As told to Holly Zwalf.
I’m a transgender man — and a solo dad, to both a four-year-old and a six-month-old baby. I birthed both of my children myself, and while I have a partner with whom I spend time with on the weekends, during the week, it’s usually just me and the kids. I didn’t come out as being transgender until the birth of my second baby, and now that I’m presenting as a man, I’m starting to see the world of parenting through very different — and disappointing — eyes.
These days when I’m at the supermarket, with my baby strapped to me and my older child in the trolley, it’s astounding how many men give me “the nod” — that look of admiration and recognition that wrangling two little kids around a supermarket is bloody hard work, and that I deserve a bit of praise. And I actually don’t disagree. Doing the weekly food shop as a solo parent is incredibly difficult, and there’s a reason we run out of food so often. I avoid it as often as I can. The ridiculous thing is that no one ever praised me or complimented me or gave me “the nod” when I was doing the exact same thing but presenting as a woman. If anything, I’d get dirty looks from people if my kids were too loud or misbehaving, as if to say I was failing as a mother because I couldn’t control my kids.
When it comes to parenting, the expectations put on women and men are worlds apart. Women are expected to sacrifice their careers and their bodies and their lives to their children, and so their efforts go largely unnoticed. For men, however, the standard of parenting is set so embarrassingly low that if they do anything more than the bare minimum, they’re hailed as a brilliant father.
Just this morning in a cafe, a man came up to me and my baby and asked me if I was babysitting. I replied that no, I’m the baby’s dad.
“Yeah, that’s what I mean,” he said. “Babysitting.”
I told him that in that case, I babysit all day every day, because I’m a solo dad. The man did a double take, and then grinned.
“Oh mate, my hat goes off to you,” he said, shaking his head in amazement.
When people used to read me as a solo mother, no one ever said anything like this to me. But these days, I hear this sort of thing all the time, and it makes me so angry. (PSA: It’s not “babysitting” unless they’re not your kids.)
For men, the standard of parenting is set so embarrassingly low that if they do anything more than the bare minimum, they’re hailed as a brilliant father.
The world is organized about gendered divisions of parenting and an assumption that women are the primary caregivers. One issue I’ve had since transitioning is that the majority of baby changing tables are situated in the women’s toilets. There’ve been times when I’ve had to change the baby on the ground or on a park bench because of this. At the swimming pool, I get strange looks when I take the kids into the men’s change room — and this is not because I’m trans, mind you; it’s because people don’t expect dads to do the dirty work of parenting.
In the park, friendly parents get worried looks on their faces and ask leading questions like “so who lives in your house then?” to try and figure out if the kids have a mom waiting for them at home. Sometimes, to avoid the more awkward conversations, I just nod and let them think what they want to think — and then find myself caught up in a web of incorrect assumptions that I have to try and remember in case I run into them again sometime.
Since transitioning, I’ve also started to notice that when masculine people do parent, they are not only praised, but also almost sexualized. Women swoon at the sight of a big burly man with a little baby (but people rarely swoon at an exhausted mother with a bub). Instagram sites like @ButchesandBabies attest to the fact that this fetishization is not just limited to cisgendered men.
The sad truth is this: Masculinity is still thought of as being in opposition to nurturing (and parenting). When my second baby was born, I started seeing a family therapist who, when I told her that I was going to transition, said that I should still try to be “a mom as well as a dad” because the kids needed to experience the “softer” side of a parent too. Needless to say, I never went back to see her again.
This double standard of parenting is something we are supposed to have done away with by 2020, isn’t it? People talk about gendered parenting roles as quaint relics from the domestic housewife era of the 1950s, but the reality is that the gender division is still alive and well. It makes my blood boil to realize that men still think doing the shopping or looking after the kids is something to be congratulated for, not just a job that all adult members of a household should be equally sharing.
I won’t be raising my sons that way, that’s for sure.
For more on queer and gender-nonconforming parenting styles, check out these LGBTQ celebrity parents we love.