I have two daughters, one 19 and the other now 21. Both still call me “Dad,” which is perfectly fine with me. They have a fantastic mother who is a genetic female and certainly, I do not want to do or say anything that would diminish her role or place in their lives.
So, how does it work when one parent changes their sex? Especially, as in my case, when in the beginning I had young teenager girls (I left the house in 2004), who were already familiar with me in one gender role and really didn’t want me acting or appearing as the other gender.
The answer: it is not easy. In fact, early on, it seemed near impossible. As my younger daughter once said, “it would have been cool if you were just gay, Dad. But you being transgender is just too difficult to explain to my friends.” What an understatement, kiddo.
“Flipping” one’s sex is difficult enough for adults to take in. Asking your children to go with that program is entirely something else. For one thing, there is the loss of the classic male role model—as a father, a man—my children viewed me as their protector and guardian. I was the one who ensured they were safe, that the scary things from the outside world stayed away. Losing that male in their lives generated some real fears and insecurity.
The second problem was far more tangible—my daughters’ very real fear of their friends rejecting them for having this weird parent. Teenage girls in particular are subject to intense feelings about fitting in. Now my girls had a father showing up in public in skirts and heels. Imagine running into a group of girlfriends, who know nothing about your transgendered father, when you are with your father at a store. What do you say? How do you explain it? How fast can you run? Isn’t there a brown bag close by to put over your Dad’s head?
The net result was that for a long time, my daughters refused to be with me in public. We watched a lot of home movies. Eventually, one daughter lost much of her fear when she accompanied me to the Mall of America and repeatedly heard clerks refer to me as “Miss,” and the two of us as “ladies.” This calmed some of her concerns about me looking like a guy trying to look like a woman. Hooray for my makeup consultant.
Another issue is simply the hurt and feeling of loss. This comes with the territory of divorce, to be sure, but as I’ve heard repeatedly, at least with a “normal divorce,” you still have both parents in their original gender roles. My girls suffered a pretty complete loss, across all bases, leaving them with a lot of confusion. I can only imagine how they may mistrust men for a long time, if not forever. Will he really be who he says he is? How can I ever rely on his word to stay with me? I will carry this knowledge with me forever. When I am honest with myself, I tell me that this is just the way it has to be. At other times, I worry this will be my legacy to them, a legacy of unintended, deep scarring. One should never scar someone you love so dearly.
So how did we as a family deal with all of this emotional stuff— the “losing your Dad who cannot be your Mom but what the hell is he now” stuff?
The first thing I realized is that this is way out of my league, so my ex-wife and I arranged for a therapist to see one daughter. (The other daughter refused therapy.) I also gave them some books and materials to real, like Noelle Howry’s Dress Codes.
Most of all, what I did was wait. Just wait. Even though I could not control how my daughters reacted to me, I certainly could control my reaction to them reacting to me. Being rejected, even momentarily, offers one with two choices: you can either become angry and run from it, or you can stand in, and simply hope and pray that attitudes will come around. I chose the latter course. I still don’t know how I did this since I come from a long line of pessimistic and angry atheist runners. But I did.
I knew that this waiting, this patience, was paying off when one daughter came to me on a certain night a year ago. She had something important to disclose, something that could upset me. “But before I tell you Daddy, promise me that you will use your girl voice when we talk about this.”
Wow. I was ecstatic to hear—actually to feel—the acceptance in her request, and I told her, of course, I would use my girl voice. It was then that I knew I was batting at least .500 with my daughters.
And in my view .500 is not too bad at this point in the process.
Since then, the other daughter has started to come around. It is an incremental process, which really is so true for the parenting process as a whole, even in normal circumstances, without divorce or transgendered parents.
In the end, I think one word applies: devotion. My girls are devoted to me, I know, and they will show up one day, unimpeded. I am devoted to them and will remain steadfast even when it hurts like hell to do so.
I am so lucky. So very lucky.