“She has your eyes…”

No, she doesn’t.  Her eyes are not “mine.” Obviously, I’m not talking in the possessive sense in that her eyes do not belong to me.  The fact is that she can’t have “my” eyes.  She was not conceived using my genetic material and thus it is a biological impossibility that any of her features came from me.  They neither belong to me, nor are they “mine.”

I know that even writing about this risks being seen as coming across as saying Oh, pity me, complete strangers assume I’m biologically related to my child, what a horrible, awful thing.  I recognize that even experiencing this is (most often) a privilege that comes with passing as a member of the dominant fertile, heterosexual community.  But I’ve heard these types of comments originating from two very different populations in my life:  those who know I am a man of transsexual experience and those who don’t.

Regardless of which population the comment comes from, I intellectually know that when people say things like this, they only mean well.  If they do not know I am of transsexual experience, I’m sure they are meaning to give a compliment.  Perhaps I should, but I don’t expect random strangers – or even friends/acquaintances who are assuming we are a traditional heterosexual couple – to think about how their comment might make me feel if for some reason we had used a donor.  But what about the people who do know that we used a donor, regardless of if they know I’m trans* or not (though most people who know we used a donor also know why we used a donor).  While I trust no one would say She has your eyes or a similar comment only to point out that, in fact, that is impossible, what exactly is their motivation for saying one of the girls has “my” anything, when they know that is not physically possible?  Are they trying to promote some kind validation and acceptance that my kids are indeed “mine?”  Trying to convince me that others will also think they are mine?  Or, more likely, they probably aren’t thinking about the underlying meaning of such statements.  Yes, it would not be surprising if some of her features were similar to mine.  After all, we picked a donor who has the same basic physical characteristics as me.  We did this on purpose, so that our kids would look similar to us, just as any couple who does not need alternative means of getting pregnant ends up with kids who look similar to them.  But the fact remains that neither of my daughters have physical characteristics that are mine – only features that are similar to mine.

These types of comments were rampant when the twins were first born.  I mean like hours to days old.  Really, folks?  Newborns don’t look anything like their parents, and in most cases they are rather funny looking.  Think about it…to say a newborn has their parents’ anything isn’t really such a compliment unless the parents also have large crossed eyes, pointy heads that take up one-third of their body, smushed noses, shoulder hair, bowed legs, a weird slimy thing coming from their bellies, and/or are covered with a white pasty mess.  Surprisingly, these types of comments are much less common now that the girls are older and are beginning to have features that actually do look something like Molly’s.  It doesn’t bother me when people say “She has Molly’s _____,” because that is a true possibility.  But still, I have to think about why the distinction between having my (feature) and having (feature) similar to mine is so important to me.

Clearly, the answer lies somewhere within me.  I’ve examined my emotional relationship with the (thought of the) donor, my masculinity and “manhood,” and my feelings of bonding with my daughters – all fodder for previous and future posts.  And I still can’t pinpoint exactly why the separation of the two phrases weighs so heavy in my head.  I believe, if anything, it has to do with the fear of being seen as intentionally deceptive.  From a young age I learned the difference between telling a lie and telling the truth but not the whole truth; while I know plenty of trans*-people who use the former to disguise their past, I find much of talking about my life falls into the latter, at least with people who don’t know I am of transsexual experience.  For those who don’t know my past, I basically don’t have one before 19 years old.  You don’t realize how much gender is ingrained in everything you do and say until you find yourself unable to talk about the experiences you had before changing the way the world saw you.

While I often rely on, and play off of, assumptions people make in order to talk about myself before 19 years old, sometimes I worry that telling these truths, but not the whole truths, will make someone feel deceived if they then one day find out I am of transsexual experience.  I don’t want to get into qualifying their friendship if that is indeed how they feel after learning the “whole truth,” but I do believe this is the root of my need to distinguish between my (feature) and a (feature) similar to mine.  As if I were to let them get away with claiming one of my daughters has my eyes, then they subsequently find out I am FTM, they will suddenly also make this distinction between the phrases and feel they have been betrayed.  Silly, I know.  But sometimes feelings are silly.

While these types of comments are less frequent now than they were in the first few weeks of the babies’ lives, people still look for similarities, as I expect they always will.  An example is when I ran into a past professor at school the other day, and he asked how the girls were doing.  This professor and I have somewhat of a special bond for many reasons.  Many people take his 3-class series in a subject matter hated by most, but – being the quantitative geek that I am – I rather enjoyed his classes and excelled exceptionally in them, which didn’t go without notice.  I had to miss a few classes early on due pregnancy ultrasound appointments; while he had a strict attendance policy, he took my reasons for missing class as acceptable, mostly because his first grandchild had just been born and probably felt a little soft in that respect.  So as the pregnancy progressed, and I progressed through his 3-class series (which ended just weeks before the girls were born), he would periodically ask me for any exciting updates – and he would share exciting milestone updates of his new granddaughter.  When I ran into him the other day, he was again inquisitive of their well being and didn’t hesitate to tell me about how his now-14-month old granddaughter is “getting into everything.”

