Transgender Parenting

Whenever parenting is discussed, it is overwhelmingly in the framework of a father and a mother [1]. Both are parents—a father is a man, and a mother is a woman. The archetypical family has one father and one mother. They are both biological parents, and the mother gave birth to the children. The mother was pregnant for nine months, and will breastfeed her infants. Fathers are supposed to provide security and hard-won approval [2]. Mothers are supposed to be caring and nurturing and provide unconditional love [3]. Fathers are breadwinners, mothers are domestic [1].


This all describes, not the family itself as it currently exists, nor the family as it has ever really existed, but an imaginary family norm, cobbled together from a mix of often-conflicting ideals and various times in American history [1]. The ‘traditional’ ideal of the wife who is both closely intimate with her husband and fully dedicates herself to her children is one that was never actually prevalent in history; the ideal mother as a dedicated parent stems from the mid-nineteenth century, and was paired with a cold, distant marital relationship, whereas the ideal mother as a close partner to her husband stems from the 1920s, and was paired with the idea that past mothers had been overly invested in their children [1]. Even the normative, ideal family at any given times described only a small portion of the population: the middle-class family has often propped itself up on the exploited labor of lower classes, who cannot afford or are otherwise prevented from achieving the societal ideal of an insular family where the husband works, the mother performs domestic labor for her own household, and the children are either being cared for by the mother or at school [1].


Transgender parents are excluded from this imagined, ideal family in multiple dimensions. Not only are they often in queer relationships and non-normative family arrangements, they are often biologically incapable of fulfilling the roles society tells they they ought to [4]. A transgender mother cannot, given current medical technology, carry a pregnancy to term or give birth, as a mother is ‘supposed’ to [4]. Non-binary parents often don’t even fit the ubiquitous labels of “mom” or “dad,” making it confusing for others to refer to them and sometimes causing difficulties with bureaucracy and paperwork [5].

However, transgender families still exist. There are transgender fathers, mothers, and non-binary parents, who are adoptive parents, biological parents, single parents, and they have to navigate the roles society expects them to as parents that were socially constructed with neither their input nor their consideration [4]. Despite this, transgender parents have successfully raised children, research has shown, just as well as cisgender parents. Though it’s often argued that non-gender-normative parents are “confusing” for their children, kids lack much of the social rigidity adults have and the only confusion tends to be when other adults mislabel their parents, such as calling their mom “dad” [4]. I will analyze this, both through research and personal narratives from transgender parents and their children.

[1] Coontz, Stephanie. The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap. Basic Books, March 29, 2016.


[2] Harrington, Brad, Terrance Heath, Jane Mattes, Hanna Rosin, Juli Slattery, Michele Weldon, and W. Bradford Wilcox. “What Are Fathers For?” The New York Time, June 3, 2013.


[3] James, Jessica. “What Being a Mom Really Means.” Huffington Post, May 6, 2016.


[4] Bennett, Andrea and Kim Fu. “Beyond Mom ‘n’ Pop.” Hazlitt, September 11, 2015.


[5] Bennett, Andrea. “I’m a non-binary parent. There still isn’t space for me.” Xtra Magazine, May 10, 2019.

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