Last winter, I held a six-month-old girl. She was perfect: All wide eyes and little hands, warm and cozy. Her dads—friends from local queer circles—were role models for me and my husband Raj. We asked how they were doing six months into fatherhood, and what advice they had for us as dads-to-be.
Raj is a straight cis man from Mumbai; I’m a bisexual trans man from Houston. We’ve been talking about kids since we started dating 12 years ago, when we were both students at Rice University. Our relationship has gone through plenty of twists and turns since then—eight years in, I realized I was a man and transitioned—but all along, we’ve dreamed of a loft full of art and books and two kids of our own. Raj even promised to be the pregnant one, if technology ever allowed.
Raj felt ready first. It makes sense: He’s 10 years older than me. For him, the baby clock started while he was in a San Francisco bookstore in 2015. He saw a nine-year-old browsing the stacks and said, “I want to see the world through the eyes of a child. We could be bringing our kids here.”
When he told me, I smiled and nodded. But inside, I panicked. We couldn’t afford a child, not yet—not while I was still trying to reconcile the class contradictions of my high school years with a single mom on Social Security Disability Income and now being an adult with a Silicon Valley tech job. Every time my co-workers talked about poverty as if it were a moral failure, I felt a deep shame and wondered if I would ever belong to my new professional class—or if I even wanted to belong.
Costs aside, I had no desire to be pregnant. With years of intense cramps and 21-day periods, I felt like my uterus was killing me. I reminded Raj of the vow he’d made all those years ago: To be a seahorse and carry the babies if science allowed.
Turns out I was onto something. That December, after several consultations with my primary care doctor and a feminist OB/GYN, I had a medically necessary hysterectomy.
Raj grieved. He knew it was the right thing for my body—not once did he ask me to reconsider—but he still felt the loss of knowing I wouldn’t carry our child.
A few months later, I left my toxic tech job and joined a company with a mission to improve financial health in an evidence-based way: No poverty-shaming allowed. It felt like a way to bring my childhood and my surreal San Francisco life together.
By mid-2016, eight years into our relationship, I worked with a gender therapist and came to two conclusions: I am a man, and I’d rather stay married to Raj than transition.
So we talked and talked. And we finally got up the nerve to come out to the world, to tell everyone we were staying together and I was going to transition. Then Trump was elected.
We watched the election results in horror from an Airbnb in Seville, Spain. Here was a president who threatened to roll back LGBTQ2 rights from his first day in office. Would I even be able to access transition-related medical care? Would I be able to change my identity documents? Even if I managed to transition, could we still be married?
We started googling “countries safe for brown people” and “countries safe for trans people,” looking for the overlap in that Venn diagram. Raj was a teenager during the Hindu-Muslim riots in Mumbai in the early 1990s, so he’s viscerally aware of how quickly political tensions can become deadly.
After a few months, we reasoned that trans health care in the Bay Area was among the best in the nation, so if I was going to transition, I may as well do it here. I started testosterone and had top surgery in 2017. I changed my paperwork as quickly as I could, lest Trump roll back my ability to do so.
Once I was medically and legally male, my baby clock switched on. All of a sudden I noticed babies everywhere: In coffee shops, at the grocery store, at the park. I wanted to be a dad. I wanted to hold a tiny half-Texan, half-Bengali newborn, and raise our child on rice and dal and pecan pie and love.
I felt a physical ache to hold our baby. I kept expecting the regret to come, and yet, when I contemplated my hysterectomy, all I felt was peace and calm.
Surrogacy is our only option for biological children. And our only option is terribly complicated.
For Raj and I to go the surrogacy route, I’d first have to stop testosterone, inject myself with the hormonal mix I sought to escape and let a robot harvest my eggs. If there was ever a time I wished I could expel genetic material using my Hitachi, this would be it.
Of course, this assumes I could find a trans-competent fertility doctor. In the Bay Area, it’s easy. California prohibits private insurance plans from discriminating against trans people. My trans siblings across the country aren’t so lucky: As of June 12, federal guidance allows any doctor to refuse to treat patients they perceive as gay or trans, regardless of their condition. Imagine getting hit by a car and being refused care in the emergency room.
Next, Raj would have to walk into a fertility lab, lock himself in a tiny room (most likely with flickering fluorescent lights) and jack off into a cup. Spoiler alert: He tried. The verdict? “Soul-sucking. If making babies is going to be so depressing, let’s just adopt.” I delicately pointed out that my eggs required surgery, and his sperm only required a wank. It didn’t go well.
Even if we could get past the egg and sperm extraction, we’d need to find a surrogate. In preparation, we attended Men Having Babies in San Francisco in 2019, a conference for gay men becoming dads through surrogacy. We heard women speak about their experiences as surrogates. They talked about how they had already had all the kids they wanted for their own families. They’d also undergone significant counselling about their decision to help gay men become parents. The panelists expressed joy at the moment of watching two dads hold their child for the first time. We learned about the legal aspects of surrogacy, too.
Still, pregnancy is difficult, and can be life-threatening. No amount of money and health insurance coverage can come close to appropriate compensation for the risk a surrogate undertakes for intended parents.
We asked ourselves: Do we really need to do this? Can we honestly ask another person to undergo a serious medical condition just for our sake, even in the context of a thoughtful ethical framework? Are we going through all this just so our child can look like us?
Even if we resolved the ethical quandaries, having a child through surrogacy can cost up to USD $150,000. As an executive, I have a high income and excellent credit, so I could get a loan—but most families aren’t so lucky. That’s why Men Having Babies offers the Gay Parenting Assistance Program to help defray costs. This aid is essential: Fertility treatments and surrogacy are particularly expensive for LGBTQ2 families due to insurance provisions that define infertility in a way that only applies to heterosexual couples.
