As we celebrate International Women's Day on March 8, it's clear we still have a long way to go on the road toward gender equality. Unfortunately, despite some legal gains and growing acceptance, that road is even longer for transgender and non-binary people — especially when they are parents, too. Romper spoke with some transgender, non-binary, and genderqueer people via email about ways we can support transgender and non-binary parents on International Women's Day, and the rest of the year, for that matter. Because parenting is hard, no matter who you are or how you identify, and we are in this together.
NPR reports that some states have expanded rights for transgender and non-binary people. California, for example, passed a law on Jan. 1, 2018, erasing the need for a person to pick "male or female" for their state-issued ID. In many other states, though, lawmakers are fighting to prevent transgender people from having legal rights, and even obtaining necessary medical care. For example, in Kansas on Feb. 18, 2018 the Republican party passed a resolution to "oppose all efforts to validate transgender identity," which is mind-blowing to read in 2018. According to the ACLU, transgender parents face specific discrimination related to their ability to even become a parent or have custody of their kids following divorce or separation. And simply being transgender can put your life at risk. As the Mic Network reports, transgender people are at a much higher risk of experiencing violence than other groups of people. As one transgender mom, Ashley Wiggs, told Romper via email, it comes down to being treated as a human being. "Really, just treat me with respect and dignity," Wiggs says, "I didn't ask to be trans. I'm just trying to be the best wife and mother I can be."
Parenting is hard, folx, especially when you don't fit the gender binary and it's complicated to even check the box marked "mom or dad" on your kid's permission slip. So, how can those of us who don't face these barriers help? Read on for some ideas and requests from transgender and non-binary parents, themselves.
Accept Their Gender Identity
Romper spoke with a non-binary, transgender parent via email who prefers to remain anonymous. For them, acknowledgement would be a start. They write, "I'm lucky: I'm white, middle class these days, and able-bodied. I get a lot of control over my circumstances — who I spend time with and when and how — and yet, I still wind up in situations where my kids or I get misgendered. We just need to be heard and believed."
Scout, a transgender parent, told Romper via email, "Pronouns matter. Misgendering me to my child doesn't asset your beliefs and opinions like you think it might. It solidifies to my child that you don't respect or accept his parent or his family."
Nonbinary parent KJ tells Romper via email that they sometimes find themselves letting misgendering go as to not complicate things when their kids are concerned. They write, "As a genderqueer parent I tend to struggle to walk that line between fighting to be seen as genderqueer and overshadowing my kid and what they need. Many times, like at schools, I've taken to not correcting people who misgender me because the fight needs to be for my kid and not for me," They say. "People often make huge assumptions about me because they see I typically present femme, I am a single parent, and then assume my entire role with my kid. I have to do a lot of correction of other or just roll with it and erase my own identity. There is a big struggle there that I have a hard time with because there isn't much recognition or support for parents who are non-binary."
Understand Their Unique Struggles
Transgender parents often face unique parenting challenges that are made more complex by the fact that their right to express their gender identity and even use the damn bathroom is not always a given. According to the ACLU, in the United States anti-discrimination laws are inconsistent, vary by state, and may or may not include gender identity. To make matters worse, courts have ruled against transgender parents having custody of, and parental rights over, their children. States are also passing laws to restrict transgender rights to adopt children. For example, on Feb, 23, 2018, the Georgia State Senate passed SB 375, which if passed by the House could allow state-funded agencies to refuse to place children for adoption or foster care, with anyone, based on "sincerely held religious beliefs."
According to Human Rights Watch, in Japan transgender people can legally change their gender, but — and this is horrifying — only if they aren't parents and agree to be sterilized. According to the same site, the process requires "applicants to be single and without children under 20, undergo a psychiatric evaluation to receive a diagnosis of 'Gender Identity Disorder' (GID), and be sterilized."
According to the U.S. Office for Victims of Crime, transgender people are also at high risk of violence — especially if they are trans women of color. The site notes that one of two transgender people will be sexually assaulted. That's half. That's not OK. The Mic Network website, Unerased: Counting Transgender Lives, reported that 25 transgender people were murdered in the U.S. in 2017. The same site notes that the murder rate for transgender women of color, ages 15-34, is one in 2,600, compared to one in 12,000 for the general population in that age group.
Given the statistics and barriers they face, it's understandable that many transgender parents live in fear. As Salem, a non-binary parent to a transgender kid, told Romper via email, "the thing I need most is modicum of safety, to not have to fear CPS being called, because of my gender identity or because my child is also trans, by a family member, co-worker, or nosy school parent. I live in Missouri — a very red state. It is already totally legal for LGBT people to be discriminated against. On top of that, there are laws in the works to make it so all public multi-user bathrooms have to be 'gendered,' and that trans people have to use the restroom aligned with their gender documented at birth, making it increasingly, extremely difficult for many trans people to go out in public."
