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The Transsexual Mother

 

A rarely noted fact is that many, perhaps even a majority, of male-to-female transsexual women are mothers.  This may be to their own children conceived before having SRS, as a step-mum to their partner's children, or as the mother of adopted children.

Own Children

A transsexual women who transitioned and had surgery by her early 20's is very unlikely to have conceived children as a father, typically such transsexuals rarely have sexual relationships with women as a man, and are often still consider themselves to be virgins at the time of their SRS.  However as the age of transition increases then the likelihood of children increases.   It seems probable that MTF women who transitioned in their late 30's or older, are as statistically as likely to have been married and had children as any men, certainly the limited circumstantial information backs this hypothesis.  


Former Dad, now "Mom",
Michelle with her two children.

Michelle describes how she coped with becoming a mother after her transition at age 30:

"I was confident that being as open and honest as possible would encourage others to be the same.  Let’s face it -- female Daddies tend to attract some intriguing questions. I have gradually encouraged my children to call me MJ instead of Daddy, and they are slowly getting used to people referring to me as their Mom. Having two Moms in their lives makes things complicated sometimes, and causes friction between their biological mother and myself. Although I do not wish to compete for the Mom title, it is not socially acceptable for my children to have a female Dad. Keeping the kids interests at heart, it seems easier to allow people to refer to me as their mom, rather than teaching the kids to correct strangers at every turn. I am often accused of "stealing the title". Without having experienced the pain of labour I am apparently unqualified to claim Mom. I believe that how we love and nurture our children is more important than a label, particularly when considering the child’s comfort level in dealing with society. I’m their biological parent and am very proud of that fact. Isn’t there room in their lives for two Mommies? We are still struggling as parents with this issue."


"Father" Lisa-Anne with daughter Michelle.  Lisa-Anne delayed her SRS until the mother became pregnant, but was 6 months post-surgery by the time of the birth.

It's often been suggested, even in court, that having their father become a woman must be a traumatic and emotionally scaring process for the children.  But contrarily studies have revealed, perhaps against expectations, no evidence of any physiological, sociological, or gender identity damage to such children.  Also, statistically the children are no more likely to grow up homosexual or transgender'ed than any other children.  For example one key study, "Transsexuals' Children" by Dr R Green concludes:

"Available evidence does not support concerns that a parent’s transsexualism directly adversely impacts on the children. By contrast, there is extensive clinical experience showing the detriment to children in consequence of terminated contact with a parent after divorce.
.....

Continuing contact between transsexual parents and their children has met with significant opposition. Two areas of concern are effects on the gender identity of the children and reactions by the children’s peer group.  Eighteen children, 10 boys, 8 girls of 9 transsexual parents, have been evaluated. Their ages range from 5-16 years. All live with or have regular contact with their transsexual parent. No child has gender identity disorder.  No child has had extensive conflict with the peer group. All continue positive relationships with their transsexual parent."

After a fathers transition and subsequent SRS, there are several possibilities:


Hazel (right) with her former
wife, June, and their children

1. The parents remain together and the children effectively have two mothers.

It is reported that the incidence of male-to-female "transwomen" remaining legally married to their wives is very small.  However, despite the former husband's SRS some couples still feel a very strong bond linking them.  It's not unknown for such couples to continue to live together, and not just for the sake of any children.

This situation is also the simplest from a legal point of view, there normally being no effect on the legal status of an existing marriage when one of the spouses transitions.  So long as both spouses want to stay in the marriage and continue to live as a married couple, many "same-sex married couples" in this situation have avoided legal problems, in large part because there are relatively few situations in which anyone other than one of the spouses has legal standing to challenge the validity of a marriage.  Legal problems may arise when one spouse dies and the other attempts to collect survivorship benefits or to claim inheritance or other tax benefits that are restricted to married couples.  Alternatively, an employer may challenge the validity of the marriage in the context of trying to exclude the spouse from an employer-provided health plan.


Mary, with her sons Mark and Llewellyn

renee.jpg (17725 bytes)
For many years Dr Renee Richards
only visited her son Nicholas dressed
as a man

2. The parent separate, the maternal mother having custody but the father has regular access and visitation rights.

The most common outcome.  However the transsexual mother faces severe challenges if her rights to see the child are challenged by anyone.  For example one American court has terminated a transsexual mother's parental rights - characterizing the male-to-female transsexual parent as "selfish" and holding that "it was strictly Tim Daly's choice to discard his fatherhood and assume the role of a female who could never be either mother or sister to his daughter".  Another court imposed an indefinite moratorium on visitation rights for male-to-female parent, finding that it would be emotionally confusing for the children to see their father as a woman - despite no evidence being presented that would justify this decision.

