Becoming a Better Ally for our Transgender Family

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I am not transgender, however, I am an ally and continually work to be a better ally. I am a gay cisgender male and am part of the LGBTQIA+ community. The “LGB” are the most familiar of the letters: Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual. Sadly, the latter half of our community is shunned, not supported and more often overlooked and forgotten – they are the TQIA+: Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual and the “+” is for anyone on the spectrum of sex, gender or sexuality to which a specific term does not yet exist. These are sentient beings, these are people and they matter. Before I move through this piece there is background as to why I am writing this:

  • Currently the Trump administration is seeking to remove transgender as a protected class based on a series of executive orders issued during the Obama administration; and, they’re looking to assign anyone who is born with external genitalia as their given “sex,” regardless of whether it aligns with how they feel.
  • Oftentimes the LGB part of our community does not show the same level of fight, respect and demand for equality for our TQIA+ family.
  • Everyone can be a better ally, myself included. This starts with education and speaking with people within the community. As I am a cisgender male who has had great, in depth conversations with transgender individuals, I want to start by showing we do care. And by “we” I mean the LGB part of our community. We need to show up and fight for their support. They have every right to live as authentically as us – and when part of our community is not protected that means the whole community is not protected, and at risk.

Terminology to know:

Gender: is often defined with respect to one’s self as the state of being male, female, both, somewhere in between, neither or something different. When referring to gender with respect to society it is a system of classification that is deeply rooted in social ideas about what is masculinity and what is femininity.

Gender Expression: this is how one chooses to express themselves regardless of gender identity, sexual orientation or other identifying factors. For example, a cisgender gay man may be feminine or masculine in the way that they dress or carry themselves, but it doesn’t take away the fact that their gender identity is still male.

Gender Identity: this term relates to how someone feels on the inside, despite any external anatomy that may imply otherwise (i.e. if a person has a penis they are a male, when in fact they may identify as female).

Sex: either male or female (sometimes referred to as binary) based on their genitalia at birth, and typically based on “reproductive function.”

Genderqueer: Genderqueer, also known as non-binary, is a catch-all category for gender identities that are not exclusively masculine or feminine‍—‌identities which are outside the gender binary and cisnormativity. Genderqueer people may express a combination of masculinity and femininity, or neither in their gender identity.

Cisgender: when one’s biological sex aligns with their gender identity. For example a person born with male external genitalia, male reproductive systems and expresses themselves as masculine, they’d be a cisgender male.

Cisnormative: what is considered “normal” for the majority of folks that identify as cisgender male or female.

Gender Dysphoria: the internal conflict one may experience when their biological sex does not align with their gender identity or expression.

Transgender: when one’s biological sex does not align with their gender identity. For example, when someone is born biologically “female” but feels as though they are a man, they are transgender.

Intersex: when a person is born with a discrepancy between the appearance of their external genitalia and the type of internal genitalia. Often parents of intersex children are forced as a result of cisnormative culture to assign a gender to their child that may ultimately not align with how their child actually feels later in life.

In terms of modern cultural awareness the topic of gender, gender identity and sex is confusing, at best, most especially to those that will only subscribe to the notions that both exist as a binary relationship (i.e. someone can only be male or female) – in other words the cisnormative lens. The reality is that gender and sex are both fluid and exist on a spectrum. This may be hard to grasp for cisgender folks since the way they were raised contradicts this very notion of sex and gender – I am not excluded from this as I am cisgender and was raised this way. I was brought up with you are either born male (i.e. a boy) or female (i.e. a girl); but, I promise that in time with some educational dialogue and reaching out to people that are transgender, genderqueer or gender non-conforming, you can come to an understanding, and learn to accept that things aren’t always neatly packed in boxes of black and white, but there is more than just being a boy or girl.

Sex vs. Gender

Let’s first talk about the differences between the terms sex and gender. Often they are used interchangeably, however this is incorrect. They are different entities and should never be used interchangeably. Generally speaking “sex” refers to the biological differences between females and males; take for example the differences in external and internal reproductive organs. The term gender is a bit more challenging to define, but to generalize it refers to the role of a male or female in society. Typically this is known as a “gender role,” but it can also be an individual’s view of themselves, or gender identity. When someone’s genetics doesn’t align with their gender identity, these individuals may refer to themselves as transgender, genderqueer/non-binary or gender non-conforming.

From a genetic perspective people can be born with an array of sex genes – as already mentioned it’s not wrapped up in a neat little box. I will make the assumption that everyone is familiar with the “X” and “Y” gene, and that the combination of “XY” is male and “XX” is female. It’s assumed that when you’re born with a penis you have “XY” and if you’re born with a vagina you have “XX.” This is not always the case. In fact there are many combinations and genetic variations that exist, and the folks born with these genetic variations are no less human. Here is a table to summarize some of the known variants (adapted from a paper at www.nature.com written by Claire Ainsworth; full article here). vaiations in biological sex

It may be hard to understand, but some “men” are born with two or three “X” chromosomes; some women can be born with “Y” chromosome. This grouping of genetic sex chromosome combinations is often referred to as intersex. Parents who give birth to a child that is intersex is often forced to choose which gender to assign their child. They often never inform this child of what happened, or why, and it can and usually arises later on in life with conflicting internal feelings, or gender dysphoria. To quote, “This pressure has meant that people born with clear DSDs [Disorder of Sex Development] often undergo surgery to ‘normalize’ their genitals. Such surgery is controversial because it is usually performed on babies, who are too young to consent, and risks assigning a sex at odds with the child’s ultimate gender identity — their sense of their own gender. Intersex advocacy groups have therefore argued that doctors and parents should at least wait until a child is old enough to communicate their gender identity, which typically manifests around the age of three, or old enough to decide whether they want surgery at all.”

