Freddy McConnell is a dad, first and foremost, he is also a writer, podcaster, and campaigner.
In this episode of the GenderGP podcast he discusses his journey and the role of the internet in enabling visibility, particularly in the case of trans men.
He also shares his experiences of pregnancy and birth, the misinformation around the effects of testosterone and the importance of challenging the forgone conclusion that trans men automatically forfeit their fertility for their gender.
If you have been affected by any of the topics discussed in our podcast and would like to get in touch please drop us a line at info@GenderGP.com
We are always happy to accept ideas for future shows, so if there is something in particular you would like us to discuss or a specific guest you would love to hear from, let us know. Your feedback is really important to us so if you could take a minute or two to leave us a review and rating for the podcast on your favourite podcast app it will help others to discover us.
Seahorse, the dad who gave birth: https://seahorsefilm.
How to access the private FB groups referenced by Freddie in this episode of the podcast: Search MX Seahorse on Facebook. Friend the account and they can speak to you about the range of groups that are out there and help you to find one that works for you.
The GenderGP Podcast
The Dad Who Gave Birth with Freddy McConnell – The GenderGP Podcast S4 E3
Hello, this is Dr Helen Webberley. Welcome to our GenderGP Podcast, where we will be discussing some of the issues affecting the trans and non-binary community in the world today, together with my co-host Marianne Oakes, a trans woman herself, and our head of therapy.
Dr Helen Webberley: Welcome, everybody. It’s the last podcast of the year and one just before Christmas. So, for those of you listening before Christmas and New Year, Happy New Year and Happy Christmas to you all. I’ve got Freddy McConnell on with me. Freddy, I think perhaps it would best if you just introduce yourself and explain why you’ve kind of become a little bit famous over the last year. And just tell us a little bit about you and the things that you’ve been fighting for.
Freddy McConnell: Sure.Well, God, yeah, it’s been quite the year, I guess.Hopefully, maybe some people have seen Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth, which is a documentary that I sort of instigated and then collaborated on with a team of filmmakers, primarily Jeanie Finlay who’s the director. So that was released sort of early in 2019 and then had an amazing time taking it around to various festivals in the US and in Europe as well. And then, yeah, it was on the BBC most recently.And hopefully, we’ll continue to have it live next year.It’s going to hopefully be out in the states and available online. And otherwise, I would I suppose describe myself as a dad, first and foremost, and then for work,writer, podcaster, and have more recently started to self-identify otherwise as a campaigner, as opposed to just being called one. Yeah. So that’s something that I’m embracing more and actually finding it interesting and sort of obviously important but also hard. Yeah.
Dr Helen Webberley: Yeah, I think we can all relate to that. I never tire of hearing people’s gender stories, and, you know, kind of from the beginning to today. So, I just wanted to I mean I’m guessing that many of our listeners are the same. You know I find the whole story fascinating, whosever story it is. And I think it also helps for people who haven’t met as many transgender people, as perhaps Marianne and I have, just again to feel it here that the kind of normalcy of a person’s gender journey.So if you’re willing, I’d be really interested in the kind of snapshot of your life and the feelings around your gender.
Freddy McConnell: Yeah sure it’s always a funny one, isn’t it? Because I sort of feel like I lose sight even of, you know, where I’m telling my own story or where I’m sort of feeling like I need to tell a story that fits a certain narrative. Partly because of my experience with being with a gender identity clinic where you kind of feel like you have to say some things and that sort of thing. And I do find it hard to talk about myself as a younger person because I feel protective of that younger person, I think, protective of my experience in general I suppose, and I’m just so conscious of how our experiences can be used, and sort of as part of the argument to either restrict our rights. So, you know, attack us as trans people in some way. But with all that said, I was a gender-nonconforming child. I was expressing a desire to be other than what I was from a very young age. But then also sort of learned to stop talking about a certain age, I guess when I was heading towards being a teenager, and you sort of start to want to conform more and not say things that other people might find embarrassing or awkward. And then I struggled through my teenage years as many people do, and tried to just ignore what I now recognize as dysphoria and the feelings that I’d had all my life until really I suppose my early 20s when I was—which was the first time that I discovered when I came across the idea of transness in a way that felt relevant to me, and that also felt positive. I definitely had that experience of never really, I mean I grew up at before the word transgender existed. And so, what I knew of people that I now recognize as transgender was it is exclusively scary and bad and embarrassing and shameful. And so yeah, it’s funny. I guess I benefited to some extent from the increased visibility of transness. It definitely helped me figure out who I am in that, sortof you cannot be what you cannot see your way. But I was also young at a time before there was that visibility, so I feel like I’ve existed in both worlds.
Marianne Oakes:How old were you when you started on your journey?If that’s an okay question.
Freddy McConnell:I came out as trans—Well, I first talked about this about it to a friend, I think I was, I am so bad with dates, I think I was like 23 which would have been more like 2007, 2008, kind of time.So, I really like the dawn of YouTube, and it was you it was definitely the Internet that was enabling me to come across that access, I should say.
