Four Puberties, One Baby

Read the original New York Times article here:

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.