It's also not unknown for a court to only grant the former father visitation rights to her children if she agrees to hide her transsexuality, for example only visiting them dressed, appearing and behaving as a man.

3. The  parents separate, the former father having custody


Stephanie Anne Lloyd and her husband.  She has an alienated ex-wife and two sons.

Transgendered and transsexual parents face tremendous discrimination in the child custody area.   Awarding custody of children to a transsexual mother (the former father) is still very rare, but thankfully no longer completely unknown.  Hopefully it will become an increasingly acceptable award by open-minded judges in disputed custody cases.

Courts may sometimes only grant custody to a transsexual mother when she agrees to hide transsexual status, for example awarding custody to a gender dysphoric father only when the father agrees to undergo therapy and "to maintain his male identity".  Another requirement may be regular checks by a psychiatrist to confirm that there is no evidence the child manifests any gender atypical behaviours or gender identity problems.

 

Father's sex change does not alter custody, court says

February 2, 2001
by Anne Marie Owens
National Post Online

A father's decision to change his gender from male to female does not constitute a material change in circumstances sufficient to warrant altering a child custody arrangement, an Ontario court has ruled.

The recent ruling sets out the premise in family law that a person's transsexuality is irrelevant on its own as a factor in his or her ability to be a good parent.

The custody dispute was launched by Margaret Saliba after learning Howard Forrester, with whom she had lived for three years and had one child, wanted to live his life as a woman and declared himself to be a lesbian.

The child's father has officially changed his first name from Howard to Leslie, and altered his appearance to appear as a woman.  He lives his life as a woman, although there have been no surgical changes so far to accompany this transition from male to female.

Prior to the revelation about transsexuality, the couple had agreed to an equal-time custody arrangement.

In custody disputes, any parent seeking a material change in the terms of his or her custody agreement must demonstrate to the court there has been a material change in the circumstances affecting the child.

In this case, Justice Theo Wolder, of the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton, ruled "the applicant's transsexuality, in itself, without further evidence, would not constitute a material change in circumstances, nor would it be considered a negative factor in custody determination."

Joanna Radbord, the Toronto lawyer who defended the father, said the decision could inspire other transsexuals, who often give up fighting for custody because they assume the justice system will be biased against them.

"We live in a transphobic culture ... but it's clear that the test for custody and access is always the best interests of the child," said Ms. Radbord, who described the relationship between father and child in this case as amazing.

"The best thing for a child in any custody dispute is for both parents to have equal access," the father said in an interview.  "If you actually love your child, that should be the issue.  You're supposed to want what's best for your child."

In his ruling, Judge Wolder said the evidence showed a happy child who has positive relationships with both parents.

"Frankly, it is remarkable how little impact all this storm swirling about the parties has had upon this little girl," he said.  "It appears from the evidence that [she] is a very well-adjusted, happy, healthy little girl, who in her own way has been able to accept the changes in her father and continues to enjoy a healthy relationship with her father, now a woman psychologically."

The child, who is six, uses both Mommy and Daddy to refer to her father, although she is cautious about using Daddy in public when people might overhear.

The father says most people do not know she is genetically a man and believe she is a single mother: "I think right now it's easier for kids and society to deal with two moms than it is to deal with the whole trans issue."

Ms. Saliba and Mr. Forrester began living together in March, 1994.  Their child was born in November of that year.

Ms. Saliba testified it was a "perfect situation every woman would want in a husband."  She said she wanted to marry Mr. Forrester, a daycare worker who did most of the cooking, cleaning and ironing at home and was a major caregiver for his daughter.

"Leslie prepared food for [her], read to her, did the morning and bedtime routine, and shared playtime with [her].  Leslie stayed up nights with her, with the parties taking turns comforting [her] to sleep," court documents say.  "Most nights, it would end up that Leslie would have [the baby] on her chest until [she] fell asleep."

The couple separated in 1996 and agreed to equal custody.  In July, 1997, the transsexuality was revealed to Ms. Saliba.

"There is no doubt that the disclosure of her transsexuality and of her wish to undergo a change of sex from male to female had a devastating impact upon [Ms. Saliba]," the judge said.

The custody case was launched in the spring of 1999, when it was clear the child's father was intent on living life as a woman.

An initial access order prohibited the father from taking the child to "neighbourhoods known to be frequented by transsexuals."

The stress in the relationship over the father's move from male to female did not appear to have an impact on the child, who was three years old when the process began, the court heard.

A psychological test found the child was free from any gender identity problems.