Marianne Oakes:Yeah, I get the sense you’re saying there’s no visibility. I know I was, I’ve been, I want to say, active on the transscene for probably 25 pushing 30 years now. But it was all very secretive. It was support groups and, you know, to carry your bags and cheap makeup. And the truth was that it was easy to find even before the internet. If you really wanted to find trans women. One of the things I’ve commented on in more recent times, that trans men were invisible. That they weren’t being sensationalized in the tabloids, so, I’m just wondering how it was for you. It feels like it was locked down, that there were no role models at all. Oh yeah.
Freddy McConnell:Just didn’t know it was a thing that could happen because of I see my whole life I’ve been told that I was a tomboy, and I guess it’s much more socially acceptable, as we all know, for girls to be gender-nonconforming. And I just so I just thought that was what was going on even though I did have a much deeper sense of unease and I was different. I now know, and I watched my friends of mine who were also gender nonconforming sort of go out of it, or, you know, just experience life in a way that was similar to me in some ways because we were all being gender-nonconforming but without that deeper layer of something I just couldn’t put into words and that would lead to really strong negative emotions and a real struggle that my other gender-nonconforming friends who were girls just weren’t experiencing. So yeah, like well, I saw,I can’t remember specific examples, and I find it really hard to talk about because it’s upsetting and it’s just such a horrible thing. The reality was that you would see quote-unquote transsexuals, and it was all trans women, and I just had never occurred to me that you could have the other way round because then they wouldn’t be, you know,it was about men. And so, I, you know, I never articulated it back then, and I kind of don’t want to articulate now. It’s so horrible in so many ways. But until I saw this YouTube video of a young boy in America and it was probably some kind of mainstream news documentary type thing, and it was a trans boy, it just blew my mind. So, it wasn’t even like a vlog or a transition diary. I saw the first time it was just the kind of mainstream TV show. And I spent two weeks after that on cloud nine, experiencing euphoria I would say. I couldn’t concentrate anything else of the university at the time and maybe just sitting in classes sort of being in my own world thinking about like,“Oh my God,” this is so amazing. And so, thinking naively in a sweet way I think now I can’t wait to tell people I found out I can’t. People will be so happy for me. everything makes sense now, like,“Oh my God, this is the best thing ever.” And probably about it took about two weeks to realize that it was going to be more complicated and you wouldn’t necessarily think it was positive and it wouldn’t make so much sense to others. And yeah like I was I’m also a quite nervous cautious person, so I also knew that I had to do more than just discovery on YouTube. I know I needed to like understand more and have more conversations but yeah. That two weeks is a great time.
Marianne Oakes:It feels like that was an epiphany.
Freddy McConnell:Oh yeah, exactly.
Marianne Oakes:Yeah. I think that’s something I don’t know why it made me smile because it’s not particularly pleasant, but what you probably in that moment, where you have that moment of euphoria was you wouldn’t have had any idea what the struggles were to get access to transgender healthcare at that time. That what it would have been like.
Freddy McConnell:Yeah, and it wasn’t even just it wasn’t so much about thinking about the practical side of, it was just understanding. Like having something. I didn’t feel 100 per cent confident it was the answer for me because like I said I will just immediately second guess myself at every opportunity. But the possibility that it could be right and the ways I was thinking about it and applying it to myself and thinking,“God, that just makes me feel so happy.” That possibility was purely theoretical; it’s purely emotional. Exciting. Yeah, and yeah no, I was clueless.I just thought I didn’t even know it was possible. I thought the possibility that it might be possible even that was just like wow this is so cool. Yeah.
Marianne Oakes:Was there a sense of that I’m not the only one?
Yeah, I suppose there must have been. There was an answer. Yeah, I mean because then I quite quickly, I was watching, I was searching for more to see myself reflected and finding people who were vlogging their transitions in a way that now just seems kind of cheesy. Yeah, a sense of community. But I never really engaged. I was always a bit of like, I just observed.So, I didn’t have much of a sense of like making friends or findingan active community.
Dr Helen Webberley:I wonder when the next person on that YouTube video that you saw understands what an impact that having these stories has. And I have to say, Freddy, when you were telling your story to us just now and when you were reflecting on that big, painful time I could so feel that pain and then that moment I was just hoping there was going to be some kind of relief from that pain and then your whole image turned into a massive smile as you described that finding that thing actually understanding putting a name to it.And our listeners won’t be able to see what I can see which is on faces but, you know, but Marianne burst into a smile, you burst into a smile, I burst into a smile. I think people who share their stories help so much. They help people who are going through what you went through and what Marianne went through, and they help people like me to understand what it might be just a tiny shadow of what it might be like to have those feelings especially when you cannot put your finger on it. We all want to understand what we’re talking about what we feel, and we all want to have the answers to the questions. We all know now that that’s just so confusing and painful.
