How We Do Family

By Kris McDowell

How We Do Family isn’t the typical book about adoption, pregnancy and parenting. Beyond the fact that it is about trans pregnancy and LGBTQ parenthood, it’s a love story. It’s about finding and nurturing love, through the lens of a transgender/LGBTQ relationship. 

The story starts prior to author Trystan Reese meeting Biff and quickly moves into the start of their parenting journey as they take Biff’s niece and nephew under their care. 

The 200-page book is broken into nine chapters, each concluding with a Notes section that provides relatable, teachable takeaways. 

The first chapter’s notes lay the foundation for understanding trans language, particularly important for readers that may not have much experience with the LGBTQ community. 

The “Four Pillars of Identity” explain the difference between gender and sex, covering “assigned sex at birth,” “gender identity,” “gender expression” and “sexual orientation.” 

As the story continues, it’s easy to see that many more details could have been included, but by streamlining the story into concise chapters, it focuses on points most relatable to anyone: parents/non-parents, LGBTQ/non-LGBTQ, in a relationship/single. 

The whole tone of the book speaks to how Trystan and Biff have done/are doing things (“how we do…”), rather than the typical “how to” of books providing instruction. 

What works in each relationship, in each parenting setting, in each person’s life is influenced by a multitude of factors and this book is very sensitive to that very important caveat. The instruction provided shows how this couple, and the subsequent family they have created, has done things and how what they have learned could be applied to other families.

The book concludes with an appendix section, starting with educating kids about trans people. When asked about what some of his favorite resources are for this, Reese said social media, for its democratization of stories. 

“There are so many amazing transgender storytellers, organizers and activists online that people can follow to learn more about the many kinds of experiences that trans people can have. Creators like @britchida, activists like @believeinmaybe and models like @iamjarijones are all amazing people to follow. 

“When you choose to read trans stories, decide to believe them. Immerse yourself in their narratives and accept that trans experiences may be different from your own, which is a good thing!”

While trans experiences may be different from the experiences of non-trans people, we have all experienced the pandemic. Parents have had the additional challenge of navigating their children through the pandemic at the same time they are coping with it themselves. Reese said that each of their children have had very different challenges during the pandemic. 

Lucas, their eldest son, has had a difficult time adjusting to the changes the situation imposed. 

“It’s been truly awful (for him). He’s been away from his friends, his school, his whole social life. He tried gaming with his buddies, but found it too frustrating. He tried so many hobbies, none of which really stuck! 

“We’re still trying to pull him out of the pandemic funk and I think we’ll have to keep working on that for years to come.”

Their youngest, Leo, was born before the pandemic but at just four years old, “the pandemic has been amazing.” Reese expanded saying, “He’s been with his whole family nonstop for 15 months. There has always been a parent or a sibling around to read to him, play with him, take him on walks and generally be present with him. He is so deeply connected to all of us and has a strong sense of safety.”

Leo has not really known anything before the pandemic and it was exemplified one evening while the family was watching RuPaul’s Drag Race

At one point, “Two of the competitors hugged each other in the Werk Room,” said Reese. “Leo burst out laughing and we couldn’t figure out why. Finally, he says to us, ‘You can’t hug people!’ It was hilarious to him that these two queens were able to touch and show affection when he’s never seen anyone touch or show affection outside of our home. 

“When we go on our evening walks and we see someone walking towards us, he automatically steps off the sidewalk to give them space. It’s not even something we enforce anymore–he just does it without thinking because we’ve been doing it for as long as he can remember.”

Keeping his perspective in mind is something that is a good reminder for everyone, that we all have different perspectives and experiences.

Both the book and ebook can be purchased at bit.ly/Family_MediaKit and are available through the Multnomah County Library.

Trystan Reese with family photo by Rhys Harper

How We Do Family

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