We talked through the costs, the ethics and the medical procedures, and decided against surrogacy. So we looked into adoption. It’s a fraction of the price: $15,000 to $40,000 for a domestic adoption. But it’s still complicated.
First we’d have to complete a home study, the term for legally mandated background checks. We’d tell a social worker all about our lives as individuals and as a couple. We’d submit paperwork showing our employment history, financial history and medical history. We’d authorize criminal background checks for the both of us. We’d ask family and friends to serve as references. We’d give a social worker a tour of our home, and show them where our child would live.
Next, we’d hire an adoption agency or law firm to match us with birth parents who want to place their child for adoption. Luckily we live in California, where taxpayer-funded agencies are barred from discriminating against same-sex couples. However, plenty of other states still allow publicly funded adoption agencies to turn away queer families.
We’d have our portraits taken. We’d write a “Dear Birth Parent” letter to introduce our family and share what we’re hoping to give to our child. Our agency would distribute our photos and our letter, and we’d wait for birth parents to reach out.
We’d wait for weeks or years, dreaming of a birth family who’s looking for an adoptive family like us. We’d find the perfect match, only to have the adoption fall through. We’d get up and try again and again. One day, with blessings from birth parents, our adoption agency and the courts, we’d bring our baby home. About a year later, the courts would finalize the adoption.
We’d be dads, and I’d have social cover for making all the punny jokes I love.
This path felt more like us. So we started getting ready. Raj quit his day job in tech. He danced around the house and revelled in setting his own schedule. He structured his freelance photography commitments to allow for as much paternity leave as he wants. I started budgeting for a future where we could raise children on just my income, to give Raj the financial flexibility to work as much or as little as he wants after we’re parents. I added up all the things financial planners told us to save for: a bigger emergency fund, parental leave for both of us, childcare, health insurance, college, a house and retirement.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. Even though the Obama administration left behind a detailed playbook for how to respond to a pandemic, the Trump administration made colossal, preventable errors—resulting in the death of 160,000 Americans and counting. We decided not to have kids during the apocalypse.
Putting our baby-making plans on pause brought us back to the conversation we’ve been having since November 8, 2016: How do we know when it’s time to gently thank America for all it’s given us and leave to find a home in a country with a stronger democracy, a freer press and a more evidence-based approach to public health?
This isn’t just a problem in the United States—authoritarianism is on the rise around the world.
We asked ourselves: What if Trump really does lose in November, as polls currently predict? What if, somehow, the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives fill with people who fiercely guard the institutions of democracy, the freedom of the press, the work of scientists?
And yet, there’d be hope. So I went back to budgeting for kids, post-pandemic.
Then I thought: This is insane.
Why would we raise children in the only OECD country that doesn’t guarantee paid parental leave? Why would we pay health insurance premiums for ourselves and our children in perpetuity, hoping our coverage is enough for a catastrophe, in a country where medical expenses are the number one reason for bankruptcy? Why would we try to amass enough cash to pay up to $50,000 per year in college tuition for our kids, or, failing that, ask our children to take out tens of thousands of dollars in debt just for school?
I should’ve seen it sooner. At work, I’ve been reading the literature about rising health care and education costs for years. I showed Raj the math. Together, we asked: What about Canada?
Canada isn’t paradise—unfortunately, racist assholes are everywhere—but, economically, it is undeniably the wiser move.
I looked into the requirements for immigration to Canada, where employment insurance provides up to 35 weeks of paid parental leave, where medically necessary health care is a free government service for permanent residents, where the average cost of full-time, undergraduate university tuition is $6,463 (USD $4,755) and even the most expensive undergraduate program at the University of Toronto, with housing and fees, comes out to $31,547 (USD $23,210) per year.
Turns out, with my PhD and my work experience, I likely have enough points to qualify us for permanent residency under the Express Entry Federal Skilled Worker Program—without a Canadian job offer. We compiled our paperwork. We ordered a Canadian evaluation of our educational credentials. We signed up for an English test.
The budgeting exercise made us realize we don’t need a political reason to leave. If we want to pursue our American dream—two parents, one income, two children, health insurance, college and retirement—we can’t afford it, even in a cheaper American city. Toronto is a bustling city across the border, closer to my job’s headquarters in Chicago, where the math works out.
We may still adopt in California—we’ve already found an adoption agency we like—but it’s clear that over the long term, we don’t want to raise kids here.
Raj is a person of colour, an immigrant and a photographer. He’s also a cis, straight man with a PhD who could make a huge tech income if he wanted to. I’m a bisexual trans man, a writer and a sex educator. I’m also a white man with a PhD and a finance income. Our combination of race, gender and class privilege gives us the financial stability and emotional bandwidth to even consider getting the fuck out of a country where your employer can deny you health insurance coverage for birth control then offer zero days of paid parental leave—if you are lucky enough to have a job and health insurance coverage in the first place during both a pandemic and a recession.
Given that I work at a non-profit whose mission is to improve financial health for all Americans, the irony of me being an economic emigrant from the United States is not lost on me. Yet I can’t imagine anything more American than moving to pursue a better life for my children.
We don’t know whether we’ll be approved for Express Entry, if we’ll like living in Toronto or when we’ll adopt. All we can do is take it one day at a time.
We saw a young family biking to Berkeley Bowl last weekend. A dad was riding an Xtracycle with two kids in tow. Raj squeezed my hand and said, “Soon.”