A child and her mother take part in the 4th European Rainbow Families Meeting for gay, bisexual and transgender persons. October 17, 2015. Jose Manuel Ribeiro/Afp/Getty
For a new generation of trans parents and their children, the meaning of motherhood is undergoing a thorough renovation
At five years old, Fay Purdham announced that she wanted to be a mum. There was just one hitch: Fay was born Kevin. ‘And my mum said, no, no, no, you want to be a father,’ recalls Purdham. ‘I said, no, I want to be a mother. That’s when my mum knew: Oh, my child is different.’ Now in her late 20s, Purdham, who lives in Newcastle in northern England, hopes that a uterus implant is ‘the next stage for trans people’. She fantasises about being ‘the moany pregnant [mum] with big cankles and big stretch marks. Imagine being able to carry my own baby – ahhh, I’d love it.’
The Miss Transgender UK competitor (Purdham came third last September) is taking the next best option available. She’s hoping to raise £100,000 through Go Fund Me to pay a surrogate to carry her child, using sperm she froze before having gender reassignment surgery at the age of 21. Her quest has made national headlines: last October, the Daily Mailblared: ‘Transgender model wants to become first person in Britain to be both the mother and father of the same baby.’
Reproductive medicine has seen definitions of motherhood expand to embrace egg-donor mothers and adoptive mothers, in addition to the gestational, or birth, mother. Today there is a fourth category: the transgender mother. This can mean, among a variety of possibilities, a man with a uterus who has transitioned from a woman, and who stops taking hormone-replacement therapy to conceive; or a woman who has transitioned from a man using frozen sperm with a surrogate. Simply put, ‘motherhood’ and ‘fatherhood’ are no longer defined only by the chromosomes and sex organs with which we were assigned at birth but by the gender with which we choose to identify.
In 2014, Meghan Stabler, an American business executive and transgender woman, was named ‘Working Mother of the Year’ by Working Mothermagazine – the first time the title has ever been awarded to a trans person. In 2013, the California-based non-profit Forward Together published Mother’s Day e-cards titled ‘Mama’s Day Our Way’ to reflect a new gender-fluid reality. And last year, President Barack Obama announced that gender identity should not be a barrier to foster care and adoption.
Organisations are scrabbling to keep up. The same year that Stabler won her award, the charitable New York Abortion Access Fund voted unanimously to no longer use the term ‘women’, fearing that they might alienate transgender men seeking terminations. The Midwives Alliance of North America (MANA) has also, in select paragraphs of its core competencies guidelines, replaced the words ‘woman’ and ‘mother’ with ‘pregnant individual’, ‘pregnant parent’ and ‘birthing parent’.
MANA’s move was not without backlash. An alliance of well-respected midwives joined together to state their concerns. In an open letter they spoke out against ‘accelerating trends… to deny material biological reality and further disconnect ourselves from nature and the body’ that have ‘harmful implications for women’.
At stake is what it means to be a woman and a mother – and who is allowed to be one. Writing in The Huffington Post, ‘Working Mother of the Year’ Stabler insists: ‘I’m just like any other mom’; her priority is juggling domestic duties with a high-pressured job. But her claim raises questions: is motherhood something innate, as we are so often told – a chemical reaction of love and self-sacrifice tied to the ‘transformative’ process of pregnancy and childbirth? Or, is it something that can be learned? Ultimately, is trans motherhood about emphasising similarities or, perhaps, about learning to embrace differences?…