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Don't Get Invited Into Narratives That Don't Serve You
As a pregnant trans man, I'm learning to find the stories that serve me, and to let go of the rest.
Today’s piece, titled after what’s become my motto for this pregnancy, looks at the stories about myself that I’ve been invited into as a pregnant trans man, and how I am learning to choose to take in only those that truly serve me.
Last week, I agreed to be interviewed by a pair of journalists from a local graduate school regarding my pregnancy experience. They were doing a piece about health disparities and queer and trans pregnancy. Since I’ve already been public about my pregnancy experience here, I thought, why not?
The journalists were interested in hearing about my personal experience around being trans and pregnant, which I shared, including the fact that I love my medical providers but that I am overwhelmed and exhausted by the hurdles I have faced getting insurance coverage for basic prenatal care due to being legally male.
“It sounds like you have taken a lot of time to research this issue and try to get it resolved in various ways,” said one of the journalists, after I described where I am at in the process so far. “About how much time would you say you have spent on this?”
“Thank you for asking that,” I said. I meant it, but I was also buying time. It was a question I’d never considered.
It was a question that hurt to consider, actually, especially because I’m currently freelancing, so if there’s time during the day that I’m not working on a particular project, I’m not getting paid. I’m not squeezing in these calls or research around the edges of a salaried job. Considering my hourly rate, I thought, how much has this insurance issue taken from me?
I almost didn’t want to go there, so I told her it wasn’t just about the time. It was about the emotional energy, the way that these tasks hang over my head, how I don’t feel up to them most days because the thought of arguing about whether my child deserves the same prenatal care that cis people’s children do, or explaining that I’m not mistaken about what my legal sex is on my documents (why would someone be mistaken about their own documents?), or explaining that I don’t have my original birth certificate because New York City took it away and sealed it when I changed my name—it’s exhausting.
Pushing these tasks from to-do list to to-do list makes me feel terrible about myself. Disorganized. Procrastinating. A bad public health professional. If anyone should be able to get this done, I tell myself, it should be me. This is the kind of thing that, after a master’s degree in public health and over a decade working in various kinds of healthcare advocacy, I am supposed to know how to get done.
I had not considered the way that this form of healthcare systems discrimination, in addition to being a stressful hassle, had robbed me of my own self-regard. How I have been unkind to myself about my very human desire to, upon seeing “file discrimination complaint” at the top of my to-do list, not reach for my laptop but instead hide under the covers and cry.
I do not expect to have another child and I am deeply saddened that systems-level healthcare discrimination has been a looming shadow over my experience of this pregnancy.
I am working—slowly—on the systems issues in play here. But I can also work on the stories I tell myself. Maybe I don’t need to feel together, or fully on top of things, in order to take care of what needs to be done. I have been unkind to myself around my handling of this issue. I have invited myself into a story that didn’t serve me.
As a pregnant trans man, I often feel more like a symbol or metaphor than someone whose body is every day going through a completely batshit wild biological process.
And as someone who does seem to symbolize something—or, more accurately, various somethings to various people—I find that I am routinely invited into narratives that don’t serve me. (Some might see these narratives as being forced onto me—projected onto me either explicitly or implicitly by others—but I prefer to see these as invitations. Someone may project a story onto me, but I can decide if I want to enter it and believe it for myself.)
Some of the narratives that are projected onto me, such as the idea that I must be “really” a woman, very plainly harm me and don’t serve me.
But some narratives come from a well-intentioned place, in other words, they appear to serve me. Those are the most insidious, because I might actually fall for them myself.
Here’s a sampling:
I am brave.
My transness is the most interesting thing about my pregnancy.
The fact that I am pregnant means something about where we are in the world today.
These narratives are not unkind. They may even be a valid and supportive opinion for someone else to hold.
But they are not helpful narratives for me to hold right now. They do not help me find a comfortable position to sleep in. They do not solve my digestive issues. They do not help me interpret my vivid and strange pregnancy dreams. They do not help me write about just exactly how it feels when my baby kicks. These are the things I want most right now.
I usually don’t wish for the cisgender pregnancy experience. There are enormous pressures on cisgender women who are pregnant—aggressive advice from total strangers, unwanted touching of one’s belly, and repeated invitations into the idea that one is “doing it wrong” if one doesn’t consume particular supplements, wear organic cotton maternity clothes, or create a certain type of birth plan. (These invitations into “shoulds” regarding pregnancy currently fill my social media advertising, but as a pregnant man, my lack of representation in tropes around ideal motherhood make me largely emotionally immune to them.)
Still, sometimes I think:
If I were a cisgender woman, I would know that every prenatal care provider I encounter has previously cared for someone of my gender.
If I were a cisgender woman, and I chose to do so, it would not be too difficult for me to find care providers who share my gender identity.
If I were a cisgender woman, I could attend any prenatal yoga class without worrying that it would be awkward or unsafe for someone of my gender to be there.
If I were a cisgender woman, I would not worry about the possibility of receiving medical care not appropriate for pregnant people (x-rays, etc) without first being asked if I am pregnant.
If I were a cisgender woman, I might, when appropriate, tell random people about my pregnancy, like the parents at the beach who asked me and my partner if their toddler was disturbing us. (“Not at all,” we said, and both considered saying—but didn’t—that we were looking forward to bringing our kiddo to the beach next year.)
If I were a cisgender woman, I would be unafraid to ask for assistance lifting heavy things due to my pregnancy.
The list goes on.
The truth is, I love being a trans person, and I love having a trans body. I would not trade.
But I think it’s important for me to name what I am losing out on due to systemic discrimination. To name it so it doesn’t swirl around me like the air I breathe, as though it is just how it is, as though it is okay.
At the end of my interview, the journalists asked me if I had anything else to say.
“Yes,” I said. “Don’t get invited into narratives that don’t serve you.”
Perhaps the best thing about my pregnancy experience so far is that it has offered me an increasingly finely honed knife with which to dissect these cultural stories, to hold the ones I want and to leave the rest. To love being trans and pregnant while knowing that some of my deepest pregnancy experiences are far more wild and mysterious than my gender. To see that being trans and pregnant offers me certain experiences and takes away others, and to name both those joys and those losses.
My pregnancy is wilder and more complex than any narrative can contain, bigger than any story I’d imagined for it. But as my body finds new shapes and grows beyond my imagining, I know that my stories can, too.
I’m excited to share . . .
My essay on resisting linear pregnancy narratives, originally a favorite in this newsletter, has now been republished in Mutha Magazine, with a much more exciting title and alongside artwork by Shea in the Catskills and photography by Mary Porter Kerns.
On December 1 (which is World AIDS Day), I’ll be reading at a wonderful monthly series highlighting grief writing—it’ll be on Zoom at 7pm Pacific / 10pm Eastern (a late night for us East coast folks, to be sure!) More details here.