One of my greatest regrets in life is that I have never managed to start a family. I married someone whose enthusiasm for children turned out to be a lot less after marriage than it had been before we settled down, and as the years passed it eventually became clear that perpetual “When we’re ready” assurances really meant “Never”.
It’s probably therefore now safe to admit something that as a trans woman that has always plagued me, I have an inconvenient brain that craves offspring. Had I been lucky enough to have been born with the right pipework instead of an annoying appendage I can safely say that I would have become a parent many years ago. Of course, mothers will instantly point out that bringing children into the world is no walk in the park, and I understand that, but I can’t avoid the nagging part of my brain that behaves as though it should have born with that pipework. Nothing I can do about it, it’s just part of me that won’t go away.
It’s a perpetual story that circulates in the trans community, the prospect that medical science might one day give trans women a working uterus and the ability to bear children. Maybe it’s a story about transplants that triggers it, or perhaps one about tissue cultures, but every time it reappears you will read a lot of opinions both uninformed and sensible. Personally I think it is a pipedream that will never be possible, but if it did I have to admit that it would give me grave disquiet. You might expect that given what I said in the previous paragraph that I’d be all for it, but to understand why I am not you have to take a look at one of the sides of the trans community that probably doesn’t get talked about enough, the question of elitism among those going through transition.
There is a Dr. Seuss book for children, The Sneetches and other stories, that presents a very good allegory on this matter. In it there is a race of creatures – the Sneetches -, some of whom are born with a star on their stomachs, and some not. The stars are an envied marking, and when an inventor, one Sylvester McMonkey McBean, appears with a machine that will print a star on the bellies of starless Sneetches, he is an instant hit. Soon all Sneetches have a star, at which point some of them decide they want to be in an elite without a star. Fortunately McBean is on hand with another machine to do just that, and makes a fortune from Sneetches running between his two machines trying to become more elite than their peers.
Transition between gender roles should at heart be a process of socialisation, of living the life. Unfortunately though because of the range of medical procedures, therapies, and interventions available , and considerable inequalities in access to them, it has become a process of steps. For male-to-female trans women these range from going full-time female, through hormone therapy, to voice training, breast augmentation, and maybe facial surgery, to gender reassignment surgery. A lot of trans women proceed to whatever point fits their mental well-being and their budget or access to treatment dictates, then get on with their lives, but for a section of our community the number of those steps they have taken becomes their defining characteristic. We will all have at times met trans women who go to great lengths to tell other trans women that they have had facial surgery or surgery down there, as a means of flaunting how much more transitioned they are than those around them. They are the Sneetches with a star on their belly, and they want the world to pay them homage.
Now, imagine for a moment that medical science did give us functioning uteruses and ovaries. Just as a thought experiment, not as a real prospect. Currently the pinnacle of achievement for our trans star-bellied Sneetches is to have GRS or maybe facial surgery, but how long would it take for that to shift to the must-have being a uterus, and then to have a child on their hip to prove how successful their transition would be?
You can not imagine how much I wish I could have a child of my own, but I have to say I would find the prospect of that particular medical advance very worrying indeed. Children should be born of a genuine desire to start a family, and instead they would be reduced to accessories as a mark of achievement. The idea that trophy babies would be paraded around trans events as a badge of honour fills me with dread, and I fervently hope that medical science never moves us in that direction.
Dr. Seuss’s story ends with the now-penniless Sneetches coming to the realisation that it matters not whether you have a star on your belly or not, you are still a Sneetch. There are times when I wish that certain sections of the trans community could learn from its message.