When starting his transition, doctors told Freddy McConnell he would never be able to have children. Five years later, he gave birth to his son Jack.
Now, he hosts a podcast aired on BBC sounds, 'Pride and Joy', which explores the stories of other LGBTQ individuals and their battles to start a family.
This episode features an interview with Jacob Stokoe, another trans man Freddy befriended whilst they were both pregnant. The episode is playfully dubbed 'The Old-Fashioned Way' since Jacob was impregnated by his cis male partner. Cis is short for 'Cisgender', meaning his gender identity matches the sex he was assigned at birth.
Jacob recounts his inner turmoil when realising he was trans, whilst knowing he always wanted children. Like Freddy, the Gender Identity Clinic told him that taking testosterone would make him infertile, leaving him to 'choose' between transition and kids. 'It's not really a choice. Without transition, I genuinely wasn't sure I would survive' he explains.
He describes the isolation, self-doubt, and sense of loss he had felt. His grief continued until he discovered an online group, full of people with similar stories - many whom had gone on to have children. Similarly, Freddy only realised trans pregnancy was possible after stumbling upon a YouTube video, highlighting the stark resources available for trans people planning families.
I too was surprised to hear that many transgender people can, and do, go onto have kids. When reflecting on why that may be, I realised the few cases I'd heard about were just tabloid splashes portraying these pregnant men as 'freaks'. It's no wonder trans people are afraid to share their stories and there is a clear need for fairer media representation and public recognition. 'You can't be what you can't see' as Freddy rightly quoted in the episode.
A trans man getting pregnant really boils down to three steps: Stop taking testosterone, wait to get a period, then try to conceive. So why are they told otherwise by their doctors? 'Do you even have ovaries?', Jacob tells us he was once asked by a sonographer. Although he laughs about it, this question made me realise the urgency for improved transgender medical care.
I researched to see how things have progressed in the UK since Freddy and Jacob's transitions. I came across a law and policy review on trans pregnancy from 2018, stating that doctors are responsible for informing patients that 'stopping the testosterone briefly might allow for ovaries to recover enough to release eggs'. However, only London and Belfast clinics provide this information online, rendering trans individuals' knowledge about their own bodies largely at the mercy of their doctor – many of whom are clearly misinformed.
Freddy and Jacob laugh over funny stories from common misunderstandings during their pregnancies, whilst leaving the listener incredibly moved by hearing of the everyday prejudice they still battle. Their rapport is playful and uplifting, making these heavier topics easier to process.
They discuss how their relentless misgendering constantly reminded them they were doing something 'abnormal'. Typical pre-natal classes were off the cards, since they're almost always designed around pregnant cis-women in straight relationships. They both clearly craved a support network and a sense of continued community that weren't available to them, just because they were different. Despite pregnancy being a difficult time hormonally, physically and emotionally for all, I know that when the time comes, I, as a cisgender woman, will have the support from my family, friends and wider society. Jacob, like many other trans individuals, did not have this luxury, and even lost touch with his own mother after his transition. I will certainly no longer be taking these things for granted.
Heartbreakingly, Jacob reveals that he continues to face difficulties in parenthood. The lack of vocabulary available to describe his situation has left him struggling to comprehend his parenting role as a father who has also given birth. He worries that he is denying his child a mother, even though he is right there and is everything that a mother would be. For him, not having the right words has been a key gender dysphoria trigger. I felt touched when he shared that he and his daughter have now found a word that represents everything they are to each other – 'PaPa'.
I was also extremely moved by Freddy's way of explaining to his young nephews how he was able to get pregnant as a man, which he shares during the episode. He tells them he has a superpower, which, considering his braveness throughout the whole endeavour, is the perfect analogy. 'I was able to grow a human from scratch. How is that not a superpower?' he says. His journey through conception, gestation and childbirth is told in the BBC documentary 'Seahorse' (see BioNews 1016), so called because the males carry their young. Freddy and Jacob still exchange seahorse themed gifts whenever they meet, reminding themselves they're not alone in the world as men who can do this.
I would recommend this podcast to all. It not only validates LGBTQ experiences, but also serves as a powerful platform to educate the rest of the public on related issues. It certainly gave me insight into the impacts that misgendering someone can have. With hate crimes on the rise, a podcast like this couldn't have arrived at a more important time. I hope that hearing experiences like Freddy's and Jacob's will bring us one step closer to living in a society of acceptance.