Realize That They Are Parents, Too
Transgender parents have to deal with regular parenting challenges, too, with added layers of complexity. As Jay, a transgender single mom told Romper via email, "I’m transmasculine and a mother and one of the biggest things folks can do to support me is a.) not be too flummoxed by my identity as a mom whose pronouns are he/him/his to interact with my family normally, and b.) when folks fail at part a. to not go into a painfully extended semi-apology about how weird and awkward it is."
Jay continued, writing, "For example, I recently had a phone conference with my child and their teacher. The teacher, a man, first referred to me as 'your dad.' I immediately said, 'I’m actually her mom.' For the rest of the call, he kept referring to me as 'Jay' to my child. My child does not call me Jay. My child calls me Mom. When he slipped later in the conversation and referred to me as dad, I again said, 'nope, still Mom.' He said, 'Well, you have to admit I’m doing pretty well with this....' No. I do not. I do not have to interrupt a conference about my child to give their teacher brownie points for having failed less than they could have at referring to me appropriately. I also don’t need to give brownie points to a teacher who refuses to acknowledged I’m my kid’s mother, right in front of my kid. That hurts her, and the one of hardest things about being a trans parent is watching my kids get hurt by my identity."
Wiggs agrees. She writes, "I am my child's mother, and I expect to be treated as such. I just need the support extended to me that all mothers receive. Don't ask about who my child's 'real' mother is. It's rude and upsetting. Please just treat any trans parents you would a cisgender one filling that role. If you want to know things about my child's adoption I'll share, but be polite."
Another transgender parent, Gi, told Romper via email, "Personally, as a trans parent I feel invisible. I wish we weren't treated differently. I don't want to be the oddity at playgroup or school. I just want to enjoy my children and help them grow, the same as anyone else."
Realize That Gender & Anatomy Are Two Different Things
Some of the parents Romper spoke with get frustrated with how often vaginas come up in so-called "feminist" spaces.
Gi writes, "I definitely feel like International Women's Day leaves out trans parents, and it's such a good time to teach and take that on. Women are women; their genitals don't matter. Feminists discussing p*ssy and equating it to the struggle is far from inclusive and actually hurtful. It is a quiet form of discrimination, even if those who do it don't realize. Many trans women aren't included or feel left out because they may not have one. And, why does that even matter? It's creepy. My involvement with feminist activities has greatly lessened due to this obsession. Having a p*ssy doesn't make you a woman. I have one. I'm a man."
As Wiggs writes, "Vaginas are a part of womanhood, and I would never want women to feel like they can't talk about them. Transgender people need to understand that not all parts of womanhood affect their lives, but the conversations are essential. As for it defining womanhood, there are feminists that take it too far by defining womanhood by genitals."
Anonymous adds, "The statistical overlap means that a lot of people think reproductive justice and women's issues are the same. People like me prove you can have one without the other. What I want, personally, is specificity: let's name what we're actually talking about in these conversations. Abortion access is about anatomy. That women are pushed out of STEM professions is about gender. Being accurate is actually to everyone's benefit; it's just most obvious for those of us on the edges of identities."
Talk To Your Kids About It
Scout adds that we, as parents, can help by talking to our kids about different kinds of families. They write, "Fellow parents can talk about different family structures with their kids: how a kid can have two moms, two dads, a 'Moppa,' or a 'Ren,' one parent, no parents, etc. Normalize different family structures, so my child doesn't have to spend his life explaining and defending his family."
It can be easy to forget transgender parents on International Women's Day, and to forget that gains for gender equality aren't felt universally by all people.
As Anonymous writes, "I don't mind that International Women's Day exists. (Everyone should get a day!) I mind that some 'feminists' don't think it's for trans women, too. The day ought to include them, but so many cis women work to prevent that, and that loss hurts us all."
Scout agrees, writing, " Transgender women are women and should be included and celebrated, and their unique challenges and high rates of violence against them needs to be included and discussed. As I'm not a woman I don't need a special place at an event. I acknowledge the deep misogyny in our culture, and it is important for me, as a fellow human, to bring awareness to and work against the ways in which women are oppressed, especially women of color and trans women."
Salem adds, "We are just people, with hopes and dreams and fears, like any other human person. We can be boring and exciting, kind, cranky, and any possible way. We are just people, and we just want to live without constant fear."
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.