Like many new dads, Sabastion Sparks knew parenting would come with serious challenges.
But most new dads didn’t give birth to their child. They didn’t breastfeed them. And they don’t endure glares from strangers when they go shopping with their wife and their toddler son.
Sabastion, 24, is a transgender man who lives with his wife Angel in suburban Atlanta. Assigned the female gender at birth, he began transitioning five years ago . It’s a process that felt more complete last month when he had surgery to remove his breasts.
With Father’s Day approaching, Sabastion finds himself thinking about gender roles and what it means to be a dad. He wants Jaxen, their 20-month-old son, to have as normal a childhood as possible.
And for the first time, he now feels at ease inside his own body. He hopes Jaxen will see that difference.
“I’m going to be a better father being comfortable in myself and him seeing that confidence in me,” he says.
Sabastion’s journey to marriage, and manhood
As a teen growing up in Locust Grove, Georgia, Sabastion felt different.
Before he transitioned to become a man, he would sit on the school bus and think how much he hated having breasts.
Sabastion hoped that one day after saving enough money, a surgery could remove them.
By the time Sabastion met Angel five years ago at a convention for transgender people, he identified as a man. Angel, 33, was designated male at birth but had transitioned years earlier.
They both knew they wanted to be parents. After they were married in 2016, they agreed that Sabastion would carry their child – a decision, Angel Sparks says, that wasn’t taken lightly.
Like many transgender men and women, they had been taking medication to increase the testosterone or estrogen in their bodies. So to make a baby, they briefly stopped taking their hormone pills.
The couple conceived their son the conventional way, even though their biological roles at the time were not compatible with how they saw themselves.
“Getting pregnant was fine,” Angel says. “Trying to stay pregnant was difficult.”
The first time they tried, Sabastion miscarried. When he got pregnant with Jaxen, they worried another miscarriage could happen.
“Before Jaxen, Sabastion was my baby,” Angel says. “I was worried about the baby, but I was also worried that I could lose Sabastion too.”
When they went out in public, ‘people would snicker’
The couple also faced the prejudice of others.
When Sabastion was pregnant, someone close to him threatened to take the baby away, saying his life at home would be unnatural. For security reasons, he and Angel were listed as anonymous at the hospital.
Angel, a multi-faith minister, said this was a test of their faith. But as she sat there in the delivery room with Sabastion, teasing him “to be a man” while in labor, Angel’s fears began to fade away.
“I always say the most beautiful thing in the world gave me the most beautiful thing in the world,” she says.
After Jaxen was born, Sabastion sometimes had to breastfeed when he, Angel and their son were out in public. The three of them drew stares as they navigated the aisles of their neighborhood stores.
“People would snicker or call us ‘f******,’” she says. “He’d try so hard to cover it up and hide what he was doing.”
Sabastion, feeling self conscious, wore a chest binder – a compression shirt used to flatten breasts.
“It’s uncomfortable and sweaty and itchy,” he says. “Imagine wearing that for 10, 12 hours at a time. I (was) always having to hide myself.”
Not all transgender people choose to have surgery as part of a gender transition, and Sabastion knows looks shouldn’t matter.
But he worries that the scornful way some people treat him could get passed down to Jaxen. That’s not what he wants for his son.
So last month’s surgery wasn’t just important for him, but for Jaxen too. Sabastion wants his son to see himself in him.
“My son won’t see breasts on his dad,” he says, watching Jaxen play with a ball. “He won’t be as different from me.”
Angel has noticed Sabastion seems more self-assured since his surgery.
“He’s always running around with his shirt off,” she says, playfully. “It’s like he’s looking for a reason to show the world his chest.”
For their son, they want a future without limits
The Sparks try not to put too much stock into gender roles.
In their two-bedroom apartment, Jaxen has a mixture of toys in his room – from little trucks to dolls to a play kitchen.
Angel puts Jaxen to bed some nights, while other times it’s Sabastion. They both can sense when Jaxen wants to be picked up or tossed playfully in the air.
But when it comes to lessons learned as a toddler, there are some things Sabastion wants to teach Jaxen, father to son. One of them is how to pee standing up – something Sabastion does with the help of a detachable prosthetic.
“I can’t wait to be there for my kid,” says, Sabastion, who works as a security guard at a distribution center. “The more my body resembles his, the better he’ll understand.”
Although he’s less than 2, Jaxen already shows signs of seeing his parents in terms of traditional gender roles.
“He looks to me for nurturing,” Angel says. “He looks to dad to play ball.”
The Sparks family has no plans for Father’s Day this year. Sabastion says he’ll most likely be working on Sunday. But he knows there will be plenty of future opportunities for him to spend quality time with their son.
Sabastion wants Jaxen to travel around the world. He wants to help guide his son on his path to adulthood and make sure he never feels like he can’t find love wherever he turns.
But even though the Sparks have created a safe and loving home for their son, Sabastion still worries about how cruel the outside world will be to a child with trans parents.
“We’re thinking about homeschooling him because we don’t what will happen when the kids find out his parents are trans. By being who we are, we’re already subject to the ridicule of others,” he says. “All we can do is teach him our values and hope for the best.”
The couple are raising their son the best way they know how – with love. They also realize that for many observers, that won’t be enough.
“People think trans people can’t be good parents, and that’s not true,” Sabastion adds. “Trans parents are just like any other parents.”