There is a lot of me that genuinely cherishes who and what I am.

Often I find myself drawn back to the same, basic, long since tiresome and boring question… would I trade my life for a different one? Am I happy with the life I’ve been given? Am I okay with having been trans? Is that something I’d exchange for getting to have had the life of a cis woman?

The question is boring, yeah. It must have been asked uncountable times by now, even in this precise iteration, but beyond that, it’s a question that we all ask ourselves, over and over again, of the circumstances that have shaped who we are. We all have our burdens, or aspects of our histories that have shaped us in more obvious ways than others, and we all come back to the idea of whether this is something we’re simply living with and accepting because we have no choice, or something that we accept on a deeper level, something we can learn to love, all its hurt included. Probably because in so doing we can learn to love ourselves, the way genuine love embraces imperfection, understands it as inseparable from whatever makes someone… them.

It’s a bit of a silly question too. I used to take it to pretty ridiculous levels. I was a curious kid, and for reasons both obvious and still rather murky I had a lot of hang-ups about the specificity of identity. Some mornings I’d wake up and have pretty intense anxiety attacks upon the realization of who I was. And not just what I was, or who I was, in contrast to other lives, but that I had a specific identity at all. That I was stuck in a particular body, in a particular life, with a particular history, a particular mind… even a particular self asking the particular question in the particular moment. It could get dizzying and recursive and terrifying, like a nightmarishly intense version of that feeling of disassociation that comes with repeating a particular noun over and over again until its meaning seems to completely slip away… but applied to identity. Identity slipping away into incoherence, something alien and scary and wrong.

Why was I that name? Why was I in that body? Why was I male, why was I Canadian, why was I using English, why was my name…well, why was my name what it was? Why was I that person? Of all the people I could have been, why this one? Of all the species I could have been, why human? Of all the planets I could have been born on, why Earth? Why was I born?

Why is there something instead of nothing?

Lawrence Krauss aside, much later in life I realized the answer to the question is a lot easier than it appears. The question is based on a bit of a false premise… namely that there could have been nothing instead of something. But if there was nothing instead of something, there wouldn’t be any questions.

So why did I have the particular life I had? Well… that’s sort of mistakenly imagining the possibility of self outside of self. Really, it’s not so much a question of “why am I me?”, but an issue of the person that IS me is the one asking that question. It’s necessary, after all, to be something if you’re going to be anything.

Someone if you’re going to be anyone.

Really… the idea of would I trade my life for a cis one ends up being a pretty meaningless question when I think about in the context of all this. If I’d lived my life as a cis woman, well… whoever that person is, whether she’d be happier or not, she wouldn’t be me. That would be someone else. And she’d ask herself little questions from time to time, related to whether she’d trade little pieces of her past, and they’d mean just as little.

I still try, though, to do what I can to appreciate how this part of who I am, my gender, has shaped me. To see something beautiful in it. Though even that’s a bit beside the point. Self-love, self-acceptance… as said, love is based on loving the individual, including the imperfections that make them individual, and that individual. So long as I’m asking these questions about my history, and my identity, the things that are inherent to my being me at all, I’m going for easy comforts…just finding ways to avoid the more uncomfortable questions that carry me back to the aspects of all this that do hurt. The ones that do have nurture my shame. The ones that matter. The ones that really do get in the way of self-acceptance.

I’m not really ashamed of the fact that I’m Natalie. I’m ashamed of and hurt by specific aspects of what that is and means. Aspects that don’t lie in my history, or my identity, or what makes me who I am, but in the day-to-day, immediate reality I inhabit. The things that shape and limit my choices, my present moment, and my future.

The answer to the question of whether I’d trade my life for that of a cis woman is both “hell no!” and “that’s a stupid question anyway, Natalie”. And through that I can sometimes feel a bit more okay with being trans. But the answers start looking very, very different when the question is whether I’d trade my body, my anatomy, for that of a cis woman.