"She was so young that they don't really have a sense of their own gender so they're very open," said Ms. Radbord.  "She's always known her father as a woman.  It's all she's understood."

 

4. The parents separate, and the former father voluntarily or involuntarily has no contact with the children

Sadly as documented above there are occasions where a court may deny the former father any access rights to his children.  There are also instances where the former father, perhaps trying to put his male past behind him, does not wish to see his children which represent an uncomfortable or inconvenient reminder.

5. The parents have children before both have sex change surgery
This is an extremely rare occurrence, but it does happen!  One example is Chris Johnson (previously Anne) and Cathy Brown (previously Eugene).  They met, fell in love at first sight, and decided to have a child before pursuing the sex changes they both desired.  They subsequently write a book, The Gender Trap, about their experiences and the birth of their daughter. 

In such circumstances both the marriage and custody of the children is fully legal in all countries.  It's up to the parents to determine who's the baby's mother and father... ideally within days or at worst a few months if the baby is to bond to it's rearing mother and avoid, or at least minimise, any psychological disturbance.  By six months the baby has irreversibly identified who it's mother is. 
 

Adoption

Post sex reassignment surgery (SRS) women are infertile, lacking a uterus, ovaries, or eggs there is no possibility that can become pregnant.  Thus if a transsexual woman and her husband want to become parents, inevitably adoption is popular option.

Adoption is a court procedure by which an adult legally becomes the parent of someone who is not his or her biological child.


Michele had SRS at a very young age (16 - inset) and married when still just 19.  With strong maternal feelings, against all the odds she was able to adopt three children and is now a 40-something grandmother.

A cursory examination of the Internet and the media would not seem to indicate that many transsexual women fall in to the "the husband and 2 kids" category.  However as is often the case, appearances can be very deceptive. 

There is no doubt that in fact many transwomen do happily marry and want children.  The perceived low incidence is undoubtedly caused in part caused by the lack of publicity that many transwomen and their families seek.  Accurate statistics are unavailable, but it is likely that 20-30% of transsexual women pass so convincingly that they can be "assimilated" in to society as unquestionably a woman, in some cases hiding their past life so completely (i.e. going "stealthy") that even their husband or partner does not know of their transsexuality.  [There is no doubt that transwomen fear that a relationship with a man could not survive him knowing of her transsexuality.  One study found that nearly half of the women it surveyed could - and presumably had - kept their transsexualism a secret from all partners with whom they had had sexual relationships since surgery!] 

Many transsexual women eventually settle down and marry, or enter in to long term relationships with a man, indeed clinical follow-up studies show that about 10% of transsexual women describe themselves simply as housewives or homemakers!  And many such women then also want (or perhaps their partners do) children, obviously explaining to their husband that they are infertile for some reason, even if they hide the full story.  

For such a couple seeking to have children, there are two main options:


Transwaman Heather with her children.  She apparently became a father when still very young.

1.  Adoption of a child through an Adoption Agency.
2. Find a surrogate mother and adopt the resulting baby.

Unfortunately a couple seeking to legally adopt children will face a major hurdle with most adoption agencies, in that they should preferably be legally married.  If the wife is a transsexual this is unfortunately often not be the case, in most countries it is extremely hard for a transwoman to legally marry a man unless she possess a birth certificate stating her sex as female, something which is also very hard to obtain.  If the couple is not legally married, or more probably the documentation they can present is inadequate, it is unlikely that adoption agencies will consider them, indeed they find themselves to be rather less acceptable than same sex lesbian or homosexual couples in long-term relationships which "Politically Correct" adoption agencies will nowadays increasingly consider.

However, transsexual women wishing to marry can and do tell lies, forge or alter their birth certificate, emphasise a "female" passport, "forget" or "lose" inconvenient documents, and take other measures to persuade or even deceive the church and registrar .  Many transsexual women are successful in having an apparently legal wedding, and in gaining an official marriage certificate.  The couple may thus be able to provide all the necessary and acceptable documentation to an adoption agency, and this case they are in nearly the same position as any other couple during the adoption process. 


Swedish transwoman Vicky hopes to have children eventually

Normal Adoption Process
The actual adoption process through an Adoption Agency is for good reasons fairly long and complex:

Once the couple has made the decision to adopt a child, the next step is to do some research (e.g. via the many books on adoption, or on the Internet) to prepare themselves for the qualification process. They can then contact a licensed adoption agency, these can be public or  private, the couple will generally be enrolled in a pre-adoption class and then scheduled for the "homestudy" to begin.