Freddy McConnell:Yeah,that not knowing and not understanding. I think universally as humans we really struggle with that and that can lead to so much—Like in these difficult situations as well right because I think it kind of is impossible to understand fully what it’s like to feel like you’re trans if you’re not trans. And that desire to understand leads to judgment and problems because if people don’t understand that they’re more likely to be hostile. I think the thing that we have in place of fully understanding is stuff like empathy which is why it’s important to share stories as well, you know, because yes, empathy can but can be so powerful, but it’s so hard to create between people that don’t know each other.That was one what it was one of my main motivations for wanting seahorse to exist, but I also wanted just to say to go back to that, you know, when I was a child and then a teenager and before I discovered this word for what I was feeling it wasn’t like I wasn’t my life wasn’t miserable. I wasn’t, you know, struggling in every way and not actively seeking an answer to it to a sort of massive overriding existential question. I think I was so used to it at that point,by my early 20s of how feeling this discomfort that it just felt normal.I was just so used to feeling uncomfortable, and I just kind of thought that’s what everyone felt. Maybe to some extent because that was the most obvious explanation to me as well.Yeah, there’s kind of niggling pain and discomfort, and I guess everyone figures out to some extent. Part of the euphoria is discovering like not everyone does feel this and that why I don’t have to feel this, but otherwise I had a very happy life really.I was privileged and blessed, and, you know, I wasn’t having a great time university but yeah because I think I’m also really keen to dispel this myth that trans people are miserable and that our lives are tragic.There was this is one thing this one through line from his early like a member of this one specific kind of discomfort that was just incredible to have an answer for, but it wasn’t I didn’t see it as, you know, other than,yeah it just it wasn’t anything going on in my life.It’s important to say.
Dr Helen Webberley: So, Freddy, and you were the dad that gave birth. Now I’m going to be, as a doctor, as a parent myself, as someone who’s meeting you for the first time, I’m going to be fascinated by your story if you would share that with us as well. I know again you are a self-proclaimed campaigner to share these stories and again help people understand and I’m guessing, I’m just going to guess having been through a medical training worked in hospitals worked in maternity unit slept with midwives, I’m guessing that there were some reactions to your story.But anyway, I’m not going to second guess, I’d love just to hear what your experiences were like as you became with that and by the way, congratulations.
Freddy McConnell:Thank you. Yeah. I should say that I’m a dad who gave birth.One of the hundreds if not, I would guess, thousands around the world at this point. We don’t obviously have much research on it, but there is one statistic from Australia that if you’ve come across it, where it’s a kind of quirk of the Australian health system, where they record a person’s gender in every area of provision of service, I guess, including antenatal and perinatal care. So, they sort of accidentally were recording men who were giving birth because they were just making, you know, people’s gender.So, in a sort of fairly short time period, I think it’s between 2013 and 2012 and 2015 there was something like two hundred and sixty-seven men that gave birth. So that’s in Australia alone. Yeah over sort of a three-year period. And yet there are big groups online which have thousands of members, and we support each other, and we share information because generally our doctors still aren’t sharing accurate information with us about our options for family planning and the possible and probable health of our fertility and that sort of thing. So, I suppose that that was the biggest theme of my experience of trying to start my family by becoming pregnant and giving birth was spending a lot of time on Facebook, looking to the community for help and support where I couldn’t find it otherwise.I mean, I did have one supportive doctor in London. I’m so grateful for that. And also, I did have a really supportive team down in Kent where I live. In terms of midwifery. I had a really positive experience on that front, and I think that’s unusual. I think I got lucky. I think various things that you just couldn’t sort of plan for, like the fact that my community midwife was someone I knew from the sort of overlapping social circles, so I kind of had a sense that she’d be cool and she was way more than cool.She was incredible. She came to my home for our appointments, which was just such a help, so I never had to be sort of put in a situation where I was nervous or stressed about being outed, or having a negative encounter when I went in for scans. My midwife would sort of call ahead. In fact, I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but we identified that there was a sonographer who was queer who would be very happy to consistently do my scans never forget her either. She was amazing. She had a Star Wars lanyard. These great people who didn’t have any training or prior experience of a pregnant trans person or non-binary person come into the system.They didn’t need it. They just needed to be kind and compassionate, and like maybe a little bit more thoughtful than usual.But like, you know, just nothing special or expensive or out of the ordinary just being kind people and caring people which is kind of their job. So that’s good. And I did have one—the one negative experience I had was when that system didn’t work. It sort of fell apart because I needed to go for a last-minute late graph scan because there was some concern about the sort of baby being small.And because it was last minute, I couldn’t go to my usual place. My midwife what hadn’t had the opportunity and machines ahead, so I ended up in like my nightmare scenario, which was a busy maternity unit waiting room by myself because my mum just couldn’t come with me. And the worst happened, which was that when you go for a scan, they give you a big orange laminated A4 sheet, to show that you are the person that needs the scan. So, a person who was working the hospital I think was a nurse, but she was wearing a jumper that covered up her uniform, which was the first thing that didn’t really help.I didn’t know who this person was, walked up to me and its packed waiting room. I stood up to meet her to try to pre-empt anything she might say to me, and just get it over with as quickly as possible. and she stopped and didn’t say anything and just stared at me, and I was like,“Do you want to know my name?” And she was like,“No, I want to know why you’re holding that card.” and everyone in the waiting room stared at us. It was horrific, and she didn’t take me with her. She then left, and I sat back down in this waiting room and put my cap low and wanted to cry.I wanted to run and hide and it just yeah it was so bad and so unnecessary, you know.I think what she did was unprofessional in general regardless of who I was regardless of whether I was trans or whatever like you shouldn’t do that in a public space to someone who is—yeah you shouldn’t do that in a hospital because, you know, you don’t know what that person’s experiences or why they’re there. But yeah that that just kind of shows what can happen, what can go really badly wrong very quickly and not deliberately.If that circle of protection and security suddenly gets broken. I generally had a really good, surprisingly good experience. But when it was bad, it was really bad.
