My family was incredibly open and it made me run from my feelings.

All my life I wanted to be a parent. More than anything in the world.

I remember as a child, I would stuff footballs under my T-shirt and tell people I had a baby. They thought it was cute. I had baby dolls galore that I would feed and bathe and change and nurse. I would carry them in a sling made just for my tiny little body. I would push them in the wooden pram my dad made specially. I would tuck them into their cribs before I went to sleep at night. I would whisper “mommy loves you” as I lifted the blankets to tuck them in. I knew I would be such a fantastic mother some day.

Only, I was assigned male at birth.

My parents never once discouraged me from playing with “girl toys” or wearing “girl clothes”. They didn’t correct me when I referred to myself as “mommy”. They bought me all the dolls and accessories I could ever want. I was always given choices as a child and more often than not, I would opt for things classically associated with a girl’s childhood. In that respect, I was incredibly lucky.

There was no conversation around my sex. My name was gender neutral. I had long hair like pretty much every member of my family. I was educated in a closed community where my presentation was not unusual. I knew what body parts I had but I was never outright referred to as “male” or a “boy”. I used all pronouns interchangeably.

It all started to fall apart when I was around 8 years old. 

However, it all started to fall apart when I was around 8 years old. I had been invited to a birthday party with a bunch of their kids. Most of them I knew, some of them I did not. One of the boys called me a f*ggot and told me I was going to hell for my sins of being a girl boy. I had no idea what these words meant but they didn’t feel good.

When my mom picked me up after the party I asked her what a f*ggot was. Her face paled. She told me it was a bad word used to describe men who love other men. I was confused by her upset. Men loving other men wasn’t a problem. Was it?

When we got home, my mom called a family meeting. I lived with my parents, my 3 siblings, my maternal grandparents, my mom’s brother, his wife and their 3 children. We were all present at the meeting. I was the oldest of the 7 children present. My twin sisters were 4 and my baby brother was 6 months. My cousins were 6, 3 and 4 months. The whole thing felt so serious. I felt uneasy.

The family sat around our enormous dinner table. My baby brother was attached to my mother. He was nursing quietly. My aunt was nursing my cousin. None of this was out of the ordinary. Living in an extended family was so great and I had a very fulfilling childhood.

My mom announced to the table: “Aspen was called a f*ggot today at a birthday party and we need to talk about it.” The look of horror on the faces of the adults at the table made me think I had done something wrong and I started to cry. My dad put his arm around me and told me that it was ok and that I had done nothing wrong. What then followed was an hour long family discussion about sex, gender and LGBTQ+ issues. By the end of it all, I was feeling more upset than I had ever felt in my whole life. More than when my fish died. What I had learned in that hour was that I was a boy. Boys cannot give birth to babies and my chances of being a mother were pretty slim.

My life changed drastically in that hour.

My life changed drastically in that hour. I was so deeply and utterly confused, heartbroken and furious. If I couldn’t be a mother, why had my parents allowed me to role play as such?

Life moved on after that conversation but nothing was ever the same. My anger towards my parents intensified and grew into resentment. My parents had always been open about LGBTQ+ matters. We had books featuring two moms, two dads, single parents, mixed race couples etc. I knew of stories where children grew up to be “different” than their parents had imagined. I had a friend who’s mom went away for a few weeks and came back as their papa. However, I’d never considered how any of these things related to me as a person and as a prospective parent.

When I turned 18, I finished school and went to university in England. My parents were more than encouraging of my journey but they were not prepared for what would happen. It had been agreed that I could live my first year fully as a student and come home after my first year for our usual family vacation. I even spent Christmas away from the family.

My mom opened the door to a “complete stranger”

When I returned to the US for our annual Summer break, my mom opened the door to a “complete stranger”. In the year that I had been away, a lot about me had changed. I had started going to the gym and had “filled out”. I’d shaved my head. I had 2 tattoos and I was going by a “masculine” name.

Though my mom was taken aback, she welcomed me with open arms. She told me she loved me and she had missed me. She called to my siblings to tell them their “sibling” had returned. “Brother” I corrected her. My mom gasped audibly but respected my label. I told her I used he/him pronouns and that I was now a man.

My siblings and cousins were suspicious of me. They didn’t recognise the new me. They adjusted quite easily to calling me by my chosen name and using he/him pronouns but I could tell they were unconvinced. Following our regular family vacation, I got ready to leave home again to return to England to university. As I was packing, I told my mom that I probably wouldn’t make the next family Summer vacation. She looked so wounded but accepted what I had told her. Looking back now, I feel so incredibly guilty.

Over the next two years, I cut my entire family off. I finished uni, got my degree and applied for a British citizenship. I was living with a woman I’d met and fell in love with at uni. I told her my parents had died in a car accident when I was a child and that I was an only child. I lied about having been raised in the “system” and assured her that there was no one wondering where I was. My mom would call, text and email but I would ignore her every time.

After living in England for 18 months, I proposed to my girlfriend. She said yes and within 6 months, we were married. Nine months later, we welcomed our first child.

This is when things started to slowly fall apart.

I was envious of my wife having given birth. I have no idea where these feelings came from. I loved her and our daughter more than anything in the world but I could not get over how I felt. The child in me was hurting.

When our daughter was 14 months old, my wife told me she was pregnant again. I was devastated. I couldn’t be happy about it. That night, I left our family home and went to stay in a grungy hotel. There was a dive bar just up the road. I went there to drink my feelings and staggered back to the hotel to sleep it off. When I woke up, I had many missed calls and panicked text messages from my wife. I couldn’t talk to her because I couldn’t reconcile my feelings. I stayed at the hotel for a further two nights drinking my feelings.

The on the fourth day, the usual email pinged into my email account from my mom. I’m not sure why but I read it. My mom was telling me how she missed me dearly. Wishing I would write back just to let her know I was ok. I skimmed the email and then suddenly my breath caught in my throat. I saw the words “dad is getting worse”. My dad was sick. How could this be possible? Why had no one told me? I then started to read through the 5+ years worth of emails. My mom had emailed me every Tuesday and Saturday without fail. She had told me about my siblings’ achievements. My grandma dying and my grandpa subsequently being moved into an assisted living facility. My aunt, uncle and cousins moving into a new home. How had I missed all of this? Why had I missed all of this?

Why had I missed all of this?

Wracked with guilt, I called my wife. I told her everything. I broke down during the call and she came, with our daughter in tow, to the hotel. We chatted until the small hours of the morning about my life growing up in the US. What I had experience at that birthday party and how my life had changed. I told her how I felt about her being pregnant again and she asked a question that I had been terrified of anyone asking “Do you think you might be a trans woman?” I couldn’t answer because I truly did not know.

My wife and I made a plan. We were going to fly to the US with our daughter, rent a small apartment near my childhood home and reconcile with my family. I emailed my mom and told her I was coming home.

Two years later, we are back in England. My wife is pregnant with our third child, I have begun my transition and my dad passed away. I don’t know why life turned out the way it did. As I said, my family were very open about LGBTQ+ issues and were the safest family I could have hoped to have. Instead of embracing that, I internalised that one homophobic comment as an 8 year old child and ultimately tore my family apart.

I have no idea what the future looks like for me and my family right now. All I know is that my family have surrounded me with love and support. I am accessing therapeutic support to try and unpack all of the trauma that one little word seem to have created for me and I hope to be living my life as authentically as my family would have wanted for me.

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The Queer Parenting Partnership was launched in 2020, in response to the shocking lack of birth and parenting support services for LGBTQ+ people in the UK.

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