Now this story has another layer to it, which involves an anonymous comment I left multiple times in his course evaluation surveys.  Based on the subject he teaches, a common example used in class (not just his, but in most other similar-subject classes) is the “binomial category of gender.”  It was only the second day of class when he used this example and said, “For gender, you can only be male or female, and there are no in-betweens, right?”  If you don’t immediately see why this is problematic in multiple ways, please read this post or this page.  For all of the reasons discussed in those links, I left a polite but to-the-point comment in his end-of-class evaluations that pointed out the difference between sex and gender, why it is important to choose accurately between the two, which one is probably the most appropriate to be talking about in the context of the subject matter, and that making such adjustments in his use of the terms will make me and other trans* people like me feel safer, more accepted, and helps stop “othering” behavior that is a common underlying theme against all marginalized communities.  Simple, right?  Well, he obviously didn’t get the point because his language stayed the same throughout all three classes, but I continued to leave the same feedback during subsequent course evaluations.  I assume he didn’t suspect that the comments came from me, because a.) his kindheartedness towards me didn’t change and b.) I’m sure after I told him my wife was pregnant with twins, he assumed that we are a traditional fertile, heterosexual couple so there really wouldn’t be a reason to assume I used to be a girl .

When I ran into him the other day and he asked if I had any recent photos, I showed him one…and then watched him look at the photo, look at me, then back at the photo, then back at me, and finally back at the photo, clearly thinking of what features he could say they got of mine.  “They sure do look different from each other” was what he decided on, and I made some comment about how even though they are twins, they sure are like night and day.  And then I felt a moment of deceit.  Why?  I didn’t deceive him in any way, and in fact he didn’t even claim they looked like me; I just perceived that was what he was thinking as he (blatantly) glanced between me and the photo multiple times.  This is clearly my own stuff to deal with, most likely rooted in my fear of deceiving and perpetuated by my constant struggle between my professional/work profile and my private profile.

To even say I have a “private” profile is slightly humorous, considering my transition website that has developed over the past decade.  And for a long time, this “private” profile of a college kid transitioning was intimately associated with my work profile as I was very involved in social justice issues.  But as I’ve gotten further into my studies and am slowly approaching an actual paying job in my career path, it is becoming more and more difficult to separate the two in certain situations.  I have a transphobia (crossed out) button on my backpack, and as I walked away from talking with this professor the other day, I wondered if he saw it.  I wondered if he noticed the button, processed what it meant, and felt deceived.  While I’m unquestionably proud to wear the button, the fact that I hoped that isn’t what happened makes me question my own activism and willingness to stand up for all of us.  I hate that.

I decided long ago that I would eventually come out to this particular professor and connect the dots for him between me and the anonymous course evaluation comments.  I have high, perhaps naive, hopes that our good relationship will make him more seriously consider using the words “sex” and “gender” accurately and avoid making insensitive comments like he did on the second day of my class.  Until and after then, I’ll try to keep it in mind that people only mean good when they say my kids have my eyes or my whatever.  Because ultimately, my girls are mine.  And I don’t mean in the possessive sense.

8 responses to ““She has your eyes…”

  1. I think A and E have your ….. LOVE! and ultimately that is all that really matters 🙂 ….Though I still do think that E looks similar to you and Aubrey to Molly 🙂

  2. there is a great kids book, I am going to send it too you asap….. I think the title is “My Mother’s nose” but it makes me laugh every single time I read it…. when I was a kid, my mother used tell me 1000 times that EVERY time someone would say….”oooh look, you have your mother’s eyes etc….” I would respond (and I’m talking like 3 years old here) “NO, I have MY eyes, and I come from my OWN side of the family”. Now, Molly will truly get how incredibly true that small version of me was, that was seriously truth from the mouth’s of babes LOL, but I get your post, and understand your feelings on this…. Just wanted to pipe in and say that people have said that line to me a million times when I am with OTHER people’s children (my friends etc…) and I almost never correct them. I think its because I just feel like why make them feel stupid? or like they are wrong? they are just giving me a compliment, so I politely smile and say something unrelated. I KNOW this has a ton more meaning because of everything, but I wanted to say…. it’s not that uncommon, and I don’t think you should feel like you are being untrue to anyone. If you really feel the need to create a distinction, have a fall back smart line like…. “Nah, _______ she can’t have MY eyes, I use them everyday to see how cute she is…. she’s defiantly got her own 😉 ”
    that will get a laugh, and keep it light, and you won’t be lying to anyone 😉

    love you all!

