THE PARENTS: Angela Liem, 35, and Jasper Liem, 38, of Mount Airy
THE CHILD: Kyra Dak-Tien, born February 25, 2018
THE STORY OF HER NAME: "Kyra" means "strong woman," and the first syllable of her middle name is a Chinese character shared with all the girls in that generation of Jasper's family, drawn from a poem inscribed on the columns that mark the entrance to his great-great-grandparents' village.
Between his work as a therapist and his longtime immersion in Philadelphia's LGBTQ community, Jasper thought his local dating prospects were simply too enmeshed. So he typed some filters into OkCupid: "queer" and "femme" and "300-mile radius."
Angela's profile caught his eye. He sent a message with a sidelong reference to the movie Miss Congeniality. She got the joke.
Two weeks later, during their first phone date, Jasper was direct. "I said, 'I want to get married and I want to have kids. If you're not down with that, this is not going to work.' "
Jasper, who came out as queer in his teens and transitioned in his late 20s, knew plenty of lesbian, gay, and trans adults, but few of them had children. He always figured he'd be the "queer uncle" to his sister's eventual kids. But when that sister died in 2013, "it instantly solidified that I wanted to have my own kids. I suddenly couldn't think about not having the next generation in my life."
Angela felt the same way. She was the teenager who volunteered in the church nursery on Sundays, the adult "kid magnet" when she walked into a mixed-generation gathering.
The two met a few days after that frank phone date: dinner and drinks in the dimly lit, fabric-swagged Ranstead Room. And though Angela lived in Washington, they managed to see each other nearly every weekend for the next 10 months.
In March 2015, she moved to Jasper's place in Logan Square and began upgrading the "bachelor-pad" vibe — insisting they replace the plastic picnic table in the dining room, hanging real curtains instead of swatches of Dollar Store fabric. Jasper proposed that December, proffering a ring in a cupcake-shaped box one evening in the kitchen. Angela had to rinse gingerbread dough off her hands to try it on.
"At some point, we did the math: If we wanted to have our first kid by the time we turned a certain age, we had to be married, like, yesterday," Jasper says. At the rehearsal dinner for their December 2016 wedding, they practiced stand-in pledges — "I, Jasper, promise to write my vows tonight." Members of their bridal party, a multi-gendered group intentionally not designated as "best men" or "bridesmaids," were already in tears.
They wed in the Franklin Institute's planetarium, with a full moon projected above them and Jasper's mother's best friend, an Episcopalian priest, officiating.
Eight years earlier, when Jasper started to transition, undergoing a mastectomy and taking testosterone, he thought briefly about the possibility of bearing a child someday. But by the time he met Angela, "I was clear that I wanted to be with somebody who wanted to have kids, and that, medically, it would be too complicated for me to carry."
The couple wanted an Asian donor; Jasper's family is from Hong Kong. They wanted a donor who could be identified to any future offspring. Those qualifications narrowed their choices and prompted soul-searching conversations.
"We talked about: How important is it for this person to look like a blend of the two of us? How do we think about this in terms of systemic racism?" Jasper says. "What does it mean to intentionally pick a donor based on looks?"
Fertility specialists advised them to purchase five vials of sperm for each child they hoped to have. But it took only one. Jasper was at work in June 2017 when Angela texted him a photo of the positive pregnancy test. "I was like, WHAT? I couldn't believe it was so fast."
The first trimester brought constant nausea, a 17-pound weight loss, and exacerbation of a sleep disorder that resulted in overwhelming fatigue. But as Angela started to feel more robust physically, she also felt more invisible to the world.
"I'm very straight-passing," she says. "And if I say, 'my partner,' I don't want to add, 'but he's a trans guy.' I don't want to be outing him for the sake of my identity. So people 'read' us as a straight couple."
When the two went shopping at a big-box store and Jasper wore his rhinestone-flecked Hello, Kitty T-shirt, he imagined other customers thinking, "Does that woman know her boyfriend's gay?"
They didn't have a reveal party. In fact, Jasper wanted to keep the baby's gender — at least, the apparent gender, based on a grainy ultrasound glimpse of fetal genitals — a secret from family and friends to avoid a deluge of pink infant clothes. But it proved too stressful — Angela constantly worried she'd slip and use a feminine pronoun — so they decided to share the news.
For two weeks before her due date, Angela walked around with mild contractions. "It was a real mind game: Is she coming? Is this it?" Labor began in earnest while they were watching a Harry Potter film; she was already five centimeters dilated when they arrived at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery. Eight hours later, she hadn't progressed much; midwives ordered Pitocin and some medication for pain, and then Jasper watched as their daughter finally emerged.
"None of the birthing classes prepared me for how purple she was going to be," he recalls. "There was a moment of panic, then the midwife was like, 'She's great.' And I burst into tears."
Angela recalls a singular moment of awareness after the baby was placed on her chest, the umbilical still attached. "She was a person existing in the world, and I could still feel her connected to me."
Now, they face obstacles that confront all parents — how to find time for themselves, how to prevent "logistical meetings" from subsuming all other conversation — and particular challenges that come with flouting the status quo.
"It's important for me to continue to come out," Angela says. "Some people still have the view that queer people don't have kids, or if you do, you're trying to assimilate into hetero-normative culture. I can be queer and still want a family."