36 | Trans Dads

Meet the Guests:

Kris is a researcher, dog dad of five, and brand new dad. He blogs about his trans dad experience at The Trans Dad.com.

Robbie Samuels is a work-at-home dad living with his wife and two young children in Boston. He is a co-organizer of the Boston Dads Group and founded Boston Babies Clothing Swaps, a monthly event that draws 150 families. He is the author of the bestselling business book Croissants vs. Bagels: Strategic, Effective and Inclusive Networking at Conferences. His weekly podcast, On the Schmooze, is a mix of interviews with leaders and networking tips.

Further Reading:

Episode Transcript:

Emily:  Each person has their own path to parenthood, no two family stories are the same, but LGBTQ families have unique experiences and sometimes finding community within queer spaces is what we need. I found community as a teen with other queerspawn. And I know I'm not alone and having questions and seeking community. So with me today are two dads who have shared some of their personal journeys in blogs and articles and podcasts. One is a brand new dad and the other has two little ones and is sort of the veteran parent here. Welcome Kris and Robbie. I'm going to start with the question that I ask all the guests who is in your family and how was it formed?

Robbie:  Absolutely. So my immediate family is myself, I identify as a queer trans dad and my wife who is a queer, cis mom. We had two little ones who are two years apart almost to the day - one and three years old.

Kris:  I am a queer trans dad as well. My wife is a queer cis mom as well. And our brand new little baby. She'll be three weeks on Thursday and five dogs.

Emily:  We had actually originally tried to schedule this so that it was sort of a impending parenthood for you, Kris but our scheduling didn't work out and your little one didn't want to wait. So what has been your journey to parenthood been like? When and how did you decide on a particular path to parenthood?

Robbie: Well, I had thought until recently that parenthood wasn't something that I had been longing for and that it only came to be after I met the right person. And then I discovered a journal entry from a workshop that I was in where I was describing the life that I wanted to have 10 years from then, which is about now. And it included being a parent to two children. So that was news to me. It was cool to find that, but I really do think for me, it did hinge on meeting the person that I would want to co-parent with. And since my sperm count is nonexistent, we definitely went the route of a sperm donor. That's an interesting experience. I'm happy to talk about. We were really fortunate, my wife got pregnant twice with two healthy little babies. And the interesting part about that is that the second one could have been the first born because they were from the same like set of embryos. So science is super interesting in that way. We just feel really lucky to be in the Boston area. Massachusetts covers IVF. We did try to do IUI six times, which is six months and it's a very expensive process. But then we were really fortunate that that IVF kicked in for insurance and that was a process that worked for us.

Emily:  Kris, what has your journey been and how did you decide on your particular path to parenthood with your partner?

Kris:  Well, I've always wanted to be a parent. Even before I wanted to get married, I didn't think I would have a partner. I thought I would just be a single parent. But then I found my wife and she wasn't ready to be a parent. And then later on we decided that we both wanted to have kids. We went the known donor route, so we know our donor and we did it at home insemination.

Emily: So I have a sperm donor myself and hearing my mom's stories about from many, many moons ago, about what that process was like is so different from today, I think in a lot of really good ways. And one of those being, depending on where you are and depending on jobs often, unfortunately, having some of that insurance kicking in. How much did financial planning factor into some of your decisions there?

Robbie: Well, I will say that my wife, before we started dating, we were already friends for about a year and a half. And in that time she was actually talking very seriously about leaving the Boston area to travel the world with the money she had saved. And then we fell in love and she didn't do that plan. And that's the money that lead to us being able to move forward with this parenting journey because, $1,000 a month to acquire sperm and go to the doctor's office, six months of doing that without having a child was expensive. If IVF didn't kick in, I don't know that we'd be parents right now and it's not something that's universally accessible. So I feel really fortunate. I tease her all the time that the lively worldwide tour that she ended up with was two active children

Emily: Kris how did some of that factor in some of your choices to go the known donor route or choose biological children as opposed to other options?

Kris: Right. We went that route just because it was a lot cheaper and so it only took us three months luckily. We went that route because it wasn't covered under insurance and that was easiest for us at the time.

Emily: So Kris, you've got an almost three week old. What are some of the things that you've been enjoying the most? What were you most excited about throughout the pregnancy?

