He Calls Me “Mommily”
By Emily Crose
My son was born after a week-long labor in August of 2013. When he came into our life, it was a beautiful moment. My tough little boy came into this world covered in bruises from his birth and I looked down at him in the infant warmer and his tired, new little body with the eyes of a proud. Albeit exhausted new father. We named him Quentin – a name both my wife and I loved.
Quentin is the star around which my world revolves. As a new dad, I couldn’t have been more excited to welcome him into the life my wife and I had built together. There were so many things that I wanted to do with my new son, and I couldn’t wait for him to be able to experience them all with me.
Saturday morning cartoons, teaching him how to rip apart a computer and then how to put it all back together again. How to grow up and how to be a smart, capable, empathetic man. In Quentin, I had invested all of my hopes and dreams. He was meant to be the legacy of our family, in the same sanguine way that every proud parent wishes for their kids. He was finally here, and I was there to live my life for him – I would die for this little boy.
It was only a year-and-a-half later that life circumstances threatened to derail all of that.
“I wish we had dealt with this earlier…” my wife said to me one night in Mid-November of 2014. “We didn’t deal with it before, and now you have a son in your life…” she went on. My face was covered with tears, I was sure that her and I were having the last conversation we would have as a married couple with a bright future together, But she was right. Her voice was choked with fear and concern. I couldn’t blame her. She hadn’t planned a contingency for what I had just told her; nobody ever does.
I had chosen that night to tell her that I was transgender. Here I was, telling her that I was trans and there was nothing that her, or I, or anyone else could do to change that fact. My life was on a trajectory from that point forward that had profound consequences on the kind of spouse, and the kind of parent that I would be for my family.
Of more urgent concern to me was how the decisions we would make following this news would impact my relationship with my son. I was reasonably worried that my wife might decide that walking this line with me was not the life for her. What would happen to our humble little family if my wife decided to leave? I dreaded the possibility that my son would be raised without me. I had languished over the future my son would have when this change was made playing and replaying the scenarios that would lead to my separation from him and his mother. Maybe my wife would move back to Michigan and take our son with her. I would have to watch my son grow up in stop-motion, through a series of photographs weeks or even months apart.
Only a couple decades ago, the psychological standard of care for transgender individuals was a suite of treatment guidelines colloquially called the “Harry Benjamin standard” it is an obsolete standard which is still practiced by some professionals in the industry today. The Harry Benjamin standard was prevalent at a time when it was common and expected that a parent coming out as transgender would absolutely be getting divorced from their spouse, and their children would be told that their transitioning parent would be leaving the family and moving away. The parent would not see their children again, and the children would not likely see their parent again. That was just how things were done and the thought that my son might grow up thinking that I didn’t love him, wondering if he was to blame, was not a future I wanted for him.
I had assumed that if my wife left our marriage and moved away, that I would be a mere peripheral character in the story of my son’s upbringing. I assumed that (of course) my wife would go on to re-marry. I even expected her to. I expected her to find a man who would then end up becoming the defacto male presence in my son’s life – a role that I could no longer fill for him. That thought brought me immense shame and embarrassment as a parent.In the ensuing months, my wife decided that her and I were going to make this work. We made plans to stay together, and I had been saved from the dishonor of playing second fiddle to anyone else raising the son that I loved so much. But it didn’t absolve me of my concern that if I went through a full transition, my son would be disadvantaged somehow by having two women raising him instead of a distinct mother and father. I was concerned that there would be no computers ripped apart, or Saturday morning cartoons. No more fishing trip and digging for worms and riding our bikes and playing a game with him…
Why did me correcting my gender inconsistency mean that I couldn’t provide for my son in the same way I could have as his dad? Of course I could still show him what I knew about being a man and teach him everything I know about how to program a computer and how to bait a hook. Of course I could do all of those things, I might just do them in a summer dress instead of stiff pair of slacks. I would just be fixing the sprocket on his bike with a wider smile on my face, gladly ruining my self-done manicure so that we could jump on our bikes and take a ride around the neighborhood.
What I came to realize is that my son needs a loving parent. What he really needed wasn’t a “dad” per-se, but a parent who could care for him as a child and nurture his needs the way every kid deserves. Intellectually, I knew this of course. I’ve met male children raised by cis-gender lesbian couples, and they’re great kids just like any other kids I’ve ever met.
Society conditions us as parents to believe that our children are constantly in a state of dire hazard. As mothers and fathers, we watch our toddlers like hawks at the park to make sure they don’t fall off the swing, or get into arguments with bossy children. We’re conditioned to believe that kids without a nuclear and traditional mother and father will be hobbled in life…but in practice, this just isn’t true.
On Sundays, I take my son to get donuts and we go to the train station in our town and sit on the platform to watch the trains go by. I love him dearly, and in many ways since I transitioned I feel that the love I have for my son can be seen by me on a much broader spectrum than I could have seen before. Being myself has unlocked a deeper appreciation for being a parent that I didn’t know existed in me before now. I am not Quentin’s daddy anymore, and in many ways I feel a certain sadness for his loss. Although this path is not one fit for anyone who isn’t transgender, and it has been difficult, he calls me his ‘mommily’ and I wouldn’t trade this life for anything.
Emily Crose is a transgender mommy of two adorable children and wife to her fantastic spouse, Amanda. When she’s off the mom-clock, she tinkers with electronics, writes essays and bakes. Emily is a contributing writer to theestablishment.co and btchflicks.com.