by Christabel Johanson
Melanie, 27, is a striking young woman. She has long legs, a glowing tan, and rainbow-dyed curls, and family photos show her to be a doting mother to three-month old Micah.
Melanie and her girlfriend Danielle were together for seven years until their recent break-up, but the pair still raise Micah under the same roof. Parenthood for Melanie and Danielle is more than skin-deep.
“She was so supportive and understanding; she was like my new best friend. We did everything together while she was pregnant with our son Micah,” says Melanie. “When I said I had something to tell her she thought it was going to be much worse. I decided to start with the closest people to me when coming out.”
Melanie, who was living as male at the time, came out as a trans woman and told Danielle that she wanted to begin having hormone treatment.
Statistics reveal 1,759 male to female gender reassignment surgeries occurred in the US in 2016, and since the year 2000 a total of 853 trans women had state-funded surgery in the UK. Therefore it is safe to say that globally the figures of individuals coming out and living their lives as transgender are on a steady rise.
Studies in America also show that “substantial numbers of transgender respondents are parents”; citing a 2012 study, which found 69% of trans women reported having children or being parents.
Melanie is just one of those individuals who prove that a loving family goes a lot deeper than simply being the the traditionally nuclear group of the past. Having been on oestrogen for six months prior to Micah’s birth means that he was born with two biological mothers.
When it comes to discussion of trans-mothers or transgender parents, society seems to worry about the impact on children. Assumptions are made that it will somehow confuse or harm children.
“When Micah was born, I was still embarrassed,” she says. “When his grandmothers came to the hospital, they had not yet seen me as Melanie, and I felt too uncomfortable. I just wasn’t ready and my brain was scrambled from everything I had going on, with Micah being born and the possibility of the ending of my relationship with his mother.”
Facing challenges as a trans-mother
Although Danielle was accepting and understanding of her decision to transition, Melanie faces other challenges. “Danielle and I are no longer together because she is attracted to the old me, which is hard after seven years of a loving, healthy relationship,” she says, and adds that it is awkward for her too discuss everything with her mum.
“She is almost 70 and very old-fashioned, so there this is extremely weird for her. It’s hard, and sometimes impossible to get excitement out of her when discussing it.” On top of this, her brother simply thinks she is “possessed by the devil or a demon”.
When it comes to discussion of trans-mothers or transgender parents, society seems to worry about the impact on children. Assumptions are made that it will somehow confuse or harm children, or perhaps influence a child to become transgender themselves when they would have been cisgender otherwise.
However, a 2014 study debunks this myth, showing that transgender parents have overwhelmingly positive relationships with their children. Bizarrely, the media circus around Bruce Jenner’s transition into Caitlyn might well have helped the cause, exposing millions of viewers to a different model of parenthood.
It is damaging, however, that transhobic assumptions that reek of prejudice are still doing trans-women a disservice.
Nonetheless, change is in the air; in 1961 90% of UK households reported being a traditional family unit, but through the decades alternative models have emerged. 6% of same-sex couples in 2013 adopted a child or children, which is a rise of 4% since 2008. On top of this, increases in divorces over the years mean the emergence of co-parenting is also challenging the model of the traditional, nuclear family.
When asked about life as a trans-mum, Melanie thinks it is amazing that transgender people are helping open minds and erasing imaginary perceptions about how families should be. “When I’m in public, I often wonder if people notice that I fathered him,” she says. “You can’t really plan something like this, and you just have to take it day by day. It’s definitely easier talking about something before it happens than when it actually happens and you have to actually live the situation.”
Now, it is Melanie’s reality, and despite the stares she gets in everyday life – some good, some bad – she remains optimistic about the future. “We don’t know yet if we’re going to tell Micah that he has two mothers,” she says. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but for now we’re just enjoying our life as one different, but beautiful, family.”
Will Melanie have more children in the future? “I can’t say,” she says. “I don’t know who I will end up with. Still, I think the odds of finding true love are great.”
Anita* is one example of this. Born “Andrew”, she describes her upbringing as that of a “typical bloke”. She enjoyed going out drinking with her mates, dating women, and eventually married her wife Tina, while she was still a “he”. The couple had three sons before Andrew came out as Anita.
“My sons call me “mum” or “dad” interchangeably, and it doesn’t bother me. They knew me as “dad”, and I’ll always be their parent no matter what I’m called.”
Two years into her transition, Anita remains happily married to Tina. “My sons call me “mum” or “dad” interchangeably, and it doesn’t bother me,” she says. “They knew me as “dad”, and I’ll always be their parent no matter what I’m called.”
For Anita, the biggest milestone came when the family were able to celebrate Mother’s Day with her for the first time. To Anita’s surprise, it was her eldest son, who was 10 at the time, who wanted to do something special for both his mothers. With retailers such as Waitrose now selling gender-neutral Mother’s Day cards, perhaps stores too are learning to embrace the open-mindedness that children already excel at.
Maybe one of the most important ideas to emerge from this ongoing discourse is simply that different is OK, and even beautiful. Conversations about trans women in women-only spaces have been rife recently: in the signposting of public toilets, in how trans-women access women’s services, and even in spaces such as Hampstead Heath Ladies Pond. Debates on trans-motherhood are just an extension of those conversations.
Unfortunately, the conversation still becomes heated at times, especially among certain branches of radical feminism, intensified by the fact that women are still fighting oppression, discrimination and the patriarchy. Yet this should, instead, be all the more reason to stand united; trans women are not “men in disguise”, they are sisters-in-arms.
Motherhood is not just about biology – ask any of the 3,561 heterosexual couples who were hoping to adopt last year. Being a mother is not just a process of merging DNA. It is not just creating a child – it is raising one as well.