Moving Forward and Becoming a Better Ally

By definition an ally is someone who “combines or unites forces/resources often to benefit the other party.” In other words, being an ally means you are accepting of, but also actively partaking in the defense and progress that another marginalized community may experience. Being an ally it not easy, it takes work. It takes empathy. It takes understanding, time and acceptance (not tolerance, here’s a piece I penned on the difference between acceptance and tolerance to review.

So how does one start?

Moving Beyond Your Comfort Zone

Seek out people who are not like you and have open dialogues. Be ready to have your views challenged and be open to learning new ways of thinking. Not everyone has the same lived experiences in our world as we all bring uniqueness. Being different is ok, despite what some may think. Be ready to be challenged in many ways, and accept the challenge as a way to broaden your mind.

Gender Neutral Language

Language matters to everyone whether we see it that way or not. When we say something like, “that’s a boy’s thing,” or “girls can’t speak like that,” it implies something much greater, and those with children know how language matters. They pick up on everything. However, in absolute language and reality nothing is a “boy thing,” just like nothing is a “girl thing.” Things are just things. Right? From a cisnormative viewpoint this many not be the case, but language like this alienates and indoctrinates young children to feel as though they “must” fit into the cisnormative binary. This forces them to choose as opposed to being free to feel as they may. Take the following examples:

  1. The boy who wants to wear nail polish. In our society only women are socially allowed to paint their nails. Why? It’s considered a feminine detail and if a boy has anything feminine it immediately emasculates him, makes him less of a boy/man. In reality this is not the case. Paint is paint and painting our names is a form of art and modification albeit temporary. How many of us, men included, modify our bodies in artistic forms: tattoos, ear piercings, dying our hair, wearing various color clothes etc.? Painting one’s nails does not determine how masculine or feminine they are, but rather, they just want their nails decorated. Period. End of story.
  2. The girl who wants to dress up as a teenage mutant ninja turtle, or the boy who is obsessed with Moana. Children are meant to learn by playing. We play and wear costumes all the damn time, and especially around Halloween. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a child wanting to dress up as someone they look up to. Hell, if my son wanted to dress up as Moana or any other strong, independent and brave woman he’ll be unconditionally supported. No questions asked. And not to be Abba-bear, but come at me. Watch what happens 😉
  3. “Boys will be boys.” This is a phrase that’s recently gotten a ton of social media attention and is often coupled with the idea of toxic masculinity – where inappropriate and lewd male behavior is excused simple by virtue that they are male, and have no control of it. Hogwash. Bullshit. Men have control, they just are never asked to own what they do and receive “get out of jail free” cards. But only if they’re white and male, but I won’t digress. Cases such as Brock Turner exemplify how toxic masculinity is a part of our culture, and it shouldn’t be accepted. Ever. Period. I’d bet he’s heard the phrase, “boys will be boys” more than once. If you do something wrong you pay the price. At the end of the day kids will be kids – boy, girl or otherwise. No child or person is exempt from misbehaving as a result of their gender or sex. All children or people can act inappropriately, poorly or just down-right illegal. It’s up to us as people to correct the behavior and teach what it means to be a good human being.

There is so much more to this, but adopting gender neutral language where we don’t engender all aspects of our daily lives is a huge step in the right direction. It will take time and practice, and those around us challenging us and moving towards this ideal. Personally, as a two-dad family I have adopted a greater appreciation for gender-neutral language. For example, the societal notion that parenting is an innately female thing. It’s not I can assure you. Being a father is as much being a parent as being a mother. Though this is a topic for another piece, using gender neutral language all parents, regardless of their gender identity, to feel accepted and part of the community.

Don’t Assume Anything

You cannot tell if someone is transgender, genderqueer or gender nonconforming simply by looking at them. Despite the stereotypes it’s just impossible. Just as you wouldn’t want someone making assumptions about your religion or political viewpoint, neither do they. They are real people with real feelings, just like you and me. Just assume that where ever you are there is likely someone who is transgender, and for goodness sake just act in a way that models decency and be a good human being.

Don’t assume someone’s sexual orientation if they are transgender. Just as sex and gender are different, sexuality is an entirely different things. Transgender people can be straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or any of the spectrum of sexual orientations.

When you meet someone who is transgender be an active listener to how they refer to themselves (i.e. pronouns). Do they refer to themselves as he or she, they or them? Whatever someone refers to themselves as is how you should proceed to engage in conversation. Anything short of that is insulting to their existence. Oh, and don’t ask them what “their real name is,” implying that the name with which they introduced themselves as is less “real.” That’s downright insulting and frankly, none of our business. They are introducing themselves as who they are and how they identify, it’s none of our damn business what was before they came out as transgender, unless they choose to share their story.

As it is with being LGB be careful not to out someone, especially if they’ve confided in you about who they are. This take a great deal of care, diligence and respect. There’s a reason they’re confiding and sharing details with you; be respectful.

Understand that there is no right or wrong way to come out as transgender, and not everyone who is transgender comes out the same way. Some transgender people come out and are happy to transition by way of changing their clothing. Some transgender people come out and with doctors are medically prescribed hormones to develop the characteristic traits they desire. And some transgender people opt to transition via surgical procedures. There is no “right way” to be transgender. Just as there is no right way to be straight – some straight men are macho men and some are not, but they are all nonetheless straight men. To be an ally is just to support them for who they are and respect their decisions. End of story. We don’t get to anyone how to feel.

