This post was originally published May 4, 2011.
On the evening of April 22, I was in a small church in one of the Boston’s neighborhoods, preparing to observe Good Friday.
This wasn’t a church I regularly attend, but sometimes I go when it’s been a while since I have seen a particular married couple and their 18-month old toddler — they are friends of mine. On Good Friday evening, I knew that at least Mother and Son would be at the church for services, and so I went.
I have watched the baby grow since he was born, have played with him and photographed him, chased him until he has shrieked and giggled, and have even helped with a bedtime book reading. (Dad read the book while I held it up before the three of them, turning the pages.)
Although I enjoy a fulfilling friendship with the parents, I truly appreciate the opportunity to be in this boy’s life. We have had some good fun together, he and I, and I was looking forward to seeing the little guy again because it had been some weeks since the last time.
And so at that point on Good Friday evening, only the priest and I were there; he was preparing for the prayer service that would soon begin. I stood in the center of the chancel looking out at the dark, empty pews, lost in quiet thought, when the front doors to the church opened and in they walked, Mother holding the Boy. She set him down as they entered, and they stood side-by-side at the back of the church.
I could see the Boy looking at me, his little brow furrowed as he tried to make out who I was. “It’s Andy,” his mother said, looking down at him. I smiled and waved at the sound of my name, and the expression on his face changed from one of puzzlement to one of sure realization. He had recognized me. His mother said, “Do you want to go say hi?”
And with that, the Boy started running.
Throughout my adult life, I have often pondered the thought of having children. Also, throughout most of my adult life, I thought I was a woman. In fact, I worked really hard at trying to live as a woman (although, as you might expect, I wasn’t particularly good at it).
And so, when I considered children, I did it in a way that I thought I should as a woman.
I assumed that I should have some sort of motherly yearnings or instincts, some drive to have a baby of my own. That’s what I saw and heard from the women around me, those in my family and group of friends, or even those on TV or in the movies.
But within me, those feelings were absent.
It’s not that I couldn’t imagine myself with a child — it’s that I couldn’t imagine myself bearing a child. Something was different, a disconnect, and I knew it somehow but couldn’t sort it out or explain it to myself.
I made sense of it by telling myself that I must be one of those types of women that just wasn’t meant to have children. I told myself that I was fortunate to have figured this out before I had children and turned out to be a bad parent.
But then again, I couldn’t actually say with certainty that I didn’t want to have children at all, and I couldn’t come up with a reason why I would be a particularly bad parent.
These thoughts only served to confuse me.
Then, when menopause came knocking in my early 40s, the confusion grew. Where was the emotional turmoil that many women suffer through at this time? Why was I not so concerned with this? Why did I feel so detached from something that seemed to cause such distress in so many women?
Intellectually, I knew what was happening. I understood the physiology. But when it came to my emotions, I felt… nothing.
I distinctly remember the day I received the lab results from the doctor that confirmed that I was menopausal. I had a little conversation with myself.
“You are 43 years old and you are going through menopause.”
“Fairly soon, your ovaries will be devoid of fertile eggs and functional follicles.”
“You will likely never have children of your own.”
“How do you feel about that?”
“Do you wish you had had a baby?”
“Do you want children?”
I couldn’t answer the questions. I could only add confusion on top of confusion.
Later, I came out to myself, and for over three years now I have known that I am, in fact, not a woman. I am, instead, a female-bodied transgender man. And over the past three-plus years, when I have considered again the question as to whether I want children, I still have not been able to truly find an answer. I reply to myself,
“I can’t have children.”
“I’m too old.”
“It’s too late to even think about children.”
“What does it matter now?”
“Just move on…”
It didn’t take long before the occasions when I considered this question became farther and father apart, to the point that they became few and far between.
I was standing on the chancel of a small church in Boston while an 18-month-old toddler, his chubby little legs churning, was running toward me up the center aisle.
For a toddler, he was probably burning up the track, his little shoes making a rhythmic and somewhat muffled “thmp, thmp, thmp” as he ran. But coming from the back of the church, even as small as it was, the Boy’s run up the aisle took a little while, long enough for me to go to the front of the chancel and sit on its steps to await his arrival.
As I sat there, I was trying to guess what he might do before he reached me. Would he come part way and then turn around to head back to his mother? Would he lose interest and simply stop dead in his tracks part way up the aisle? Would he see something that distracted him and cause him to change course? I figured that coming all that way in such a straight trajectory would require more focus and concentration than an 18-month-old could muster.
But the Boy never wavered.
In fact, he didn’t even slow down. He ran straight to me, right into my waiting and open arms. I wrapped them gently around him, brought my face against his soft, ruddy cheek and told him, “I’m glad to see you too.”
At that moment, something inside me cracked.
It was all I could do to hold myself together. The pure, unconditional love of this child pierced a place in me that had been locked up most of my life.
And then… Oh, the joy and the pain.
The joy from knowing that this child could love me — me! — when I have such trouble even loving myself.
And the pain from knowing that I would never receive such love from a child of my own. I was finally able to make the separation between giving birth to a child, which I don’t know that I ever could have done, and being a parent, a father. I felt the pain because I would never have this, although I would choose it if I could.
I finally had the answer to my question, and it came, in a way, from a child.
That little boy gave me a gift on Good Friday, something that he cannot even comprehend. I will have to wait some years before I can explain it to him.
Little G., you can’t understand this right now, but I thank you. (And I love you, too.)