Three years ago, I decided the time had come to prepare for having kids. Like most people who were unknowingly existing on the brink of a global pandemic, I thought I was entering into a new year in which anything was possible. However, a child-laden future felt both invigorating and daunting; there were some logistical constraints with which to contend. I was growing increasingly emotionally excited for parenthood, but as a single, broke graduate student, I also felt logistically unprepared to actually raise children. My situation was made more complicated by the fact that I am Black, queer, and transmasculine.
Even though I was assigned female at birth, I have neither the physical capacity nor emotional desire to birth a child. However, I’m not impervious to the dreaded ‘ticking biological clock’ cultural anxiety that plagues most hopeful parents as they approach the threshold of their thirties. I wanted children, but at that point, what I really wanted was the luxury of time and options regarding how my future family might come to fruition.
So, in January 2020, I endeavoured into the very beginning stages of preparing to surgically harvest and freeze my genetic material combined with donor DNA, in order to preserve it for biological children down the road. The initial appointments showed that I had a relatively healthy reproductive system, and strong chances for a bountiful extraction.
Also, around this time, I met someone, and quickly fell in love. Then, the world shut down.
Two years later, we broke up and I found myself newly single, with no further progress made on my family plan. And while general incompatibility, grief, and past relationship trauma ended up being major factors in the dissolution of that romantic relationship, there was one issue that had persisted in being acutely polarising and painful between us: family planning. My family plan. This wasn’t the first, nor last relationship of mine that was chafed by the way I’ve envisioned my future.
It has only recently dawned on me how little room is explicitly made for the wants of queer trans people when it comes to having kids.
I’m not quite sure when my draw towards parenthood started, but I know I’ve always wanted children. When I came out as queer in my early teen years, I was confused by a number of familial reactions and presumptions about the limitations of my future. “Don’t you want a family?” I was asked by relatives who couldn’t conceive of queer parentage. Fortunately, I found understanding in my closest friendships — particularly with my best friend, Spencer. We laughed at the antiquated idea that queer people couldn’t, or shouldn’t, dream their own families into existence.
Spencer has been pivotal in my understanding of queer family building. Spencer is a cis, straight white guy, and he’s been my closest friend since our youth. I now exclusively refer to him as my brother. As strained relations seemed to prevail in my extended biological family, the queer construct of choosing familial connection became paramount in my feeling of belonging. The absence of a biological connection between Spencer and me has never disrupted my conviction that he’s the cornerstone of my chosen family.
We spent our adolescent years pining after girls together, dreaming up our futures, and at 15, Spencer promised me that whenever I had kids, he would happily serve as a donor. Though at the time the conversation might have read to an adult observer as whimsical, the idea has solidified over the years into one that makes perfect sense to me. Spencer, now a father himself, has continued to grow into the kind of man that I know I could trust with the sacred responsibility of being an involved uncle — and donor — to my future children.
In my ideal scenario, I picture a partner giving birth to our kids, with at least one bearing my genes. However, the majority of people with whom I’ve discussed a long-term future have had a significant issue with my plan to use Spencer’s sperm in order to produce offspring. Some of them have taken issue with his race: how would we, as two Black people, raise biracial kids? Some have had issues with the closeness of our relationship: would he want parental rights? Lastly, and most prevalently: they take issue with the fact that I designed this family plan prior to our romantic partnership.
Don’t you want a family?” I was asked by relatives who couldn’t conceive of queer parentage. Fortunately, I found understanding in my closest friendships... We laughed at the antiquated idea that queer people couldn’t, or shouldn’t, dream their own families into existence.
I get it. It is atypical for a person to prepare for children by themselves, especially when that preparation involves the deliberate mixing of DNA. And I know that the racial component of my plan is indeed complex. Colourism, anti-Blackness and other issues related to child-rearing in a deeply racialised society are weighty. Raising mixed-raced children — on top of all of the other nuances that come with being a Black, queer, trans parent — is something I’ve deliberated endlessly. Fortunately, Spencer and I are close enough that I have been candid with him about these concerns, and how they have affected my relationships. We’ve shared more than a few laughs about how it would be much easier for me (and notably, some of my former partners) if he was also Black. And I don’t want to diminish the concerns of my past partners. The desire to have shared input on something as serious as creating a family is not lost on me, but I feel pretty strongly that any kid with my genes is Black, regardless of the donor. I just want it to be acknowledged by my family, friends, and partners alike that this is a choice that reflects my greater values around kinship and transparency for my future kids.
