Traditions in Transition: Men as Mothers

Traditions in Transition: Men as Mothers April 11, 2019

“Mother: a female parent.”

“Father: a male parent.”

If you’ve been reading along with the other articles in this series, you might know where this is going. If not, that’s ok too; we’re all on this journey together.

In the comment section of the first article in this series, there’s a lively dialogue going about sex and gender and blood mysteries and the LGBTQ community. Some of the comments come off to me as bigoted, while others just strike me as hurt, or misinformed.

In this article, I want to address again how gender and sex are not the same… And how, if we’re going to talk about blood mysteries, we need to talk about men (a gender word) who menstruate (a medical/biology word).

Over the past few years, there have been several widely publicized stories of transgender men, who chose to carry a baby to term, give birth, and become a parent.

Perhaps the most famous of these men is Trystan Reese. He and his husband (yep, husband), Biff Chaplow, conceived a baby, using their own bodies, and their own sperm and eggs.

There are folks who think that transgender automatically means that the person in question feels “trapped in the wrong body,” and while that is certainly true for many transgender people, there are also those who are comfortable with the genitals they were born with, and who simply want to be seen as their gender, rather than the gender associated with their sex.

I think the important thing to remember, is that the way we tend to navigate through society, is by gender, rather than sex. We talk about Women’s Rights, rather than Female Rights. We talk about Women’s rituals… And we sometimes mistake “women” for people with ovaries and a uterus. 

We also say that motherhood, the ability to create life, is the province of women… And it’s not.

People like Trystan Reese, prove, that it’s not.

Trystan is a gay man. A gay, trans man. And proudly so.

He gave birth.

Let me say that one more time: He. Gave. Birth.

Collins, Tudor Washington, 1898-1970, photographer – Title (Portrait of a man holding a baby)

So… If “he” is a gender word, and someone who has a uterus and ovaries can carry a baby to term and give birth, and those parts all together make someone “female,” then…

A female parent: Mother.

I hope you’re with me here… The dictionary is a little off. A lot of things are a little off.

I think what words your children use when they’re talking to a parent vary a lot from family to family: mama, papa, mommy, ma, mom, dad, daddy, dada, baba, mimi, etc.

I’m pretty sure in the case of transgender parents, they’re most often called the parental pronoun ascribed to their gender identity, not what’s in their pants. I’m pretty sure, when my own daughter calls me “Mama,” she’s not thinking about my anatomy.

The world, however, seems to be fixated on it. What parts we have. What we do with them. Who touches us there. Whether or not we can create life. Whether or not our parts “match” our gender. This is so much ingrained in our culture, that in many parts of the United States, law requires that for someone to change their gender legally, they must undergo sterilization surgery.

That’s right folks; in the United States, some states require that someone choose between their ability to create life and their ability to be recognized as themselves.

There are folks who criticize trans women for wanting to participate in Women’s rituals. They point to anatomy. They talk about “blood mysteries,” and “birth.”

I can’t imagine those people would be particularly comfortable with a man, like Trystan Reese, coming into their Red Tent or whatever.

If we follow the train of “logic” around sex and gender, we find that it doesn’t add up.

If we care about gender more than anatomy, then trans women should be welcome in Women’s ritual spaces; if we care more about sex than gender identity, then trans men should be welcome to celebrate their blood mysteries in those same circles.

I’m not convinced that trans exclusion in ritual spaces has anything to do with anatomy or gender.

What do you think?

p.s. If you’d like to learn more about men who have given birth, here are some video resources:

1. Trystan Reese shares his story:

2. Trystan is 8 months pregnant and sharing his experiences as a pregnant man:

3. Trystan has recently given birth; he shows off his newborn:

4. Here are five examples of men who are pregnant, including Trystan’s story stories:

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