Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • So the other morning I went to the grocery store

  • and an employee greeted me

  • with a "Good morning, sir, can I help you with anything?"

  • I said, "No, thanks, I'm good."

  • The person smiled and we went our separate ways.

  • I grabbed Cheerios and I left the grocery store.

  • And I went through the drive-through of a local coffee shop.

  • After I placed my order, the voice on the other end said,

  • "Thank you, ma'am. Drive right around."

  • Now, in the span of less than an hour,

  • I was understood both as a "sir" and as a "ma'am."

  • But for me, neither of these people are wrong,

  • but they're also not completely right.

  • This cute little human is my almost-two-year-old Elliot.

  • Yeah, alright.

  • And over the past two years,

  • this kid has forced me to rethink the world

  • and how I participate in it.

  • I identify as transgender and as a parent, that makes me a transparent.

  • (Laughter)

  • (Applause)

  • (Cheering)

  • (Applause)

  • As you can see, I took this year's theme super literal.

  • (Laughter)

  • Like any good dad joke should.

  • More specifically, I identify as genderqueer.

  • And there are lots of ways to experience being genderqueer,

  • but for me that means I don't really identify as a man or a woman.

  • I feel in between and sometimes outside of this gender binary.

  • And being outside of this gender binary

  • means that sometimes I get "sired" and "ma'amed"

  • in the span of less than an hour when I'm out doing everyday things

  • like getting Cheerios.

  • But this in between lane is where I'm most comfortable.

  • This space where I can be both a sir and a ma'am

  • feels the most right and the most authentic.

  • But it doesn't mean that these interactions aren't uncomfortable.

  • Trust me, the discomfort can range from minor annoyance

  • to feeling physically unsafe.

  • Like the time at a bar in college

  • when a bouncer physically removed me by the back of the neck

  • and threw me out of a woman's restroom.

  • But for me, authenticity doesn't mean "comfortable."

  • It means managing and negotiating the discomfort of everyday life,

  • even at times when it's unsafe.

  • And it wasn't until my experience as a trans person

  • collided with my new identity as a parent

  • that I understood the depth of my vulnerabilities

  • and how they are preventing me from being my most authentic self.

  • Now, for most people, what their child will call them

  • is not something that they give much thought to

  • outside of culturally specific words

  • or variations on a gendered theme like "mama," "mommy," or "daddy," "papa."

  • But for me, the possibility is what this child,

  • who will grow to be a teenager and then a real-life adult,

  • will call me for the rest of our lives,

  • was both extremely scary and exciting.

  • And I spent nine months wrestling with the reality that being called "mama"

  • or something like it didn't feel like me at all.

  • And no matter how many times or versions of "mom" I tried,

  • it always felt forced and deeply uncomfortable.

  • I knew being called "mom" or "mommy" would be easier to digest for most people.

  • The idea of having two moms is not super novel,

  • especially where we live.

  • So I tried other words.

  • And when I played around with "daddy," it felt better.

  • Better, but not perfect.

  • It felt like a pair of shoes that you really liked

  • but you needed to wear and break in.

  • And I knew the idea of being a female-born person being called "daddy"

  • was going to be a harder road with a lot more uncomfortable moments.

  • But, before I knew it, the time had come

  • and Elliot came screaming into the world, like most babies do,

  • and my new identity as a parent began.

  • I decided on becoming a daddy, and our new family faced the world.

  • Now one of the most common things that happens when people meet us

  • is for people to "mom" me.

  • And when I get "momed", there are several ways the interaction can go,

  • and I've drawn this map to help illustrate my options.

  • (Laughter)

  • So, option one is to ignore the assumption

  • and allow folks to continue to refer to me as "mom,"

  • which is not awkward for the other party,

  • but is typically really awkward for us.

  • And it usually causes me to restrict my interaction with those people.

  • Option one.

  • Option two is to stop and correct them

  • and say something like,

  • "Actually, I'm Elliot's dad" or "Elliot calls me 'daddy.'"

  • And when I do this, one or two of the following things happen.

  • Folks take it in stride and say something like, "Oh, OK."

  • And move on.

  • Or they respond by apologizing profusely

  • because they feel bad or awkward or guilty or weird.

  • But more often, what happens is folks get really confused

  • and look up with an intense look and say something like,

  • "Does this mean you want to transition?

  • Do you want to be a man?"

  • Or say things like,

  • "How can she be a father?

  • Only men can be dads."

  • Well, option one is oftentimes the easier route.

  • Option two is always the more authentic one.

  • And all of these scenarios involve a level of discomfort,

  • even in the best case.

  • And I'll say that over time, my ability to navigate this complicated map

  • has gotten easier.

  • But the discomfort is still there.

  • Now, I won't stand here and pretend

  • like I've mastered this, it's pretty far from it.

  • And there are days when I still allow option one to take place

  • because option two is just too hard or too risky.

  • There's no way to be sure of anyone's reaction,

  • and I want to be sure that folks have good intentions,

  • that people are good.

  • But we live in a world where someone's opinion of my existence

  • can be met with serious threats to me

  • or even my family's emotional or physical safety.

  • So I weigh the costs against the risks

  • and sometimes the safety of my family comes before my own authenticity.

  • But despite this risk,

  • I know as Elliot gets older and grows into her consciousness and language skills,

  • if I don't correct people, she will.

  • I don't want my fears and insecurities to be placed on her,

  • to dampen her spirit or make her question her own voice.

  • I need to model agency, authenticity and vulnerability,

  • and that means leaning into those uncomfortable moments of being "momed"

  • and standing up and saying, "No, I'm a dad.

