Trystan Reese’s trimmed black beard frames his beaming smile as he rubs his protruding belly and listens to his partner, Biff Chaplow, say, “Love and sex has a lot less to do with body parts than we think it does.”
But Reese isn’t rubbing a beer belly ― he’s transgender and eight months pregnant with the couple’s first child. The couple, who experienced a miscarriage in 2016 could not be happier about the pregnancy.
The couple’s family will be growing once again with the arrival of the new baby. Reese, 34, and Chaplow, 31, are currently raising Chaplow’s niece and nephew, whom they adopted from an unstable and abusive home.
Since the announcement of the pregnancy, the two have been making headlines, with many people in awe and shock of their journey and story. But Reese himself will tell you this isn’t a rare occurrence. There are many transgender men like him who have given birth ― they just aren’t in the news.
The Portland couple proudly defy all gender, relationship and societal norms... and it’s beautiful. I recently sat down with them to discuss the pregnancy, gender and much more.
How did you come to realize you wanted to become pregnant?
Trystan: For as long as there have been transgender men, there has been a rejection of all things that could possibly be construed as feminine or female. I went through that through most of my 20’s. Then I hit a point where I wanted to find more of a balance and more of an acceptance in the fact that I am trans. I’m able to have a baby with this person that I love. I get to grow my family in a much more straight-forward way than adoption, which we’ve done already. We know it is very stressful, but we wouldn’t change that for the world. We just happen to have all the parts that we need to do that between the two of us. I wanted to have the experience. I think it is neat I get to be a man and carry a baby.
What’s it like presenting as male but having a “baby bump”?
Trystan: The interesting thing is that men’s bodies aren’t subjected to the same kind of scrutiny that women’s bodies are. When women are in public spaces, everyone feels like they have the right to notice, judge or even say something about a woman’s body. People don’t care how men look. I’ve really been able to sneak by without anybody noticing. I think they thought I had a beer belly for a while. I covered up but we’ve now hit that point that it’s pretty obvious either something is profoundly wrong with me health wise or there’s a baby in there.
Because you have been public with this pregnancy, how have people responded?
Trystan: The good things are being able to hear from parents of trans youth who have been really worried about their kids never being able to have their own children. For them to know that the door isn’t shut when they transition, that’s been really heart-warming. Certainly for me, when I came out as trans, I never thought I’d have a partner or a family. Being able to continue to destroy that myth about what is possible for trans people, that’s been really exciting. We get some negative comments but…
Biff: …wait don’t talk about the negative yet. We get messages from straight women, a lot of straight women saying, “Oh my god, it’s so wonderful to read about this. It’s so lovely to hear a focus on family and love, etc.” There are messages from other queer people saying wonderful things. The majority of our inbox is full of positive people, giving us feedback...and then there’s the negative [both laugh].
Trystan: The negative falls into the dumb and hilarious category. Then the heinous, I wish I hadn’t seen that category. There was this one, some gay dude messaged me and said “Girl, stop stealing our men.” And I’m like, “I’m not the reason you can’t get a date.”
Then there are the vile comments ― what they think should happen to us, our family and our baby. I’ve had to distance myself from that.
Biff: This story has been shared all over the world. We’ve been reached out to everywhere from Greece to Argentine…
Trystan: Nigeria, Uganda…
Biff: A lot of those countries are really transphobic or homophobic. It’s understandable to see those comments.
Trystan: Remember, homosexuality is a crime punishable by death in a few countries still around the world. When you happen to stumble into an international audience, you will get a taste of what everyday life is like for gay and trans people there.
Trystan, the confidence you have about your body is refreshing and different from the narrative that many trans people face about their bodies. Do you get dysphoric at all ― especially with now that you’re pregnant?
Trystan: There’s a million ways to be a man. Similarly, a lot of ways to be a trans man. Sometimes that means some trans men might not want to carry a baby. There are a lot of women that don’t want to carry babies either. For me, I got excited about the science behind pregnancy. It doesn’t feel as tied to femininity. It feels more tied to here this thing that my body can do and this amazing experience that I can have.