  3. As the only biological product of my parents, I understand the “ze has your ____” urge. I was the only kid my parents could do that with, so it seemed more pronounced. (Probably wasn’t but it felt that way.) My mother was adopted, as well. So when she saw a photo of her birth mother, the first words out of her mouth were, “So THAT’S where you got your nose, Alex!”

    To some degree, I think it’s instinctual for us to look for common traits between family members (won’t write a thesis here on that). To some degree, I think it’s what you noted- an odd form of compliment. We’ve been discussing trying again to conceive and I think about these issues a lot. Thanks for putting your thoughts down in writing. I’m sure I’ll be referring to these posts repeatedly!

  4. Even best friends and couples start to somehow look like each other… can’t even count the number of timjes I have had people shreik in the grocery store when I kissed my partner and the person behind me says “oh my… I thought you were brother and sister”. And the countless times people refer to my friends as my younger or older sister ect… So I think if you spend enough time with someone, and love them very much- somehow you begin to look related to them from the perspective of complete strangers. It might be possible from that persons point of veiw- she very much so has your eyes!

  5. People try their best to understand in whatever way they can even if it doesn’t make any sense at all. I have a step brother who is twelve days older than me because our parents met due to our being in the same day care group. Now… You’d be unsurprised how many people try to find similarities that aren’t there between my step mom and I or my step brother and I. Even more interesting is if I tell them we are the same age they’ll naturally assume we are twins.

    It’s like people don’t even bother to check…

    Also, you don’t have to make the distinction you do. It is not a lie that they have similar features to you, you said it yourself, and people will see what they want to see. As you said in the end, the girls are yours regardless.

  6. I don’t think it matters that A and E aren’t “technically” the fruit of your loins or look like you… All that matters is that you’re a great dad to them and love them very much. Technicality was thrown out the window a long time ago when transsexuals were finally allowed to change their birth marker to the correct gender. When my wife and I get pregnant, “my” children won’t look like me, but they will have the skills I gave them and the understanding of the world. Protection and love are more important than protection. That’s more than you can say for most biological men…

  7. When my sister had both of her children, I noticed that people often went out of their way to mention that they looked like her husband, even though they look about equally similar to both of them. I think that people tend to try to point out similarities between fathers and their children because paternity is usually not as sure of a thing as maternity. Of course, as you know that you are not the biological father, these comments can be quite an annoying reminder of that when really they are supposed to dispel anxieties about your paternity. The entire thing is really frustrating, and I am really going to try to keep that in mind next time I see a parent with their child because I’m sure I’ve pulled the whole “(s)he has you ___” before without really thinking about it.

  8. You may have had biologically different beginnings, but you are now a proud father and husband. You haven’t let biology limit who you are, you’ve transitioned into who you were meant to be.

    Similarly, your girls may have biological beginnings that aren’t exactly as you would have wanted, but they will still be your daughters. They may not be trans, but here is a situation where their bodies’ biology isn’t exactly what you or they would necessarily have wanted – you’re not all genetically related. Just as your wife sees you without regretting your biological beginnings, perhaps you can see your daughters without prejudicing your thoughts against their biological beginnings. My adopted friend likes to say that she knows that she was completely planned and 100% wanted by the parents who raised her, but not all of us can definitely say that. She made some of us almost wish we were adopted so that we would also have that comfort. Your daughters, too, will come to form a special bonding identity with their beginnings and your relationship. Maybe their friends will be jealous.

    I have a stepmother who is from a different country and ethnicity and looks nothing like me, but nobody can deny that SHE is my mother. When I call her “Mama,” there is no part of me that limits that label’s truth. There is no part of me that ever wishes she were anything but who she is. I didn’t come from her, but I sincerely appreciate the path my parents have taken that led me to this place within their love.

    I am gay and I have thought, as you have, about how people would feel if they found out later that I’m not heterosexual. I don’t hide it, but I only vaguely answer questions about my personal romance until I know someone well enough to feel safe. No lies, mind you, but not whole truths – as you’ve mentioned. When people find out the whole story, none have ever felt deceived. Some are impressed that they couldn’t somehow tell because “you’re so feminine,” which is funny for me to hear but not hurtful. They don’t know it’s a practiced art for me, with my inner tomboy. Heterosexual society is often so clueless about these things, so we can’t really judge them for being ignorant if they’re open-minded and we’re their first exposure to reality. But they are usually surprised at themselves for thinking so traditionally, not mad at me for deception. Most understand the need to build a friendship before revealing personal details of one’s life, and talking about our relationships is much the same.

    It’s been said before and it’s true: your daughters’ biology will not matter. Your love will.
    People won’t care who else you love as long as you’re kind to them. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be easier for the next trans person they meet because you’ve been so brave.

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