Questions of beauty, desirability, “passability”, femininity… they’re all pretty weird and complicated and and politicized and culturally variable and more than a little arbitrary. As much as I admit to having stupid, sad, trangsty moments of insecurity where I wish I had a smaller nose or fuller breasts or wider hips or a slighter stature, or just wished I looked pretty or normal, whatever the fuck those are supposed to mean, I’m not so naive as to think that is at all the same thing as the question of cis bodies vs. trans bodies. There’s no reason, either, to think there’s any great advantage to a vagina over a neovagina, and truthfully, it’s pretty hard to cut to any genuinely consistent difference between a cis woman and a trans woman, even physiologically, without resorting to tautologies. Whenever you settle on a specific, consistent, definitively different trait that were to, say, make cis women “real women” and trans women not, you end up inevitably excluding some women who are, by any reasonable or intuitive measure, obviously cis.

But specifics, definitions and consistency aside, when it comes to what hurts, what feels like an absence, what feels like a loss, what is true of all trans women but not true of most cis women… I can’t bear children.

I will never be pregnant. I will never have biological children at all.

Sometimes that hurts.

Sometimes a lot.

Sometimes I just wish I could have a baby.

It’s very hard, very very very hard, to negotiate the landscape of shame and self-acceptance when something so key to who you are, like being trans, is so deeply connected to having rejected, and moved on from, what you were initially given (and initially asked to accept). How do you love and accept that element of who and what you are when so much of it is so hard to distinguish from having been unable to love who and what you are? How do you tell what’s your desire for self-determination, your effort to inhabit your own body and presentation of that body on your own terms, from what is simply self-hatred, shame, or trying to live up to some externally defined standard of beauty or the “right” kind of body? How do you love and accept something that is in itself largely a tension between self-love, self-acceptance, and self-hatred, shame? That’s difficult. It’s a pretty tough thing to have to learn to work with. But those feelings can at least be worked with. Other aspects, though…the literal limitations of anatomy… those aren’t feelings that are difficult to negotiate, those are just facts. Cold, brittle, unbending facts.

It is, I guess, for me at least, that finality of it that hurts the most. The truth of it. That it’s just sort of there. It isn’t fair, it isn’t what I want, it isn’t individual, it isn’t subjective, it isn’t open to interpretation, it just is. I just have to live with that and, ideally, be a good sport about it.

It’s strange, really. Not in the least because, to be perfectly honest, I never particularly wanted kids in the first place. That is, in fact, part of how I arrived at the point of at least biologically “fathering” children (providing the….er…motive gametes) being an impossibility itself. I made the decision, early in my transition, as I approached the rough “point of no return” in terms of fertility (at least, not without a combination of good luck and going off the HRT for a significant period of time), to not bother banking any of my genetic stuff. It’s expensive, would have required going off the meds for a bit, would require monthly upkeep, financially, and I didn’t really see it as being worth all the trouble, expense and general weirdness and emotionaly discomfort.

At the time, I still thought of myself as wholly androphilic, exclusively attracted to men. I didn’t (and couldn’t) foresee how the shifts in how I understood myself, and my increased comfort and confidence in my gender, body and sexuality, would lead to me also feeling attracted to women and comfortable exploring those feelings. As such, banking felt a bit pointless, because I thought the only relationships I would end up in would be with men where having ourselves a biological child of our own wouldn’t be an option anyway.

And at the time, I also didn’t think I had any real interest in children. I had lived and, with varying degrees of success, tricked myself into thinking of myself as a gay man for the preceding seven years, and during that time had just sort of accepted that kids were unlikely, and something that wasn’t particularly important to me, personally, in terms of finding happiness and worth in my life. There are lots of different things through which one can feel good about the life one has led, and I made the choice that I’d pursue slightly different ones than raising a family. I believed that there were only a few conditions under which I’d either sire or raise children: if a woman I cared about and trusted personally chose me to be a donor, if I fell very much in love with a man who already had kids, or if I fell very much in love with a man who deeply wanted to raise kids so much that he’d feel hurt and compromised otherwise, and I cared about him enough that I was willing to follow him down that path for the sake of his happiness.

But my own happiness was fine without.

Of course, there are ways of having children, raising children, that don’t involve them being biologically your own. Of course I don’t have to be pregnant to be a mother. And of course adoption, or raising a child borne by a surrogate mother, are not in any way less “real” forms of parenthood than biological reproduction. And of course it’s possible to give birth to a child without ever really being its parent.