The next tip I am pasting directly from www.glaad.org as it embodies so much truth to being an ally, and reinforces how language matters. “Avoid backhanded compliments and ‘helpful’ tips:”

  • “I would have never known you were transgender. You look so pretty.”
  • “You look just like a real woman.”
  • “She’s gorgeous, I would have never guessed she was transgender.”
  • “He’s so hot. I’d date him even though he’s transgender.”
  • “You’re so brave.”
  • “You’d pass so much better if you wore less/more make-up, had a better wig, etc.”

These comments degrade who someone is. It’s not up to us as cisgender people to determine what makes a woman a woman and a man a man. Gender identity is a spectrum, a personal choice and what makes someone feel more masculine or feminine is different for everyone.

When you hear anti-trans epithets or conversation: stop them. Be brave enough to stand up! Even in LGB spaces. Challenge these statements all the time, anywhere. It’s not ok to let hate and negative language pollute our culture, and demean any group of people who have every right to exist and be their authentic selves.

As allies, know our limits. Know when it’s time to shut up and listen.

Read about transgender history and engage in dialogues with transgender people.

Volunteer or donate to organizations that support transgender rights. Here’s a list:

  • National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE)
  • Transgender Law Center (TLC)
  • Gender Proud
  • Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP)
  • Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF)
  • Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC)
  • Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC)
  • Trans Women of Color Collective (TWOCC)
  • Black Trans Advocacy
  • Trans Latina Coalition
  • Gender Spectrum
  • Gender Diversity
  • Trans Youth Equality Federation
  • Trans Youth Family Allies (TYFA)
  • TransTech Social Enterprises
  • PART*A
  • Transgender American Veterans Association
  • TransAthlete.com
  • TransLife Center at Chicago House

At the end of the day this is all still evolving. We are still understanding the spectrum of gender, gender identity and sexuality. It’s not a neat, clean topic that we can close in just one day. That’s just not how any of this works. Sure, some discussions may make you uncomfortable, make your skin crawl. That’s ok. Just because you’re uncomfortable discussing a topic does not give you the right to squash or eliminate one’s existence. Transgender folk are people, too. They are our siblings, they are someone’s children and they live, breathe and exist on the same planet that we do as human beings. All human beings deserve their humanity and dignity, and it’s up to us to act as true allies and help them, lift them up and be there for them.

Acknowledgements

I’d like to express my sincerest thanks to Dean Rasmussen, who writes and manages the blog: everydayanomalyblog.com. I became acquainted with Dean through LGBTQIA+ parenting blogs and other daddy-blog sites where we both participate and contribute pieces. Dean is an FTM living his life, engaged and has a beautiful family. I encourage anyone to read up on his blog and learn.

Happy 19 Months! (Oops, and 18 months, too!)

Dear Yeladim,

Happy 18 & now 19 months! Last month Abba forgot to write down our letter as we had so many things going on in our home. We’ll be using this letter to recap all that’s happened and what this next month will bring. But despite Abba forgetting, it’s been an incredibly 19 months that we’re both blessed to be your parents!

In your 18th month of life we took our first real family vacation! We took a plane from Philadelphia to Florida. We spent a few days relaxing, swimming and exploring with Grandma Diane and Grandpa Marc, and then we took our first ever road trip. It was 9 hours! We drove from the north east of Florida to Gulf Shores, Alabama. Why? To meet up with Aunt Ashly, Uncle Mac, Kaisen and Evie, of course! Not to mention your first trip to a beach! Your 18th months of life was filled with so much fun and excitement! You both had tremendous language and communication bursts as well as incredible gains in your gross and fine motor skills.

When we returned from vacation we immediately shifted gear into what Abba calls, “Medical Support Mode.” Daddy was getting ready for surgery, and all the while Daddy & Abba had to prepare for Xander’s corrective eye surgery. On August 28th Daddy went in for his surgery and on the same day Grandma Diane flew up from Florida to stay with us (after returning from her first ever trip to Europe!). While Daddy recovered Grandma Diane (and Grandma Rose) were there to help take care of you both while Abba helped Daddy to be as comfortable as possible while recovering. Then, 10 days after Daddy’s surgery Xander you were taken into surgery to have your strabismus correction surgery. To say that Daddy and Abba were anxious is an understatement. So let’s recap all that’s happened with you both.

Phoebe – your personality continues to shine through. You are opinionated and know what you want, and with each day you continue to express what you want not only with words but in showing Abba & Daddy. You have an obsession with taking your shoes & socks off and trying to redress yourself, and that’s now extended to your shirt coming off. You find joy in helping us buckle you in your high chair and car seat and are always there to lend your hands. You still love to analyze objects and your environment around you, but girl, you have absolutely no fear. You love to dive head first into danger and face it, well, head on! You’re strong, independent and sassy to no end. Your favorite words are, “no,” “shoes,” and “hello!” You are super sweet to your brother (when you want to be), and you love to give both Daddy and Abba “running hugs.” Oh, and your favorite books are, “The Little Engine That Could,” and “Marlon Bundo.” Both great books with great life lessons: 1) Never Give Up and 2) Love is Forever, Stinkbugs are Temporary.