Marianne Oakes:It just reminded me of even when I’m signing away to my doctors, and if they’ve got new staff on and they read the wrong name, then they come out and shout my old name. You know, it’s a worry. I don’t just sit there comfortably. When you said, you were sat in that way to you just came back to me how I feel every time I go in a waiting room. And I don’t think it’s unusual for trans people when we’re going into a space where actually we should feel safe. There should be nowhere safer than any hospital. Well, the staff just aren’t trained. Two other things came while you were talking. One of them was actually the attitude towards you. It wasn’t dissimilar. I was a father. I’m a father to two lads. My wife and I were going through pregnancy. The fathers were quite dismissed in the process, and I felt that lady that came out to see you was treating you as a father, which, in one respect, is a bit of a compliment. Well, maybe there’s some training there that fathers count too. And the other thing was, I really like the idea that one of the things that the parents struggle with their children when they come out as trans is,“Oh my god, they’re never going to have children.” And I do think what you’ve done and pointing out so publicly kind of smashes the idea that it’s a foregone conclusion that trans guys lose their fertility, and given the right circumstances it’s not the end of the road for that possibility.
Freddy McConnell:Yeah and that’s such a crucial thing. I mean I remember sitting in the appointment at the JIC I was at signing a consent form to be prescribed testosterone which I absolutely needed and was so excited about. But one of the lines of the form was that I was signing away my fertility and I totally believed it at that time. Why would I have any reason to doubt that. And then my mum was with me because she’s always been such incredible support through this whole process. But that was the things she was worried about and sad about and I sort of reassured her that I did want to be a parent and I would have kids one day, but I would just do it differently.That was fine. And, you know, which I still absolutely believe that you become a parent in many ways and there’s no one way a better way or worse way. But she struggled more with the idea that that’s what was happening that I wouldn’t be able to have biological children. And so she grieved, and I grieved to an extent. I said it was fine that time, but I definitely had a niggling sense of losing something and a feeling that I knew that I had to transition when I did, but it wasn’t 100 per cent uncomplicated or positive, I suppose, because you are making—you know, it’s a huge step, and there are huge challenges along the way, and that was one of them to me definitely it was this sense of like,okay, my options for starting a family have just massively narrowed because I always knew I always had images of myself with kids way back.You know I didn’t really picture myself in them, because I really struggled to imagine myself when I was younger my future self, but I would do it. I was a major sort of kids running around in the mud, climbing trees and that kind of thing.So yeah to then basically chance upon some information about a pregnant trans man in a neutral context, about three years later, was a real shock, and kind of like positive in one sense, but very, again, just really complicated, like,“Oh my god, is this a thing?” I thought you know, and if this is a thing then am I going to do that maybe. What, can I do that?And then like another two years of contemplating maybe not in a while. I didn’t have to go for any of that. I could have just been told nom because I think we don’t we still don’t know and it’s important to say that there is still no empirical research on it but 100 per cent of the anecdotal evidence from the hundreds of trans men who have carried and paused their testosterone therapy to carry or stopped or whatever. You know there is no evidence that testosterone damages one’s fertility in a long-term way. Certainly what seems to happen is that it testosterone will sort of make your reproductive system go dormant, and you shouldn’t try to conceive while on testosterone because it’s dangerous for the fetus, but also it’s important to say the testosterone isn’t birth control because some guys do get pregnant while they’re on TN and they do ovulate, and then they have to make hard decisions often about what happens. But yeah there are so many healthy happy babies, and, you know, wonderfully beautiful families of all sorts and all shapes and sizes that are created in the way that I created mine. I wonder when it will stop being something that we’re not told about.
