We Talked to a Trans Dad About Being Pregnant, Trolls, and Trump
"I don’t want to be like a biological man."
Trystan Reese is eight month pregnant.
Trystan Reese isn't new to being a dad but he's never been pregnant until now.
Reese, 34, who lives in Portland with his partner Biff Chaplow, is eight months pregnant. The pair has two adopted children, a nine-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl, who are Chaplow's biological nephew and niece.
They adopted their kids after dating only a year.
"We got the phone call that things had really deteriorated in their house and they said 'You can take them or they'll go into the foster system'," said Reese, who is from Vancouver.
"Together we decided to do our best to take care of them."
Though the first year was tough, Reese told VICE he and Biff grew to love parenthood and a few months ago announced they would be having a biological baby. Reese was born female so he has been carrying the baby himself. While he stresses he's not by any means the first trans man to become pregnant, he's definitely one of the highest profile; the story has made international headlines.
VICE reached out to Reese to chat about his pregnancy and how he's coped with being in the public eye.
VICE: So did you guys plan on having kids or was that something you decided in that moment?
Trystan Reese: It was something we had to decide in that moment for sure. One of the things we had really wanted to do was really appreciate each stage of our relationship. We didn't want to move in right away, we didn't even want to say 'I love you' right away. We kinda ended up going from zero to 60, leapfrogging a bunch of steps. And Biff said to me 'If this this something we do, you are committing to being with me for the next 18 years.'
What was it like?
Honestly, I do not recommend becoming a parent during a time of crisis. It was extraordinarily difficult. They had been through pretty severe abuse and neglect in their home. They were so little, they were one and three, they required so much attention and care. So it was a very, very stressful time. Luckily Biff is just like the most wonderful person and we had really amazing support systems as well. Our whole community rallied around us.
Why did you decide to have a biological child?
Our kids are really delightful, we love being parents. We had already been through an adoption process and we knew how incredibly emotionally difficult and financially difficult it is to go through that system. We really wanted the experience of doing it on our own terms. I'm transgender, he's not, we have all the parts necessary to grow our own family in house. And we have known many transgender men who were born female who have given birth to babies. We met with a team of doctors here in Portland to make sure that this is something that could be done in a medically safe way. And it's not unlike going off hormonal birth control, all the systems kick back into gear.
How long had you been on hormone therapy?
A long time, 13 years.
So what was it like going off of that?
I stopped taking testosterone and they did ultrasounds just to make sure everything looked healthy, they made sure all systems were go. I had been on it for so long that most of the physical, cosmetic effects don't go away. My voice doesn't change, my beard doesn't fall out, I still completely appear male other than the fact that at this point I'm eight months pregnant. The only adjustment is getting a cycle again after not having one for more than a decade. And being privy to the same ups and downs hormonally and the mood element that you would when you have a cycle. That was a little bit of a tough experience adjusting back to 'Oh I guess this is a time in the month when I'm a little more short tempered.'
How do you reconcile being pregnant with your identity as a man? Has that been an issue at all?
I think it's complicated. A lot of transgender men that I know have carried babies, some of my favourite people that I consider my role models and good and kind, and caring, loving people have been through this process. In some ways, I have detached the process of birth form womanhood. I of course understand that the vast majority of people who have babies are women. I'm already transgender, I'm already doing something that's outside of the norm of what men and women are supposed to do, so for me I don't feel it's that rigid that men are not supposed to have babies.
Have you gotten any backlash for saying that you've detached birth from womanhood? I feel like a lot of women would be defensive about that.
I've actually gotten very little backlash from women. I think most women understand the way men interact with children, babies and families could stand to be improved. That probably more men have access to the process of birth would only mean men were more involved.
I've tried to approach it with respect. If I'm going to a prenatal yoga class, I will reach out to the instructor first. I've done the same with the birthing class, I reached out to the instructor and said 'Is it OK if I come?' There are gonna be times when women just want to be with women. I have not had anyone say yet, 'No, you're not welcome.' I've only had people say 'We'd love to have you, we want to expand our inclusion.' It's mostly men who have been freaked out.
Tell me about that.
It really does seem like people may be willing to hesitantly accept a transgender person as long as we never acknowledge or admit that we are a little bit different from them. So me saying 'Yes, I am a man' and 'Yes, I'm going to have a baby,' there's something about that that's really hard for folks. I don't want to be like a biological man. I think I'm in a unique situation that I think is valuable and I don't wish to give that up. And I had really thought that maybe we as a culture were ready to expand our idea of who transgender people are. The message has been the thing that makes us transgender is we hate our bodies and we want to do everything to change our bodies. That's the experience of a lot of transgender people, it's not mine. For some of us we think it's OK to embrace and accept the unique path we have.
How do you deal with online trolls?
My partner had told me early on if we tell our story, things could get really dangerous for us. And I don't think I really believed him until things did get really dangerous. The scariest thing for me has been A) people sending us direct messages saying how gross and disgusting we are and B) people saying that they hope that the baby I give birth to is dead because it would be better for us to have a dead baby than a baby that has to live in our family. And that's on top of the normal 'This isn't a man, this is a bearded lady, this is a circus freak.' And then there's a neo-Nazi alt right group in the Pacific Northwest that's picked up our story. So having neo-Nazi white supremacist groups pick up our story has meant that we installed new locks on our doors and we've been really careful about when we go out in public and when we pick up our kids and not having our address anywhere.
What has the response been from within the trans community?
I expected a lot of backlash from the trans community, from the LGBT community. I thought other trans men in particular would say 'Stop confusing people, you're making this harder for us, we want people to accept us as men.' Instead it has been the complete and utter opposite. I've heard from so many other LGBT and trans people saying 'thank you for leading this conversation, thank you for expanding what it means to be trans, for expanding what it means to be a man.'
How do you feel about the state of trans rights in the US right now?
We're in straight up defence mode right now. We were doing really well for several years in terms of being able to pass proactive legislation that didn't just protect us from attacks and discrimination but started to enshrine some really basic protections like transgender youth should be able to use their bathroom of choice in their schools. But now as the pendulum has swung to the right in US, anything that had happened at the federal level, which quietly really amazing and smart leaders had been pushing and moving forward, a lot of those got repealed by the Trump administration. So now we're really just in defence mode and trying to remind people that we're not any different than we were one year ago, even if the political climate has changed a little bit. It has meant there's been an uptick in anti-trans hate crimes. As in Canada, trans women of colour continue to be subjected to ever increasing attacks of violence.
I forgot to ask you, how has the pregnancy been going?
I know this is not cool to say but it's been really amazing. It's been really easy medically, there have been no complications at all. The process of growing a new life is really amazing, I know it's how we all got here so it's not actually that miraculous it's just science. But it's been really, really exciting.
How are the kids reacting?
Pretty normally. There are moments of excitement about having a baby brother and moments of jealousy about the attention and excitement. I think they feel anxious about does a baby mean they'll have to share their toys with him. They're 6 and 9 so that's what they're capable of right now.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.