Xander – you personality continues to blossom as you show your sweet and tender side. You love to snuggle, give hugs and kisses to Abba and Daddy. Your gross motor and language skills have really shaped up this last month, despite being a little rough since you had your surgery; you bounced back more quickly than lightening can strike the ground in a storm! You enjoy challenging Daddy and Abba with climbing on objects you know to be off-limits and even give this little sneer that we try not to giggle at (as it’s simply adorable). You have picked up several new words but are still a bit shy with using them…except for one: bye-bye (which sounds more like “buh-bye.”). Since your surgery your eyes have dramatically improved and you’ve even been doing well without your glasses! We’ll soon see if you’ll need them now that your surgery has been completed. You’re favorite books are, “Marlon Bundo,” and “Joseph Had a Little Overcoat.” You love to sit on our laps as we read, point at the objects and smile when you know you’re right. The book about Joseph also has great life-lessons. But more on that below.

The both of you have started to consistently use utensils when you eat, assert your opinions when you know what you want and express how you feel. You both can communicate when you want more to eat and when you’re done, and it’s simply amazing to watch the both of you develop into your own little people and personalities. It’s almost as if while we’re teaching you all about life and how to maneuver through the winding paths that you’ll face, you’re teaching us what life is all about.

Although Xander has a particular affinity towards, “Joseph Had a Little Overcoat,” you both enjoy sitting down to read it with Abba or Daddy (though Daddy detests the over-the-top Yiddish voice Abba uses to read). This book has a very valuable lesson that you’ll find you need throughout your life. This story is about a man, Joseph, who has an overcoat that he re-purposes as it becomes torn and tattered. And, when he finally loses the last re-purposed object, a button, Joseph memorializes his overcoat by writing a book to remember it. So what’s the lesson? You can always make something out of nothing. This lesson is important. We will often face times where we feel we have nothing or are empty; but this just isn’t true. It’s an illusion. Our lives are rich and filled, even when we feel the toys we have are old and boring. Sometimes we just need to look at them in a different way – call it, “stepping outside of the box.”

Yeladim – continue growing, continue learning, continue exploring and most of all continue being yourselves. Our love for you is unconditional and infinite. And as we round the corner of time’s journey to year two we are more-so shocked at the warp speed that’s been attained. You truly are our little miracles.

All our love,

Daddy & Abba

Happy 17 Months (Purposefully Belated)

Dear Yeladim,

Happy 17 months! Wait…did we just write 17 months? The time is flying by! That means that it has been 17 months that we’ve been blessed to be your parents. Simply amazing. You’ll notice that there’s a parenthetical in the title: (Purposefully Belated). And it’s (sorta) true…I swear. You see two years ago today was a very special day; a special day indeed.

On July 21, 2016 your Abba and Daddy woke up to the sounds of pitter patter of Aunt Ashly’s children. Cousin Evie was impatiently knocking on our bedroom door to get up so that she could play. And cousin Kaisen was right behind her, with the book Go Dog Go, demanding that it be read. We played after we brushed teeth and read for a few minutes. Then we went downstairs to say good morning to Aunt Ashly and Uncle Mac and of course little Millie. To our surprise Aunt Ashly was already dressed in green and had a bowl of pineapple ready to be consumed. Why? Because on very special days we have traditions. This is something you’ll learn with Abba and Daddy throughout your life. This very special day was what we call, “Transfer Day.” This is the day we placed two perfectly beautiful embryos into Aunt Ashly, both which grew and grew to become the both of you! Amazing!

Now, on to the other reason for this letter: Your 17th month birth celebration! img_3215

So much has exploded in the last month it’s not even funny. In fact, this last month may have been one of the most explosive, most especially in language and communication.

Phoebe: You’ve learned to climb. You’ve cut all four first year molars (ouch!). You’ve started to cut your canines (may the heaven’s bless Abba and Daddy with patience). You have more than 30 words that youimg_3244 can speak. When it comes to communication and following directions you understand so, so much. You no longer take fluid by bottles. You know many parts of your body and can point to them. And! You can quack like a duck when asked, “What does the Duck say?” Amazing! You love to use a fork when eating your food. Oh, and you absolutely love to test Abba and Daddy’s limits with what is and is not acceptable…only a fraction of the defiance that is to come, weimg_2327 are sure. 🙂

Xander: You’ve earned a new nickname Mr. Booogley, or as Abba says to shorten it: Boogs. You have also cut your first four molars and first four canines –  all within 3 week’s time…oh my! You’ve not only learned the art of back-arching tantrums, you’ve mastered it. You even became the exorcist in front of your PA grandparents. Thankfully, it’s not very often. You have about 20 words that you love to use…but by far your favorite two to say are ‘banana,’ and ‘daddy.’ It’s so freaking adorable! You have begun to climb on things…anything, really. You sometimes tantrum at dinner until you img_6089have your fork in hand…you love to crawl and walk in between Abba’s legs and play peak-a-boo. But most of all, you love to sit on Abba or Daddy’s lap with a book and listen to us read to you. Last thought: we have your surgery scheduled to correct your strabismus in September.

This last month also brought out new characteristic traits between the two of you. Some call it the “twin bond.” We call it the most absolutely amazingly adorable and special thing we’re beyond blessed to witness. Every morning whoever gets to the water sippies first makes sure that the other has theirs before they themselves start drinking. When one tantrums the other offers a toy or a consoling back rub. You love to give one another high-fives, hugs and kisses. You bring each other one another’s wubbas. Oh, and that img_3036time when Bubba threw his out of the crib and Pickle, you tried to pass one from your crib to him? Precious.

It’s a blessing to be parents. Through it all – from the darkest, scariest moments to the lightest, funniest and most special of moments. Selfishly, though, I say that having twins adds an element of sparkle to how special it is, as we get to witness one of the most special relationships grow from it’s very first day. This is something we’ll forever nurture, cherish and thank Aunt Ashly and her family, and the amazing team of scientists and doctors that paved the way for us to be parents. We’re forever grateful.

