I am a 27-year-old transwoman biology professor who, since I can’t get pregnant, decided to clone a child. And with the correct in-utero hormone therapy, despite my XY karyotype, the child should be born externally female. So I stole several fertile human eggs from my medical lab, removed the original nuclei, inserted DNA from my cells (somatic nuclear transfer), and allowed the eggs to do their thing.
Life is breathtaking. Fights like hell to survive and follow the instructions from those organic code strands. On day seven, I implanted three developing blastocysts into the uterus of a healthy young sow, hoping to delay rejection until at least one fetus became viable. Six-weeks into the pregnancy I injected the sow with estrogens and a T-blocker so that the babies would differentiate as female. At three months, I washed their brains with a round of estrogen/progesterone to promote a feminine psychology. This was probably overkill. I was cloning myself, but I wanted the new “me” to swing girly.
I’m already a little jealous of the babies. With my childhood, brutal parental and societal efforts to make a man out of me, and my own desire to fit in, I didn’t have much chance to be Miss Fem-Fem. But enough about me.
The birthing process is hardly worth describing. Just think of a pig cesarean delivering a six-month human female and you get the picture. Two fetuses died in utero and the sow during labor. I had to deliver early because tissue rejection became life-threatening, already killing two fetuses, despite the combative drugs. But one child survived and somehow pulled through.
Outwardly, my new daughter presented as a perfect though tiny female, and I rigged an incubator at home where she spent her first two months. Because I wasn’t thinking ahead, I fed her formula for the first three weeks but immediately began injecting myself with prolactin and oxytocin to induce lactation from my own well-formed breasts. The child improved rapidly on mother’s milk.
Willia Jane Wintersmith grew strong, and I loved her. Oh, how I loved her.
Most of my colleagues understood that I couldn’t bear children, so I bought adoption papers and a birth certificate, listing my old name as the father and my new name as the mother. The forged documents looked like factory originals, and since no busybodies fretted over my parental rights, especially the pig, I was able to raise Willia as the girl I always wanted to be. And wouldn’t you know it, that’s what caused most of the trouble.
Around age five, my precious and precocious youngster clarified that she had no intention of being Miss Dainty Princess. She had a mind of her own, hated dresses, and took scissors to any lacy frills that I insisted would be “cute.” Soon, I quit wasting money in the girls’ department and left her to jeans, Red Sox sweatshirts, and Nike running shoes.
I offered Willia everything I fancied as a child, and I couldn’t understand how another me refused to wear the beautiful white spring dress and hat I bought for her. I kept telling myself she’d grow out of this tomboy stage, but to be safe I increased her estrogen levels (“vitamin pills”) in an attempt to reshape her in my image.
I realized now that this was as ineffectual and cruel as my own parents trying to turn me into a man. Nine years later, it became a disaster.
The Warwick High School principal, Dr. Madeline Davids, called me this afternoon because Willia, who now goes by Will, hammered some jock who called her the “C” word. And I mean hammered. Jocko needed 17 stitches above his right eye. Willia had studied karate since age 9, began lifting weights at 14, and (unknown to me) started injecting steroids at 15. So Mister Stud Muffin didn’t have a chance.
The principal wanted to suspend Willia for two weeks after the fight; I told her to expect a call from my lawyer if she did. Any delinquent who called Willia a “cunt” deserved stitches, and the school was responsible for protecting my daughter from bullying.
The principal backed down but asked, “Have you considered counseling? Willia is boyish…in an unhealthy way. She frightens many of her classmates.”
I explained that I had already been though many discussions with my daughter and told the principal, “Willia has worked with a psychiatrist for six months. The doctor is cautious but said she seems to be a smart, mature, healthy young ‘man’ who might be helped by gender-affirming treatments.” I also remind Madeline Davids that gender identity was a protected status in Rhode Island, so I hoped my attorney wouldn’t also need to investigate civil rights and ADA violations.
“Please be assured, Mrs. Wintersmith,” said Dr. Davids. “Your daughter will receive every legal accommodation.”
It was obvious that the principal did not want a court case (who does?); and after my not-so-subtle threats, I think Willia could have decked half the football team with impunity. However, I do not like aggression and assured the principal that I’d talk with my daughter about avoiding violence. Not always easy for trans-folks.
I am miserable. My 20-year-old daughter just told me that she is a man, period, and plans to take testosterone and have top surgery. I figured it was time to explain Willia’s origins and why she couldn’t do this to me. She took the news pretty well. Threw things all over the house. Cried. Threatened to kill me and then herself. Screamed for an hour about being a freak and how all she ever wanted was to be normal.
I began to cry, too, having inflicted identity hell on another human being. We owned identical genes, but she was not me. She was a man. I, a woman. And now we were both transsexual.