Dr Helen Webberley:And it makes me very sad. And as I say again as a doctor. Because I have heard so many people who have signed consent forms for many, many different procedures, and treatments and what have you. And of course, we have to explain the risks. But what I’m hearing from trans people when they sign that consent form is, it always feels like sometimes a last-ditch attempt to persuade you not to do it. Do, you know what I mean?That I mean that this is your last chance? If I read out all of these complications and dangerous things that might possibly happen to you, maybe you’ll see sense and change minds and not do such as two things, take testosterone, you know? And I just feel so sad.That’s not what informed consent is about. Informed consent is about sharing my knowledge when putting it together with your knowledge, and coming up with the best plan for you that fits your life, you know, and that’s what informed consent is all about. And again, you mentioned the research versus anecdotal evidence. And, you know, sometimes we don’t know the answers. We haven’t had a study of 3000 trans men who’ve tried to get pregnant. We just haven’t had that study done. So, as you say, we’ve got 200 or so clear cases in Australia that you mentioned at the beginning and anecdotal evidence of so many trans men who’ve had success in getting pregnant.Why isn’t that on the consent form? We’ve got to we’ve got a long, long way to go. I want to pick up on two things that you’ve said there which were really important for any trans guys who are listening here. One was, don’t get pregnant while you’re taking testosterone because testosterone will have a masculinizing effect on a growing fetus. So, if you’re thinking about getting pregnant, do take an informed decision to stop taking the testosterone. If you find out that you’re pregnant, as soon as you do, talk to your doctor and stop taking that testosterone.Those two things are really important. Yes. And the other thing that you mentioned there again, which is really informative to people is that testosterone isn’t a contraceptive. And you can’t rely on it even if your cycles have stopped and you do not have periods. You know testosterone is not you cannot be relied on for contraception.Two just medical things that you may need to know.
Freddy McConnell:Yeah is so important. And yeah, I think, you know, sort of the idea of why isn’t that part of the informed consent, I think I can only assume it comes down to a sort of ideology or an assumption that is based on stereotypes about what trans men are seeking to achieve by transitioning, which is less about the alleviation of dysphoria and more about,quote-unquote becoming a man. I felt strongly that the message I was sent was, if you’re becoming a man, then that is—This a kind of one size fits all thing. And you have to follow that path. It’s not like you get pressured into it at this stage. I think things have improved from maybe the way they were 20 years ago. But there is definitely, I mean my experience was that if you do divert or diverge from that path, then you get shown the door, basically. When I told my doctor that I was considering pulling testosterone to start my family by conceiving, which for me was a purely pragmatic choice, I had no desire to be pregnant. I just felt for various reasons that it was the right option for me at that time.I also didn’t know whether testosterone would affect my fertility long term. So, I felt like I was on the clock. I now understand that that’s probably not the case either. But as soon as I talked to him about it in a thoughtful way, I’m hoping that he would give me his informed opinion the medical opinion, he just discharged me, which I didn’t really realize. I didn’t recognize for the strange decision that it was at the time. I just thought oh I felt a bit silly. I felt like I’d done a bad thing and I wasn’t playing by the rules, so I had to leave. But now I look back and think, well, actually by discharging me I lost access to really important care. I didn’t have any access to counselling or mental health support for that process which was really hard because being a pregnant man is really hard. And, you know, I need to be on testosterone, and I wasn’t. And it was only temporary. But, you know, it’s just sort of, yeah, there’s this real sense of like, you’re not doing being a man correctly. Regardless of what your motivations are, and, you know, men don’t really want to be parents certainly not primary carers. It’s like you’re not meant to be nurturing and meant to have complicated feelings. Men shouldn’t feel broody. I mean, Jesus, if it’s not toxic masculinity and patriarchy which is hostile—but luckily, it’s not everyone, noteveryone thinks that.
Marianne Oakes: It seems to me, I’m assuming were you under the NHS TIC.
Marianne Oakes: Yeah. It screams to me about just how outdated their models are. I’ll get angry again now. Now I’m being discharged this week because I refused to change my name legally. I’ve got my reasons for not doing that. I keep banging on about it. But they will not recognize my transition because I refuse to change my name by deed poll. And partly reason refuse, and it’s because I don’t want them to tell me.But, you know, that’s—It just shows you how outdated it is. And what they would basically think, if I understood you correctly, you were being invalidated because you wanted to be a parent.
