Image description: A head-and-shoulders portrait of Beatrice in a formal dress with brunette hair in an up-do. The portrait is by Lorna Dancey photography.
This is a guest post by Beatrice Aucoin. Beatrice is a breast cancer survivor and queer writer originally from Cape Breton. She makes her home in downtown Calgary with her wife, Brett Bergie; their son, Sam; and their cat, Tom. You can find both Beatrice and Tom on instagram.
This post is part of the Feminism from the Margins series.
“And Brett, he works at?” the doctor asks.
I somehow don’t groan. Not this again, I think. It feels like every conversation I have with a new medical professional joining my breast cancer team reaches this same point. I’ve written on the intake forms who Brett is to me, but it’s always glossed over until I say it out loud. Maybe one day my life won’t feel like I’m always coming out against being assumed straight with a cis partner.
“She,” I say.
“Oh yes, I can see ‘chief’ as part of the job title–“ she begins, having misheard me.
“Brett’s a woman, my wife,” I blurt out. “She’s trans.”
The psychiatrist looks up at me from where he’s furiously scribbling notes.
He’s just asked me how long my husband and I have been married.
“My apologies,” he says.
There’s an awkward pause between us.
“It’s okay,” he says.
Why would I think it’s not okay? I don’t need anyone’s reassurance that my marriage is okay for existing.
“I’m gay and been with my husband for 20 years,” he continues.
Then why would he use a gendered term and assume my partner is of the opposite sex? The answer pops into my mind as quickly as I’ve thought of the question: paradigms of straightness and everyone being cis are so engrained in medical culture that even a gay psychiatrist assumes that my cis female self has a cis male partner.
“That’s awesome,” I tell him on his own marriage. It is awesome, and we LGBTQ2+ folx need to hear that being ourselves is awesome. We live in a world where so many people tell us we are wrong for existing. It was only a few months ago outside of our own home that someone told Brett and me, “That’s disgusting,” for holding hands.
“Brett and I have been married for 12 years,” I say proudly.
After I establish that Brett is a woman and my wife and the person I’m speaking to apologizes to me for getting Brett’s gender wrong, we come the second point in this conversation. I have a son named Sam, and medical professionals always seem to need to know how exactly he came to be in the world. Knowing whether or not I’ve had a biological child is important to discussing my overall health and does affect understanding what went into me ending up with breast cancer at 36. But except for genetics counselling, I don’t know the relevance of essentially being asked who my baby daddy is. Maybe during one of these appointments if I don’t feel too agitated at having to come out yet again, I’ll feel comfortable enough to ask.
The genetics counsellor is looking with confusion at me. She spends much of her working life putting people into family trees that are coded in strict cisgender binaries. Squares are for men; circles are for women. I have just listened to her give a cisnormative lecture with a bunch of other people who are here for breast cancer genetic testing. My skin crawled the whole time because I worried I wouldn’t be safe coming out, and I ended up being paired afterward for a private consultation with the genetics counsellor who gave the lecture. My family blows up the circles and squares of the family tree. The genetics counsellor’s frown tells me she thinks I’ve filled out my family tree chart incorrectly.
“So how…” she begins.
“Is Brett the other biological parent?” the psychiatrist asks. (I happily note that he doesn’t use a gendered term here.)
“Is Sam adopted, or did you give birth to him?” the doctor asks.
“Brett is Sam’s biological father,” I tell all three of them. “She goes by dad with Sam and uses feminine nouns and pronouns, otherwise.”
I would like to be able to tell you that this medical coming-out conversation gets easier with time, but it doesn’t. Nor are these the only times I’ve had this conversation; these are just three recent examples of it. I get asked over and over to explain me and my family.
One day, I hope medical professionals think to use gender neutral terms in discussing a patient’s family and let patients decide from there whether to use gendered language or not. But until then, I’ll be having variations on this conversation. The more I have to explain how my family doesn’t fit with someone else’s preconceived notions of how a family is, the more emotionally exhausted I am.
Beatrice and I both had trouble finding further reading on this topic, because although it is an issue that comes up more frequently than folks realize, it’s not yet one that been written about extensively. I hope that will change!
For now, here are some links:
- Gender Spectrum includes a wide range of trans-inclusive information for individuals and families.
- The Trans Family Law project has resources for trans parents.
- Beatrice has written about her and Brett’s journey. Read The Long Stare: Being Visibly Queer in Public and When Shifts in Identity Converge.
This post is part of the year-long Feminism from the Margins series that Dulcinea Lapis and Tiffany Sostar will be curating, in challenge to and dissatisfaction with International Women’s Day. To quote Dulcinea, “Fuck this grim caterwauling celebration of mediocre white femininity.” Every month, on (approximately) the 8th, we’ll post something. If you are trans, Black or Indigenous, a person of colour, disabled, fat, poor, a sex worker, or any of the other host of identities excluded from International Women’s Day, and you would like to contribute to this project, let us know!
Also check out the other posts in the series:
- All The Places You’ll Never Go, by Dulcinea Lapis
- An Open Love Letter to My Friends, by Michelle Dang
- Prioritizing, by Mel Vee
- Never Ever Follow Those White Kids Around – a brief personal history of race and mental health, by Mel Vee
- Living in the Age of White Male Terror, by Mel Vee
- I Will Not Be Thrown Away, by Mel Vee
- Selling Out the Sex Workers, by X
- Holding Hope for Indigenous Girls, by Michelle Robinson
Tiffany Sostar is a narrative therapist and workshop facilitator in Calgary, Alberta. You can work with them in person or via Skype. They specialize in supporting queer, trans, polyamorous, disabled, and trauma-enhanced communities and individuals, and they are also available for businesses and organizations who want to become more inclusive. Email to get in touch!