When I was young, I thought to be a woman was to be life itself—nourishment coming from our hands and chests, the fruits of our quiet labors not only why any of us were clean or comfortable, but also why any of us were. I wasn’t sure how men fit into the equation, exactly, but I knew which side of the equals sign I wanted to be on.
I wanted to hold babies, to knead dough, to keep everyone fed and warm and safe. I wanted to have children of my own, to play the next note in the song, to tend some small part of the future in the hopes of giving someone a better life.
One little fact complicates this—I don’t have a uterus, and while my partner does, fertility isn’t something that comes easy to them, either. We’re both trans, so we’re in a straight relationship in a hilariously roundabout way, and children are something we desperately want. Sadly, for many trans people, being yourself means forgoing the possibility of having children.
Until recently, sterilization was actually a requirement in most of Europe to receive gender-affirming care and to legally change your gender, and it can often occur as a result of being on hormone replacement therapy. Recently, I’ve learned that HRT affects fertility less than I previously thought, but it’s still a hard choice to make. Do you try to tough it out until you have children (and even then, transitioning is enough work without a newborn), or do you go for broke and start the process of making your body a home instead of a cell?
For me, I chose myself. I transitioned in my early 20s, when the idea of a family was a long way away, the dysphoria I’d repressed for years was coming due, and the low doses of estrogen I’d gotten from a New Zealand pharmacy weren’t cutting it anymore. It wasn’t easy, but when push came to shove, I just didn’t have the money to freeze sperm—so why wait? Why delay the only thing in my life so far that was making me truly happy? I could feel my skin softening, see the fat on my face starting to shift and round out, feel myself becoming myself, and I knew it was what I needed.
With promises from a friend to have his sperm if I needed it, I went to the informed consent clinic and got an estrogen prescription that day. I don’t regret it. HRT is life-saving medicine, and I couldn’t have children if I ended up as a statistic.
Besides, there are lots of reasons not to have children—climate change, civil unrest, a lack of community, a lack of health insurance, and just plainly a lack of money. I had nightmares of having an apology tied around my heart like an albatross as droughts and storms wrecked the planet and the seasons fade, holding my child as the world began to smolder and we lived a harried, nomadic existence.
But nightmares fade with healing years, and things got better. I got a good job in a city I love, full of water and life and joy. I settled into my womanhood, built a wardrobe, came fully out of the closet, and eventually met the love of my life. They have an intense, innate desire for parenthood and a frankly divine gift for taking care of kids. Children are in our future one way or another.
All the old questions came due. The moment that drove it home for me, that let me know I couldn’t ignore the questions any longer: me and my love had gone out to a local restaurant, sitting in a corner booth while the Long Island’s flowed, watching people flow in and out. A young family walked in, children were shepherded to the table, and I felt our hearts murmur that should be me in sync. We both ordered another drink, and then their hand was on my stomach, a sudden tenderness I didn’t expect. In a sad, even tone they said, “It’s such a shame I can’t get you pregnant.” My barrenness ripped through me like an electric shock, and while the rest of the night was a blast, that still lingers with me.
At my worst, I am bitter—bitter that while my partner has great difficulty in getting pregnant, they still have a shot. Their chances are low. Mine are zero. I will never have morning sickness. My feet will never swell. I will never feel the weight of another life inside me, never have the chance to be the first home of my child.
Uterine transplants for trans woman are theoretically possible, but progress stopped for nearly a century in 1933 when the Nazis burned the Sexualwissenschaft—then the cutting edge of transgender medicine. Only one procedure was ever tried on a woman named Lise Elbe, who died a few months later from complications. It will be possible one day, of course, but not in time for me. This is not an accident, of course—queer people have always had their right to have children attacked in one way or another. Whenever I encounter transphobia or homophobia abroad, Janice Raymond’s quote always rings in my head: “I contend that the problem with transsexualism would best be served by morally mandating it out of existence.”
I still find solace in my dreams, though. A forest of birdsong and music gives way to a town of fairies, and something in the velvet taste of the air lets me know this is a world that is kind. When I am with the fairies, food is for eating, water is for drinking, and life is for living, and loneliness and profit are a foreign concept. There are no doctors—there is no illness.
Just breathing the air has healed my womb, and my love is there, both of us in the bodies we’ve always wanted, able to finally have the children we’ve always wanted. My breasts, tender and growing, once again, finally are put to use.