My mother was adopted. And her parents, my grandparents, are not the unknown man who donated his genes and the unknown woman who did likewise, and who carried and gave birth to her. Her parents, my grandparents, are the man and woman who chose her, loved her, raised her, cared for her. There is far, far more of them in who she is than is the couple who gave her their DNA. And there’s more of them, the man and woman who loved and raised her, who were my grandpa and grandma, who filled that role in my life with love and kindness…there’s more of them in me than that unknown couple whose DNA is coiled up in my own cells. Heck… my grandpa is still a part of my life, and still offers me love, kindness and generosity.

Blood relative or not, it is his surname that I now use as my own.

In many species of birds, there are “sentry birds”, individuals who fly out ahead of the rest of the flock to help scout for, and warn of, any potential dangers. These birds often do this to protect nests of other mating pairs while not focusing on having chicks of their own. Rats, in situations of overpopulation, will form homosexual pair bonds who adopt and take care of the extra children who otherwise would go neglected. Throughout nature we see individual members of a species who, while not passing forward their individual DNA, help ensure the safety and survival of the community’s children.

Things like that are a pretty great example of how evolution isn’t quite as simple as survival of the fittest individual. It’s also wonderful for illustrating how homosexual or “transgender” behaviours can evolve in a species not as flaws, but actual important roles in the species’ collective survival. Maybe human beings evolved sexual diversity for similar reasons, that a non-binary set of sexual roles was more beneficial for us as groups than just strict, simple, mother/father breeding pairs.

We aren’t islands. And it takes a village to raise a child.

On another note, my favourite work of classical philosophy is Plato’s Symposium. It’s about a bunch of really brainy gay men getting together at a party, drunk, and deciding to have a bit of a contest to see who could come up with the best explanation of love. After they each have their turn, Socrates goes last. After cattily insulting a bunch of the others, he decides to defer his opinion to something he’d heard from the Oracle at Delphi (thus introducing the sole female perspective into the discussion). The Oracle says that love is basically about the triumph of life over death, the seeking of “immortality”. Heterosexual love, she claims, does this through producing children. But she says that the greatest love is the Greek ideal form of homosexual love between men, which leads to immortality by inspiring one another to do great things. That this kind of love leads to us living on through our actions, how we affect the world, rather than just letting our DNA live on through children (the Oracle doesn’t actually talk about DNA. Though it would be super cool if she did, because then we’d have to be like “damn, she really can see the future”).

The actual final speech in the Symposium, though, comes after Socrates. His jilted lover bursts into the party, drunk and angry, and talks about how love is actually a whole bunch of hurt and jealousy. Which is the perfect ending, really. I don’t “agree” with any of the theories presented in the Symposium (that’s sort of beside the point… after all, it wasn’t a contest based on being right, it was a contest based on who could basically present the coolest idea). But what it says about love not through the words of the “characters”, but through the story it presents as a whole, is pretty awesome.

Anyway… my point with this stuff, about my grandfather, the sentry birds, the rats, The Symposium… there are so many more ways to pass yourself on into the world, to raise children, to be a part of family and community, to live on, to be a mother, than to simply be a means for a particular self-replicating pattern of amino acids to self-replicate itself on into another generation. The genetic aspect of parenthood is such a trivial thing compared to the immensity of meaning to be found in the rest of it.

We are so so so much more than our DNA, and there is so much more we can offer a child, and offer the world, than that.

I know all that. I know it very much. I could still someday be a mom, and raise a child, and love hir just as much as a biological parent would, and I’d be every bit as much hir mother. And I never even used to care. So why does it still hurt to know I can never be pregnant?

“Novaries” is easily one of my favourite neologisms of trans women’s sub-culture. I like how it perfectly captures how that feeling of loss can be so intense that it stops being something missing from your body and instead something that’s there. The unmistakable presence of an absence.

Maybe it’s intensity is connected to something as silly as how much pregnancy symbolizes womanhood. But I’d like to at least think I’m not that hung-up on on concepts what makes a “real woman”. I’m not, after all, one of those trans women who (bizarrely) regrets not menstruating. I’m pretty keen on that part of having a transsexual body, actually.

Or maybe it’s the physicality of it. How intense and beautiful it might be to actually feel life growing within you, and to bring that out into the world. To feel myself so intimately part of the creation of a brand new human being. Even with all the sickness, difficulty, discomfort, pain and blood that would accompany pregnancy and labour, it’s hard not to imagine how meaningful that must feel, and how even all the awful uncomfortable, painful aspects would themselves connect you to that process of new life. That connection to the visceral, bloody, intensely physical nature of birth… of what life really is.

