My Dad is A Woman; Bruce Jenner and Other Trans-Dads
The Bruce Jenner interview with Diane Sawyer aired on my 40th birthday. Bruce, a father of 6 biological kids and 4 step children by marriage, officially announced his gender journey. I didn't watch the show initially because I've lived a lot of that already. It’s old news for me but new for society. You see, my dad’s been a fully transitioned trans-woman for 15 years now. Seeing Bruce in the news lately made me immediately think of my dad.
I never saw my dad’s transition so I have to admit I was a tiny bit interested in Bruce’s interview. I was going to college and working so I was too busy to visit my dad who retired and moved a few states away. I hadn’t seen him in 2 years when “she” showed up in my hometown unannounced and called me to visit his hotel room. Let me tell you... You don't know where you stand unless you've had the rug pulled out from under you. Some people go a lifetime without that experience.
I walked in and saw my “dad” in a lacy black shirt with full make-up on and a noticeably larger chest. I wouldn’t say it was a complete shocker. I had early memories (beginning around 5) of my dad dressing in a frilly garment. At age 10, during my parent’s divorce, I heard my mom talk about him being a transvestite as if it was a contagious disease. Back in my day we had no Google (or Internet) so my information came from my mom’s second-hand conversations. Although they didn’t divorce because of my dad’s cross-dressing (that had been going on for a while), it lingered in our lives as a tremendous hurdle for us to conquer.
Coming Out; Consideration for The Family
I knew the Bruce Jenner interview was going to hit home for me. I finally watched it online days later. Watching Bruce was like watching my dad. Here’s a "guy" who's done a fantastic job of being a guy most of his life. My dad also grew up with two sisters, he wasn't a star athlete but very accomplished in his career and served in Vietnam, a genius (literally)/over achiever, over 6’ tall, quirky sense of humor with sarcasm (gee, where did I get that from?). He got married, I was born, he cross-dressed, my mom and I knew, we lived with it, and we kept it secret.
After the interview I’ve considered posting my own news on facebook (not many of my friends and family know). I realized it’s like “coming out”. LGBT people struggle with coming out, but families do too. While Bruce’s kids’ business is already out there, mine has been conveniently hidden. Over the years, I’ve struggled with: Which of my friends and family do I tell? Do people need to know? My “dad” won't be walking me down the aisle at my wedding! Am I comfortable with my son playing dress-up with my daughter? Even I still have a lot to learn.
The transition can be heavy for all involved and I've always loved my dad (I loathe the word “acceptance”). Acceptance is a process (a longer journey) while love was/is always there. Just as it’s a transition for the transgender, it is for the family too- the kids, the parents, the siblings. We have to redefine ourselves in a way too. Initially it felt like grieving my dad yet he was still alive. How does one do that? My dad shaped me as a person and was my main role model. 15 years later it continues to be a process.
Ironically, I began my own journey here on Hubpages about 5 years ago with a hub that broke my silence. I came out to strangers here, and everywhere on the Internet, by writing several articles based on my experience with my dad who transitioned when I was 25. And oddly enough I still struggle with coming out personally in my life to all my friends and family. The struggle is that people will believe they need to accept it and treat me carefully now. I don't want that.
I think I might actually keep up with the Kardashians/Jenners now. How will they handle this process? I realize people may never see me the same again if I make this announcement. Is that judgment? Nah! And judgment I’m OK with, it’s acting on baseless hatred or unnecessary stereotyping that irks me.
- My Father, The Transsexual
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- Just Because You Have Boobs, Doesn't Make You a Woman
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Neither political party has a monopoly on "understanding"— Bruce Jenner
The Elephant in The Room
Bruce broke other stereotypes. Let’s address the elephant in the room during the interview. Hint: It wasn't the Transgender discussion. Bruce Jenner is a Christian Republican! My dad is too! That was the little gem in the interview. Was it me or did Diane Sawyer nearly fall off her seat? I was so pleased with Bruce’s admission I couldn't help but smile. Bruce’s ultra Christian conservative mom stated she loves him, is proud of him, and wants him to be happy. This folks… is NEWS!
In fact, I love that my tough, conservative Marine Vet husband was totally fine with my dad as soon as I told him while dating. On the other hand, my dad’s two very liberal, sisters disowned him after I revealed to them the reason they hadn’t seen him in a couple years (during his transition). These were women who proclaimed and advocated acceptance and tolerance (I still loathe those words). Acceptance and tolerance have become trendy words low in substance and high in apathy. Acceptance is a process, not an ultimatum.
