Gender, adoption, and identity: how being transgender will help me be a better dad

January 23 | Guest post by Caleb

Some of you might remember Caleb from his 2011 Offbeat Bride post, Musings from an offbeat groom. Here he is with his take on potentially impending parenthood.

Caleb contemplating parenthood
Twenty-five years ago, in a Boston hospital, my parents gave me a name. Twenty-two years later, in an Oakland courthouse, I legally took another. Despite being addressed by that name for three years, despite the careful consideration that went into the choosing of it, I left the courthouse lacking. For the first time since beginning my transition from female to male, I felt true loss.

When I began testosterone replacement, I was giddy and excited. Surgery made me anxious, but I was relieved when it was over. And now: nothing. The elation I expected never came. I had rejected the most basic gift from my mother and father — I had declared myself someone other than the daughter they had welcomed two decades earlier.

When my wife and I decided to begin our family, open adoption was the obvious choice for us. We had each dreamed of adopting since we were young, and now we could make it a reality. As with every other life choice we've made, we wanted to be as informed as possible. And so we started to read. We armed ourselves with every recommended book on open adoption. And there, on those pages, I discovered myself.

Exploring open adoption has helped me understand and articulate the challenges and triumphs involved in my transition. As someone who has straddled two worlds, I appreciate the complexities of identity, and I will be honored to help my child navigate hers. Transitioning is complicated, whether one is changing genders or families. I believe having forged a path for my own transition will make me, ultimately, a better father.

Open is not a set of requirements, not a step-by-step procedure to be followed and checked off. Open is a lifestyle — one I have been drafted into since the beginning of my transition. When asked about my past, I am faced with a choice: I can rewrite it or I can honor it. Sometimes I leave out or alter details to make my history sound more plausible; sometimes I answer questions directly. I am not ashamed of my history, but I do not need to display it to every person I meet. It is my own, and I reveal the parts of myself I wish to the people I choose.

Open adoption will give my child the gift of knowing her history. I will give her all the information I can — I will never rewrite my child's past. It is not mine to possess or control. It is not my right to withhold or obscure information. My child's story will be hers. Hers to divulge or protect, to celebrate or mourn, to accept or shed. She can decide who sees which parts of her. Sometimes holding yourself back, playing your cards close to the chest, is the only defense we have. Our silence makes us secure.

When I am asked where I went to college or where my wife and I met (the answer to both questions is an all-women's college), I am exposed, unveiled. If my child is a different color than me and my wife, she will be visibly different, her history written all over her skin. Sometimes I worry I am asking her to be too vulnerable, too brave. Living out in the open can be unnerving, but I will stand by my child so we can navigate it together.

We can't help our histories — they are what they are. But often, the world comes along to tell us who we are because of those histories. When that happens, I will hold my child's hand and yell back at the world. Our given names, our taken names, our birth certificates are simply pieces of our stories. The whole story is so much more. I am not just a man who transitioned genders. I bake cakes, I climb mountains, I sewed my wife's wedding dress, I work towards providing equal access to higher education for all students. And, if given the chance, I will parent a child.

That child will be so much more than an adoptee. She will dance or sing, she will love math or books, she will play the trumpet or the drums, she will have her mother's passion, her father's relentlessness, her first family's strength. She will always know where she came from, where she is headed, her whole self. From the moment she enters my life, I will honor, love, and protect that self with my entire being.