The e-mail — from a man I had just met — asked whether, prior to surgery, I had preserved my sperm so I could have children with my own genes. Although my inability to bear children has impacted my romantic life even more than being transgender has, this e-mail was the first time that question arose since I had transitioned over a dozen years prior.
Back then, I ran a gauntlet to prove I was transsexual: I traveled over to the East Bay from San Francisco once a week for psychotherapy with a gender specialist. I registered with a transgender care clinic, where I underwent screening — and further counseling — to make sure. Meanwhile, my supervising nurse practitioner thought it a good idea to wait until finishing my spring law school exams before starting hormone replacement therapy, and on and on…
Until finally the day came. Unable to delay a second longer, I swallowed my first estrogen pill on Market Street — injections would come later, after my body acclimated — right outside the pharmacy.
One component of the counseling and therapy included acknowledging that, after a while, I would no longer be able to procreate. Over time, I would produce less and less semen, and I would become sterile.
After surgery, of course, my body would stop producing any semen or testosterone at all.
There was nothing I wanted to rid myself of more than the errors of nature that made my body male.
Still, my counselor at the clinic had presented an option: before starting estrogen, I could contact a sperm bank and freeze my sperm.
You know, if I wanted to. Just in case.
My stomach turned. I thought I would vomit.
I shudder and feel sick when I think about the idea to this day.
In elementary school, before the realities of life and making a living encroached on dreams, I imagined living in a nice big house with a family of six kids — three boys and three girls. Then, in my adolescent years and early 20s, as I began dating men, I started thinking about adoption as a possibility. By the time I reached my late 30s — where I loiter as I write these words — I could count two regrets at the heart of it all: not sticking with the first guy I ever slept with when I was 16 years old (such a tender young man!), and not transitioning sooner — the next worst thing to being born and growing up in the wrong body altogether.
For a number of years I hoped I would meet someone special who could see past this defect to the fulfillment of giving a home to one or more children in need of parents and a family. My dad is adopted, as are my aunt and my sister-in-law. Adoption always seemed natural to me; I was taught that my grandma was just as much my grandma as she was my father’s mother — much like the exchange students who lived with my mother’s family were my Swiss aunt and uncle, and their children my cousins. Bonds of family made no distinction.
All of which is why I ended up so unprepared for dating as an adult woman — especially later on in New York, where the male-to-female ratio favors men — at a time in life when the window was closing on marriage and kids.
The first guy I dated for any period of time after surgery was really cute. We met at the Met and lounged around in the Egypt room as I remembered that faraway country where I had started my transition years ago.
Sometimes the prison of being transsexual makes reality feel like someone else’s life — not just when I remember the past, but when a man sees me there still.
Sure enough, that first post-surgery boyfriend ended our relationship a couple months after it began, within minutes of disclosure.
He wanted to have children of his own, he explained. He always had.
Just like me.
Except not exactly. I left behind any part of me that might have fathered a child because I want to be with a man, not be one.
Time went on and a decade of variations on the same theme followed — until one evening at dusk I found myself on the stoop of the Russian & Turkish Baths on East 10th Street, chatting with a friend I’d known from the saunas and steam rooms downstairs for two or three years. He talked about how his relationship with his girlfriend was changing, and happened to mention that he could not impregnate a woman due to a condition from birth.
Afterward my mind wandered to how life might have unfolded if I had met and fallen in love with someone who, in his own way, could understand.
Little did I realize that I already had…
To be continued…
This blog post is from my essay Transgender No More.
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