Kris: I enjoy her cuddles the most. I never let her down. The biggest thing was watching her be born. It is just the most beautiful experience I've ever seen. Just watching the whole thing. I started crying almost instantly and then I saw her wedding pass before my eyes. And yeah, it's just beautiful.

Emily:  And Robbie, what is some of your favorite things about being a dad of a three and a one year old?

Robbie: I love that he actually calls me Papa and originally I thought I was going to be Daddy. And somewhere along the line when he started talking, my three year old started saying Papa with a French accent actually for awhile. So it's just seeing him now on the very emotional roller coaster of three-year-old existence where he says he doesn't something and he doesn't want it, then he does. He definitely does. No he doesn't. AI just gotta be there for him. Our one-year-old is still all cuddles and has starting walking and is on the verge of talking. And so I think just the fact that I've been able to be home with them has been a phenomenal experience. The toddler is now in preschool, but currently only for a few hours a day. He had been in there for a full day for a couple of months. But both, my wife and I are now working at home for most of the day. And it's just incredible to have that much time with your children.

Emily:  We are not residing in a country that is kind to people giving birth or even bringing new children into the family. So thinking about then that transition from your experiences within LGBTQ community as someone without children and then as a parent, throughout the pregnancy experience did you find queer spaces?

Kris:  I'm in a couple of Facebook groups and I think that's the main thing that we found. I think that's about it. I tried doing the dad groups and a lot of them were just let's go meet for poker and I'm more, I wanna learn about being a dad and all this. So it's something that we're definitely still working on and building that community and gaining that.

Emily: And Robbie, you've been really involved with the dads groups. How are those spaces integrated with LGBTQ families spaces or do you also seek out separate LGBTQ spaces as well?

Robbie: Well, the Boston Dad's group is part of City Dad's group, which is a national organization that through volunteers, manages 40 some odd cities that have a group and they're a very decisively progressive community. So when they're talking about who's gonna organize groups, if someone's not following that culture, they won't stay running a group. I discovered them similarly to what Kris just said. I was like, I want to know more about being a dad. I don't take on challenges that I can't succeed at. And here's a challenge that I can't step away from, but I also don't know anything about. So I was trying to just meet people with kids my kids age. And so before my son was even born, I actually went to my first Boston Dad's group and I found them through a podcast. The Modern Dads podcast is put on by the two dads that run City Dad's group. I was like, oh, that's cool. I want to reach out. And I knew that having community was going to be really important to me. It happened that the weekly group that I was running had several queer dads who came. And so in an interesting way I was able to blur that and get to know or reconnect, actually some of people I already knew. I've also made attempts to host events for queer families and my wife and I have done some of that here. Boston has a pretty active and engaged queer community and queer family community. So it's just a matter of tapping into it and sometimes hosting things ourselves.

Robbie: The route we ended up taking was to really organize these swaps. I started a Facebook group before my son was born to meet parents with kids. When he was five weeks old, we started hosting a swap and seven families - now three years later, we another one coming up next week adn over 150 families have RSVP'd. Within that there's a lot of queer families that come and it's been really fun to see that overlap as well. I'm seeing some of the local folks that I know all hanging out in this new space. And these are people that I used to see at the clubs 15 years ago and now we're all hanging out with the baby clothing swap on a Saturday morning. So it's been less about actively seeking queer families, it's more like there's a lot of opportunities around us. There's a lot of queer Jewish family groups as well. And so it's been tapping into different cultures, different community spaces. It's fantastic to live here.

Emily:  And how have you been able to find some of those groups? Kris, if someone's looking for a Trans Dad Facebook group, how do you go about finding that? And Robbie, with the City Dad's group and the Boston Dads, how do folks find you? What did you use or what would you recommend people do in order to find these sort of spaces?

Kris:  I go and I just type in searches into Facebook and I just searched through everything and then start reading them. And then once I actually get into the group, then I go through and see how active active it is and see if it's something that I'm actually interested in. A lot of those groups are inactive. There's people in number but they're not really there.

Robbie: I found some of the same thing. I probably in 8 to 10 groups for Trans/F to M/ masculine of center parents groups, but very few of them have any sort of regular activity. And I think it's hard because then if you post and you're not already friends with people, they may not even see it. But what you could do is to connect with the organizers of those groups because clearly they had an interest in getting started. And I highly recommend it's City Dads group.com. I've written some blog posts for City Dads talking about my experience being a queer trans dad and trying to raise children things like that. They're not just inclusive only in name. They really actively give me a platform to talk about my life and my family and I think anybody who's near one should check it out. Tt depends on who's in the group. But I think you're going to find people you like.

