Every week, Dear Prudence answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members. R. Eric Thomas is filling in as Prudie for Jenée Desmond-Harris while she’s on parental leave. Submit questions here. (It’s anonymous!)
Q. But the Kid Is Not My Son: An acquaintance of mine recently had a beautiful baby boy. I was happy for her until I learned that she was telling people that I’m the father of the baby. Word spreads fast in our small town, and people are starting to judge me for abandoning this woman and her child, even if she hasn’t said or demanded anything directly from me. This is impossible.
Prudie, I’m a stealth trans man in a conservative area. I obviously haven’t slept with this woman, and if I had, she would know that I don’t have the “equipment” to get her or anyone else pregnant. If people knew the real reason why I couldn’t possibly be the father, I could potentially lose my livelihood or even face violence. I’m afraid that insisting on a paternity test would end up with half the town knowing that I don’t have the expected XY. Short of leaving town, how can I protect my reputation while also keeping my privacy?
A. Your acquaintance’s behavior is very odd and raises a red flag here. It’s possible that she has good reason to not want to disclose the true father of her child and sees naming you as an innocuous choice, but to do so without asking you first is dangerous and inappropriate. Have a talk with her to see if you can figure out what’s going on and make it clear to her that she needs to fix this immediately. You don’t have to out yourself to her. You two have not had sex, you both know this isn’t your child. If she’s unable to reacquaint herself with reality, you may have to bring in professional help, for her sake and to protect yourself.
As for your reputation, short of a guest appearance on the Maury Show, paternity tests are rarely a matter of public discourse. So, I wouldn’t bring it up and I wouldn’t dignify the suggestion from others. Plus, there’s no reason for you to put out money for this weird lie. Instead, try nipping it in the bud from people you’re hearing it from. It may seem like he said/she said but informing people “she and I have never had sex and it’s actually very concerning to me that this rumor is going around, so I’d appreciate you not spreading a lie” may encourage people to check their sources.
My husband and I don’t have kids or pets. We’d love both or either but we haven’t been blessed, so we sort of started a game of pretend with a beloved stuffed animal. It started as a joke, but four years later, our stuffed animal has a personality, “talks,” and even has a fleshed-out backstory.