Continue to explore, yeladim. Continue to grow and learn. Continue to test us. Continue to bond with one another. Continue to teach us. Continue to humble us. Continue touching our hearts in ways we never knew existed.

All our love,

Daddy and Abba

Happy 16 months!

Dear Yeladim,

Happy 16 months! Holy crickies that means it’s 16 months that we’ve been blessed to be your fathers!

This letter is a bit more special as your 16 month celebration just happens to also be our second Father’s Day, all with amazing thanks to Aunt Ashly for helping bring you both to us. So while this letter will, as usual, focus on you, it will be through the lens of what the last year of being parents has taught us.

Lessons Learned

– all crazy is temporary, just hold on

– teething really is the devil

– your smiles are infectious beyond all imagination, as are your giggles

– the affection you both share and show us everyday is the best gift

– watching you grow, explore and develop is better than anything put on television

– watching your twin bond form is one of the most beautiful things to bear witness

– as boy/girl twins you most definitely don’t look alike 😂

– you are individual people through and through, and your personalities are amazing

– you’re both beautiful people

But perhaps the best blessing in the world is waking up every day and being your parents. Your fathers. Being the ones you snuggle when you fall, the ones you show off too when you’re excited, happy and proud and being the parents you know will be there for you no matter what.

Yeladim, we can’t express just how much we love you. Truly, a parents love for their child is immeasurable…but one thing we do know is that our love won’t ever end, it will only strengthen with time and will only grow to be more and more special.

To the two greatest humans ever: thank for giving us both a reason to celebrate Father’s Day.

All our love,

Daddy and Abba

A Glimmer of Hope

Often I find myself writing about the negative and more challenging interactions that happen as an LGBTQ father and family. The challenges of solo shopping with twins, the challenges of being a dad in a world where dad’s aren’t yet accepted as primary care takers and then there’s the challenges of being an out and open LGBTQ family; but not today. Today I have nothing to share that is negative. Today I walk with a bit more oomph in my step. Today I smile a little bit bigger. For today’s piece is about interactions that give me hope for tomorrow and restore some faith in humanity.

I remember writing in an earlier piece there is yet hope for a time when people won’t need to “come out.” A time when people can just be whomever they’re meant to be without any judgment, stereotypes or assumptions that compare them to some antiquated system defined in binaries or “norms. “Although that time exists in some future, this weekend my family experienced it first hand – and it was superbly glorious. So glorious that it’s inspired me to write about each of those interactions.

Saturday we decided to take the children to the park and play. It was early – around 8am. After breakfast we got ready and headed to the car; Bubba with me, and Pickle with Brian. We head over to the playground, park and unload. Turns out one other family had the same great idea for an early morning play session at the park – a young heterosexual couple and their nearly 3-year old son. While at the swings the dad noticed my deathly hollows tattoo and sparked up a conversation. When it came time for the “a-ha!” moment where they realized we were married and that they were our children – there wasn’t a single moment of awkward silence. Normally there is a production to explain our situation – a “coming out,” so-to-speak – but not that day. That day we were just another family at the park and it was refreshing. So refreshing that it left such a smile on our hearts.

Sunday the plan was the go to Old Navy and scope out some start of summer deals…I won’t share how much we spent, that fact is irrelevant (lol), but after that adventure we went to the mall. Our first plan was to get Brian a new pair of sunglasses (the clerk at the store LOVED the kids!), and then to grab lunch. We got to the restaurant and were seated in an uncomfortably close section of the restaurant…and both kids had to be opposite us, which made it a bit more challenging. I want to talk about each of the couples that flanked us while we were there, with the last of them the one that touched me the most:

First Family: was a family of three. The father at the table was using his napkin to engage phoebe in a game of peek-a-boo! Totally and utterly adorable. And the daughter at the table put it together that the kids were twins, and was constantly smiling and engaging them while they were there. Again, adorable. When they were done and the table cleaned up a mom of three kids arrived to take over the table.

Second Family: was a mom (married, had a ring on) with her three boys: 5, almost 3 and almost 12 month old. She got her kids settle, drinks ordered (including a beer for herself) and she was rocking it. We both bowed to her awesomeness, and sparked up conversation. Just parents talking ‘bout their craziness – and nobody bat an eyelash. Again: glorious.

Third Table: This table of two friends, both female, was next to us nearly the whole time we were there. Throughout the meal they engaged our children at various times (totally appropriate) and were super generous in helping pick up a random object that Xander felt needed a home on the floor. It wasn’t until they left that such an impact was made. One of the women, a preschool teacher, said, “It just warms my heart to see the two of you parent. Truly, it just warms my heart.” She smiled and carried on with her day.

The last interaction is what inspired me to write, although all of these interactions were just brilliant to be able to live. This woman, without batting an eyelash chose such perfect language; language that was inclusive, language that expressed acceptance and language that made us feel normal. Normal. A word that in and of itself is unusual to type. Perhaps a better word would be accepted. And it felt good. So good.

I wait patiently for the day when more and more people think and operate like all of these people. When people can be with the ones they love, raise a family and just be great members of society. Although these people will likely never come across this piece of writing I thank them. I thank them all for making us feel accepted, making us feel “normal” and lastly not treating us like the circus many think we are. Thank you for giving me a glimmer of hope. It feels so nice, most especially during Pride month!

Happy 15 Months!

Dear Alexander and Phoebe,

Today you’re 15 months old and that means we’ve been blessed to be your parents for 15 months! Holy crap on a cracker!