Kelly Scott, formerly Barry:
"I'd love to adopt and one day hopefully be a mother"

The homestudy is the critical piece in the pre-adoption process. No one can adopt a child without a successfully completed homestudy.  This is not a simple visit to the house (or apartment), but as the name implies, a study of the "home" they will be providing to a child. The study consists of a myriad of items including reference and background checks, financial statements, and personal visits from caseworkers.  The homestudy process can take from 6 weeks to three months depending on the agency and the individual particulars of the couple's situation.  The homestudy will include two hurdles of particular relevance to transsexual women as they may potentially present problems:

Personal History - She will be asked to provide in writing or through an interview information describing the family in which she grew up, how she was disciplined as a child, educational experiences, life experiences, successes and history of coping with problems.
References - She will be asked to provide the names, addresses and phone numbers of at least five individuals who can speak of her characteristics and her experience with children.

The entire adoption process can take 6 months to one year to complete.  After the homestudy is completed the process of matching the couple with an appropriate child takes place.  Once a child has been found, they will spend up to six months with the couple before the adoption is finalized.  This period is usually supervised by the agency and a report made to the court on the process of the child's placement.  A social worker will visit the home several times to assess the child's progress and prepare a written report for the court.


Transsexual actress Antonia San Juan stars in the film "All About My Mother", a wonderful study of the relationship between mothers and their natural or surrogate children.

Surrogacy
An option that is increasingly pursued by childless couples desiring a baby is use of a surrogate mother.  Assuming that the wife is a transwoman, the most common technique used is via "Artificial Insemination" (AI) - the surrogate mother is artificially inseminated with the sperm from the husband of the couple.  The child is genetically related to the surrogate and the husband, but not the wife.  The wife of the couple adopts the child via a step-parent adoption.

The surrogate mother is commonly selected by the couple because of her location or physical similarity.  Others want a surrogate who is intelligent.  All couples, however, look for a woman who is healthy, has no significant medical/psychological difficulties, is emotionally and mentally stable, conceives easily, and who is responsible and mature enough to realize that the couple is placing an enormous amount of trust in her to carry their child.  In most reputable programmes the potential surrogate mother must be between 18-35 and have previously had a child.  While some agencies tend to seek out poor women highly motivated by the fee payable to her (usually between $10,000 and $15,000, although sums as high $30,000 are not unknown), the typical surrogate is perhaps 28, married, employed, and solidly middle class.

Obviously using a surrogate mother unrelated to the wife means that the later will not be genetically related to her new baby in any way.  This can be partially resolved if a close female relative (sister or mother) of the wife is willing to act as the surrogate mother using AI, or at least as an egg donor for what's termed IVF/ED -  In vitro fertilization with an egg donor.  In this technique the female relative's eggs are combined with the sperm from the husband, and the resulting embryos are then transferred to a surrogate.

 
"Tula - her dream to come true".  Caroline Cossey's request to her sister to have a baby
for her got considerable publicity in the UK.

An alternative variation is if the wife had sperm frozen before her SRS, an increasingly common practice.  This sperm could be used to fertilise an egg from a female relative of the husband, again strongly linking any baby genetically to both parents.

With IVF/ED the [hopefully] resulting baby is not genetically related to the surrogate, and only the husband's name usually goes on the birth certificate.  If legally married, the wife of the couple can then adopt the child, as with the AI procedure.  The wife will be as closely related to the baby as she would be to any niece or nephew - and both herself and others will undoubtedly very happily recognise many features and characteristics of the "mother" in the baby.

Finalisation of Adoption
Finally there will be legalization or "Finalisation" of the child's adoption.   This is the legal act that establishes a family connection between the adopting person(s) and the adopted person. Done in a court setting, this act creates a parent-child relationship and grants rights and responsibilities to the adoptive parents and child that are equal to those rights and responsibilities granted to families created by birth - including child support obligations, inheritance rights and custody.  The birthparents' legal relationship to the child is terminated, unless the adoption is a stepparent adoption, in which case only the parent without custody loses parental rights.

After the Adoption
After finalisation the women becomes the legal guardian of the children, effectively its mother for all legal and practical purposes.

However there still remains a potential problem that natal "XX" women don't face. The validity of the transwoman's marriage could still be potentially challenged later, and thus the woman at least remains in a potentially vulnerable legal situation as a parent, and even as a wife in most countries.  For example, in the event of marital problems it would be very easy for the husband to get the marriage annulled or voided (note, not a divorce as the marriage was never legal) on the grounds that his wife is a transsexual.  A typical legal judgment is along the lines of "there is no authority .... for the issuance of a marriage license to consummate a marriage between a post-operative male to female transsexual person and a male person".  If it's successfully argued that the marriage was never valid, then the transsexual woman's parental status and parental rights may well be jeopardized.  In such circumstances its not unusual for the children   to be taken in to care, or at least have sole custody awarded to the ex-husband.