Freddy McConnell:Yeah. That’s what it felt like, and there was no space to discuss the idea that, you know, me being pregnant was a pragmatic choice. And sort of based on self-protection to an extent. I felt like doing that by myself with the support my friends and family would be a simpler route to parenthood, than what I felt like I would be doing by the sort of subjecting myself to government agencies like adoption agencies, like trying to find a surrogate. And if I had a perfectly healthy reproductive system, it would only take maybe a year or two to do it then why not, absolutely. And I guess I’m lucky I’ve been raised in a—I mean, my mom didn’t know I was trans when I was little but used to talk about, she is a staunch feminist, and it’s just sort of, you know, who raised me to believe that like weirdly that, you know, pregnancy is just a positive experience. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could go through pregnancy? And then those whose messages definitely really helped me conceptualize it in a certain way. And I’m not saying here trying to say that all trans men should feel completely blasé about being pregnant and that it’s the right decision for everyone.It’s not. Like it’s a very personal thing, and I found it really hard. Like way harder than I thought I would. But it should at least just—you should know that it’s an option. That’s all this is. And if I mean, help was to think about it perhaps is, you know, if you struggle to understand how someone could do this, well,you know, imagine you’re in a couple, or you’re by yourself, and you—imagine a cis man, you know, is told that the only option if there was a way that he could have a child he really wants to start a family, that the only option is, by some magical way, he is the one that can be pregnant, and there are no other options. And, you know, maybe he’s got a wife, and his wife is infertile etc. Of course, he would do that. If you if, you put it that way. Then it’s like a no brainer. Of course, if you if, that was your only option and you had the option, then you would take the option. And that’s what I felt like, you know, so I couldn’t even have that conversation with the person who was supposed to be looking out for my care.And that sends a really strong message. And, you know, thank God for the community online which is really responsible and is, you know, it’s not like we’re out there kind of giving us advice willy nilly. Everyone’s very aware that there aren’t any doctors really kind of backing us up and everyone’s very focused on safety, and, you know, we’re just trying to make the best of a no ideal situation.
Dr Helen Webberley:We’ve talked quite a lot in the past about fear and not fear that doctors or health professionals have when they’re presented to something that they don’t know about and they’ve got that—It seems to me that they’ve got this at gender clinics and just not just here in Marianne’s story and your story today. We hear there’s a lot of this kind of the last card, they’ve got that red ticket, haven’t they? And if anything gets too uncomfortable, too scary, too unknown. What if you ask questions that they don’t know the answers to? What do you expect them, to move outside that they’re comfortable safety barrier?It’s just too scary.So, they’ll just give you that ticket and say off you go. I will not face any more of your questions. No, I just think that’s so sad. I think the one thing that is you talked a lot about them when you were talking about that experience you had in the maternity unit. And you as you were saying when that circle of protection broke down and wasn’t down on that emergency situation, but actually, that circle of protection shouldn’t be needed. That although you needed it and it was way too useful for you it shouldn’t be needed, should it? You know, everybody, whatever colour sexuality gender and disability appearance whatever, you know, and mental health situation, neurodiverse spectrum, whoever you are, you should be able to go into the maternity unit into the hospital into a GP surgery into a gender clinic into anything and just not need a special circle of protection, you know. And the way that we should do that is education, and again we’re always banging on about education. In 2003 I used to it, I went back to Birmingham University where I trained, and I went back as a clinical tutor, and I was teaching communication skills. So we were teaching doctors how to communicate effectively with patients, and we had simulated consultations so we would have actors who would come in and then they would be given to the doctor, and the doctor didn’t know what’s going to happen then all of a sudden that patient would say, you know, something and be a really angry patient, and the doctor had to kind of, you know, to do that consultation with the angry patient. Or the scenario was that the doctor had to give bad news and, you know, so we would talk about how the bad news was given and how the doctor did well and what have you? And if anyone’s listening who works in universities and talks about education programs, it will be such a wonderful simulated consultation to have, you know, your next patient is pregnant, and you are the doctor, the midwives, the nurse in the maternity unit and we’re going to talk about a situation where the baby is not growing and as well as needs a scan and (unclear 34:52) have I got the wrong scenario here, have I got the wrong card? And it’s just about education, isn’t it? And with education, that fear that are doctors who’ve discharged Marianne and discharged you won’t have that fear because they have the education and the knowledge so vitally important.
Freddy McConnell:And I do think so much of it just to think education. Yes, but it’s so, it would be so minimal. You know I think because actually even just saying to someone that I owe them one line in the bottom of a pamphlet or a handout somewhere that’s like one day you might encounter a trans man or nonbinary person coming for a scan.Full stop. Because I think it’s that shock and that that really is the killer that makes things awkward and puts people on the defensive. You can almost, I think most people if they were just vaguely primed for that situation, would do OK. They might not be perfect, but we’re not expecting perfect. We’re just not expecting to be sort of humiliated in a huge room of people.
Dr Helen Webberley:So, what we’re talking about there is actually a really good point to see what you’re talking about is minimal education for everybody.Some people who are pregnant will look very male. Don’t worry about it, you know, what I’m talking about is the kind of cream on the top where you actually put those training doctors and training students into a situation where they have actually to do it, you know.And then, of course, there’s all the in-between. And we’ve got to start somewhere. So, I totally agree with you. Let’s just get that one sentence written down.
Freddy McConnell:That’s me being a pragmatist.