“Don’t worry,” I said, desperate to calm her. “I will make this right. You shall become the man you are. I swear by my love of being a woman.”
“That’s impossible,” he said. “You forced me into a female body. You! My life ended before it began.”
It was months before Will stopped hating me; longer before I stopped hating myself. I figured the prenatal anti-rejection medications, mostly cyclosporine, must have somehow countered the in-utero estrogenic brainwashes. There’s no other reasonable explanation; Willia should have had a feminine identity; yet somehow I had caused what I desperately wanted to avoid for my daughter. Then again, I should have had a masculine identity, so nature can be a crapshoot despite scientific engineering.
When William told me he was a man, I was devastated yet strangely relieved. Devastated because I wanted her to be a perfect princess; relieved because the truth of “self” inevitably emerged. I could no more control my clone’s identity than my own. Sure, I had manipulated the body he’d worn since birth and then induced female adolescent development, but for William this had been dangerously unhealthy.
Now, I resolved to help restructure the shell to fit his identity, offering emotional support and inflicting none of the conform-to-your-box tortures from my generation: family rejection, mental hospitals, and aversion therapy (water boarding would have been more pleasant).
I would assist Will as much as possible. Indeed, I could perform almost every treatment except the top and bottom surgeries. We’d need a qualified M.D. for these procedures.
William increased his testosterone, had a double mastectomy, and transitioned into a visible male. He continued at Harvard University as an undergraduate, majored in biology, lived on campus, and returned to Rhode Island most weekends for free laundry service. By carrying 18 units per semester and taking summer lab classes, Will finished his BS degree in three years and went on to complete a Ph.D. My son never lacked ambition. And because transsexualism didn’t kill him, it seems that Nietzsche was correct. William James Wintersmith is tough.
Will is three inches shorter than I, which should be expected from the supplemental estrogens during puberty. But now, after years of testosterone, aerobics, and weight training, he stands five-three and carries 145 pounds of lean muscle. I said he was smart, so he had no intention of a career in academia. Will works as a pharmaceutical lab director earning twice my professor’s salary. Young whippersnapper.
He dated a few women in college and grad school. But because Will hadn’t had bottom surgery (full phalloplasty minimally requires three complex operations), most women bolted after discovering William was trans.
The bloody fools. Young people never understand the meaning of love, masculinity, or femininity until they’ve been through at least one bad marriage. They pretend romance is a fairytale. And since William didn’t have a penis, women couldn’t accept him as a man. A dropout, drunkard, or junkie might be fine, but not a dickless scientist. One young woman, who genuinely cared for Will, was persuaded by her family that he was unfit.
This sweet girl invited Will and me to dinner to reassure her parents. She assumed that meeting him would open their minds. After 20 minutes of attempted make-nice, the father called my son a freak. I threw my wine glass at his face and lunged across the table with a steak knife. William held me back or I’d probably be in prison right now. Sure, we had both used the word with each other, but that was among family. Despite intelligence and great success in almost every other area of his life, Will suffered intimacy rejection over something that was not his fault. This hurt me almost as much as it hurt him.
He then quit dating altogether, telling me, “The kind of woman I want does not want a transsexual.”
Poor Will remained solemn for several months, focusing mostly on work, reading a lot, and “thinking,” he said—though he didn’t confide much in me. I figured it would take about a year for him to heal and start dating again. You can imagine my shock when, on July 1, William James Wintersmith, my cloned son who still lived at home, asked me to marry him.
I said no! Loudly.
I reminded him of the 27-year age difference; he dismissed it. I suggested our parent-child status prohibited a union; he reminded me that he was a clone, which didn’t qualify as incestuous but might be narcissistic.
He added, “There’s no better match than genetically identical sex-differentiated transsexuals. There could never be another marriage like ours.”
The last statement was true, of course, but that didn’t put my dis-ease to bed.
The proposal lasted two hours. He had counterarguments for all my objections. Finally, both of us exhausted, he looked into my eyes, clasped my hands in his, and said, “You are my mother and sister, father and brother. But for different hormones in our bodies at different times, we are one. We should be married. And someday, we shall clone another child to be carried by a surrogate mother. He can be a genetic male who is not transsexual. Think of the wonder.”
About half a percent of this made weird sense. The rest seemed…pornographic? I ran toward the bathroom to throw up. I didn’t make it in time.
The next morning William went to the lab as usual. I stayed home with a migraine. Fortunately, I didn’t teach on Wednesdays and Fridays. After the headache dissipated, I started with bourbon on the rocks. The next four were neat.
Will and I didn’t talk much the rest of the week. I must have been the most distracted professor on campus, but the following Saturday, we shared a bottle of high-end Cabernet with his favorite homemade pasta dinner. William broached the marriage issue once more.
“I know this has been difficult for you,” he said. “For me, too.”