Emily: Robbie, thinking back to when you were on the cusp of becoming a parent, are there things that looking back you're like, I can't believe I was worried about x because once the kid came that went out the door and I didn't worry about that anymore? You know, there are things that you really thought a lot about that changed dramatically once kiddos were growing up or once kiddos were a reality?

Robbie: Yeah, it's a good question. As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to be prepared. I read a lot of books, I read books on philosophy of parenting. I read a really interesting book called "Bringing up Bebe", which is about an American mom raising kids in France. And it was interesting to think about, oh, we don't have to just assume children do a certain thing because that's how we are in America. But I think what has transpired is that my approach was to be more of a carpenter where everything was exact and precise and that I could imagine that how I built things is how the child would end up. And it's really more about being a gardener. And this is actually a reference to a book that I just learned about, about parenting styles. Parents generally think of themselves as carpenters with an exact blueprint. And gardeners know that all your plans are really based on a lot of factors that you can't control. And that's parenting. You just kind of go with it. And so I think I now trust myself much more to kind of have a gut instinct around what my child needs from me. And often that means nothing. Like they just need to be on their own and sometimes not intervening is actually sometimes the best way to be. I wouldn't have thought that going in. So there's a lot of it's been about learning and having more patience with myself and just figuring out how to be loving when they're having a meltdown because he's three. The one year old isn't enough words yet, so how can he tell me he has a burp? You just kind of realize that you're there for them and that love is just so instantaneous. I'm sure Kris has experienced it, right? There's no lapse of time. It happens right away. It only gets better.

Emily: Kris, you've got three weeks under your belt. What had been some of the concerns going through your mind in the lead up to the birth of your kiddo? And now has that changed at all?

Kris:  I think the main thing going into it is wanting to be the perfect parent, wanting to make sure everything is perfect, going to make sure everything in the house is perfect. And clearly she had a different different idea because she came four weeks early so I couldn't get everything done. But they don't care as long as you feed them and you love them, you don't have to be perfect and nothing needs to be perfect. Everyone starts off not knowing what they're doing. So there is no perfect parent and I think that's the biggest thing that I've learned so far.

Emily: Yeah. I'm really curious, you've both used social media to some degree to share your story - Kris on your blog and Robbie connecting with a lot of other parents online. What role does social media play in any of your experiences or decisions through your journeys?

Robbie: Yeah, it is something we talked about as a family. I have shared our family photos very publicly for different purposes. We have a private Facebook group that's just for family updates. That's a selective group of people and that's where all the really silly videos go and the flurry of photos. But that doesn't mean that I have sheltered my children. I just think that everything I put online is public. I don't really have a private section of my page. So I assume that I'm going to put the same level of thought and respect to what I post about my children. So, no nudity photos, nothing that would be embarrassing to them when they are 13. If it's silly and it's questionable, it goes into that little private group for just a couple of dozen family watching from home. But we are an out and proud queer family. Pride in our household is a holiday. It's celebrated. A year or so ago I taught my son the phrase 'fight for transgender rights' and every now and again he just erupts into saying that. It's part of our every day. There's never going to be a reveal for my kids about me being trans. It's going to be a slow understanding of what it is and what it means. They just maybe didn't have language or didn't quite get it. But as appropriate, they're going to keep figuring it out.

Emily: Kris, where has social media then been in some of your experience?

Kris: Well I started the blog because I'm someone who is always thinking about something and something else and then something else after that. So it was just a place to write all that stuff down. And then, especially with our process of trying to conceive and then going from there, I just wanted to get our story out there and show that it is possible. And you can take that step. If you're ready, you don't need to wait to do it. You can start your family now. And it's just grown. I recently started interviewing other families just so we can gain more awareness on what it takes to actually build a family. So I'm pretty open about everything online, but my daughter will know from day one that she has a trans dad and Pride is going to be the same way with us. It's nothing that we're ever going to hide.