That feels a little closer to the truth of it, in that, to be honest, I wouldn’t even really care all that much whether the baby had my DNA or not. In the same sense, I don’t regret my decision not to bank my genetic material. The sense of loss is connected to the fact that I can’t bear a child. That I can’t ever have that level of connection to its birth.

It’s strange, though, that it wasn’t until recently, until I had lived as female for awhile and my body had already settled into itself as such, that I ever started having that sense of loss. It’s part of why I don’t want to just jump on board with some silly “hormones” explanation, because it didn’t just coincide with becoming endocrinologically female. It came much later.  It came as my understanding of myself, and my future, had settled into thinking of this as my life. It came around the same time that my visions of myself later in life, my sense of identity in the long-term, had adapted to female. When I internalized the realization that the life that stretches out ahead of me is a woman’s.

I suppose that’s why it feels connected to how it’s a limitation… if I had a cis anatomy, or if transition was medically advanced enough that I had functional ovaries and/or a functional uterus, if I had ability to become pregnant, would I have any interest in carrying children someday? Or would just having it as a possibility be enough for me to have the same “nope. don’t care” attitude I had for most of my life?

I don’t know.

But I wouldn’t have the feeling of loss.

This is the body I have, though. And every body carries limitations. These are the regrets that come along with the body I have. And it’s necessary to have a body in order to be embodied.

Just like it’s necessary to be somebody in order to be anybody.

I may never be able to wholly accept and love every aspect of this particular body. But at least I can perhaps feel the regrets and loss as my own, as a part of me, just as its only through this body that there could be a me to feel them.


  1. says

    Reading thoughts like this always makes me wonder whether I’ll ever feel that sense of loss. Used to think it was impossible, but I’m not banking either and as I approach the point of no return and start to wonder whether I’ll feel differently about it later, it’s not much of a stretch to wonder if I’ll feel differently about not caring about being able to get pregnant too.

    On the first question though, I think my answer would be a relatively uncomplicated yes, I’d trade my life. I get the continuity of consciousness problems, but all else being equal if I had to pick between me existing or someone else who’s actually happy existing, I think I’ll take the latter.

  2. embertine says

    A wonderful post. A couple of years ago, when BFF and another couple of cis-and-hetero-married friends were struggling with their fertility, it made me think about how I would feel if I couldn’t have children.

    I don’t want children, never have; I actually really dislike them to a degree that shames and alarms me. I have recently started dating a lovely woman. It is unlikely that we will get one another pregnant, unless I have completely misunderstood sex ed classes. I spent the whole of my hetero relationships panicking in case my contraception failed.

    And yet… The thought of actually being sterile, of having been born with the right bits but them not working… Yes, that would hurt me. It’s ridiculous as I never want to use those bits, but I would feel a great sense of loss if my doctor said, for example during a routine smear test, that something was wrong and I would be unable to conceive.

    And I haven’t even had to fight for my identity as a woman. What funny creatures we are.

    • Happiestsadist says

      I’ve never felt even the slightest flicker of an urge to have children. I found out, two weeks before I had my tubes tied, that with my current health situation, I was unlikely to be able to conceive anyway. I must say I still felt an odd disquiet at the fact, even though I was ultimately not bothered, and went through with the surgery to be sure.

  3. says

    Yeah… I feel somewhat similar in a way… I don’t necessarily want a child (I know I don’t as of right now), and I don’t really even like the idea of being pregnant and giving birth, but it’s the lack of the potential to do so that I mourn. If medical technology had reached a point where I could have ovaries and a uterus, I strongly doubt I would use them for reproduction (and I know I would do the take the pill without breaks to not have a period thing… since… no thank you), but at least I’d know that I could, and that those things are there, inside me…

  4. William Burns says

    It’s not the Oracle at Delphi that’s the main female perspective in the Symposium (since the Oracle spoke for the male god Apollo, she would be a pretty dubious female perspective anyway), it’s Socrates’s offstage friend and teacher Diotima.

  5. karmakin says

    Huh. That is something I would not have expected. Consider myself enlightened. Although to be honest, I had a hard time getting past the first paragraph because I could easily say that about myself :p

    I love the things about me that I hate.

