Transgender Parents Are Left Out of the Parenting Discourse—and the Pandemic Makes That Abundantly Clear
Four months into quarantine, most mornings the first words out of my 5-year old’s mouth are, “Somebody play with me!” She’s a bright and resourceful kid. She tries to entertain herself, but she’s also 5, and she misses her friends. No matter how much attention we give her, it never seems to be enough—she resents when we do the dishes, cook, bathe. During the first couple of weeks, she was excited that my partner, who typically works outside of the home while I work from home, was around all the time. But after months of just the three of us, any joy found in constant togetherness has lost its sparkle. Like so many other American parents, my partner and I are struggling. We also happen to be transgender.
Recently, a light has been shined on the impossibility of pandemic parenting. Countless social media posts and articles in well-known publications have given a voice to this truly untenable situation. I related to many of these stories, and in one way it’s a comfort to see it talked about. But, it’s impossible for me not to notice who isn’t part of the narrative. In an effort to highlight the gendered inequality of parenting, the vast majority of the coverage of COVID-19 and parenting has focused on mothers. After all, isn’t it women who, to this day, bear the brunt of the childcare and housework tasks, often referred to as the mental load of parenting, even when both parents work? And there is reason to believe that women’s careers will be the ones to suffer or even end entirely as parents are forced into these impossible situations.
They’re right to point out that gender plays a role in how the high costs of pandemic parenting are distributed. A parent’s marginalization is certainly going to impact how they experience this unique moment in history. If you are looking at only cisgender people, those who identify with the gender assigned to them at birth, in heterosexual partnerships, then mothers are the clear losers. However, if you are looking at parents as a whole and claiming that cisgender women will suffer the most, then you are leaving transgender parents out of the conversation altogether.
While in heterosexual pairings of cisgender parents, “the mental load” often falls squarely on mothers, it isn’t so for everyone. I’m not a mother, but I have worked from home while caring for a small child and handling a lot of the mental load of planning for my family for four years. It’s up to me to figure out online Girl Scouts and what school will look like in the fall.
In 2020, trans people are visible. It’s no longer possible to excuse our exclusion as a mere oversight. Ultimately, leaving us out does the work of reinforcing anti-trans bigotry, whether that’s the intention or not. It mirrors the illusion that trans people do not have kids—that we’re somehow deviants rather than loving parents trying our best for our kids. It normalizes the dangerous notion that cisgender women are the only victims of gendered inequality, and therefore trans people, particularly trans women, must be their enemies.
American society is stratified by many things, race, class, ability, gender, sexuality, and probably more. I’m not qualified to speak on the particular way that this pandemic impacts parents of color or single parents. But, as a transgender man partnered with a nonbinary person with a beautiful child that I gave birth to, I can tell you some things about the intersection between pandemic parenting and being trans: It’s not great.
One of the great paradoxes of being trans is that all trans people, regardless of their gender identity, are subject to misogyny. That means that we are often facing similar hardships to those faced by cisgender mothers, but with transphobia added on top of it all. Trans people are also more likely to live in poverty than cisgender straight people. We may also be at higher risk for COVID-19 due to our higher rates of preexisting chronic conditions further complicated by the stigma and discrimination we face in health care settings.
We also live in a time of rising transphobia. Both through policy and culturally, hatred and exclusion of transgender people is becoming more and more common. The Trump administration declared that doctors can refuse to treat us, during a global pandemic, simply because we’re trans. The current administration also proposed repealing transgender protections for homeless shelters. A general distrust and demonization of trans people, especially trans women, in the name of feminism is being popularized by celebrities including J.K Rowling. These things add up to make the world much less safe for parents who are transgender. Particularly, since many anti-trans stances are made in the name of “protecting cisgender women,” it reinforces the idea that it’s just cis women who are struggling.
If we accept the exclusion of transgender people from the narrative, anti-trans bigots will use it to make their position look more reasonable. Thankfully, that doesn’t have to happen. Instead, we can think carefully about who is truly impacted and say what we mean. If we’re talking about cisgender mothers with male partners, we can say that. We can also use phrases like “people of marginalized genders” when we’re talking about gendered inequality in parenting. It may be clunky at times, but it’s a small price to pay for accuracy. Including transgender parents when we talk about the impacts of pandemic parenting may seem small, but in these unprecedented times, it’s a small act of inclusion that’s vital to getting the conversation about and the solutions to the problem right.