Let’s cut right to the chase…this last month has been explosive for you both:

  • You both look like toddlers
  • You both wear shoes
  • You both are walking
  • Language is strong with you both!
  • Your fine motor skills are incredible with great bilateral action
  • You both love to stack rings, cups and legos
  • You both love to read
  • You both sleep without your sleep sacks

Currently we read Brown Bear Brown Bear 20 times a day and go through all the animal noises. And you love your newest book A Day In The Life of Marlon Bundo.

This last month has been so busy for you! Each weekend you got to celebrate one set of twins’ first birthday! First was Freya and Zelda, second was Dean and Emma, third was Colton and Weston and this coming weekend marks the end of the birthdays with Kevin and Jason! Phew!

This next month we are sure will be ripe with new learnings and we cannot wait! We love you more than you’ll ever know and are the luckiest to be your daddy and Abba.

All our Love,

Daddy & Abba

Cultivating a Strong Sense of Self in Our Children: “This Is Me.”

Raising strong, independent and mindful children seems to be a universal goal for parents. I know it’s a goal of ours. We want our children to grow up with a strong sense of identity, that it is okay to be themselves, that they are worthy of love and that nobody can tear them down. Ultimately, the desire for our children to be unapologetically themselves is strong and we want to cultivate this now, and throughout their lives. But how? How can we teach our children to be themselves? One could easily posit and say “throw out all labels” and just let your children be children; let them explore their world and their ideas in a safe, judgment-free manner. But, it’s not that easy. In fact it’s much more complicated since as parents we bring our own baggage of insecurities. Therefore, it would be foolish for me not to first unpack my personal story of discovering my identity and becoming “unapologetically myself.”

As a gay man I was rather young when I put together I wasn’t like everyone else. My first clear memory originated around the age of six. I knew a lesbian couple (neighbors of my aunt and uncle) and I can remember saying to myself, “if two women can live together and be happy then that means two men can, too.” I didn’t dare speak about it to anyone for fear or being ridiculed. Plus, who is going to listen to a six year old? What could they possibly know about themselves? Turns out more than some would give credit. This memory is so vivid.

In reflecting as I grew older and more aware of myself I remember the nasty epithets thrown at me down the hallways in middle school, on the baseball field or in gym class throughout high school: faggot, fudge packer, worthless piece of shit, you fat fag, you’re a disgusting homo, burn in hell. It was hurtful, demeaning and unruly at times. Many nasty rumors were started and it hurt so deep that I walked around with my head down and just minded my own business. When I needed to be happy on the outside I somehow mustered the strength, but often found myself crying at home trying to make sense of why people saw or even cared that I was different than them. I can remember my mom constantly reminding me that, “sticks and stones may break my bones by words will never harm me.” At times, though, the words did hurt – they cut so deep and to the very core of my identity, even though I was still trying to decipher and understand the nature of that identity. It wasn’t until much later in life I started to care less about others and just started living my truth. But it was through this hurt and pain that I arrived at this place.

This brings me to the crux of why I am penning this piece. Recently I heard a song from the movie The Greatest Showman, “This Is Me,” and it moved me to a place I haven’t been in some time. It’s like my new power anthem. In fact it moved me so much that it got me thinking about how we will create and cultivate our children’s minds to be free, strong and confident. The verse I heard goes like this (no, I won’t sing…):

“When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised,
I am who I’m meant to be, this is me

Lookout cause here I come
And I’m marching on to the beat I drum
I’m not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me”

I saw it as someone’s social media status, in quotes, and was like, “OMFG, this is my anthem!” So I dug a little deeper to find out the origins which lead me to this movie about P.T. Barnum and the story of his “Greatest Show on Earth.” I won’t argue the historical discrepancies in the movie (as there are many), but I will say that this movie tackles many poignant current-day issues that surround self-identity, self-pride and to put it bluntly, the many fucks none of us should give about what others think. After all, at times growing up I felt like a circus freak, an outcast and even a stranger in my own body. But it would be with a lot of inner struggle that I would finally arrive at the place I am today. Strong. Confident. Humble. And now, raising children with my husband.

The song appears in the movie midway through when the circus cast wants to join the bourgeoisie of Connecticut to celebrate a performance they had just attended (in a highly invisible section of the theater, mind you). Excited to celebrate before their nightly show they were rejected entry to the gala by their ringleader – for the first time in their history with Barnum he refused them entry giving the most asinine of excuses. It’s in this moment we see the ‘bearded lady’ Lettie Lutz finally emerge and bust out this song. She gave me life! And as I watched it for the first time, eyes fixed on the screen sitting at the edge of my seat, there I was singing, smiling and rooting her on (And I mean hooting and hollerin’!). Each member of the circus were constantly judged by society, constantly emotionally and physically beaten down, constantly told that they are less than human, constantly told that they don’t deserve anything in life…that they were freaks. When Lutz starts the song with, “Hide away, they say, ‘cause we don’t want your broken parts” I teared up. I don’t ever want our children feeling this way. Nothing about them is broken. They are themselves, they are human and they are always whole. And our children know, even at the tender age of 14 months, that they are loved no matter what. How do I know? Because it starts with us, their parents, with hugs, kisses and telling them they are loved. It starts by us accepting them for being who they are no matter what, and mark my words, our love will not waiver or be held to any condition.

