subtle intuitive hints that Joanne was giving me anymore. My demeanor had become cold and it became hard to have conversations with people. Testosterone was forcing me to recreate my identity.

While I mostly passed as a cisgender woman before I stopped hormones, my changing appearance led people to question my gender. People started asking me for my pronouns or defaulting to he/him/his. My feminine presentation started to be a statement of queerness. “I am a femme person assigned male at birth and I am standing in front of you,” I imagined myself telling people. “I am authentically me. I embrace my femininity and my masculinity. I am proof that this society is wrong about gender and I am challenging you with every breath that I take.”

There is no version of “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” for transgender femmes trying to reinvigorate their penis.

This is what I said on the outside. On the inside I was screaming. Crying out in pain with every moment. Beaten down every time someone treated me differently. Othered every time I was misgendered.

He. Sir. Him. These one syllable words created a concentration of gender dysphoria that was unbearable. With one word, I would be taken back to my darkest moments. Why? How could one syllable have so much power over me? Who cares how a stranger interprets my gender?

I noticed my breasts start to compress. Subtle things like smell and skin texture were changing. My sex drive increased and I wondered if I was producing sperm.

That was when I imagined having a baby, and I started to see my body as a vehicle I was navigating, instead of a prison. This body was changing but it will always be changing. My evolution as an authentically queer person has to move beyond clothes, makeup, and cis passing privilege.

My body is a tool. As long as I maintain this tool, I can always be myself. No matter what my age, what hormones are in my body, or what my appearance may be. This reintroduction of testosterone could be a blessing if I learned from the lessons my body was creating for me.

I wanted to condition myself to being referred to as with male pronouns, to change the way I interpreted them. So I told people that while I preferred other pronouns, I would also accept he/him. Those pronouns would no be longer an attack on my gender identity. Being called “sir” was a chance to honor the men in my family; my ancestors. I was creating a version of masculinity free of misogyny. Free of oppression. I loved my masculinity because it honored my femininity. I learned that my masculinity made me a more complete human. A more well-rounded femme.

Still, I had moments of doubt. As testosterone started to become the dominant hormone in my body, my emotions felt harder. My skin, smell, and appearance fit more with what society labeled masculine. My genitals had become larger and erections happened often, reminding me constantly that they were there.

My words were sharper, more matter of fact. My soft body became rough and my emotions did the same. In conversation with people, I wondered who I was. How can I have a conversation when I don’t know who I am?

Even though I wanted to challenge even my own assumptions of what it meant to be a woman, I still found myself going to a laser clinic to remove hair from my face, as an aesthetician asked me to lay down on a treatment bed. She reassured me with her broken European accent, “Beauty is pain, baby!”

My mind tried to separate from my body as she carefully cleared my face. I found myself thinking about the two children in the lobby. They were so loud, obnoxious even. The mother had to take them both with her because she couldn’t find a babysitter.

Is this really what I wanted? I’m the same person on testosterone or estrogen, but my emotions play out differently. It’s as if certain emotions were stressed like a different accent or dialect. Different syllables had more emphasis. I found that under the influence of testosterone, I didn’t have an interest in being around children.

Was this because I didn’t like children anymore? Did I even want children? Was all this for nothing? Was I making a mistake?

My face felt hot as I walked out of the clinic. My body walked in autopilot. The physical and emotional pain was too much. How could I ever be a good mother? I don’t even know myself? How can I teach another human being how to live?

There is no version of “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” for transgender femmes trying to reinvigorate their penis. There are no guidelines for transgender femmes trying to make their girlfriend pregnant. But as the physical and emotional pain from hair removal subsided, I remembered why I started this journey, and the deep yearning for a physical representation of Joanne and me, our love. A tiny human to experience life with.

I remembered similar stories from cisgender parents and friends who had their own pre-baby crisis. What parent is not terrified before their child arrives? My feelings were no different from any other parent, cis or trans.

As I sit in this experience of masculinity and femininity, I see the small brown/-haired child in my mind’s eye. I see a tiny human ready to take on this difficult world. I hope they’re just as excited to meet me as I am to meet them.

My Friend Raul

Commentary: Trans Americans Have Always and Will Always Serve Our Country

See the original NBCOut article here: https://www.nbcnews.com/think/nbc-out/opinion-transgender-americans-have-always-will-always-serve-our-country-ncna787431

It was after watching the twin towers fall down while in high school that I solidified my plans to join the military. I left home at 17 years old under the delayed entry program. I was an Army Junior ROTC veteran and already knew how to march and about the rank structure. Excited to leave home, I packed up the items that my recruiter told me to bring and was on my way.

I was in an economy hotel the night before my enlistment ceremony. I stared in the mirror thinking about how my face could possibly be read as female. I considered if I should stop shaving my legs. My true self was something I had to keep to myself. The beauty and liberation that I would find later would not be discovered for another 10 years.

My Air Force career was a blur of me dealing with depression, body dysphoria and attempts at becoming a successful MMA fighter. At the height of my career, I was 215 pounds, muscular and dedicated to military life. I did everything I could to be the best airman I could be. In the morning, I went into work and conversed with the other men, pretending to be more masculine than anyone in the room.

As time went on, depression took hold of me and made it nearly impossible for me to perform on the job. I would leave work, and as soon as I walked in the house, I was me again. I could wear what I wanted and express my femininity. I would stay up late, because I didn’t want to wake up to a world where I had to pretend to be a masculine person. I would role-play online as feminine characters that I would create. My true feminine self and my created masculine persona were at war, and the battle was inside me.

I was living two different lives. One was my hypermasculine persona that was created for survival. The other was my true feminine self. There was not enough room for both. I had to choose between survival and being myself, and it was devastating.

I spent the remainder of my career trying to maintain my male persona. Living inside a prison that was my own body. Taking note of the gains in muscle mass and cutting my hair as short as I could with store-bought clippers. Looking in the mirror and wondering if I should cry or celebrate my hypermasculinity.

I waited for every moment that I could be alone — even bathroom breaks where I could sit on a stall and escape into my thoughts. Even for just a few seconds. Just a moment of authenticity. Then back to work. Back to the real world.

Toward the end of my enlistment, my Master Sergeant invited me on a short trip to another military base with her. She was curious about why my career had taken such a plunge. I was on track for Officer Training School until body dysphoria and depression crippled me.

“You were awarded with an early promotion two times and were on the Honor Guard. You were a star airman. What happened?” she asked.

I looked at her and wished I could tell her the truth. I wished that I could let her know that I was a feminine person, and it was something I was proud of. I wished that I could wear the female version of the Air Force uniform, just like she did. Instead, I answered, “I don’t know. I guess I’m just not cut out for the military.”

I wanted to let her know that the military’s policies were stopping me from being the airman that I could and wanted to be. I had the potential, but it was all wasted. I never told her about my identity and often wonder if she would have been accepting, even though the policy at the time would have forced her to have me discharged.

Transgender people are not a disruption. We have never been a disruption. We have always been a part of the military and always will be. The difference is whether we’ll be hiding or living authentically while we serve.

Having a government and president that refuse to acknowledge the active duty military members that are currently serving is dangerous. Our military will never be as strong as it could when thousands of people have to hide who they are. We will always be less safe as long as discrimination against transgender people exists in the military. This is the real disruption.

A Message to the North Carolina State Assembly