Navigating our society’s reliance on gendering everything from language to objects to colors is a complex endeavor. Our entire culture developed around the binary framework of male or female. We see pink ear plugs for the ladies, hand sanitizer labeled macho style for the men, and even something as universal as soda gets gendered marketing. We hear sport cars labeled her, the vermin in your garden is a he, and we even reserve colors for those two very limiting genders.
For the LGBTQ community, the excessive gendering of our lives becomes a steady stream of microaggressions. Pronouns and titles in particular are very important as they communicate a deeply personal identity of self. The terminology we use impacts every interaction whether in person or in writing; especially when discussing families and friends.
I knew from a very early age I was not what I was told. My first memory –age four – I am standing in the closet I shared with my sister in our mobile home. I awake during the night and get dressed as if I am getting ready for school. I realize after putting on the clothes that they are not mine. They are my older sister’s. I know two things instantly. First, I truly am a girl. Second, I need to hide my identity. This moment was the making of the male character I would play, and even at that young age, I had learned to feel shame for being different.
As a girl, I did my best to fit in as a boy. It wasn’t always enough. I endured bullying and teasing for being thin, not being athletic, for being shy, for displaying empathy. Each time I was teased I created a new filter to pass any responses or actions through to ensure my best survival. I managed to get through puberty, prom, employment, and graduation. Just before graduating I met the girl I would soon marry. By this point I buried my emotions and truth so deep the distractions of life kept my inner turmoil in check.
The world first got to know my spouse and I as a heteronormative couple who went on to have two beautiful children; one girl and one boy. It fit nicely into the classic American picture of home. Our family has since grown into a unique scenario in the general population’s eye.
Fifteen years into our marriage I finally came to terms with my inner truth, and came out as transgender. This announcement was made following the births of our children. Shortly thereafter I started my medical transition, followed the next year by social transition. This sudden whirlwind of change left many with questions about our new family structure as we now have two women parenting in the same home. Our family is still the same, no one was lost or gained, but to others we changed. No longer are we the classic American portrait of mom and pop standing, smiling with son and daughter in front of 3 beds and 2.5 baths. We still smile but are now a modern trans family comprised of a cis female, a transwoman, and two adorable kids.
Going into transition I discussed the merits of gendered and gender neutral pronouns with my LGBT friends, ultimately deciding female terms felt right for me. The request for their use was well received as I came out, likely attributed to fitting easily within our binary rooted language. The question that came next was frequently, “What do your children call you now?” followed by “What do we call you to the family now?”
After a six year path to children including miscarriages, heartbreak, and IUI conception, being a mom was a title well earned by my wife. For us to share that title, or any variation thereof, just didn’t feel right to us. She earned her title of mother, as I had earned father.
At this point I had two years under my belt as Daddy. It is a title I am proud to have earned. But even with my pride I knew keeping this title after transitioning would become confusing and problematic. So I began searching for an alternative. I started by looking up what terminology same sex partners were using in their homes. I found a long list of cute options including: Mom, Mommy, Momma, Momma +name, Mum, Mummy, Dad, Daddy, Daddy +name, Pa, Pop, Poppy, etc. Unfortunately I also found many stories of confusions stemming from similarly titled parents. Having a mom and a momma works well enough inside the home but presents challenges to outsiders, for example, when differentiating between the two parents in conversation.
Having eliminated synonymous parenting titles as an option we decided to explore the potential of a gender-neutral title. We found many potential choices with varying degrees of desirability. To narrow the list we considered how the name would sound if called out in a grocery store or playground. We thought about how the name could adapt as the children grew to teenagers and beyond. Eventually this led to a set of criteria we felt the new title must meet.
Our parent title selection criteria:
- Easy for a child to say
- Easy to determine which parent is being referred to
- Ages well
- Avoids confusion
Knowing that we liked the idea of a gender neutral title, but finding the options available in English unsatisfying, I began researching what parent or guardian translated to in other languages. Most of these translations in the major languages just did not work well. I thought Latin would be great, until I discovered that parent in Latin is… parent. The Norwegian translation, forelder, would just make me feel old. After many such failures I started to lose hope. But then I stumbled onto a Swahili translation of parent, Zazi.
As soon as I spoke the term Zazi I was enamored with it. It was fun to say, rhymed with daddy, and I could find no major negative association to the term in web searches. My wife quickly liked it, and it has stuck. Our 3 year old daughter still switches back to Daddy once in a while, but picked up saying Zazi really fast. Nowadays our children call us Mommy and Zazi, and I smile almost every time.
Using our experiences and research I’ve created a simple guide for those traveling the path to trans parenthood. Simply choose your terms and choose your own adventure! (And yes, it will be an adventure)
by Anna Talyn
Choosing Your Trans Family Titles