Lutz continues the song, “But I won’t let them break me down to dust, I know that there’s a place for us, for we are glorious.” At this point in the film we’ve gotten to see Lutz move from a place of insecurity to finally emerging as a freed person, a leader of the pack for the so-called “freaks” of the circus. It was glorious to hear these words. But it doesn’t come without being allowed to feel the hurt – it’s from our pain and negative experiences that she arrives at this epiphany. The lesson? We cannot shelter our children from all possible hurt – it’s impossible. Even if we could what would that do? Nothing. What we can do is encourage them to feel the hurt, openly discuss why it hurts and then determine the right path forward to where that hurt can be used for good. Lutz turns her pain around and uses it as a means of celebrating with the words, “I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.” I still get goose pimples when this is sung…

She then leads her new-found family with the following words, “Look out cause here I come, and I’m marching on to the beat I drum, I am not scared to be seen, I make no apologies, this is me.” It was in this moment that I felt myself relating to her on a whole new level. I remember the feelings of being a freak, being an outcast and being alone. And it wasn’t just me – it was the drama nerds, the science geeks, it was the music nerds…it was anyone that dared to be themselves. I remember the nerves and heart-pounding excitement the first time I held a boyfriend’s hand in public in Provincetown, Massachusetts. I remember the looks given to us (the gays) when we went to the bars to dance and enjoy time with others like us. Ultimately we learned that from our experiences we can either give in to the pressures of untruths (i.e. give up) or just to live our lives as we see fit. Ultimately, the choice to live my life as I see fit is what won. And here I am, unapologetically me, not scared to be seen and marching to my own drumbeat. This is me. 100%. And I am proud, damn proud of who I’ve become.

The last major line that affected me in ways I didn’t expect was, “and I know that I deserve your love, ’cause there’s nothing I’m not worthy of.” And it’s true. As humans we are all deserving of love. Every single one of us, even when we feel deep down inside that we’re not. And I’ll be damned if I fail my children; may they never doubt that they are deserving of love. In fact, they will be shown that first they must learn to love themselves, and that to love ourselves comes with struggles and acceptance. Each of us struggle with self-love, in fact most of us push it off. How will we teach this to our children? Truthfully, I have no idea. Perhaps self-affirming mantras, giving ourselves hugs, celebrating our triumphs and openly discussing failures. Honestly, to love yourself is one of the hardest things to do and is something with which I continue to struggle. I won’t hide this struggle from them for hiding from something only increases fear of what it is you’re hiding from. I plan on leading by example in that it’s ok to struggle and constantly evolve. That’s part of living in this world: always being able to learn about yourself and even about those that around us. Each of our struggles can help to teach and guide us to be better humans. Each of us have our own truths to live.

The movie holds on to this theme of self-love and acceptance no matter what or who we are. And, even though there are some facts left out that doesn’t change the underlying message: we are all people who are amazing, talented and deserve to be true to ourselves. And it’s with this underlying message that makes me reflect on how I will teach our children to be unapologetically themselves. Finally, I offer an answer to question: how will we let our children grow up to be themselves? The answer: let them be themselves, let them fall, let them explore, with guidance and acceptance that through it all, they are entirely loved without fail or conditions. This is how. With an open heart, an open mind and unconditional love we will teach our children that they are free to be themselves, that who they are is perfect and that their truths are theirs to own no matter what someone else may think or say.  We’re all glorious.

Happy (Belated) 14 months!

Dear Phoebe & Alexander,

Happy 14 months, yeladim! It seems surreal with each letter and passing month…how did we get so lucky to be your parents? We are grateful each and every day and love you both so very much!

This last month has been explosive for you both, it’s so tough to even begin…

Phoebe: you are officially walking unassisted! In fact you took your first few steps alone when Abba asked you “where’s Hedwig?” You shocked both Daddy and Abba by turning around, walking the 5 – 6 steps, squatting down to pick her up and then coming back to us. We both looked at one another, jaw-dropped, speechless. Congrats baby girl! Here’s to your future exploring life on two legs. Also this last month your language exploded. You have a growing vocabulary of words and sounds. You can blow kisses, wave hello and goodbye and identify a whole bunch of different people and objects.

Alexander: you officially received your first haircut! Abba and Daddy wanted to wait a bit longer, but the wildness of your hair was becoming annoying to you while taking your glasses off and on. You were so well behaved throughout the whole experience. You have developed a love of objects that can be nested and love to show us both the great work you do. Two other great accomplishment this last month are your ability to point to objects and your communication skills.

Communally this last month:

·         We had our first Family Photoshoot

·         You’re both sleeping with your arms out of your sleep sacks

·         You’re both getting only 2 bottles a day and ready to give up the morning bottle

·         You’re daily interactions between the two of you grow by the day

You are both growing, learning and doing so much each day. It’s such a joy and blessing to witness. Your bond is so strong and so precious, may it continue to blossom with each day. We love you both so much.

All of our love,

Daddy & Abba

13 Months!!

Dear Yeladim

Although we’re two days late in publishing this letter, it’s been 13 whole months since you’ve been born and 13 whole months that we’ve been blessed to be your Daddy and Abba. And it just seems to get better, crazier and more hectic with each passing day. Since your 12 month check-up much has happened!

Phoebe: you have begun to point. At everything. And you use your “pointing” to explore literally everything. Your new favorite thing is to ask Daddy to pick you up and walk to wherever you point! You love it! And, you still love to walk like a busy-body with your walker. In fact, you’ve even mastered the ability to move forward, stop, reverse, pivot and navigate to where you want to be. You’ve discovered the joys of pasta and bananas, and you inhale them both! And, you have even learned how to place objects within one another (i.e. cleaning up, nested objects). .