  6. Sassafras says

    I don’t want children and the thought of actually giving birth terrifies me, but yeah, I still get achey over the fact that I don’t have a choice about it.

    The way some woo-feminists and pagans go on about the “mystic mysteries” of menses just makes me wish I had a working uterus so I could tell them that it’s an atheist and thinks their “mysteries” are for the birds.

    • Happiestsadist says

      The only mystery I ever encountered from mine were when I had a period for two years solid and somehow didn’t die. I really had little time for woo with that all up in my dysphoria.

        • Happiestsadist says

          I had a couple days off here and there, but yeah. It was really no fun. Except for seeing medical people’s faces at my answer to “date of last period” when I had to fill out forms.

  7. says

    Ah, my dear Natalie, how very brave you seem to confront issues that many of us have never had to consider. And in all sincerity, hopefully you will find a way to enjoy your life because for those of us very much your senior, life is short. Best wishes.

  8. Alt+3 says

    When I was twelve I got into an accident on my bike that had some unpleasant consequences for my testicles. I was told it was unlikely I’d be able to have children, and, to be honest, I never found out for sure (however, I have evidence that leans towards the “yes” end of the spectrum). Of corse, being twelve, I took “unlikely” to mean ” impossible” and have since been planning a child free life. While I’m still against having children (and it seems an unlikely occurrence regardless of my fertility) I do wonder if I’m genuinely convinced of my position or if I’ve just rationalized it from a forgone conclusion.

    Also, I’ve had those disassociative moments myself, where I realize I’m just another object in the world rather than an outside actor observing the world. It’s a bit like noticing you’re breathing and having to do it manually. However those moments did lead me to what I consider a foundational position in my worldview, specifically that the self is largely illusory, like how the web page I’m viewing now doesn’t actually exist in any concrete sense, it’s just a representation.

    • says

      Yeah, I still get those “OH MY GOD I’M A PERSON!” moments. I had one the other day when walking home from work. Not sure if I’ll ever grow out of it. It’s interesting in that the very fact that it’s so shocking and scary makes you realise that most of the time you’re not really thinking of yourself as a being what you are.

  9. says

    Personally, I think the philosophy you portray regarding “what if this happened and not that” and such in this post is a really fantastic one. I tend to do something similar when I’m thinking about things that I regret or wondering if things could have gone better; I’ll tell myself that everything that defined me, everything that made me happy, and everything that improved my life after that event/decision/etc. would likely not have happened had anything gone any different. At all.

  10. northstargirl says

    Every once in a while I have mourned my physical inability to bear children, even if the appeal is more abstract (the ability to bear life, the wonder and beauty of creating a new life with someone you love, etc.) than concrete (being a parent changes your life forever and would mean trade-offs I would rather not make). I’ve never been crazy about children and have never really wanted to be a parent, so in the grand scheme of things it’s no big deal, but a few times I have joined those who at least mourn not having the potential. But that feeling passes after a little while and I don’t count it among my life’s major regrets.

    I’ve also wondered sometimes what my life would be like if I had been born physically female and not had to go through everything I have. I’ll never know, of course, but what I do know is that the whole process of getting here made me who I am, and the hundreds of little circumstances over the years led me to this life I have now, and I really like the life I have now. I may not have much, but I am rich in the things that really matter and am at peace with myself, and I wouldn’t change that for anything.

  11. says

    You already know my position on this. And like most of my transy nature I go in little cycles of being depressed about some parts of me one day and not so depressed the next. Even the consistency of wishing I had a working uterus, vagina, and ovaries is the same way, cycles of being depressed about it and then not so depressed.

    But yea, your main point I often think about and come to the same realization: if I had been born cis, I wouldn’t be me. Chances are I’d probably still be a fundy evangelical – who knows what else though. I don’t know if I’d still be a geek, into computers, working the job I am (if at all.) And it’d be impossible to simply replace the me that is in my life with a cis-female me, because a lot of who I am now was born in the furnace of trangst (I like that word!)

    • A. Person says

      I know those cycles of depression well.

      My take on the point both you and Natalie make is that if I fantasizing about having been born cis, I’m also fantasizing about living in a much happier world where I could have grown into my idealized self. If I had only been born cis, I’m fairly certain that she would have had a much more difficult life, and certain opportunities would not have been there.