Emily:  Yeah. And how did your trans identity then come into play when you were making some of those general parenting decisions or coming up with a birth plan, parenting classes, or which hospital you were going to go to? Did that impact the decisions you made together as a family?

Kris:  I think that that did impact a lot, especially from choosing a donor because I wanted to choose somebody who knew that their sperm was going to a trans guy and his wife, and not just a cis couple. That way if it was something that they didn't want, then they're not going to come back years later after they find out and try to break up our family. Then we went with a midwife just because they were very open about it and it's just a better experience for us. And the hospital we went to has been great as well.

Robbie: One of the interesting things is that my wife and I probably are not perceived as queer on a regular basis. I feel like I'm perceived as queer when I'm not with her more. She's necessarily perceived as queer, although she has a cute haircut now. So now I think it looks more queer and she likes it. So it's important for us to find ways to be out. But she also doesn't want to walk around using my trans identity a as a way to out her queerness. And so I usually just bring it up in a casual way. I remember we were at the IVF doctor's office to start having a conversation about that process and they wanted to understand what the diagnosis was that led to us using IVF. And I said, oh, low sperm as in like, none. And they were like, oh, would you try this? I was like, no, no, no, no, you're misunderstanding me. I'm trans. And she was like, oh, got it, and just sort of laughed. And so for me, I use humor. Again, being in Boston, we lived really close to the time to Fenway Health, which is a fantastic LGBT health resource and they refer to the area hospitals.

Robbie:  So we actually had our children born in two different local hospitals and both were really good experiences. The one time I think it did play in about my being trans and us being a queer family was actually choosing a doula the first time around. We did have a doula at the birth and a postpartum doula and it was really important to find someone who was queer. We didn't even know that was a thing that we needed until we were in the process of choosing. And there was just a moment where we met seven people in one evening and the last person was this woman that we had such a short conversation with, but it just was like, oh yeah, you get us. That's important because you're in a really vulnerable place. You're in a hospital, you're worrying about how things are going to go. And so you definitely want an advocate and who gets you as a family. So I think in that sense, it did matter to us.

Emily:  How do your other identities factor into your parent identity and that parent hat you wear? How have those intersections come into play or what are you anticipating in the future?

Robbie:  I think that it plays in all the time. The identities that comes to mind when I think about this is being a feminist and what that means in raising two kids that were identified as boys at birth. I didn't figure out that I was a boy until I was in my late twenties. Or I didn't tell my parents until then at least. So I'm leaving it open for my kids, but I also know that they're going to be raised as presumably straight, presumably cis men, and that they're getting plenty of messages about what that means. And so we've audited our books to make sure that there's a diversity of stories and lots of women at characters taking the lead and people of color. The other identity it makes me think of is my desire to use my whiteness for racial justice. And so again, thinking about what I'm teaching these two white kids about life and what's unjust in our world. It's a huge social experiment having children. My wife and I both have sociology backgrounds and having kids is like the ultimate experiment. You don't know for a long time, like 25 years, how it all turns out. But you can pour a lot of good into it and do your best. And I think for us, it's important to be open about these conversations. As they get older it's going to get more complex as the world continues to be a dark and scary place. We're trying to help explain to our children what that means, but we're up for that challenge. And I think that's the way that my other identities intersect with being a parent.

Kris:  In the beginning we decided we didn't want to know the sex of the baby. We decided for it to be a surprise at birth. And then we were trying to figure out i we wanted to go gender neutral parenting, or to raise them as the sex were given at birth and then just let them decide once they get there. Because I didn't want to push my trans identity onto our child, but I also didn't want to push the opposite way. You get stuck in that middle part. So we just decided that we're going to raise her as the sex she was given at birth and then she's going to be very open minded. So hopefully she can trust us enough to tell us one way or the other once she's old enough to get there.

Robbie: One of the things that I've been thinking a lot about and I'm curious if Kris comes across it himself - I haven't found any good books about trans dads. There are lots of resources around like "The Princess Boy" is a great book to explain gender fluidity to children. And children don't need that explained, they already get that they are gender fluid and we're the ones who are sticking them in boxes. There's good resources for that and there's some good resources for children. But I haven't found any for trans dads. And I also haven't really found any for young boys that are, I guess for lack of a better word, feminists, or just doing good in the world and not just being rough and tumble in the book. I'd like to see some more examples of the kind of world I want my sons to live in. I want to be able to explain in a context that they can understand.

