A post from last November, which I wrote while in Bangkok for the ILGA World Conference. Time for recapitulation and continuing work re. TransParenting. Our reproductive rights, access to services and right to have a family with manifold and multiple configurations, are all non-negotiable.
This afternoon, I had my workshop on transparenting at the ILGA world conference. The workshop did not go according to plan due to a number of practical and logistical reasons, and in all honesty, my take is that it was challenging to communicate some of the key concepts that inspire me and guide me in my work not only on transparenting, but also on trans and queer activism as a whole.
The workshop took place in the middle of several other parallel sessions, which meant that the presence was low, and it was a small group. The positive side of that was that every participant was extremely interested in the topic. Some logistical difficulties prevented me from using the projector, and ‘displaying’ the key concepts and ideas that are crucial to my book project.
In the following, I will be engaging in an effort to rectify these flaws, by discussing, albeit briefly, some of the key elements and concepts that guide me in my day-to-day life as a transparent, and also in writing my book.
A basic google search would suffice to note that work on trans identities and parenting does exist. In many cases, these narratives come from the global North, and are often written by middle and upper-middle class white people. In comparison, there is very little emphasis on trans and queer people of colour and parenting. In the case of Turtle Island, for instance, the same applies to indigenous Trans, queer and gender-plural people. Most often, the approach is what I call an ‘oh my god’ approach – one in which people present transparents as a specific group that is ‘different’ if not the ‘not so normal’ case in family life, moving on to elucidate the challenges they face. I seek to challenge, if not distance myself from this type of narrative. My approach is based on a logic of self-affirmation and normalising.
Trans people, just like cis people, exist.
Trans people, just like cis people, can choose to be parents.
Trans people can be good, if not excellent parents.
Trans/queer identities are in no way an impediment to good parenting.
It is normal to be trans and a parent.
The world does not need to lose it and get heart attacks seeing a trans/queer person who is also a parent.
If anybody disagrees, they better check their privileges, prejudices and perceptions of gender and family life. Check your narrow cisheteronormative understanding of gender roles. UNLEARN.
My book, developed from the perspective of a trans woman of colour living in Western Europe, and grappling with multiple forms of marginalisation, is intended at developing an inherently non-cis-heteronormative and transfeminist perspective on being a trans person (and very especially a trans woman) and a parent. This non-cis-het and transfeminist perspective cannot be consistently built if it is not grounded in an appraisal of (and a discourse of) decolonizing.
Being a trans parent, and having the strength and courage to navigate through structures that are cis-normative, heteronormative, and in many cases racially discriminatory and abjectly misogynist, is all about creating understandings, meanings, and support networks that challenge cis-heteronormativities, socio-cultural and racial hierarchies, and indeed parenting and family life-related cis-centric perceptions.
Transparenting as a core component of Reproductive Justice
When discussing transparenting, it is crucial to focus on – as a workshop participant rightly affirmed earlier today – the concept of ‘choice’. As a trans woman and transfeminist activist living in the island of Ireland, the term ‘choice’ carries multiple connotations to me. To begin with, trans people should have the fundamental and inalienable right to choose whether they wish to become parents. It is a life choice that should not be governed by cis-heteronormative discriminatory practices and prejudices.
The term ‘choice’ also connects to reproductive justice. Trans women’s reproductive rights have been subjected to severe curtailment in many Western countries. It was only in the last two to three years that some of the Nordic countries abrogated their laws on compulsory sterilisation for trans people, especially for trans women. In some Nordic and Western European states, compulsory sterilisation continues to be standard practice. This is a case in point in which the state and legislators interfere in trans women’s bodily autonomy, and seek to violently control our bodies. This connects to existing restrictions in some jurisdictions on a birth giver’s right to access a termination when they so require. Campaigns for the right for a safe and legal termination (one of securing bodily autonomy) can and need to be intertwined and interconnected with trans women’s struggles for reproductive justice (also an issue of bodily autonomy).
Indeed, reproductive justice is an issue around which – as opposed to what many people blindly assume – strong cooperative solidarities can and should be built between cis and trans women.