  • And I even have the dad jokes to prove it."

  • (Laughter)

  • Now, there have already been plenty of uncomfortable moments

  • and even some painful ones.

  • But there's also been, in just two short years,

  • validating and at times transformative moments on my journey as a dad

  • and my path towards authenticity.

  • When we got our first sonogram,

  • we decided we wanted to know the sex of the baby.

  • The technician saw a vulva and slapped the words "It's a girl"

  • on the screen and gave us a copy and sent us on our way.

  • We shared the photo with our families like everyone does

  • and soon after, my mom showed up at our house with a bag filled --

  • I'm not exaggerating,

  • it was like this high and it was filled, overflowing with pink clothes and toys.

  • Now I was a little annoyed to be confronted with a lot of pink things,

  • and having studied gender

  • and spent countless hours teaching about it in workshops and classrooms,

  • I thought I was pretty well versed on the social construction of gender

  • and how sexism is a devaluing of the feminine

  • and how it manifests both explicitly and implicitly.

  • But this situation, this aversion to a bag full of pink stuff,

  • forced me to explore my rejection of highly feminized things

  • in my child's world.

  • I realized that I was reinforcing sexism

  • and the cultural norms I teach as problematic.

  • No matter how much I believed in gender neutrality in theory,

  • in practice, the absence of femininity is not neutrality, it's masculinity.

  • If I only dress my baby in greens and blues and grays,

  • the outside world doesn't think, "Oh, that's a cute gender-neutral baby."

  • They think, "Oh, what a cute boy."

  • So my theoretical understanding of gender and my parenting world collided hard.

  • Yes, I want a diversity of colors and toys for my child to experience.

  • I want a balanced environment for her to explore

  • and make sense of in her own way.

  • We even picked a gender-neutral name for our female-born child.

  • But gender neutrality is much easier as a theoretical endeavor

  • than it is as a practice.

  • And in my attempts to create gender neutrality,

  • I was inadvertently privileging masculinity over femininity.

  • So, rather than toning down or eliminating femininity in our lives,

  • we make a concerted effort to celebrate it.

  • We have pinks among the variety of colors,

  • we balance out the cutes with handsomes

  • and the prettys with strongs and smarts

  • and work really hard not to associate any words with gender.

  • We value femininity and masculinity

  • while also being highly critical of it.

  • And do our best to not make her feel limited by gender roles.

  • And we do all this in hopes

  • that we model a healthy and empowered relationship with gender for our kid.

  • Now this work to develop a healthy relationship with gender for Elliot

  • made me rethink and evaluate how I allowed sexism to manifest

  • in my own gender identity.

  • I began to reevaluate how I was rejecting femininity

  • in order to live up to a masculinity that was not healthy

  • or something I wanted to pass on.

  • Doing this self-work meant I had to reject option one.

  • I couldn't ignore and move on.

  • I had to choose option two.

  • I had to engage with some of my most uncomfortable parts

  • to move towards my most authentic self.

  • And that meant I had to get real about the discomfort I have with my body.

  • It's pretty common for trans people to feel uncomfortable in their body,

  • and this discomfort can range from debilitating to annoying

  • and everywhere in between.

  • And learning my body and how to be comfortable in it as a trans person

  • has been a lifelong journey.

  • I've always struggled with the parts of my body

  • that can be defined as more feminine --

  • my chest, my hips, my voice.

  • And I've made the sometimes hard, sometimes easy decision

  • to not take hormones or have any surgeries to change it

  • to make myself more masculine by society's standards.

  • And while I certainly haven't overcome all the feelings of dissatisfaction,

  • I realized that by not engaging with that discomfort

  • and coming to a positive and affirming place with my body,

  • I was reinforcing sexism, transphobia and modeling body shaming.

  • If I hate my body,

  • in particular, the parts society deems feminine or female,

  • I potentially damage how my kid can see the possibilities of her body

  • and her feminine and female parts.

  • If I hate or am uncomfortable with my body,

  • how can I expect my kid to love hers?

  • Now it would be easier for me to choose option one:

  • to ignore my kid when she asks me about my body or to hide it from her.

  • But I have to choose option two every day.

  • I have to confront my own assumptions about what a dad's body can and should be.

  • So I work every day to try and be more comfortable in this body

  • and in the ways I express femininity.

  • So I talk about it more,

  • I explore the depths of this discomfort

  • and find language that I feel comfortable with.

  • And this daily discomfort helps me build both agency and authenticity

  • in how I show up in my body and in my gender.

  • I'm working against limiting myself.

  • I want to show her that a dad can have hips,

  • a dad doesn't have to have a perfectly flat chest

  • or even be able to grow facial hair.

  • And when she's developmentally able to,

  • I want to talk to her about my journey with my body.

  • I want her to see my journey towards authenticity

  • even when it means showing her the messier parts.

  • We have a wonderful pediatrician

  • and have established a good relationship with our kid's doctor.

  • And as you all know, while your doctor stays the same,

  • your nurses and nurse practitioners change in and out.

  • And when Elliot was first born, we took her to the pediatrician

  • and we met our first nurse -- we'll call her Sarah.

  • Very early in in our time with Sarah,

  • we told her how I was going to be called "dad"

  • and my partner is "mama."

  • Sarah was one of those folks that took it in stride,

  • and our subsequent visits went pretty smoothly.

  • And about a year later, Sarah switched shifts

  • and we started working with a new nurse -- we'll call her Becky.

  • We didn't get in front of the dad conversations

  • and it didn't actually come up until Sarah, our original nurse,

  • walked in to say hi.

  • Sarah's warm and bubbly and said hi to Elliot and me and my wife