For the first 10 years of my transition, I felt profoundly disappointed in my body especially with being gay. I felt a lot of pressure from gay men who were not trans to look, act and be a certain way. I tried hard to do that. When I met Biff was the first time I realized I don’t have to be like that. I just came to a point where I’m like listen, I’m trans. I can’t be any different than what I am.
I had been told as a transgender man after 10 years of taking hormones, I should have my uterus removed due to health risks. But you’ve been on testosterone for 12 years and are now pregnant. Have you heard anything or been told any health risks?
Trystan: I’m not sure where that medical recommendation came from but the latest medical data that we have does not suggest prolonged use, even post 10 years, can cause negative side effects on the uterus. My guess is that comes from correlation or anecdotal data.
So yes as you get old, you are more likely to have something like issues with your reproductive hormones because at that point you are like 40 or 50. But when you are younger, I would be very surprised if you had issues with prolonged testosterone use.
The most recent data shows that even after many years of testosterone, if you stop, everything goes back to the same working order.
The truth is, there is so little actual research done on us that a lot of what we do is us trying to figure it out. We’ve talked to a lot of doctors before trying to conceive to see if this was something that would be a smart safe medical decision, and they said we would be fine.
Trystan, do you have any advice to a trans gay man who is trying to date a cis gay man?
Trystan: Be honest and upfront about being transgender as early as possible. Use language that a gay dude would understand. The second would be to treat being trans as an asset not a liability. Some gay boys are curious about bodies that are different than theirs. They are interested in trying something new or just straight up like you and how confident you are and are going to be willing to go there with you. I think that’s what happened with Biff and I. He had never even seen a naked female body ever before the first time we were intimate. But he was willing to figure it out because he was into me.
The third is get as much as you can to a place of peace and comfort with your body so that when you are able to be with someone, they don’t feel like they are navigating a minefield of triggers. I think that was Biff’s biggest fear. That he would do or say the wrong thing, I would freak out and he would feel terrible at having hurt me. Whether that’s through transition or through self acceptance and self love, whatever it is, find it so they have a good experience and want to hopefully keep hanging out with you.
I met Biff after nine years of being with idiots. We’re now seeing data showing transmen are willing to do really stupid things for gay men to accept them, often at the expense of our own health and wellness. I definitely made some of those mistakes, especially with being with people who were mean. Because I was just grateful they would be with me at all.
What advice would you tell a fellow transgender man who is thinking about carrying his own child?
Trystan: Hmmm…you know, I don’t know how universal or individual my experiences have been. I mean the same thing I would tell anybody hoping to conceive is to make sure that you have all your support systems in place. If you have a partner or partners, make sure that that is 100 percent solid because that is going to be a tough experience. Be sure you are committed to have and raise and care for a child and that you have good healthcare in place ahead of time.
Make sure that you don’t have to worry about advocating for yourself because that can feel really upsetting and stressful if you are trying to keep yourself health and also trying to educate a team of medical professionals. Make sure that you get support because if you are going to have some dysphoria, if you are going to struggle with advocacy and being misgendered by medical professionals, you will need that support system there. There are lots of underground networks that are designed for just this purpose. Biff, do you have any advice for partners?
Biff: I think that there is a second level of understanding you need to have about what your partner is going through and not just going through a pregnancy. There have been a few triggering things that happen to Trystan that have caught me off guard. So there have been times where Trystan has been like I need you to handle this. In the beginning, he had me do things like check into appointments and take more of role there until he felt more comfortable.
Do you think there is a societal force that forces trans people to fit into boxes?
Trystan: There is this social pressure. If queer people acted like straight people then everyone will be okay with us. If you would just stop acting different then we could accept you. I reject that idea. I reject the idea that conditional acceptance is any acceptance at all. Yes, a lot of people have said that I’m the reason why people don’t take transgender people seriously. Being queer is a gift. It’s our gift to the world. If we have to leave that at the door to get into the house, I don’t wanna go in.