Kris:  I haven't been able to find anything. I was actually thinking of writing a book for her about her trans dad so she can understand it a little better.

Robbie:  I'll buy a copy. I do think that that's a big piece of it. My wife's talked about maybe even creating photo books, really simple things. It kind of goes with trying to help them understand things and be proud of their family. I mean, 'Heather Has Two Mommies' is like 25 years old or something. It feels like, with all of the trans people that are having children these days, we deserve to have trans moms and trans dads books out there. And I know part of the answer is we should start creating it ourselves. I have one too many projects probably already on my plate, but I do hope that people listening take that challenge and start creating some content that they could share about their own lives.

Emily:  Yeah. One book that really warmed my heart was 'Introducing Teddy', which is written by Jessica Walton, in Australia. Jessica's dad transitioned and she was looking for resources and she couldn't find any for her children to explain the changes are that were happening to their grandparent. And so she wrote this really sweet book about a teddy bear transitioning and it is beautiful. But there's a difference between books that are explaining LGBTQ families and books that just have LGBTQ characters in them and they're just doing typical family things. It's definitely two sided, there's benefits to both and I think we need more of both really.

Robbie: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it just feels like my children are never going to be able to imagine me not being me. So it's less about a book about transition because in their eyes it's not a transition for them. I've been their Papa since they were born. That's all they know. So it is interesting to think about what a family needs depending on where that parent is in that journey themselves. And if they're non binary, what that looks like - if they're not planning to have a surgery, etc. There's a lot of things that factor in to how a child might be in the world. One of the things I could share actually, is that we have been trying to teach our toddler the difference between private and public. And part of that's because I want him to also understand the difference between private and secret. Because it's not a secret that I'm trans, but it's not that I want him to walk into school and go up to everyone and announce it. When he has language for anatomy, I don't want it to be the first thing he blurts out. But the way we started teaching that was, this is going to sound so funny. He can pick his nose only in private. And private is in his and in the car. And if he does it in front of me, I remind him, oh no, no, no, you're in public. I can see you. I don't want to see that. And he goes, Oh yeah, you're right. And he stops. And I'm like, wow, it's sinking in. I tell him everyone does that, but no one talks about it and no one does it in front of each other. That's private. And so I want him to have an understanding about those terms because I don't why me being trans ever to be a secret that he has to hold and hide. Children don't always understand those lines.

Emily:  I love that. Good to know parents, they will understand it in terms of boogers. If you just give it on some sort of bigger scale, they'll get it. Any other than advice for prospective or current trans dads and other parents?

Kris:  My big thing is everyone warns you about sleep. That sleep is going to be the worst thing. But this weird thing happens where you just go into autopilot and sleep isn't even that bad because you just do it. You just learn, your body's just used to it. You just go. So it's not that bad. You're going to be a parent and you're going to be a great parent and sleep's just another thing that you're going to be able to surpass and get used to not happening.

Robbie:   Well along those lines, it's called the longest shortest time, which is also the name of a really good podcast about this time period, for a reason. Cause it takes forever to get through where you are right now, Kris. But it also doesn't last very long. Before we had our first child, I said to my wife, you know, we're going to be so tired that we're probably going to be as tired as people are when they're legally drunk. Like we're basically going to be wasted. And so we should not take offense or get into fights. So whenever we got tense in those moments because you're so tired and your brain's not functioning, I would just look at her, I'd be like, oh my, I was so drunk. And she's like, okay. Right. Right. I love you. I'm like, I love you too. We're just going to figure this out one step at a time. The other thing is how fast things do change. And I meet people with 10 year-olds and 15 year-olds and 25 year-olds and they're all, blink and you're going to be here. I actually do believe that because I can't remember the last three years. They just don't seem like it's been three years. It's been so quick. And the only reason I know the passage of time is because the children are in my life. I don't think I look that different, a few more gray hairs but not that much. And so appreciate each stage. With our first child there was a lot of rushing. And I think the second child it's been much more relaxed. Enjoy each stage. We know he'll eventually walk, we know we'll eventually talk, will eventually go to the bathroom on his own. Like all these things that you're trying to get to, he'll get to, it's fine. And I wish that I had just a little more of that patience the first time around. And that's what I would want to offer to people listening.