Transparent, Colombia: First Black Trans Parents Shake Latin American Traditions
CALI — The day Valerie and Theo, an Afro-Caribbean trans couple from Colombia, found out they were expecting a baby, they became emotional — and a little afraid. They had been trying for pregnancy for six months, in vain, and had decided to give up. Theo began his first semester at university, and Valerie resumed her work and studies in the field of popular education. There was a menstrual delay two months later, and Theo had the right sensation this time: he was pregnant.
On Dec. 30, 2022, their daughter Mar Celeste was born in Cali, western Colombia. This made Valerie and Theo the first trans couple of Afro-Caribbean origins in Colombia to have a biological daughter. At first sight they seem like any young couple, but their life experience as black, trans individuals meant that the challenge of starting a family was a whole different story. Their priority now is to care for Celeste and they're certain of one thing: They do not want her to become some kind of exception or social "freak."
The gestation process among the trans population remains a taboo. On the one hand there are the hormonal replacement therapies either for testosterone or estrogen, which can affect long-term fertility. On the other, the binary division of sexual and reproductive health services has proved obstructive and can prevent most people from receiving the advice they need.
As the Colombian Trans Health League (Liga de Salud Trans) points out, many trans men are offered bilateral hysterectomy, meaning total removal of the uterus and ovaries, drawing prejudiced comments like they would not "be needing these" if they are going to be "real men."
A pregnancy journey
Theo and Valerie chuckle as they recall their appointment today with the EPS (the local health clinic). They were seven weeks into the pregnancy and were prepared to face down queries and questions. The reception girls "passed his ID around between them, and as it wasn't noticeable yet (the pregnancy), they weren't sure what to do," says Valerie. The clinic told them they had to confirm he really was pregnant, though thankfully after consulting with a female family GP from Cali's del Valle University (Universidad del Valle) where the couple are students, they took a blood test to prove it.
With their petition form in hand and accompanied by a nurse who has since become a friend, the couple managed to complete the pregnancy process and prenatal checks "without too many problems."
Outside on the street, their strategy for avoiding harassment was "to look as if I was just chubby, not a pregnant man," says Theo. For the couple the most endearing part of the gestation period was the access to a support network, and their favorite moments were the echography sessions. Valerie says she realized, when she heard her daughter's heartbeat, that she would be an "intense" mother in the good sense of the word, meaning she would always be there when needed.
Mothering and fathering take on new meanings when the parents have been through the transgender experience.
For childbirth, they had to swiftly arrange for cesarian birth as Theo had not dilated enough even after hours of efforts to induce labor. The obstetric pain was so much that at certain points his gender identity was no longer clear. Then it took Valerie a week to obtain a certificate stating that the father had given birth to the child, and identifying her as the biological mother. The couple were "so busy being happy," they said, that they tended to overlook the problems of this registration process, though "in fact it was quite a harsh process." Pregnancy was perhaps the quietest time of this entire process.
In the 10 months following the child's birth, the two have learned to balance parenting with their trans activism. For it is not easy being an openly, visible trans, Afro-Caribbean family in Cali. The capital of the Valle del Cauca department may be Colombia's most violent city, according to the Icesi University Public Policies Observatory, a local think tank. Figures from Caribe Afirmativo, a gender and sexual rights NGO, also show the department to have the most attacks on gay (LGTIQ+) communities or homophobic crimes. "You'd think the comments and aggression would diminish with a little girl," says Valerie. "But no. I'll never forget the day a man shouted 'that's why you people deserve to be killed,' in a supermarket. And that was because I had ignored a lady who was telling me how to raise my daughter."
Valerie says every stroll with her daughter entails a "big gender lesson" for people asking her questions.
Mothering and fathering take on new meanings when the parents have been through the transgender experience. A cisgender (not transgender) dad's experience of fathering is not the same as a trans-man who decides to gestate (conceive and carry a child).
The other challenge is to show that mothering is not determined solely by the act of giving birth. The experience is not just about caring and forging deep affective ties, says Mariángeles Castro Sánchez, head of the Family Sciences Institute at Argentina's Austral University. It also involves reflecting on our "roles, levels of complicity and privileges far from gender stereotypes."
While this was not the only case of trans-parents deciding to have a biological child, the country has some way to go before these new families are given the attention and respect they deserve and need. Valerie says every stroll with her daughter entails a "big gender lesson" for people asking her questions, though she adds she has learned to ignore a lot of comments to preserve her sanity. The couple praised the support they have received from other trans people throughout the process of bringing a child into the world.
Mar Celeste likes to spread across the bed, eat from her parents' plates and visit the swimming pool. She hates bath time though. She has curly hair like her mother, and stares at her father when he talks. She has already made an appearance at several Afro-Caribbean trans women and LGBTQ+ meetings at the national level, showing at her tender age the right of any and every baby to enjoy infancy. But close to a year into her life, Mar Celeste's greatest gift must be the joy she has brought her parents.
They still have so many doubts about her future as the child of trans parents, but they know that the key is to educate her with love and teach her to respect people as they are. For the time being, her parents know she is assured of a safe and loving environment, in a proudly transgender home.
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