Marianne Oakes:So in between that is the reality here that professionals, you know, whether it’s medical whether it’s the law, whether it’s I don’t know business owners need to be aware of gender diversity in all its forms. So that whether you are a midwife or whether you are a garagemechanic, you know, trans people are going to come into your world and require help and support. And that should be okay. And you don’t have to understand it. You just have to acknowledge that it’s going to happen. Dignity has got to be at the forefront of the services that you offer.
Freddy McConnell: I mean certainly my experience my sense was that it wasn’t affecting any of the ways that I was being looked after. The thing that I found the most useful was working with my midwife to write a detailed birth plan because I wanted, I knew I wanted to try to give birth in a pool which meant so going to the midwife-led unit at my local hospital and that birth time was really helpful for me to help me feel like I was prepped and I’d get as much information as I could or as I needed to.And I think it also really helped the midwifery team to feel empowered and informed. And it was just like three lines at the top that was about pronouns and language and also one about don’t worry if you make a mistake which you don’t—I don’t think you should feel you have to put in, but that’s just my personal preference I’d much rather pre-empt any awkwardness by sort of saying don’t worry about it. If it happens, it isn’t a big deal. But other than that, they just did their jobs. And yeah there was I was surprisingly unremarkable, I imagine.
Dr Helen Webberley:I want to just give a great big shout out to your mum, actually, because you mentioned her a few times and, you know, anyone who’s lucky enough to have that one person or several people in their lives who really support believe and help, and are always there for you. How was it when you had to come off the testosterone? Something that you wanted and needed so badly as you described, and then you realized that you had to come off it. What did it feel like for you in your body?And what was it like for you psychologically?
Freddy McConnell:So yeah I. I didn’t know.Just to sort of giving it a context first, I guess I knew it was necessary in order to try safely. I would have to pause, and I had read as much as I could on, like most of the secret Facebook groups about other people’s experiences. And I was really surprised. I suppose by the range of experiences that people reported which I think probably mirrors. I shouldn’t have been surprised because it mirrors people’s experience of being on testosterone or being on any hormone or any game for any kind of medical transition. I suppose there are some broad overarching themes, but people’s subjective individual experiences tend to really differ.So, I got I’d heard everything from. It was so hard that I couldn’t leave the house every day until it was over through to sort of like neutral. I was surprised by being of T didn’t,it didn’t feel that different sort of thing. Through to the positive end which was sort of not only did not be on T not feel terrible but actually the process of growing a baby inside me and sort of taking on that role felt like such an empowering experience and like I was this protector figure that it reaffirmed my masculinity and my identity as a man.So I really had no idea what to expect. Obviously, I hoped that it would be more the latter for me. But then the reality was that. I think I say in the film something like the initial few weeks, possibly a couple of months, felt quite pleasant and interesting in a way. In the sense that I just felt very different. And it was neither good nor bad it was just kind of weird, and I felt kind of spaced out, and yeah, I felt like I was not that I would know what this feels like but a very kind of mellow trip for a long period of time.And then I’ve can’t remember exactly when but then it just started to get really hard, and it felt like all the things I used to feel all the dysphoria came flooding back, and it was worse because I knew what comfort felt like. I think I’d gotten used to dysphoria before transitioning. I’d gotten used to having this constant cosmic toothache, which is how I once heard it described, which I think is so perfect like what’s a cosmic toothache?But that’s kind of like what’s dysphoria. It’s hard to put into words. It just came back, and it was. It felt I couldn’t ignore it. It was on my mind 100 per cent of the time, and I was at work. I stayed working for about the first four or five months of actually being pregnant, so I would have been without quite a long time of testosterone, and it wasn’t that work were unsupportive. Quite the opposite, they were very supportive, and it wasn’t any more I was not seeing or anything like that, but I just felt so uncomfortable and so self-conscious that I really struggled even to be physically present in the office which was really shocking.And again, really hard to sort of explaining it just sounds like well like you look fine You seem fine. It’s like, you know, it’s a very internal very subjective experience and struggles. And I guess the overriding feeling I had was that it wasn’t pregnancy that was hard, it was being off testosterone that was hard. If I could have been feeling like myself and being normal and all those, not amazing, but just normal, and being pregnant, then it would have been a really positive experience because getting a baby inside you is amazing. And it does feel strong and empowering. So yeah,sort of, it was a mixed bag.
MO; I just wanted to reference that there’s one person that’s been mentioned a lot throughout this session, and we’ve not spoken a lot about them. How is the baby and how his parents have been?
