Gay & Pregnant—Two Men’s Story
Recently, someone reached out to me to see if I would be interested in writing an article about him and his husband—specifically about the impending birth of their child. Gay men having children isn’t exactly news anymore—but the person reaching out to me knows this, so I was intrigued.
“What’s the hook?” I asked. “Why will this be of general interest?”
“So, Michael's pregnant,” Brandon Thomas answered, referring to his husband, Michael Finch. I had a flashback to our cover featuring Matt Riddlehoover, who at the time was shooting Paternity Leave, a movie about a pregnant man. I scheduled the interview.
A couple of weeks later, Brandon and Michael walked into a Starbucks in Antioch. Michael wore loose fitting clothes, and I could easily have interpreted the stomach as weight gain. But I knew Michael to be unmistakably seven months pregnant.
While the phenomenon of pregnancy among transgender men has received some press over the last decade, there is a definite shortage of information on the topic generally, of scientific and statistical data in particular.
One study, "Transgender Men Who Experienced Pregnancy After Female-to-Male Gender Transitioning," published in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists highlighted the lack of awareness, services, and medical assistance available to pregnant men. Pregnant men face a lack of understanding on the part of medical professionals, adding to their risk, and the experience of pregnancy can exacerbate the gender dysphoria many transgender men face.
What has pregnancy been like for Michael? “I haven't had a chance to talk to a bunch of people about it face to face, because I started working from home right after,” Michael said. “So, it's been a very solitary experience, other than all of the doctors’ appointments.”
But, first, the backstory.
“I'm from West Nashville,” Michael said. “I don't have a ‘traditional’ transgender narrative, and I think it's because I'm a queer man. I'm more gender nonconforming, so when you grow up playing with Barbie dolls and loving puppies, and not really minding when your parents put you in dresses, it's not gonna … the concern didn't come together as quickly.”
“I didn't have the stereotypical clues: I didn’t always want to play only with boys, or in the dirt, and it didn’t bother me want to wear a dress. I was about 15, maybe, when I really started to think about it. It's been relatively smooth sailing. I've always been politically active, and I think that helped me find my people. People also know more about trans people now and understand a lot more. I've definitely heard some ignorant stuff, but it has not been what most people expect.”
At MTSU, Michael’s and Brandon’s paths crossed. “After a LAMBDA meeting, I saw him,” Brandon recalled. “I was like, ‘Oh, he's really cute.’ So, I don't know what happened after that. Somehow…”
“I thought you were annoying at first,” Michael interjected.
After he got elected to SGA, one of Brandon’s major initiatives was to get gender identity added to the SGA non-discrimination policy, and he sought out Michael’s assistance.
“That completely changed how I thought about you,” Michael confirmed, “because it's like, ‘Well, he's not trans, and sexual orientation is already protected, but making sure that trans people are protected means something to him.’ You didn't really have a family member, or something like that—you were just like, ‘These people aren't protected, and I want to do that.’”
Soon, Brandon, opinions editor of the student paper, had Michael helping him out on that front as well. “It was all an elaborate ruse to spend more time with me, but I didn't know that. As far as I was concerned, he was my best friend, and as far as he was concerned, I was his best friend, but he was on a path that I knew nothing about.”
That changed on Saint Patrick’s Day on 2011, at Chameleon’s lounge. Brandon’s friends, who had heard of his interest in Michael, helped push them together by suggesting that they kiss. What followed that first kiss was an anxious day of worrying that they had messed up a beautiful friendship, but the next day they confessed feelings for one another. They’ve been together ever since.
In 2015, they married, shortly after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in Tennessee. A metro councilwoman, with whom they connected via TEP, officiated their impromptu ceremony in Centennial Park.
When it came time to think about having children, Brandon said, “I always wanted biological kids. It's probably upbringing… Just thinking about the legal ramifications of trying to adopt in Tennessee strengthened that feeling.”
While Michael didn’t share Brandon’s deep want of a biological child, he added, “Just thinking about the idea of having this baby that's a part of me and a part of Brandon—once I knew how much it meant to him and started thinking about it that way—I can definitely see why he would prefer that.”
This began a process. “It went from no, to probably not, to I'm willing to figure out if this is something I could do, and that was when I joined the Facebook groups,” Michael explained. “Then it very quickly became, ‘Okay, let's do it.’”
Seeing other men who had made the decision to bear children, and the positive responses they got from the community they shared it with on Facebook, was a factor in helping Michael get over that mental hurdle. It was through these groups that Michael learned the story of Trystan Reese, the trans man who had a child with partner Biff Chaplow.
“I think Trystan had the baby the same month that I got pregnant,” Michael recalled, “so while we were going through the process of figuring out how it was gonna work and how to start, he was going through being very visible in his pregnancy and talking about what that was like, and how he was keeping himself safe, and how it was being seen by people around him.” Seeing someone successfully navigate the process was very empowering.
The other big factor in allowing Michael to come to terms with the idea that he could be pregnant and hold onto his identity as a man was his top surgery. “Once I had top surgery, that was when I knew that I could be myself… That was when I started thinking I might be able to get pregnant now. I might be okay with this.”