A key element of my book is an effort to document and discuss the day-to-day experiences, challenges and inspiring moments that involve being a trans woman of colour and a parent in a Western European context. In discussing these issues and very specially strategies of dealing with them, it is very important to focus on the limits inherent to such a discussion. The tremendous diversity of trans and queer communities is such that I can share my experience and explain the strategies I deploy, but cannot provide a template. The lived experiences, personal circumstances and challenges people face can vary to tremendous levels.
In my case, my primary focus as a transparent is on taking an incremental approach, and managing the pace of my interactions with a cis-heteronormative world. Parenting involves constant dialogues and interactions with cis-heteronormative spheres, from antenatal care to primary school and beyond. This, in turn, involves having to deal with people who do not (and in some cases are unwilling to) sufficiently understand trans and queer issues, lifestyles, and queer liberation discourses.
What this implies is
- Taking a stand – I am a trans woman, and a parent, and as opposed to what cis-het society likes to assume, my gender identity is in no way an impediment to parenting (It is, on the contrary) an asset to good, if not excellent parenting.
- Engaging in conversations: given the above-mentioned problem of visibility, it is very important that I engage in conversations, within my personal spaces, in trans/queer activist lobbies and indeed with cis-het people and establishments I deal with on a daily basis, on the fact that transparents do exist, and that trans parents are as good as, and if not better than, cis parents. Such conversations can take multiple forms, and can take varying levels of intensity. They can be friendly chats that explain day-to-day realities or more intense discussions/debates. Experience has taught me that having confrontational conversations with cis-het people is unadvisable. This is because
- My confrontational attitude implies that I take cis-het perspectives on parenting seriously
- It can be harder to make a point and explain its validity and worth when articulated in confrontational undertones
- It strains my own emotional, and indeed physical well-being. The last thing one needs as a parent is added and avoidable stress.
- A refusal, of a categorical nature, to not to play by the cisheteronormative book. Transparenting, if it is to be grounded on queer liberation, needs to challenge and unsettle cis-heteropatriarcal perspectives on parenting.
Transparenting should therefore not focus on a trans woman being a good mother or a trans man being a good father (if a trans woman or a man wants to be so, that is indeed their choice). Instead, transparenting is best conceived as a healing, dynamic and unique approach to parenting, which fundamentally challenges cis-heteronormativities associated with parenting and family life. This is where the concept of a #chosenfamily becomes relevant and crucial. It is a concept that is close to the hearts of many trans people, especially trans women of colour across the world. In the First Nations communities of Turtle Island, chosen family is a concept that has enabled many people who have faced major challenges in their lives (due to genocidal government policies) to find love and affection, create safe spaces, develop strategies for self-care and healing, and to create safe and affection-filled intimate-family spaces for their children to grow up in. When #chosenfamily is applied to transparenting, we are left with a few key ideas:
Transparenting does not need to be about ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ tags (this does not, let’s be clear, imply that children cannot call their parents mum or dad (or mum and mum, dad and dad, mum,or dad). What this means is that in transparenting (and once again, irrespective of how your children address you) does not need to be limited to, defined or constrained by cisnormative perspectives of parenting. To follow this logic, whether a child calls their trans woman parent ‘dad’ or ‘mum’ is trivial. What matters is that the transparent approaches parenting and childcare in a transfeminist perspective (focused on creating a loving, affectionate and safe space for child to thrive in, a space that strongly recognises gender as a spectrum and that all points of that spectrum are equally valid), and engages in childcare with a strong emphasis on anti-bullying, consent and self-care. >>> This is an aspect I develop extensively in my book, based on my conversations with my five-year-old daughter. I have made it a point to encourage her, using age-appropriate language, that more than ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ she is a child, (as in,>>
My daughter: ‘I’m not sure if I can have this toy, because it is for boys’ and,
Me: No love, that’s not true. All toys are for all children. You’re a child, and you can definitely have it’).
I also strongly encourage my daughter to not to let anyone touch her without asking first (this was, primarily, based on an experience we lived through when my daughter and I travelled abroad for a short trip in Easter 2016. Seeing a child of colour, a lot of people would, with no qualms whatsoever, seek to touch her, and caress her, leading to me telling people off in no uncertain terms.
