Breaking Binaries

Kaci Sullivan speaks to being transmasculine and pregnant in a society still steeped in binary expectations and understandings of childbirth.

Gender…

…is not synonymous with gender role.

Where gender is an inborn trait native to the architecture of one’s brain, a gender role is merely an archetype of what it means to be male or female, as prescribed by a patriarchal society hell-bent on an oppressive binary rule.

Sex (as defined by the existence of first and secondary physical sex characteristics) does not follow binary law any more than gender does. In fact, both demand a spectrum that expresses their variable outcomes.

Therefore, pregnancy is not specific to, nor contingent upon, any particular gender (binary or otherwise), as we cannot equivocally identify a singular gender/sex combination that pregnancy is uniquely applicable to.

Regardless, no one is spared gender role expectations, and we face them internally with the same ferocity that our society commands them.

The power of a pregnancy  

I’ve been lucky. I haven’t suffered from too much dysphoria as a direct result of being pregnant. That isn’t to say I don’t deal with dysphoria almost daily, because I certainly do. However, the dysphoria would be there regardless, as there are immutable attributes of my body and mind (where they fall on their particular spectrums) that will always be in conflict. For me, every day is another unique journey where I must make my peace with that. There are moments of grief for what will never be, wrapped up in an overall gratitude and joy for what is.

Every time I’ve been pregnant, it has been of profound emotional significance. My first pregnancy was before I had even come out, let alone transitioned, and at that point I knew I was transgender. However, I was still clinging to the delusion that I could force myself to be someone I wasn’t.

Pregnancy put me under the stress necessary to transform my mind-space. It required reaching some horrifying lows, but I finally arrived at a place of personal power and conviction. A few months after my first child was born, I came out and socially transitioned. I began medical treatment about a year after that.

My first pregnancy was about finding clarity and authenticity, and so is my second—yet the path is very different. All the stress and trauma has been replaced with deep introspection and a significant sense of vulnerability. This pregnancy has invited to the surface everything I thought I could fix by refusing to think about. It has forced me to confront my internalized toxicities, work through them, and grow.

This has been painful, challenging, and cathartic. Sometimes it feels like running in circles, and sometimes it is. More often than not, though, I reach an even deeper understanding of myself. With that comes a release of something I can’t identify. It’s like a fragrance that catches you by surprise, somehow unique and painfully familiar at the same time.

Finding care that’s right for you  

There are so many joyous moments that have peppered this pregnancy: Hearing the heartbeat, seeing the baby during ultrasounds, and feeling life move inside of me. Not to mention the ineffable closeness I feel to this brand-new life I’m bringing Earth-side. There are these incredibly beautiful moments with my partner. I am bliss personified, watching all that love and excitement on his face while he talks to the bump, when he sees something at the store he wants to provide for the baby, when he watches the ultrasound screen. We are making so much more than a baby right now, and I am learning so much about being present as I take these moments in, needing to remember them forever.

Of course, pregnancy is as much a physical journey as it is an emotional one, and medical support is required. One of the biggest decisions we faced after getting pregnant was who our provider was going to be, and whether we would choose a hospital physician or a midwife. I’d already had a hospital experience that I wasn’t happy with, and I knew I wanted to try something different. However, my partner had never had a baby before, and we needed to make an educated decision together. We scheduled two 8-week appointments, one at a hospital clinic and one with a midwife.

Our appointment with the midwife was absolutely amazing. We were given as much time as we needed (it ended up being hours) to understand what we were getting into. She thoroughly explained all of our options for a safe delivery, and she supplied us with ample, diversified information to make a choice. She applied absolutely no pressure towards our final decision and genuinely wished us all the best (plus, the entire consult was free of charge!).

By contrast, the hospital clinician rushed us out the door. The appointment length didn’t allow for her to even get through her spiel, let alone create room for a dialogue or our questions. She pushed a bunch of pamphlets and free formula samples onto us and sent us on our way. Not to mention her constant mis-gendering of me, or the way she spoke of pregnancy as a cisgender woman-specific undertaking.

When we ultimately chose a homebirth with the midwife, we called the hospital clinic to cancel our follow-up appointment. They were very aggressive in attempting to retain me. In fact, the doctor herself called me twice to tell me what a terrible choice she thought I was making. Her invading, dominating attitude is a strong example of a problematic (though certainly not omnipresent) hospital prenatal and birthing care culture. It is exactly why we chose a homebirth.

What to expect when you’re expecting  

Other transmasculine folx often ask me for advice. I think that first and foremost it’s crucial to know yourself. If you’re able to anticipate the elements of pregnancy you might struggle with, so much the better. On that note, research is very empowering. If you familiarize yourself with the process, you’ll be able to ask better questions and make better decisions. Learn your body. Go exploring, find your cervix, track its changes, understand your cycle and its indicators.

Trust your body. This a big one, and one with which I wasn’t anticipating so much of a struggle. It took us six months to get pregnant, and even though that’s not a long time, it was plenty long enough for me to agonize over whether or not I’d compromised my fertility (as a result of the few years I’d been on testosterone). This was compounded by the fact that I couldn’t readily find information on transmasculine fertility, conception, or pregnancy.

Ultimately, I found a single study and lots of anecdotal evidence (that’s an oxymoron, I know), and it was all overwhelmingly positive. It would seem that a majority of transmasculine folx, even after a decade on testosterone, maintain their fertility (assuming hormone therapy began 16+).

Additionally, you really cannot have too much support, as pregnancy is bound to kick your ass in ways you never expected. Invite your friends and loved ones to be a part of the process. Let them do your dishes and bring you food. Allow yourself a decreased workload. Take naps.

It’s a beautiful thing to bring another human into the world, but it’s also a tremendous, complicated effort. Energies erupt, magnify, modify, and elevate. So much is birthed alongside a baby. You are bound to discover new pieces of yourself, to redefine what you thought you knew and to remember all those things you’d forgotten. The experience of pregnancy is defined by a great many things, but gender is not one of them. n

Editor’s Note: We’ll be checking in with Kaci after the birth of their child, for an update about how the process went, both medically and emotionally.

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