Michael explained that worries about whether people would notice his binder, and the discomfort of it, “took up so much of my mental energy and was the source of the majority of my discomfort… Once that wasn't an issue anymore, I was so much more comfortable with myself that I could actually focus on other things.”
At that point, they began the process of getting pregnant. “I didn't even know if this was something that I could do, or even if I could get pregnant,” Michael explained, referring to his lack of knowledge about the long-term effects of the testosterone he had stopped taking years earlier. “So I wanted to figure that out before we even tried anything. I didn't want to find out that I could get pregnant, but not stay pregnant, and then have to deal with that.”
“I reached out to Vanderbilt Center for LGBT Health and said, ‘Do y'all know any providers who have any kind of experience with this?’ The provider they recommended is at Vanderbilt at 100 Oaks, and she's been great.”
“We had that consultation and then got prescribed some pills,” Brandon explained. “I expected it to take a while, and it did not—just a month.”
Michael didn’t surprise Brandon with the news, but they did surprise both of their families. “I went into my parents’ kitchen, tossed a Honey Bun into the oven, and closed it. My mom looked at me like I was crazy, until my dad said, ‘Is there a bun in the oven?’ I said, ‘Yes, there is,’ and then my mom cried a little bit.”
Brandon’s mother was no less pleased, but she was a great deal more shocked. “Brandon’s mom did not know that I was trans,” Michael explained, “until he told her that I was trans and pregnant with her grandchild. I was not there for that conversation. I said, ‘You go do that. I will stay at home and take a nap. You can give me the edited version.’”
“She said her prayers had been answered,” Brandon said. “We’re both only children so I know both families felt that way.”
Moving forward, Michael’s doctor’s visits at 100 Oaks have presented some personal challenges. “I can understand that, for many of them, I'm literally the only trans man that they've ever interacted with, because this place is literally called the Vanderbilt Center for Women's Health. They're on autopilot,” he explained. “Even my doctor can be on autopilot, saying things like ‘with pregnant women,’ but she usually catches herself.”
In the office, Michael said, “They stare at the chart, and then stare at me, and then they're like ... Sometimes it's ma’am, sometimes it's Miss Finch, sometimes it's some version of Michael. There is one nurse who called me Mr. Finch the other day, because she has figured it out, and God bless her…”
“It does hit me sometimes, like … when you send a message through the patient portal, you send it to your doctor, but then, really, anybody who works for her might reply,” Michael said. This is one place where mis-gendering often occurs. “I'm sitting in my own home, on my own couch, and I have to open up this message where somebody has called me ma'am, when they really didn't need to use any kind of gendered address in any way.”
Michael is normally read visually as a man, so mis-gendering isn’t something he commonly experienced prior to pregnancy. But pregnancy has brought him into a milieu that is constructed almost entirely around the concept, ‘woman.’
“At my last workplace, only one person even knew I was transgender,” Michael said, “and then she got to be the one person who also knew that I was pregnant. Nobody else did…”
Even at seven months pregnant, most people still don’t read Michael’s belly as a sign of pregnancy—because the concept is so foreign to the common notions of manhood. “The only person who has noticed in public that I am pregnant was at a gas station downtown… I was just standing there, sideways, so I think my stomach was really obvious… She did mis-gender me… I was just like, okay, I'll never see this lady again in my life. Brandon said we should have educated her and just blown her mind, but then if she says something stupid, then that's a whole day ruined.”
“It usually doesn't really get to me,” Michael said. “I would love to have the energy to be like, ‘That's not right, and let me explain it to you…’ If somebody else comes after me, I would like if I had been able to make it easier for them. I think in some ways I probably have, because definitely some people have figured what's going on or have been in the room when me and my doctor are talking about it, and kind of know a little bit more now.
Given that so few people know about the pregnancy, and that a relatively select group of people are aware that Michael is transgender, why did they want to share their story so publicly? It was reading about Trystan Reese’s story that empowered Michael to begin this journey and they want to pass that gift along.
“I have heard from a lot of trans men, like me, who had thought about doing this before,” Michael explained, “but didn't know anybody in this area had ever even done it. That Facebook group, and all the pictures, really inspired me to see that I could potentially do that for other people.”
Other social interactions, such as Rutherford County Democratic Party events and Rainbow Rutherford, made Michael, “feel like, okay, there are people who get this, and it is nice to be able to talk about it with people who understand what's going on, or can at least be respectful about it.”
“We recently even had a baby shower hosted by Rainbow Rutherford,” Brandon said. They had only recently joined the group to solicit recommendations for an LGBT-friendly pediatrician, and the group welcomed them with open arms. “That was just amazing. We weren't expecting a lot of people, because we don't really know a lot of people in Rainbow Rutherford, but they showed up, and provided everything that we probably need.”
Given this momentous shift in their life together, it would be natural for Michael and Brandon to be concerned: they are about as different a family as a two-parent, atomic family can be. Is Middle Tennessee the best, or safest, place to put down their roots?
They are committed to this place—they believe in it, and they believe it can grow to meet them. “This is our home and we want to stay here and fight for it, make it better,” they affirmed. We must all work to broaden our understandings, and help introduce the changing face of the gay family to the world around us, in order to facilitate that.