My objective is to ensure that the child is given the understanding that her body is hers, and hers alone, and that others can only get close if she agrees. As time flies through, this perspective can be developed into a strong discourse on consent. All our children, whether they grow up in cisparent or transparent households, need to be taught consent as of the nursery (if not earlier).
In a world in which black and brown bodies are prone to face hatred and violence (and indeed high levels of sexism), I strongly prioritise consent and the emphasis on gender as a spectrum in my day-to-day conversations with my child, and in my overall approach to parenting. #ThisiswhatTransfeministTransparentingLooksLike).
- To expand a bit further, subscribing to cisheteronorms is something I discourage. Take, for instance, a trans woman upholding the view that she intends to be a great mum, with all the ‘qualities’ and ‘traits’ that [cis-het-patriarchal society ascribe to] a cis woman who is a mother. Take the case of a trans man who seeks to be a ‘good father’ in the way a cis-het-patriarchal society expects a cis father to be. Such an approach only results in transparents serving the patriarchy and consciously or unconsciously, sustaining patriarchal imperatives.
This, simply, is not necessary and is futile. The term your child uses to call you is not so important. What matters is your approach to parenting, how you give and nurture love and care, and encourage your child to become a human being who sees gender as a spectrum (thereby standing against any bullies against other cis-or trans children in their circles, and also feeling free to live their own [cis, trans, non-binary or any other] gender identities), who has a strong understanding of consent and respect, and in sum, creating a constructive, safe and loving space for your child to develop and thrive, and face life’s challenges with strength.
The relevance of transfeminist theory
One of the elements I tried to include in my workshop presentation was the importance and relevance of transfeminist thought to transparenting. I see transfeminism as a current of feminist thought strongly inspired by Afrofeminism/s, global south feminism/s, and indigenous feminist perspectives. When discussing the idea of taking parenting beyond cis-heteronormativity’ transfeminist perspectives are extremely useful. A transfeminist perspective is one of solidarity, especially when it comes to transnational and collective engagement. It is perfectly in line with transfeminist thought for cis and trans women, for instance, to work together to consolidate their reproductive rights.
Transfeminism’s emphasis on bodily autonomy, and drawing inspiration from non-western epistemologies provides concepts that are extremely useful for transparenting. This is especially the case when one discusses parenting by trans people of colour, especially trans women of colour. The transfeminist critique of equal marriage and hierarchies within the LGBTQI communities (as well as of neo-colonial cycles of oppression in many sectors, including some aspects of global LGBTQI activism) provides inspiration to take a critical perspective on ‘appropriating’ (inherently oppressive) cis-het elements into trans lives (e.g. the inclination among some trans people to model their family lives and affections along cis-het demarcators, perceptions, cis-norms and symbols).
Once again, this is only an überblick, and I discuss the relevance of transfeminist thought to transparenting extensively in the second chapter of my book.
These were some of the key ideas that I intended to share in the transparenting workshop. In the cis-heteronormative world we live in, and given the tremendous diversity in trans circles, it is considerably challenging to find spaces, words and strategies to effectively communicate these concepts and thoughts. Indeed, this was one of the core challenges I faced in my very first workshop on transparenting. My book will by no means be an end in itself, but only the beginning of a long conversation.
PS: There was an emphasis, from a lovely sister, on reproductive and sexual health issues that specifically concern trans women. This is an issue that does receive attention in my book, but (as it stands now, at least…) I do not believe that the space I provide to discuss trans women’s reproductive health-related issues in this project is adequate. To sum up a few key points, the key challenge is that of fighting stigma associated with trans womanhood and parenting. Secondly, it is important to encourage medical practitioners and all professionals associated with reproductive health, childbirth and childcare of a trans woman’s inalienable right to become a parent. More research and attention is required to reproductive health issues of trans women from pre-op issues to vaginal health – going beyond cis-het stigma. It is also crucial to discourage making cis-hetero-norms the key benchmark when discussing trans women’s health issues, and their right to choose to become parents. It is a multi-faceted and multi-stake-holder dialogue, involving medical practitioners, trans people and indeed, trans rights and justice activists who do not approach trans issues through cis prisms. Encouraging trans people to enter the medical professions is also a key long-term element in this process. [and that’s only a very few thoughts on an extremely complex issue, which is also marked by quite a few ‘unchartered territories’ that need more work.