For the longest time, I struggled with depression and self-injury. I was afraid to talk about gender identity and sexuality as we didn’t talk about it in the communities I grew up in. To make matters worse, the slang words that were used when I was older were full of homophobia, transphobia, and stigma. I didn’t know what to do with my sexual attraction and admiring the masculine form wishing I had those masculine characteristics such as no breasts, a strong jawline, facial hair, and more to match how I felt on the inside instead of the physical female characteristics I was. Self-injury was one of my primary ways of coping with gender dysphoria. Nothing in my life ever felt stable or safe.
Gaining access to LGBTQIA+ resources and going through art therapy, intensive trauma therapy, and attending support groups not only helped end my long time cyclic suicidal ideation, but it also helped me find my way to myself. This led me on a journey toward more authentic living, which included transitioning from female to male, affirming my differing abilities, and working to be more proud in who I was and try to live my best life to the fullest.
At the beginning of that journey, I was estranged from my family, did not have a stable place to live or stable health, and so much more. These things challenged me and I have worked hard to overcome and move forward. I never imagined my journey would include finding and marrying my soulmate and experiencing a different kind of fatherhood.
I thought because of the stigma, stereotypes, discrimination, and being a mixed-race Black transgender man with multiple disabilities such as autism and progressive neuromuscular disease would actually prevent me from experiencing both. But, as I sit here and reflect on how much life has and continues to change, I am also reminded of the immense love that I never imagined being able to experience: the greatest love with my wife, reuniting with my family, having my sister call me her brother, my mother give me her first card calling me her wonderful son, all the way to being an uncle and a different kind of father.
I am so incredibly thankful and I wish this image of the life I am experiencing had been one I believed as a possibility earlier instead of the painful negative images and experiences that filled the air creating so much hurt, pain, and hatred toward myself. It is still hard to believe that I am a mixed Black transman with multiple disabilities, am also married, and experiencing fatherhood in different ways, greater holistic health, and am living into my true authentic self.
I am still in awe. I was struggling in the midst of previous messages filling my head that I don’t meet the stereotype of what a man and a father are. I found my way to Father’s Day coming up this Sunday and giving space for it being the first year I am a stepfather of an amazing 23-year-old who is a great honor to be a part of her life and have her call me, Kris. She is talented, smart, strong, funny, caring, and absolutely the best daughter anyone could ask for. I was not there for the beginning. But, it is an enormous gift to be there now. I got to marry the love of my life and best friend while saying vows to them both. Every day I get to choose both of them, I get to show up, I get to love and be loved, and I get the greatest gift of them both. A gift that has been extended as we prepare for our first grandson to enter into this world together this fall.
I am in awe of the blessings and challenges that come with non-traditional fatherhood while discovering what it means to me. Even as my wife and I received the unexpected opportunity last month to prepare to become foster parents of our great-niece, a beautiful baby girl. This journey discovering what fatherhood means to me has been definitely a roller coaster, one that is nowhere near complete as I still have so much to learn and experience as well as so much more love to share and moments to show up for. I think back to remember how much the trauma I experienced growing up impacted my desire to even want to be a parent. I can still remember those key times so clearly.
When I was 18 years old, I was a trauma survivor and swore I never wanted to have kids because I didn’t want to pass down my DNA. At 21 years old, I swore I would never be a parent because I thought I would be a horrible parent. At 24, I was talking about having kids with my on and off boyfriend since I was 13 because it was important to him. At 25, I was married to a spouse who was homophobic and transphobic, experiencing domestic violence, found out I could not physically carry a child, and started a new chapter to find healing and myself after divorce at 27. At 29, I was a survivor of another sexual assault while trying to move forward, but the total count was already lost and blurred into a mass of experiences, impacting my ability to be intimate, my mental health, and my life in all other ways. At 30, after a lot of extensive therapy, I came out as transgender and fought for my right to transition.
Significant growth on my journey of healing came after a couple of years of trauma-based therapy at 33. I remember being able to connect to the hope of having a family, a child, and being able to be a parent – a hope buried deep within behind all the messages drilled and forced into me that I was incapable of being a spouse and father because of my disabilities, being transgender, and because I was brown-skinned mixed with white and black. Unfortunately, like so many, I believed these messages. Even when I met my wife and as we navigated life together. My self worth as a real man and as a father figure was extremely low as I criticized, compared, and beat myself down in how I engaged in hateful self-talk centered around these negative messages.
There were no examples I could see of positive images of stepfathers, father figures like me – not ones who were transgender like me; had disabilities such as autism and neuromuscular disease like me, and were mixed black and white like me. This made it hard to get advice and connect. The anxiety that these parts of who I am could impact our ability to be approved as foster parents in the next few months for our great-niece is still a heavy pit in my stomach. Even the question of going to church again and navigating other stereotypes and systems led us to talk around the fear of if our children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren will see me as less than and see my gender as wrong. The anxiety around this is high and comes around a lot as we continue to navigate it. This is compounded by habits of constantly checking in with myself reflecting on:
How am I doing as a father and husband?
How am I showing up?
How I am interacting and supporting?
How am I adapting and building my skills?
How can I do better, is my stepdaughter and our great niece safe?
How is my family doing?
How to be the best I can be for my wife and them – for my family as a whole?
It is an everyday roller coaster, that’s for sure. One that continues to teach me that I strive to be the best I can be and want the best for my wife, daughter, future children, and grandchildren. Sure, I have autism and other differing abilities, and I am a brown-skinned mixed race transgender man. These parts of my identity don’t make me any less capable or worthy of being a father. It might look a little different from the images seen on tv, within stories of fatherhood role models, within messages and teachings, and more. I would say from my experience over the last two years, that these parts of my identity enhance who I am as a stepfather, husband, and who I am as Kris.
So, while I used to wrestle the father label, and being on the roller coaster continues, I enjoy my reflection time. A time that reminds me of how much we never really know what part we are playing in someone else’s story, as well as what impact we are having in someone else’s life. The deeply held hope within the hidden locked rooms of the castle within myself behind the battlefield of trauma becoming not only unlocked and found, but also coming alive transforming into everyday lived reality.
This is a different kind of fatherhood than the images portrayed to me. It is a kind of fatherhood that has brought much challenge, growth, and love. It is a kind of fatherhood that is the greatest journey I am traveling filled with unlimited blessings that I thank my universe for every day and I am excited to continue on.
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