Man Puts Off Transition Surgery To Have A Baby

by Lara Rutherford-Morrison

AJ Kearns is a 41-year-old transgender man and proud father of two. Three years ago, after Kearns’s then-partner, Zu White, experienced complications giving birth to their son, AJ delayed transitioning in order to become pregnant with their second child. Kearns, based in Melbourne, has since physically transitioned. Photographer Alison Bennett documented Kearns’ pregnancy and subsequent physical transition in a striking series of photographs that challenge traditional notions of masculinity and suggest the potential for more fluid conceptions of gender and the body.

When he chose to give birth to a child, Kearns had already been presenting as a man for three years. The decision to become pregnant was thus an especially difficult one, as it forced Kearns, who identified as a man, to undergo a bodily transformation indelibly associated with femininity. In a recent episode of Australian Story, Kearns explains the challenge of being pregnant as a transgender man:

Until I could physically transition, it was more of a mental leap for people to understand. Seeing a pregnant female body, it becomes almost impossible for people to understand you are actually a man.

Kearns gave birth to a baby girl named Luka, and doesn’t regret his decision, saying,

First meeting Luka when she was born … is the greatest joy in the entire world: meeting a new little life and especially having felt that life inside of me. And I feel privileged to have been able to create a life.

Although Kearns admits that the idea of a man giving birth to a child might be “very confronting to a lot of people,” there are two people who don’t seem very concerned by it: His children. White explains that she and Kearns have explained their father’s pregnancy and transition to their kids, saying, “I don’t know that they understand it completely, but they do understand which tummy they came from. … [O]ne came from Daddy’s tummy and one came from Mummy’s tummy.” Kearns’ gender specialist, Dr. Fintan Harte, suggests in Australian Story that children are in fact well equipped to understand and accept a transgender person, remarking,

Children have very rich fantasy lives. Frogs turn into princes, pumpkins turn into coaches and a woman turning into a man and vice versa is literally child’s play.

Kearns chronicled his pregnancy and physical transition with the help of photographer Alison Bennett. Bennett photographed Kearns once a month for two years, beginning when Kearns first became pregnant and continuing through hormonal replacement therapy and chest surgery. Kearns explains in Australian Story that being photographed, particularly pre-surgery, was sometimes a difficult process. Bennett remarks of their photo sessions, “There are certain phases where I could see that he was really uncomfortable in his body and I had to keep reminding him to take a deep breath and relax.”

The resulting photo series called “Inverto,” which you can see here, is an arresting glimpse into a single body’s transformation from one gendered extreme to another. The fact that the series' subject is always unmistakably Kearns, regardless of transitional phase, makes the important point that the identity and the physical body are not the same. In a statement about the project, Bennett describes the series as a “unique opportunity” that “bear[s] witness to an individual undertaking the process of physically aligning gender identity with embodied presence.”

Kearns argues that his story is not as complicated as some might think, saying,

I understand my story may seem confusing to some people. I see it as quite a simple thing. My body was blessed with the ability to provide life. I had the capacity to bear a child. And I am a man.