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.