      But such fantasy is wasted energy. I can’t change those circumstances, so I wish I didn’t dwell on the question “What if things were different?” But as far as bad habits go, that’s a pretty benign one.

      • says

        Sometimes those little “what if things were different” questions are fun. Sometimes they can be damaging.

        “What if my hair were purple? What if I had gotten a mohawk at Def Con? What if I disappeared today?”

        1) My hair would be AWESOME! Plus I’d probably get told to wash it out.
        2) My hair would be AWESOME! Plus I’d probably get told to shave it off.
        3) My hair would be invisible, but AWESOME! Plus people’d probably miss me.

        It’s dwelling on the fantasies where I get my worst angst. The times when I have those lovely little dreams about the could’ve beens, which probably would never have been. But I’ve been having those for years, so I’m no stranger to the thoughts.

  12. Melissa says

    I teared up while reading this, which I think speaks of your ability to evoke emotions in your readers(but it’s also one in the morning and I’m a bit of a crybaby anyhow).

    “What if’s” can be painful, I agree. What if my friend’s friend didn’t die in that car crash? What if I had been born trans, or, for that matter, cis with a strong gender identity? Maybe having novaries like you would make me appreciate current-me’s ovaries more.

    See, I’ve always hated mine; I’m cool with my genitals, I’m cis for most practical purposes, but I don’t want the internal machinery. Obviously there’s the menstruation thing, but more so, there’s something about knowing I could have a… a little cluster of cells growing and growing inside me to form a small bag of meat… just the potential squicks me out. I simply try not to focus on it, but I want to get the ovaries or uterus, or both, out as soon as possible. (Hey, I’d totally give you them if that was possible and you seriously wanted them!)

    Also, first time posting, first time reading. I’m not sure how I got here – might’ve been any number of other blogs I read on queer issues, or just a web walk. Wherever I came from, I knew just from reading your blurb I had a brain-crush on you. And that crush has grown as I’ve read more and more of your writings and ramblings. You are an amazing, witty, intelligent lady and I feel fortunate to have come across this blog.

    In short, ma’am, you kick ass.

  13. Harry says

    I truly love your writing, Natalie. I don’t think anyone has made me go ”whoa” as many times as you have.

  14. says

    I feel motherhood issues intensely. I love children, I love teaching them, I love helping them, I love relating to them and letting them know an adult cares and listens. I have always thought I would make a wonderful mom.

    I never will. I want a child badly. I am a bit older so I am now on the old side for adopting and when I was young enough for it a trans person would not have been allowed to adopt. My biology also limited me. I will never have a child and it hurts badly. The kind of depression I have trouble dealing with.

    I help with the children in my family, I help with children in my community, but I really wanted to have a child that I could raise and share my own world with. Pass on the things I think are important. I hate so much I will never have that.

  15. Tigger_the_Wing says

    I thought hard about this post, and the responses, particularly from the people who didn’t/don’t actually want children. I now wonder if a lot of the feeling of loss isn’t actually about having children but about having choice.

    It seems to me that we so want/expect to be in the driver’s seat of our life, that when we find that there is something that is not in our power to control it really hurts our sense of self and our place in the world.

    Even if it is something we wouldn’t actually want to do even if we could, being told that we couldn’t even if we wanted to turns our world upside down. It isn’t supposed to work like that, dammit! It’s not fair!

    I’ve had all the children I desired. The hysterectomy & oophorectomy (over 17 years ago) were needed and wanted. Another pregnancy would almost certainly have killed me (actually, my life needed to be, and was, saved several times due to complications of pregnancy and childbirth, thanks to living in a country with superb healthcare) and I’m now old enough that I would probably be beyond conceiving anyway. And yet…

    I still occasionally have pangs that I’ll never again feel a new life growing inside me.

    And that’s despite the facts that: I certainly don’t want any more pregnancies, I’ve had more than my fair share (successes and failures); the thought of another labour fills me with horror; I’m too sick to care for myself adequately, never mind an infant; I really, really don’t want any more children of my own, ever…

    Despite all that, occasionally the old Gnome of Regret whispers things in my head that my rational mind wouldn’t entertain for a second. Because, even if I chose the course of my life, it means there are now choices that I can no longer make. And my imagination wanders, and wonders what might have been, if I had made different choices…

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