My hope is what Bruce embodies will help alleviate stereotyping over political party, social issues, and religious disputes. "Neither political party has a monopoly on "understanding,” says Bruce. He’s a smart guy. My circle of friends and family include a whole spectrum of colors, religions, beliefs, and political stances. Granted, it’s tough to be friends with all and say the "right" things. However, people should have questions and be forgiven for the occasional politically incorrect slip-up. It’s how we learn (and stay connected).
Tired Terms: Acceptance and Tolerance
Mother Teresa had a list of ways to practice humility. Within this list was a particular point I couldn't disagree with more: "To avoid curiosity". Countless times I've been in public with my dad and there are stares- acceptance or tolerance is silly or at least not realistic. My dad is 6' 3 and very gender neutral looking (like Bruce). He doesn't even fit the stereotype of transgender as even trying to look particularly male or female. As Bruce Jenner claimed, he is "A-sexual".
I don't hate that people stare, they're curious. Kids are curious and when we teach them to squelch that curiosity we kill the spirit of humanity- we draw a line between each other. Kids eventually learn to old adage, "mind your own business" (another incorrect statement by Mother Teresa) and they naturally begin to avoid what they don't know enough about. Some friends and family I've told have infinite questions and man is that awesome! Knowledge is power! If we come to merely "accept" we don't learn because people state they accept, "Good for you"... End of story.
To accept, you need to learn, have personal experiences with various people and that requires questions or even making politically incorrect mistakes without harsh judgment. We have no "tolerance" (the other word I detest) for that though. Since the emergence of political correctness we've stunted our growth. People are afraid to ask questions, afraid to have real discussions, afraid to disagree, and avoid those who are "different" than us.
Interestingly I wrote from my heart about my dad's story years ago and the response was mixed. Many stated I should accept my dad and how dare I feel betrayed (or feel anything). I wanted to give a voice to the families and I accomplished that. Would you rather me lie? To have real discussions one must be honest and forthcoming.
The truth is most of America has a problem and do not "accept" one type of person or lifestyle, if not many. This is the route of "minding your own business". People have less exposure to things they don't understand. In addition, the tolerance and acceptance agenda is pushed unrelentingly. Psychologically, people will rebel against agendas pushed and cling to their original beliefs in a stricter sense. They will be pushed to one extreme or the other further driving a wedge between all of us.
I see it as we all have a soul. Is that soul concerned about dressing as a man or woman? Does it have a sexual preference? Is it a certain color? Nope. Unfortunately pushing the topic to be accepted stirs more controversy and hate- in my opinion. Again, looking to my kids for wisdom, I've noticed from an early age there are other kids they naturally get along with and kids they don't. Often these experiences grow into a generalization we carry into adulthood. Are some kids taught to hate? Sure, but not many. As adults we have this silly notion that we need to like, love, or accept everyone equally.
- Prejudice and Discrimination, A Necessary Evil
"Look around! You couldn't find a whiter, safer or better lit part of this city. But this white woman sees two black guys strolling down the sidewalk and her reaction is blind fear. I mean, look at us! Are we dressed like gang-bangers? Huh? No."
The issue of religion is quite simple. In a general sense, the Bible has conflicting versus when we are supposed to love one another yet those with certain lifestyles are condemned. I believe it's between that person and God. The contradictions within the Bible are very reflective of the contradictions in humanity- so many differences.
We all have a soul. Is that soul concerned about dressing as a man or woman? Does it have a sexual preference? Is it a certain color? Nope. Unfortunately pushing the topic to be accepted stirs more controversy and hate- in my opinion. Again, looking to my kids for wisdom, I've noticed from an early age there are other kids they naturally get along with and kids they don't. Often these experiences grow into a generalization we carry into adulthood. Are some kids taught to hate? Sure, but not as many as we might think. As adults we have this silly notion that we need to like, love, or accept everyone equally.
We have a very complex relationship— Cassandra Marino
The Process of Acceptance
How I came to terms: Children know best. Seeing my two young ones interact with their “Grampa” (my dad) helps me realize I can learn from them. This is becoming a common theme. I mean, who’s the parent here? They don’t see a transgender. Bruce will experience this with his grandchildren and he’ll love it. When his own children begin to notice his evolved look during the transition, the grandchildren will still see Bruce.
