This is a great story for so many reasons, not least of which is that everyone involved is positive, supportive and affirming – medical professionals, childcare staff, teachers, friends and family. So much of what we read about trans issues at the moment is negative, ignorant or frightening, and I think it’s really important to share the good stuff too.
This is No. 3 of 4 blogs highlighting my new “Early Years Support Guide” produced in collaboration with Rainbow Families NSW.
Marc and his wife have been together for seventeen years and are raising a daughter together in Sydney. Marc describes his journey to parenthood as a trans man, and shares some of the joys and challenges of being a dad.
Can you tell me about your relationship?
I’ve been with my partner for seventeen years now and we’ve been legally married for nine. We’d been together for about five years when we decided to get married. Initially, we weren’t interested in marriage, but we felt it would offer more protection when we had children.
Can you clarify the issues for trans people and marriage?
Marriage is governed by federal legislation and can only occur between a man and a woman; both people must have birth certificates which confirm their sex. Thanks to a landmark court case ‘Kevin and Jennifer’ the right to marry for men and women who have transitioned has been confirmed. Birth certificates are issued by the state you are born in and each state has different criteria to change your sex on the certificate so it’s complicated.
In my case, I have a male birth certificate, but my certificate is theoretically invalid in other states. In NSW, in order to change your sex on a birth certificate, two doctors must sign statutory declarations stating that you have undergone a sex affirmation procedure. This is defined as a surgical procedure involving the alterations of a person’s reproductive organs.
The definition is a bit vague and could mean all sorts of things including: hormones, chest surgery, a hysterectomy, or sexual reassignment surgery. Because it’s so vague, many guys assume sex affirmation procedure must include a full hysterectomy. A hysterectomy eliminates options for fertility, and can also limit other sexual reassignment surgery options. A hysterectomy is also a very big surgery with big risks.
I was able to change my birth certificate based on undergoing chest surgery and hormones alone. I started hormones when I was 21 and had chest surgery when I was 24 and it was a great relief to stop binding. It took several years to save for the surgery and I needed to be on private health insurance as Medicare would only pay a tiny percentage of the overall cost.
The other issue for trans people is that you can’t be married when you seek to change your sex. This is an issue for couples who are already married as it requires them to get divorced. Transition is a very hard time for couples and the forced uncoupling only makes things harder.
How did you go about having kids?
We spent a long time preparing to have children. We established our careers, bought a house, renovated, and travelled around the world. Then, when we were ready, we started looking into what we needed to do to have a child. We knew of another couple in a similar situation who had used a public IVF clinic at a hospital so we started there initially.
We needed donor sperm, but there were very few anonymous donors available. The rules about mandatory disclosure had just come into effect and donations of sperm had dried up. We were very fortunate to find a known donor and started the long process of screening; we had no idea we had to wait six months for quarantine. We did one cycle of IVF in the public hospital, but that was unsuccessful. Then we were advised to go private, as we needed theatre time and this was unavailable in the public clinic.
How did you find a supportive fertility clinic?
We interviewed a number of clinics and none of them had an issue with my status so we ended up choosing one based on availability. The only occasional slip up was when the nurses told me it was time to ‘go and do my part’ not remembering we were using frozen sperm. They also called me by our donor’s name several times, but this was more funny than offensive. We were really fortunate that it worked first time and our daughter was born in 2010.
And how is parenting?
We both wanted to be active parents; my wife was to take the first six months off work and then we would both work part time, but it didn’t turn out that way. My wife became sick when our daughter was five months old and I became the primary carer for both of them which was really hard as we didn’t know whether she would get better. I dropped my hours significantly at work and relied on family and friends for support. What’s interesting is that I can’t really say I had any issues as a trans parent, but there were certainly issues in relation to being a man and recognised as our daughter’s primary carer. People would always look around for her mother or ask if I was ‘helping out for the day’. That was very frustrating.
Did you use any playgroups or day care?
I started going to a rainbow playgroup when my daughter was about six months old. This was a lifesaver. There weren’t many other dads, but there was full acceptance that I was the primary carer and a real parent. Other parents there had kids of a similar age and we would often talk during the week about developmental stages, parenting tips and exhaustion! The kids are all at school now but we keep in very regular contact with the group. It means that the kids have a whole social network outside of school, and the parents are all friends. For the kids, having queer parents and a donor doesn’t seem to be a big deal. There are so many of them that it’s just not that interesting.
My child has attended a few day care centres and we only really came out to the last one. We were taking my daughter to Mardi Gras and we thought she would probably talk about it at day care so we decided to tell them about our family. We asked for a meeting with the Director and teachers and they took it pretty seriously. We told them I was transgender, that our child was created using donor sperm and that we were taking her to Mardi Gras and that she’d probably be talking about it.
They listened very carefully and when we’d finished they asked if there was anything else and we said, no, that was it. They thought we were going to make a complaint about something and they were hugely relieved. The whole trans family thing just wasn’t a big deal at all for them.
Did you find a supportive school?
When we were selecting a school for our daughter we first asked if they had any same sex families to see how open they were to diversity. When we met with the principal and teachers formally, we told them I was transgender, that we were very open with our child, and that we knew it would come up at some stage during her school life. And we asked them if they had any issues with this. They said no they didn’t and moved onto the next topic.
I actually asked them if we could go back to what I had just said as I wanted to make sure they knew what I was talking about. They said yes they understood and again moved on. I insisted we discuss it, and then they told us there was another trans family at the school and it was not an issue at all. We chose the school and it hasn’t been an issue. Some of the other parents know and it really isn’t a big deal.
Did you think about a second child?
After about a year of illness, my wife started to get better and we were both keen to have another child. We did more rounds of IVF, but then my wife had a very bad miscarriage. After that, we were told there would be very little chance of success so we stopped IVF and reassessed.
I thought I could potentially donate eggs that could be fertilised with donor sperm and transferred to my wife. I had no interest in being pregnant myself. I did a lot of international research to determine if donating eggs after transitioning would pose any risks to the baby and the information indicated that it was only carrying the foetus that posed the risk and that the risks associated with donating eggs were no greater than average.
I found an IVF specialist who was helping a few other guys donate eggs and spoke with her. She agreed to work with my local IVF doctor and they ran some tests to determine the viability of going ahead with this. I would have needed to stop testosterone until I started menstruating, and then we would both start IVF drugs. We didn’t come to this decision lightly knowing it would be a very mentally and physically difficult. We had very supportive doctors who worked through different potential issues and how we could deal with them. But in the end, the tests showed I was not a good candidate so we accepted that we are a small but perfectly formed family of three. Throughout this whole process, the medical staff were really supportive.
What advice would you give to other trans people who might want to start a family?
Personally I have never had an issue with not being genetically related to my child. Anyone who has spent time with my family can see there is a connection between us that does not rely on genetics. I understand for some people this may be more of an issue. If you did want a genetically related child there are different options depending on where you are in your transition, but it can be a difficult and expensive process post transition. If you are donating eggs for a surrogate to carry you will both need to go through IVF. You really need to think about whether it’s for you and make sure you have good support. If you’re sure then I’d say find a supportive fertility specialist and get started.
What’s the best thing about this journey?
Parenthood and the journey to it has been a huge part of my life and my child brings endless joy. I have been very fortunate to have such supportive family and friends who together with supportive medical staff have all made it possible. Being part of the rainbow family community has helped my child to normalise her origins and allow her to celebrate the uniqueness of her family.
Thank you, Marc, for your openness, honesty and courage in sharing your story.