I have thought a lot about what criteria I require in a donor, trying my best to divorce the concept from Spencer. I want someone whose temperament indicates compassion and discernment. Someone who is interesting, kind and funny. I want someone I know, specifically because I don’t want my kids’ genealogy to be shrouded in mystery for any part of their lives. I want someone who will be an active, invested part of my kids’ lives growing up, but is absolutely clear on the fact that they will not function as a parent to them.
Honestly, when I examine these criteria, Spencer is the sole person in my life who satisfies them. And despite my best attempts at explaining this to partners, I’ve been met with roughly the same, exasperated responses: “But why does it have to be Spencer? How could you make this decision alone? Why can’t we consider other options?”
The truth is, the donor doesn’t have to be Spencer. I want it to be him. It has only recently dawned on me how little room is explicitly made for the wants of queer trans people when it comes to having kids. Quietly, I have grieved the counterfactual, alternate reality where after a night of passionate sex, one of the women I’ve loved became pregnant with my child — a perfect blend of our features staring up at us from a bassinet. I have envied friends of mine who have stumbled into conception, with the genetics of the matter existing as a frivolous fact of their sexual realities; something to be easily taken for granted.
I refuse to suspend this decision indefinitely, in favour of a new pointedly Spencer-free plan, to be crafted alongside a hypothetical future partner. Romantic relationships have come and gone — some leaving my heart a tattered mess in their wake. But the older I get, the more it crystallises how much harder (read: expensive and interpersonally complicated) it is for queer and trans people to family plan, causing us to view the process as reliant on a romantic relationship. But ultimately, it’s the social constraints on queer family planning that have proven more troubling to me than the biological ones. I find myself interrupting and correcting even my most supporting friends and family when they say things like, “I think it’s awesome that you want Spencer as the dad!”
“I’m the dad,” I correct, “Spencer will be the donor.”
For now, I’m content with the conviction that I can design a future, and a family, with or without a partner.
Once, a former partner balked at the arrangement, stating she “wasn’t interested in having a white man’s babies.” Another person I dated became increasingly suspicious that Spencer and I are secretly romantically involved; his donorship concealing a plot to actualise a love child between us, and in her conspiracy, her role would amount to nothing more than the perfunctory womb. One partner was troubled by the fact that, given “the choice,” I wouldn’t want to comb through a donor database and find a donor with traits that would guarantee my child as a statuesque, super genius with a family medical history pre-vetted for any hint of imperfection.
These sentiments baffle and anger me. They feel rooted in concepts of biological determinism, and cis-hetero supremacy. To me, queerness allows us to innovate, and to see beyond one way of forging families. And still, I view the joy that could be a partner carrying a child that bears my DNA as a radical manifestation of co-creation — a queer baby-making experience.
For what it’s worth, I am open to a number of permutations regarding my family plan. I’d like to have at least one genetic child, if possible (who knows if that will even shake out, since there is so much left to chance regarding the precarity of bodies). While I plan to use Spencer as a donor, I’m also open to additional donors. If a future partner has someone in their life with whom they share a similar familial connection, I’d certainly be open to them potentially helping to build this family as well. I’m open to adoption. I’m open to fostering. I’m open to a myriad of untold circumstances in which I achieve parenthood.
For now, I’m content with the conviction that I can design a future, and a family, with or without a partner. Soon, I plan to resume the pre-pandemic journey I was on to prepare for parenthood. I sometimes still fantasise about a potential future life — one in which I am happily partnered, and parenting alongside someone that I love. But if that doesn’t happen, I will lean into the expansiveness of queer, chosen family. And maybe that won’t look quite like I had planned. Maybe it will be better than I could have imagined.