My relationship with my dad is full of ups and downs (not due to the trans thing). Interestingly enough, our relationship had been built on a lie since I was at least 5. Nobody explained to me why I had to keep certain things about my dad a secret. Into my budding adulthood, my dad knew I was aware of his cross-dressing but still it was a secret between us.
After his surgeries and emergence into a supposed womanhood, I'm sure he felt free to be him/herself as did I. That's where we have our issues. I also feel free to be me as I've never done before. My dad's Gender Dysphoria comes with other personality nuances added to the fact that I'm an outspoken woman, has created strife between us. I've always nodded my head in agreement to everything he's said before now- a very complacent daughter to the man I looked up to. Since I no longer do that because this sisterhood of silence was finally broken, it may be a more authentic relationship, it is more troubled as well. .
Since my dad has no patience for questions on this topic I will look to Bruce, as the Kardashians and the rest of America will, for answers. No pressure Bruce and good luck!
- A talk with your kids...Bruce Jenner
This may be a new conversation for our children, but it probably isn’t a new topic. While they may not have heard terms like gender dysphoria or trans, for many children, Mr. Jenner’s story is part of something they’ve been seeing all of their lives
The big, formative years for them (biological children), I was really struggling with these issues— Bruce Jenner
I've heard form professionals involved in the transitioning of transgender people, that if they were nice people before, they will be after. Same is to be said about trans-parents. If they were good parents before, they likely will be after. As we learn more about families who have experienced this, we can open up a dialogue as I've advocated for yeas now. I guess it took the media a while to catch on.
What we're seeing now is involvement within the family unit. In Bruce Jenner's and my dad's era, any anomalies were hidden and adamantly kept secret. I am all for getting the conversation out there and opening up to families earlier...the better. I commend Bruce for involving his family early. We now know he had not done this back in the 80's when he originally considered a change while beginning hormone replacement therapy. I believe this in turn made his biological kids distant and they knew he had been absent in all ways. I also felt this way.
Years ago when I wrote that original hub, I was blasted with nasty comments from many transgender who believed I was being too harsh. The reality is finally out in the open as America watched Bruce's children speak out. Bruce's biological adult children realized their parent had been stolen from them because of the transgender issues he faced. Society reacts, and immediately protects, the transgender not realizing the family is a part of this too. The family has been affected by this and to pretend we haven't been is feeding into more lies of automatic acceptance.
In a quirky TV series called Transparent, starring Jeffrey Tambor (kudos to his performance) is a sometimes comedic take on the transgender parent in these adult children's lives- who are a bit eccentric to identify with (for me). I have watched a few episodes and am not impressed only because of the comedic theme and everything seems to be over-the-top rather than an authentic view into this world.
The one thing I think that we have gained that means more to us than anything is the honesty— Burton Jenner
The posted link here is one perception at how kids are affected by transparents. My dad transitioned later in life, but I strongly disagree with the statement that it is "not harmful" as said by the parents themselves and doctors. However, the kids will say otherwise and doctors are usually participating in the transition of the parent, not the kids of these parents. It is merely a longer lie- the kids only get part of their parent.
Some aspects I agree with:
- It depends on the child/parent relationship beforehand.
- It depends on how involved the kids are in the transition.
- Strained Family Relationships; When To Cut The Ties
There may come a time when you have endured a harmful and stressful family relationship, and you may wonder if cutting ties is right for you.
- Gender Dysphoria: What It Is and How It's Treated
WebMD describes what it is and how to help ease the distress of this condition.
- Gender identity disorder - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
the formal diagnosis used by psychologists and physicians to describe people who experience significant dysphoria (discontent) with the sex and gender they were assigned...
Breaking more barriers
I have a varying perspective about this considering my background in psychology. Transgender or Gender Identity Disorder/Gender Dysphoria, is in the book of mental illnesses (DSM V). I think it's important it doesn't get dismissed as not having a component of psychological disturbances. Like I said, I've lived with one- well heck I was raised by one.
Another barrier that needs to be broken is that mental illness is shameful. It's just another struggle and we all have them whether it's addiction, depression, etc. There's a component of mental illness in all of those. Within mental illness is a biological component, which supports having no shame regarding this. Does that make them wrong or warped? No!
LGBT don’t want that stigma attached to them but then we only further perpetuate the fact that mental illness is something to be hidden, shamed, or kept secret. This is not the case for all, but it still is enough to be considered. If someone has a mental illness it only means they need extra support from friends and family and they need help form a professional because what they’re dealing with Is too much.
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