The Natural Mother of the Child by Krys Malcolm Belc
Published by Counterpoint Press, 2021
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
This memoir explores Belc’s experiences as a transmasculine nonbinary parent, with a particular focus on the shifting nature of identity, and the language we use to define ourselves.
Born biologically female, Belc was yet to undergo surgery or hormone replacement, but was living and presenting publicly as a man, when he decided to have a child via a sperm donor. There is such fascinating insight into the complexities of queer parenthood, with Belc both amazed and horrified by the changes he goes through. It was the disconnect between the wonderful bond he felt with his child and his discomfort with the bodily processes of carrying, birthing, and nursing a child that confirmed in Belc’s mind that he was indeed not a woman in any of the societally accepted ways. As soon as he finished breastfeeding (having had to reluctantly stop binding his chest), he began the formal process of taking testosterone.
Belc is also a parent to two other children, carried by his cis-female partner, Anna. He very much feels like the children’s dad – and is deeply uncomfortable with being called a mother, even to the child he birthed – and yet, heteronormativity is so widely accepted, that to tell people he is his son’s father feels like a denial of their physical bond. He is proud to have carried him, and doesn’t want to erase that history. It is here we see the importance of the words we use to label ourselves and each other – and how frustrating it can be when those labels don’t easily apply to our own lived realities.
This leads on nicely into some great commentary on the general difficulty that queer people face in being recognised as a parent to the children they don’t have a direct biological link to (having been carried by their partner instead). Despite using sperm donations and raising their children together, Belc and his partner are not listed on the birth certificates, or recognised legally as a parent to the children they didn’t carry themselves. This means they have to adopt each other’s offspring to have any recognised rights over them (they worry that if one of them were to die, the other would have no legal right to custody, despite having raised all of their children together from birth, for example). However, this process also means the children’s biological father – a family friend – must relinquish all rights to the children, something that Belc feels great remorse over.
Another interesting area explored is that of male rage. Once he has transitioned, Belc notes a marked difference in the way people – including his own partner and children – respond to him, especially when he is angry. Simply changing his outward appearance to present as a man is enough to make society instantly more fearful of him, which says a lot about how deep-rooted toxic masculinity has become.
As you can tell, there is a lot of depth and nuance to Belc’s situation, but it is presented in such an accessible way. What’s more, this complexity is beautifully counterbalanced by the simple act of loving his children, providing them with a happy home – as any parent aspires to – and an upbringing that encourages acceptance of difference.
A natural storyteller, Belc’s writing style is approachable, honest, and warm, often feeling like a heartfelt discussion with a friend. The essay-like structure, non-linear timeline, and shits between a first and second-person perspective can be a little jarring, however. Nonetheless, this fascinating read manages to capture so many of the struggles inherent to the trans/nonbinary experience, and the complicated ways in which they intersect with the joys of parenthood.
Thank you to the publisher for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.