It is going to take a big eraser to remove Kaci Sullivan from the scene, and that, he says, is part of the point.
“Erasure is a much bigger issue than people realize,” Sullivan says.
Sullivan, 29, who lives in DeForest and attends Madison College, is a transgender man and pregnant with a baby due in November.
He is documenting his pregnancy with weekly online video updates, in part because he says the trans and genderqueer communities have suffered from a lack of visibility. (Genderqueer is defined as a person who does not subscribe to conventional gender distinctions.)
“It’s easy for people to feel alone and isolated,” Sullivan says. “The reality is the community is huge.”
He says he witnessed it last April in the response to an art show that the TransLiberation Art Coalition—of which Sullivan is the founder—hosted at the High Noon Saloon.
“There was a huge genderqueer and trans turnout,” he says. “People were coming up and thanking me. So often people from our community come together to protest, for support groups, or vigils—to mourn our dead. This was a chance to celebrate ourselves.”
Now Sullivan is celebrating and documenting his pregnancy, and he is motivated by the void he discovered while first searching for information about being a trans man and pregnant.
He says little existed beyond the sensational coverage from a decade ago of Thomas Beatie, the so-called first pregnant man, who appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s television show.
“I thought I’d seen everything,” Winfrey said a few years later, for an update of that 2008 episode, “and then I saw a pregnant man.”
Says Sullivan of the lack of information available on pregnant trans men: “There’s nothing like, ‘What was your experience with providers like? What was your experience in the hospital like? What were your emotions like? What challenges did you face?’”
Sullivan’s weekly videos—relaxed, forthright, matter-of-fact—are an attempt to fill that void. “There are a lot of trans people who have babies,” he says. “But there is a massive erasure of that culture and that community, so the confidence doesn’t exist for people to connect or be aware or educate themselves.”
Sullivan’s own story includes fears and prejudices and family misgivings. He was born in Arizona and moved to Madison with his family in time to attend kindergarten, eventually graduating from Madison East High School.
He was born a girl, though Sullivan now believes it’s wrong to assign gender at birth—you only know for certain when your child tells you, he says.
“In my dreams, I was always a boy,” he says, though he didn’t even hear the word transgender until he was a senior in high school.
“As soon as I learned that word,” Sullivan says, “part of me gravitated toward it. I think I was just interested, or curious, at first.”
But he struggled, too, he says, because his family was “very traditional,” especially on his father’s side. “I was scared,” he says. “I thought that transgender was the worst thing that you could be, and if I decided to go through with these feelings, I would be drastically reducing my worth as a human being. And I buried it for as long as I could.”
Sullivan married a man and became pregnant in 2011. “I thought maybe that would change something for me,” he says. “I would really connect with the experience, suddenly feel feminine or womanly, and that just did not happen.”
Sullivan—still yet to transition—was depressed through most of the pregnancy, a condition that continued for weeks after giving birth to a boy in 2012. Finally, Sullivan realized that to be a good parent to his son, he needed to be authentic to himself.
He began a social transition, dressing differently and asking people to “use a different pronoun” when referring to him. His marriage broke up, and he quit his service sector job after his employer told him not to talk about his transition at work.
“It wasn’t easy,” Sullivan says. “I lost a lot of the things I thought I would lose.”
He began his physical transition, including breast reduction surgery, in May 2013, which, he says, “made me feel like I could go on hormones.” He met and began a relationship with Steven, his current partner, and they intend to marry in the fall.
For health reasons, Sullivan stopped taking testosterone in May 2016, and after a pregnancy scare proved unfounded, he and Steven talked about it and decided that they wanted to have a baby. A big part of Sullivan’s motivation is he wants his 5-year-old son to have a sibling.
“It’s been lovely,” Sullivan says of his pregnancy, morning sickness notwithstanding. “We’re really looking forward to it.”
He has endured some stares and frowns in clinical settings, and some cruel comments on his website, but the reaction to his pregnancy has been mostly positive, he says.
Some people ask why, if his male identity is so important to him, he decided to get pregnant.
“I don’t think pregnancy is inherently a gender thing,” he says. “I think culturally, it absolutely is. But is that really valid outside the realm of the little rules we make for ourselves?”
Doug Moe is a Madison writer and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Read his weekly blog, “Doug Moe’s Madison,” on madisonmagazine.com.