Jewish transgender man gives birth in Colorado

When Rafi Daugherty went to the hospital for the birth of his first child, he posted a sign on the delivery room door.

“I am a single transgender man having my first baby,” it read.

Daugherty, 33, wanted hospital staff to be prepared for what they were about to see: a man laboring in bed.

After eight hours of labor, Daugherty was holding his 7-pound, 10-ounce daughter: Ettie Rose, named, in the Jewish tradition, for Daugherty’s maternal grandmother and great-grandmother.

Daugherty holds his daughter, Ettie, at her simchat bat Jewish welcoming ceremony in October. photo/jta-amy ashford

Since bringing Ettie home from the hospital five months ago, Daugherty’s days have been filled with frequent feedings — unable to nurse, he gives his daughter donor breast milk — and diaper changes and stroller walks around his Denver neighborhood.

Male pregnancy first made headlines in 2007, when Thomas Beatie, a transgender man, became pregnant and went public with his story, posing for magazines and appearing on “Oprah.” Back then, there were virtually no resources for pregnant trans men. “I had nothing to go by; the organizations I reached out to had nothing,” Beatie said.

That’s slowly changing thanks to nascent research, as well as the emergence of closed social media groups devoted to transmasculine birthing and infant-feeding.

Furthermore, transgender rights and inclusion are increasingly a part of public — and Jewish — discourse. That’s due in part to the recent transition of the Olympic gold medalist and reality TV star now known as Caitlyn Jenner, and the prominence of transgender characters on hit shows such as “Transparent,” where the protagonist is a Jewish transwoman.

In November, the Union for Reform Judaism issued a resolution affirming its commitment to the full equality of transgender and gender non-conforming people. The flagship Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist seminaries welcome transgender students, and the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College have ordained transgender rabbis.

Daugherty, who grew up Orthodox, said he’s been warmly welcomed by Colorado’s progressive Jewish community. One independent minyan organized a postpartum meal train for Daugherty, and a large Conservative synagogue hosted Ettie’s simchat bat, or Jewish welcoming ceremony.

“I have dreamed of being a parent since I was just a small child,” he said at the ceremony in October. “I remember carrying my baby dolls around and dreaming of the day that they would be real and not just fabric and plastic.”

Growing up, Daugherty attended a haredi Orthodox Bais Yaakov school in St. Louis. (Like many in the transgender community, Daugherty is guarded about his birth name and asked that it not be published.) On Purim, he sometimes dressed up as a boy, donning a kippah and tzizit ritual fringes.

At night, young Daugherty would pray to God to turn him into a boy. But because he was brought up to believe that gender is immutable, he didn’t think he had any agency in the matter.

In 2007, Daugherty came out as a man. He had a renaming ceremony, becoming Rachamim Refael “Rafi” Yehoshua Ben Zechariah Leib, at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, an LGBTQ synagogue in Manhattan. Daugherty turned 25 a few weeks later and began taking testosterone. His voice became lower and hair sprouted on his chin. He then underwent chest reconstruction surgery, but opted against other procedures, such as a hysterectomy.

“I was created with a body that could create life, and I didn’t want to damage that ability,” he said.

Living as a man, Daugherty was finally comfortable in his own skin. But his transition was met with resistance from his Orthodox mother and then-stepfather, and his haredi Orthodox brother. Daugherty didn’t see his mother for three years, though they have since reconciled, and his older brother has refused contact since 2007. In an interview, Daugherty’s mother described herself as a doting grandmother — she attended Ettie’s simchat bat — who is trying to respect the life choices of both her children.

Armed with a master’s degree in crisis and trauma studies from Tel Aviv University, Daugherty lives in Denver, where he works as director of camper care at Ramah Outdoor Adventure, a Jewish camp affiliated with the Conservative movement.

“We welcomed Daugherty as a Jewish leader, and one that pushed us to live our value of being open and accepting,” said the camp’s executive director, Rabbi Eliav Bock.

Summer session 2015 at Ramah Outdoor Adventure, which serves children in grades 3–12, coincided with the third trimester of Daugherty’s pregnancy. Daugherty was met with a round of applause when he told the camp staff his news. But he asked his colleagues not to discuss his pregnancy with campers, who, Daugherty said, “just thought I was a fat dude.” But by the end of the summer, with Bock’s blessing, Daugherty disclosed to the high school-age campers that he was pregnant.

Daugherty became pregnant by artificial insemination. The sperm donor is a friend whom Daugherty described as “a tall, dark and handsome gay man, who is half South Asian.”

In recent months, Daugherty has become accustomed to the assumptions people make when he and his daughter are out and about: that Ettie is adopted, for example, or that Daugherty has a spouse at home. (He is single.)

“I’m getting used to saying, ‘I’m transgender and I gave birth to her,’” he said, “so that Ettie can be empowered to know her story and share her story, and not feel like it’s something embarrassing or weird.”