Trailblazing trans dad Freddy McConnell on the beautiful, complicated process of building queer families
A little white-blond child zooms around behind Freddy McConnell, happily chattering a stream of words indecipherable over video call.
Freddy apologises for the interruption – his son, getting louder, is now definitely saying “Stegosaurus!” – and goes off briefly to settle him and put a film on.
“He’s getting very reasonably annoyed because I’m not doing what I said I would do, which is put on Spirited Away,” the father-of-one explains.
Being a father is perhaps what Freddy is best known for: first, because he documented his pregnancy in the film Seahorse, which is a rare and absorbing glimpse into what it’s like to carry your child as a trans man in Britain today; and second, through his landmark court case fighting to be legally recognised as his child’s father.
The child Freddy was pregnant with in Seahorse is now big enough that he misses going to nursery, but not so big that Freddy can explain to him why they’re stuck at home.
As it has been for many parents, lockdown has been an intense time for the single dad and his kid. And like so many other fathers, Freddy has been passing the time by baking sourdough bread, growing vegetables from seed, completing jigsaw puzzles and doing home improvements (he recently bought his first drill).
Life with his kid is, by all accounts, unremarkable. But, as evidenced by his documentary and court case, many people still consider Freddy’s family structure unconventional, or fail to recognise it at all.
Freddy McConnell: Pride & Joy.
He’s not alone in being a trans man who gave birth – at least 250 have done so in the last decade in Australia alone – and many LGBT+ people also have families that differ from the cisgender heterosexual norm, which can also be more complicated to put together.
“We don’t have the ingredients, as it were, to just do it – we all have to plan, organise, spend loads of money, do lots of waiting, involve other people,” he says.
Information is power when it comes to building queer families, and Freddy McConnell knows this: sharing knowledge about how to start a family when you’re queer, from IVF to adoption to surrogacy, is the driving force behind his new BBC podcast, Pride & Joy.
“Family is such a universal subject,” he says. “There’s millions of books and podcasts about families – but none about families like ours.”
The sense of isolation he felt when he started his family has since been alleviated by connecting with other trans dads; while recognising that the mechanics would be different for a lesbian, or a cis gay male couple, or an intersex person, he says there is a “common struggle” for queers who want to have kids.
“This information should never be inaccessible, and I wanted the podcast to bring us together in that way.
“But it’s also a podcast for everyone: anyone with an ounce of curiosity about other people, or just people who enjoy hearing intimate human stories, love stories…”
Freddy is quick to acknowledge the cliché when he says he really loves podcasts, but insists he has been a podcast obsessive “since the very earliest days of podcasts on my old iPod”. He also points out that the medium is ideal for the very personal stories he wanted to tell about how different queers started their families.
“It’s the most intimate way of telling a story that we currently have our disposal,” he says.
Trans men are not a homogenous group.
So far, episodes have featured the 61-year-old Cecile, who gave birth to her grandchild; a lesbian couple whose baby-making plans keep being derailed by medical issues; co-parenting queers talking about how they make it work; surrogacy and trans dads.
“I’m really glad that we have two surrogacy stories,” Freddy McConnell says, when asked to choose a favourite episode.
“They are very different from the surrogacy narrative that we get in this country – which is often just focused purely on the problematic aspects of surrogacy, which are more international: developing countries, poor women being exploited – because that’s just not the experience of many, many queer families.”
Freddy’s biggest challenge came when he spoke to a trans man who has donated his eggs several times.
“He spoke about his body in a way that I found quite challenging, I suppose, to my sense of self,” Freddy says.
“It’s really interesting when you get reminded that there’s so much difference within the trans male community, around how people feel about who they are and what they want to do.
“I found it hard to relate to someone who doesn’t want kids but is really keen to donate his eggs. And he couldn’t really relate to me. So that was really cool – and I don’t think that’s a voice or perspective that has ever been heard before.”
All queer families are valid.
Each episode of the podcast comes with a list of resources, borne out of the understanding Freddy McConnell personally has of how hard it can be to find information on these topics. What he wants people to remember is that no matter what you want or who you are, it’s valid.
“If you’re queer and you don’t want kids, that’s valid,” he emphasises. “But if you’ve ever had the feeling that you might want kids, but you’re a bit worried about expressing that or exploring that because you feel like it conflicts with your queerness, then that’s not true.”
“There are there are no rules to this,” he adds, before getting momentarily distracted by his kid popping up next to him, gently drooling.
It seems a good moment to ask whether Freddy wants more children. “The dreaded question!” he laughs.
“I love being a parent, and he’s usually quite chill,” Freddy says, while his son, very sweetly, chants “rhino” at him.
What he really wants to do, though, is tell more stories about queer families.
“We set out to tell stories in this show that are still not being told – it’s not often we see queer stories that don’t involve white, middle-class, cis gay men,” he adds.
“I am a journalist, and I can tell these stories. So I should do that – because so many queer people can’t.”
Pride & Joy is available to listen to now on BBC Sounds.