Xander: since your 12 month check-up you have had a pediatric ophthalmologist appointment where you’ve been diagnosed with both strabismus and Duane’s Syndrome. Both are not a big deal and we’ve already started to take corrective action. You’ve been fitted for your first pair of glasses, and without fail you look even more adorable than you already are! You took a minute to get used to them (still are adjusting) and love to rip them off your face when you’re feeling most frustrated, bored or have the messiest hands in the world. You are officially crawling quadruped and really keeping up with your sister now!

Of all the things you’ve individually accomplished perhaps some of the cutest moments this last month were of your interactions together. You both LOVE to play together, steal objects from one another, trade pacifiers (willingly) and most of all giggle at one another. When one starts the other follows. Your conversational jabber is beyond adorable and entertaining and keeps Abba and Daddy entertained. You both still love your food and feeding yourselves, you enjoy getting messy and then love the bath right after! You have an incredible listening vocabulary and understand so much of your world it’s beautiful.

Keep exploring. Keep playing. Keep learning. Keep falling. Keep getting back up. Keep laughing. Keep testing your limits and boundaries. Keep snuggling us for as long as you want, for we’ll miss these days when they’ve passed us by.

All our love,

Daddy and Abba

I Don’t Know How You Do It?

Becoming parents has been the journey of a lifetime. In fact the most adventurous and crazy we’ve ever experienced. Like most expecting parents we thought we were ready for the insanity that would be twins, but like most we were clearly deluded. While we navigated the bumpy, swerve-laden and cliff-edge walking craziness perhaps the one aspect of “crazy” we never considered was the stupid brought to us by none other than other adults. This piece is about them and the crazy things they say/question to parents of twins (or multiples in general) and some of the witty, snarky and wish-we-had said responses to the stupid. Some of this is commentary from our heterosexual friends but nearly all of this has been first-hand experience. Enjoy!

You Have Your Hands Full

Um. No shit. We have two babies. Are you offering a helping hand or just staring in sheer amazement at our awesomeness? Pointing out the obvious seems off-putting. Sure, as parents of twins we do have our hands full: of snot, of bottles, of toys and of course babies. Don’t forget that our hearts are also filled with joy. As parents of multiples we are blessed with: twice the snuggles, twice the smiles, twice the kisses and twice of everything that’s “oh so nice!” #TwiceAsNice

Who’s who? I Mean There Are Two Fathers

Wow. Captain obvious strikes again. Imagine that – two dads. There is Jeff and there is Brian. One of us is Abba and the other is Daddy. Ok? Moving on as our children are nowhere near as confused as you seem to be. They seem to be perfectly fine and know exactly who we both are: their parents. Thanks! #DoesThisEvenMatter

Better You Then Me

With a response like this I would absolutely agree. I don’t think anything more needs to be said. #ByeFelicia

Which Of You Did The Deed With Your Surrogate?

Get the hell out of here. Really? Did you just ask that question? Deconstructing this response has been nothing short of humorous. But really, my favorite response to this has been, “but that’s just not how any of this works…ever.” While we’re on the topic did y’all choose missionary for your children? See? It’s awkward, uncomfortable and rude. #NotAppropriateEver

Are Your Twins Natural?

Are artificial twins a real thing? Cause I don’t know how to answer this one. While we’ve received this question I am going to offer two choice responses not just from us, but from other parents of twins having received the same question.

  1. Our twins are natural. If by natural you mean where they conceived by chance or via IVF/Assisted Reproductive Technology then surely that is none of your business. All you need to know is that the both of them came out of my uterus on the same day. Want to hear about the afterbirth? #MovingOn
  2. Our twins are natural. And – wait for it – they have two dads. You see, we had one egg fertilized by Abba and one egg fertilized by Daddy (via IVF, again, nobody had sex with anyone) and they were then placed into our surrogate’s uterus to grow. #BecauseScience

They’re Not Twins! They Don’t Look Alike!

Newsflash – twins typically exist in two buckets: Identical and Fraternal. Think back to basic biology (remember that high school class?): when one egg is fertilized and splits into two embryos they are called identical twins as they share the same DNA. When two eggs are released from the ovaries and both subsequently fertilized and implanted in the uterus they, too, are twins. As they started with two different eggs and fertilized by two different sperm they will look no more or less alike than two siblings. These are called fraternal twins. Identical twins are always the same biological sex (and for those crafty enough to look up tuner syndrome or polar-body twinning please let’s not be overly technical here). Fraternal twins can be either of the following combinations: Boy & Girl, Boy & Boy and Girl & Girl. #BasicBiology

I Don’t Know How You Do It

How do you manage to brush your teeth, comb your hair, shower every day, go to work, food shop, cook, eat etc.? The thing is when you have kids, no matter how many, you figure it out. Whether you have one at a time or are blessed with having twins, triplets or more, you survive. I mean is there another option? In the words of fashion icon guru Tim Gunn: #MakeItWork

Now can we stop with the absolutely stupid and highly inappropriate questions to parents of multiples? After all we’re not some spectacle at a zoo – we’re people just like you. We just happen to have more than one same-age baby at the same time. And while this isn’t an exhaustive list of stupid things said to parents of multiples, these are likely the most frequent I’ve encountered. Someone once said, “Kids say the darnedest of things,” when really they meant adults.

At the end of the day parenting is parenting whether or not you have one, two three or more kids or multiples. All parenting comes with unique sets of challenges regardless. While I am sure there will continue to be an influx of stupid and inappropriate questions, one thing I know is for sure: yes our hands are full with both of us being their fathers, I will always be glad it’s me and not you, neither of us had sex with our surrogate, our twins are very natural, they are definitely not identical (but still twins) and we live life every day with a heart filled with love and twice the snot on our sleeves. #TwinLife