Marriage of transsexual outside law, says judge

by Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
Friday November 3, 2000
The Guardian

A transsexual who became a bride after a sex change operation lost her high court battle to have her marriage declared legal yesterday.

Mr Justice Johnson said during the hearing last month that he was "sympathetic" towards Elizabeth Bellinger. But yesterday he said the law as it stood prevented him declaring the marriage valid.

Mrs Bellinger, 54, who married husband Michael at Southwark register office in south London in 1981 is one of a few transsexuals in Britain who have gone through a marriage ceremony. She brought up the five-year-old daughter of her husband, a widower, with the approval of a judge.

For nearly 20 years, only her husband knew her secret. But two years ago she went public in an interview with the Guardian at the start of a campaign to have her marriage legally recognised.
......


Mr and Mrs Bellinger

 

Vatican: Transsexual Adoption an Insult 

Saturday, June 26, 1999
By Daniel Schweimler in Madrid

BBC News

The Vatican has strongly criticised the decision by a court in Spain to give custody of an 11-year-old girl to a transsexual.

The transsexual, called Eva but born Alfredo, says she is a good mother and a devout Catholic who will continue sending her adopted daughter to a convent school.

The girl's natural mother died when she was a year old and her father, who lived as a couple with Eva for many years, died two-and-a-half years ago.

The Vatican, in its official newspaper, called the decision by the court in the southern city of Seville repugnant.  It said the ruling was an insult to the institution of the family.  The Vatican also said it resented the fact that many courts in the European Union appeared to be making similar decisions.

The 11-year-old girl, who has not been named, first lost her natural mother when she was a year old.  She was then brought up by her natural father and his new partner, a transsexual called Eva, who legally is still considered a man.

The father died in February 1997 and Eva continued to care for the daughter until her maternal grandparents took her away and looked after her for 18 days.  There then followed a long battle in the courts for custody of the girl.  The courts first sided with the grandparents, but an appeal court decided Eva would be the girl's best guardian.

Eva says she is a good mother and a devout Catholic who will continue to send the girl to a school run by nuns.  I believe in equality for all, said Eva, who says she has always felt as though she were a woman.

She is now in the process of changing sex and is saving the money for a full sex change operation. Eva says everyone knows her situation and she is accepted by the people in her neighbourhood and by the other mothers at the girl's school.

Psychiatric reports ordered by the courts say the girl is well-balanced and accepts Eva as her mother.

Spain is a fast-modernising, increasingly liberal country but Eva's situation is still a long way from being accepted by all elements of the society.

Sex change no bar to adoption

By Clare Sterling
July 22, 2000
Times Newspapers

Men and women who have sex change operations may be allowed to legally marry and adopt children.  A Home Office consultation document is set to be launched on legal recognition for the new genders of transsexuals.

If the law is changed, it would also enable transsexuals to inherit family titles and property.  While ministers privately fear a public outcry similar to that provoked by repeal of Section 28 if new legislation is adopted, they are mindful that the Government could be forced to make the changes after the Human Rights Act comes into force in October.  The Act is expected to lead to challenges to existing laws.
.....

Many transsexuals marry illegally in Britain, but it can be declared null and void if discovered.

It is also illegal for them to adopt.  Last year transsexuals won a court battle for protection under the Sex Discrimination Act and recently won the right to remain in the Armed Forces.

They are able to have their new gender recorded on passports and driving licences but not birth certificates.


Kurara Motoki

The Step-Mum

If a transsexual woman marries a man with children from a previous marriage, she can seek to adopt them as a step-mum.  This will gives her full legal rights and responsibilities as a parent and their mother.  However as already indicated above, if the legitimacy and legality of the marriage was ever challenged, the marriage would almost certainly be annulled or voided given the way the law currently stands in most countries, she would then be in a very vulnerable legal situation as a parent.

 


Rehena

Do Transwomen make Good Mothers?

Of course this is an impossible question to actually answer.  It's like asking "do men make good fathers"?

The only reasonable answer is that some make very good mothers, while others may make very poor mothers.  However it's also reasonable to suppose that transsexual women who actively seek marriage and children, or actively seek custody of their own children, are at least as likely to be as good a mother as any other woman.  Conversely, it can be supposed that transsexual women who don't want to be a mother are less likely to actually be put in this situation than fertile natal "XX" women.

 


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Last updated: 17th January, 2003