Freddy McConnell:Yeah. So, he’s really well.He’s a toddler now, and it’s full-on as it tends to be. But yeah, I guess the sense I had that, I being a parent was sort of in my DNA, has just continued to be born out. I suppose in my experience of getting to know him, helping him, have new experiences, learn things, doing stuff together. I mean we spend almost all of our time together except when I’m working, and I often joke that like the only way I could conscience returning to work was to make my work about being a dad, which is more or less what I’ve done with a sort of a podcast. I’m working on a book I’m working on. And yeah, it’s I mean it’s really interesting in ways that are ready to do with my child it’s, you know, gender obviously comes up a lot. We are talking about parenting, and so I’ve certainly had those experiences of since me, like older men who will be in a sweet way, be like you babysitting today, are you on duty today? Yes, I am on duty today.Brackets, and every day. Or being with friends who are female or my sister, for instance, who has young kids and hundreds at a time everyone assuming that that’s my partner and asking them questions about my kid, and then I’ll answer. But they’ll still continue talking to the woman that I’m with, and that’s weird. But, you know, it’s all sort of, oh, it’s just I find it interesting, and I’m happy to be read, really, a lot of the time as a cis dad because it’s just easier and allows me to focus on the thing that my child is screaming about.But equally, I’m more proud than I thought I would be about my role in his creation and I’m so grateful to be alive. And parenting in a time where we just have an abundance of books about different kinds of families.(unclear 44:30) is amazing in terms of their representation of different kinds of families, not a trans dads yet. Like maybe I can change that and this time, but I love it. It’s, you know, we live in a small town with a tight-knit circle of friends and lots of other kids around my son’s age. We have, you know, that whole phrase, it takes a village. I think it certainly does and we’re very lucky to have one.
Dr Helen Webberley:For anyone listening who can’t see Freddy’s face that massive smile just came back on and he was describing that toddler running around, you know, that huge smile. It is lovely. I’ve so enjoyed talking to you today. You’ve rocked my emotions from this from sad to very happy, and, you know, thank you for sharing your story so amazingly. Thank you for the work that you do.I think, you know, Marianne was talking at the beginning about the role models and, you know, you are definitely a role model to so many trans guys out there, and you’re a role model for people like me who want to learn more about what it’s like to go through something that you’ve gone through. I did a shout out for your mum.And I feel like doing a little extra shoutout now for Facebook and social media.They’re so often slammed and disregarded, and, you know,boo-hoo-ed. But actually, look at the wealth that supports those secret groups and then the more open groups have given people like you. You know, you look to kind of the responsible places that are supposed to give you that help them information and they weren’t able to.So, you go to the community. And I want to give a big shout out to these people who are there, working really hard to support people like you in to your journey and people like me who want to learn. So that’s my second shout out, really.
Freddy McConnell:Yeah, that’s so worthwhile. Thank you for saying that. And I mean, it’s worth saying that the biggest group that I’m thinking of when I talk about this is a group that’s inclusive of allies and birth workers and doctors and that sort of thing. There are other groups that just exclusively for people going through that experience. But the big one is just doing such amazing work on that front.And I think even my midwife joined it at one point. And something that I myself should say is that’s so there are secret ones, so they can be hard to find and you kind of need to know someone in order to get in. A system that a friend of mine has actually set up is ingenious, whereby if you go on Facebook and you want to know anything about it, so you think these groups might be helpful for you, if you search MX Seahorse, you can friend that account and then that will be a way that they can then speak to you about the range of groups that are out there and put you in touch with the ones that are most helpful for you.And it’s a makeshift security measure because obviously there is a need to keep these groups safe, but that’s what seems to be working well.
Dr Helen Webberley: Brilliant, thank you for that. So, I think I will befriendingMX Seahorse to be allowed in.Thank you so much.Marianne, I know you will want to say thank you before we go.
Marianne Oakes: I do.It’s been really interesting and inspiring. And actually, I’m hoping you’re going to have a great Christmas with your child and family. It sounds like you got a wonderful family.
Freddy McConnell: Yeah, we’re going to decorate the tree together which will be interesting. I don’t know how that goes. If people want to see the best place to find out about where you can see the film, it is actually not on iPlayer anymore. But if you go to seahorsefilm.com that will have the most up to date information. And I think you can buy at the moment and that’s probably the easiest way to see it right now. So that’s where people should go.
Dr Helen Webberley: We’ll put all that information great so people can see.I look forward to your book that you’re working on. And again, we can have details whenever that’s ready to be shared. And what was the other thing you said you were working on?
Freddy McConnell: Well, the thing that will be coming out the soonest is a podcast on the BBC which is about—which is all about this is, about how queer people are having children are starting their families in a range of wonderful and complicated and expensive and sometimes heartbreaking ways. But just like really important conversations that aren’t being heard in that community that needs to be created around that. And the team is trans and queer, so that’s really cool. And it will be on BBC Sounds sort of late spring, early summer 2020.
Dr Helen Webberley: Well, whenever that comes out, give us a shout out, and we will share it.
Freddy McConnell: Awesome. Thank you.
Dr Helen Webberley: Happy Christmas.
Freddy McConnell: Happy Christmas and Happy New Year.
Dr Helen Webberley: It’s been amazing.
Freddy McConnell: Thank you.