“I’m better,” I replied softly. “It’s not that I don’t love you, but it’s the wrong kind of love.”
“You think my proposal is illegitimate because you accept the hetero-normative images of your generation.” He reached across the table for my hand and I instinctively recoiled.
“See,” he said. “Would you otherwise pull away? I’m a male version of you. And by most accounts, I’m an attractive, professional man—a great catch. Except that I am FTM….”
“Listen,” I replied, regaining composure. “I want what’s best for you…, to find the right woman, a normal woman. Have kids through artificial insemination and be a real family. Don’t throw that away on an impossible notion.”
“Aren’t you real, Rachel?”
He had started using my first name after he proposed. Before his transition, Willia called me “Mom.” After transition, I became, “Denim”; short for “DNA Mom.” Now, I was “Rachel.”
“Honey,” I replied. “I want you to have the love and intimacy I never did.”
“That’s what I’m offering…. You created me, but I am neither monster nor daughter nor son. I am a future husband and father. Down to the individual cells of our souls, we are the best match for each other—probably the only match.”
Will gulped his glass of wine, pulled out a jeweler’s box, and set it on the table.
“I’ve rented a room at the extended stay motel. Call me when you are able to wear this ring. I love you as I love myself.”
He kissed me on the cheek and left. I haven’t heard from him in three weeks.
I ignored the box for 15 days before looking inside. A two-karat diamond solitaire mounted on yellow gold; damn, it was beautiful. The jeweler had a free-return policy if the girl said no, so I wasn’t worried about cost but rather connotations. I tried to reconsider. William wasn’t my biological son. He was a clone revved up on testosterone, muscle, ambition, masculinity, and libido, which he had been unable to satisfy in playing by the rules.
Why did I react so strongly to his proposal? Was I biased against transsexuals or just against me? What’s wrong with two sex-changed individuals getting together? We looked nothing alike because of hormonal transformations. He was an attractive man. I was a passable woman.
I closed the box without removing the ring, poured a two-finger shot of bourbon, and tried to analyze every agonizing twist of my emotions. Where was a heart attack when you needed one?
When I was 22, I visited a therapist for depression. Upon learning that I was a male-to-female transsexual, she asked, “How many times have you tried to commit suicide?”
A presumptuous question, sure, but I provided a number. When a shrink has trans-counseling experience, she can skip the preliminaries and get straight to business. Now, William’s suggestion made me wonder about adding to my count, but I didn’t want to die. I called him instead and asked if we might dine together.
He came. We talked for six months. He was solicitous, respectful, and kind—a man of substance. Damned if I didn’t fall in love.
We married in Nevada on January 8.
Our union was secret. We each kept our jobs and separate benefits. Most people still thought of Will as my son or daughter (depending on when they’d met him) and assumed that he lived at home to help his mother.
After seven months, my husband and I agreed to clone a child using standard DNA extraction/replacement. This time, however, the child would be carried by a volunteer surrogate mother who had tried but failed through several early-term miscarriages to have a baby. It would be the surrogate’s egg, and she would keep the child. William and I supported this arrangement.
There were no lawyers involved as too many explanations would be required. The surrogate, a single woman, would tell doctors that she miraculously got pregnant the old-fashioned way, without naming the father, and deliver her baby. Will and I would then keep our distance so as not to influence (consciously or unconsciously) the child’s development. There would be no hormone manipulation and no hint of its genetic background. Even the mother did not know exactly how her harvested and implanted egg had been invigorated, and she didn’t care. In a sense, she wasn’t a surrogate at all but simply an expectant mother.
William and I both carried the same “Y” chromosome; thus, the mother was informed that she would have a boy. And though we had been afflicted with gender identity disorder, there was little reason to believe that our clone would be so burdened. Many improbable things in improbable sequence must happen inside the womb to create a psychologically feminized male. This child should have a masculine gender identity.
Everything worked as planned, and there soon existed three genetically identical yet distinctly different human beings. A transwoman, a transman, and a newborn male who would grow up as a boy.
The mother was thrilled when she delivered a seven-pound baby at full term. I had arrived two months premature, and Will was three, so differences were already apparent. William and I would simply allow our descendant to grow into a fertile male who could spread our DNA naturally. We wanted the boy to have every chance for a non-transsexual life.
Predictably, the child would receive the kind of village and family love that is generally unavailable to our kind. And with the deepest and most heartfelt parental concern, based upon two lifetimes of trans-psychosocial experience, William and Rachel Wintersmith prayed their clone would become a man completely ignorant of gender dysphoria. With all possible love and devotion, they prayed their clone would not become them.
Claudine Griggs is the Writing Center Director at Rhode Island College, and her publications include three nonfiction books along with a couple dozen articles on writing, teaching, and other topics. She also writes fiction and science fiction, her first-love genre as a teenager. Griggs earned her BA and MA in English at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.