EMPOWERMENT AND SELF-DETERMINATION
By Morgan Reid
Trystan, famously known for his blog Biff & I that is centered around his life with his family and partner, is a transgender man in Oregon USA that chose to carry his own biological child. He made the choice to be open and public regarding his pregnancy because he was frustrated that the only wide spread news about transgender people seemed to be suicide rates and stories of discrimination. He states, “While, of course, we face huge stigma, stereotypes, discrimination, harassment, brutality, it is also true that in the trans life there is love, there is beauty, there is joy, there is resilience, there is power and community. I kind of just wanted a story that included those things. There should be a counter narrative at some point.”
While transgender people are often associated with extreme body dysmorphia, Trystan says he received a message from an elderly woman in the midwest that summed up how he felt regarding his pregnancy: it was so lovely that his body was able to give him the life that I deserved, while also bringing a new life into the world.
Trystan’s partner Biff was reluctant to have a biological child with Trystan due to his fear for Trystan’s physical safety and the possibility of threats from the public. Due to curated comment sections on platforms that they had previously shared their stories on, Trystan never worried about this and felt he did not have a realistic idea of public reaction going into his pregnancy. His biggest fears about pregnancy were like most of ours: that labour was going to be painful.
When online forums and social media did get to him, he says his son’s movements comforted him the most. When asked what the best part of his pregnancy was he said, “I think any time that I could feel him moving. It was like his way of saying, ‘I am here, I am getting ready.’” Trystan recounts that sometimes comments from social media would begin to create a negative internal dialogue, despite logically knowing it was a stranger’s unfounded opinion. “It is really, really, hard to not internalize all the transphobia, and sexism, and homophobia in the world, and have those little fears creep in. So, every time I felt him move it was like, ‘Okay. All right, he is going to be okay. He is okay. He is getting ready.’”
When Trystan and Biff chose to try to conceive, Trystan went off testosterone and got pregnant immediately. His doctors at Kaiser Permanente described the process as similar to a woman coming off birth control and believed the hormonal therapy to have little effect on his fertility. Unfortunately he subsequently had a miscarriage. He shared that a nurse-midwife comforted him during this time, “She said to me if and when I was ready, to look for the moments of gratitude that I could find for my body. Basically a miscarriage is your body taking care of you, and protecting you, and any future children that you may carry. It is your body saying, ‘Ooh, something has gone wrong. This needs to come to an end before any damage is done.’ When I was able to reframe it that way and to think, ‘Oh, this is so amazing, my body is taking care of me even in ways that I do not understand, or see, or know,’ then I was able to feel grateful to not have to carry a baby to term that was not going to be able to survive, or whatever the myriad outcomes can happen when a miscarriage does not go through. I was able to feel grateful for that.” His son was conceived just three months after.
Trystan remained patient with the medical staff that worked with him, but feels birth language needs to grow to be more inclusive. He says, “I am such a minority, of a minority, of a minority that I do not expect the whole world to accommodate my very unique path.” Trystan particularly felt the language of the written documents could change to become more aware of birthing options outside of a nuclear mom, dad, and baby structure of a family. “Verbally I think that the care providers I saw worked very hard to be inclusive. Occasionally they would say, “Pregnant women,” instead of, “People who get pregnant,” or, “Pregnant people,” or, “Gestational parents,” but, again, I give them a little bit of a pass because if you spend 30 years using one kind of language there is going to be a period of adjustment that I need to have some grace with them.”
Trystan was able to advocate for himself during his entire pregnancy, and continued to do so when he felt he needed to be induced at 39 weeks. He said it was difficult to negotiate the discrepancy between being told by medical establishments, family and friends who worked in the health and birth industries that everything was fine with his pregnancy, and how he felt internally which involved a lot of pain. He felt the stereotype was that a pregnant body could not build a baby it could not sustain, but likened the situation to getting appendicitis as a child, where his body created the situation without his knowledge or desire and yet he had known in his gut that something serious was wrong. “Nature is imperfect and flawed, and our bodies are imperfect and flawed.”
He was successfully induced by his own informed choice at 40 weeks with a combination of Cervadil1 and foley bulb2 use. He navigated 24 hours of early labour, 6 hours of active labour, and a single hour of pushing. Leo was born at 9 lb 6 oz. He believes that is what defines self-determination and empowerment: room to choose what is best for a pregnant person when it is best for them. To him, “The ideal birth was in a hospital, surrounded by people that I love and trust, under the care of medical professionals, where both of us emerged unscathed, relatively.”
Trystan’s advice for birth workers in the future is this, “Think your word choices through and practice using a little bit more inclusive language.” He says, “The first time that someone said, ‘Oh, a lot of pregnant people have that.’ That was like a dog whistle. I thought, ‘This is a person that I can count on. This is a person I can trust. This is a person who will advocate for me.’ Those little things, that do not seem like a big deal to someone who is saying them, send the message that you are going to work hard to make sure that we get the best care possible.” Trystan understands there are a lot of times where staff have to ask medically invasive questions, but believes this can be done carefully and with open communication. When an ultrasound technician had to ask how his baby was conceived, “IVF or the old fashioned way,” she explained right away, “The reason I am asking this question is because it is going to impact the estimated due date.” Trystan expressed, “If you are able to explain why you are asking a question that could feel invasive, that makes a huge difference. I would have thought she was asking it out of curiosity and wanting me to educate her, or that she wants to dig into my life.”
1. Cervadil is a synthetic form of the hormone prostaglandin. It is used to soften the cervix prior to dilation. Evening of Primrose Oil and semen are two naturally occurring sources of prostaglandins which can also be used, orally or vaginally, to help ripen, or soften, the cervix.
2. A foley catheter, or foley bulb, can be used to dilate the cervix. It is a thin, sterile tube with a balloon at the end, which is filled with sterile water or air. For dilation of the cervix, it is inserted into the vaginal canal and through the cervix. The balloon gradually becomes larger, thus dilating the cervix.
If you want to hear more about Trystan and Biff’s journey, you can find a video clip of one of Trystan’s public speeches on his birth, here.
Photos were from an Edmonton photographer, Vannessa Brown Photographer, and show a surrogate birth with a gay couple. A surrogate birth is an option for many gay males however, for Trystan and Biff, Trystan was able to carry his own child. Photos are not of Trystan and Biff.
Morgan is a single parent of a toddler working towards her B.Ed degree at the U of A with a special interest in Aboriginal education. She is a firm advocate of LGBTQ2S+ rights and a feminist to her core. She is currently considering a snowflake tattoo to reflect her true self.