My Father, The Transsexual
Please note: This was written several years ago, but began an ongoing discussion I'll never forget (before transgender and transsexualism became a high profile topic).
Those who've been affected by a transgender person/loved one in their lives still do not have a voice though.
My parents were married 18 years. Several of those years my mom was a die-hard housewife to the core, even when it meant accepting my father's cross-dressing. She was a traditional woman in that, 'once you marry, you marry for life'. Our life wasn't traditional though.
I was young enough to think it was just a game when my father played 'dress-up'. As a child you look to your parents to define "normal" and if my mom seemed OK about it, then it had to be OK. But in fact I had a feeling it wasn't OK. It was not necessarily because the subject had not been approached by society in a meaningful manner yet.
There were no Bruce Jenner pioneers of course, and everything looks different on the inside. There's what's portrayed in the media, and what's going on inside the houses across America, and the world for that matter.
It wasn't OK for me at such a young age, because I began to associate my father's dressing with the bad times in our lives. After all, he dressed and inhabited a female persona when stress was running high- like another personality. I saw how my mom tried to normalize it just as society tries to today.
Whether it was money issues, work stress, when he was upset with my mom. Dressing for him was more like a coping mechanism.
Growing up with my transvestite/transgender father was not only stressful but confusing. For those of you who remember the movie, 'Tootsie'- popular Dustin Hoffman Movie where he dresses as a woman... http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084805/ well, I saw this as a kid and it definitely added to my delusion that it was all fun and games for men to dress up as women.
But the reality was slightly off. Many evenings my dad would sit around the house in frilly stuff and our home life would carry on as casual and usual as the rest of America's. Through a child's view, I could see and sense my mom's loss of dignity as a woman.
It was a dark secret in our family. Everyone tries to "protect" the most dysfunctional member. Was my dad's travestism dysfunctional? That's a debatable topic, even today. The way my dad used dressing as an escape as a drug addict does was the disturbing part. The entire family ends up enabling them- this applies to anorexics, alcoholics, addicts...you name it.
And the answer? Well, society has its theories. Just like every condition treated in our medical system, it may involve surgery or medication or radical acceptance. They simply have no answers...and are not moving any closer to having any by passing it as normal.
My dad's dressing was an obsession. And unhealthy
Tell me what the difference is between a gambler who gambles away the family's money, and a man who spends all the money on designer women's clothes to help him feel more like a woman yet interestingly they need more and more clothes to make them feel that way because the "feeling" doesn't last long.
Many women find the same obsession and we'd say that's not normal based on how much it affects their life; their finances and family, etc.
I didn't know the definition of transvestite http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transvestite until after my parents' divorce- I was about 10. That's when I remember overhearing my mom explaining to her closest friends and family about my dad's 'condition', but she didn't directly talk to me about it until I was an adult.
Transvestism seemed harmless enough in my mind. I accepted it. I look back now and I wasn't really OK with the cross-dressing, but I accepted it- not much choice when it's your own father. Sometimes I even fooled myself into thinking my father didn't continue to dress-up after the divorce, because I never saw him do it after that, but then I remember his locked closet door whenever I visited him as a teen. I remember having no college funds even though my dad made good money. I remember seeing a Gucci bag lying around...
My teen years were uncomfortable enough without my father going shopping with me and trying to convince me to dress up more, as in shorter skirts, more make-up, and pink stuff. Yeah, I know what you're thinking 'I wish my father would have bought me those clothes and encouraged wearing make-up'- well it wasn't great. I decided early on that clothes do not make the woman. It's a feeling on the inside.
My dad was trying to be a woman. He wasn't a woman- no matter his thoughts, his gender identity, it was sadly like watching a poor actor.
I have never, and still don't, find a need to prove my femininity. I think I am a woman in t-shirt and jeans and casual make-up. Yes, I do dress up, but I don't feel anymore feminine than I do in my bathrobe or a cocktail dress. I realize now that my father couldn't comprehend someone who was comfortable in their own skin. He dressed up to prove something and I didn't have anything to prove. Needless to say, we saw things very differently.
Not So Pretty
Transgender may be the up and coming new category for acceptance but if you've lived with a transgender there's more to it than simply dressing up or simply one gender wanting to be the other- there's elements of obsession and preoccupation with looks that could rival those of a narcissist or an unnatural obsession.
I began studying psychology because, if anyone had a right to be curious, it was me. Also, I still wanted to know why my father needed to dress up. At the time there wasn't a lot of quality media, mostly virtual vomit on the Internet, concerning transvestites- graphic images and distasteful words I could have gone my entire life, and the next, without seeing- this was 20 years ago.
Years of immersing myself in psychology, gave me the ability to not quite understand, but instead be forgiving and lenient in the ways of human conditions. All that psychobabble was easy to believe, but it only amounted to a heap of crap the day I found out my dad had sex reassignment surgery. It's easy for the rest of society to say 'I don't care what others do as long as it doesn't affect me'.
The only thing I understood in that moment was a bottle of tequila. Yes, nearly a bottle for someone like me who didn't drink besides special occasions. I wasn't sure what kind of occasion this was, but tequila seemed appropriate.
Let me back up just a bit: In 2001, before the big news, my father retired from a well-known and respected position in my hometown. He moved south and that was the last I heard from him for two years. Late 2003 he explained over an email that he went to Bangkok, Thailand to get sex reassignment surgery.
I finally had to deal with this. It's like it just blew up in my face all in one day. I had to face my new father- he/she changed his name too. He was simply waiting all those years until he retired to get surgery and all those years I was hoping his dressing impulses would decline with age.
In the awkward moments of me asking him questions, he seemed to answer in a harsh tone as if I had no right to ask. (I have later learned this is one big issue with the families of trans). I had so many questions, but I knew my dad's tolerance was low for being questioned about anything.
(If transsexuals could realize that in another person's mind, this is not their personal normal. They will have questions, and this is how we can better understand each other.)
Should I be supportive and cover up my true emotions and thoughts? Should I be openly angry and disappointed and be my true self since he was being his "true self"? There's no middle ground- the trans is looking for your full acceptance or a relationship is off the table.
I was initially supportive and thought I being a good daughter by hiding my true feelings.
I had selfish thoughts though. How could he do this to me? My future kids (this was before my husband and daughter were in the picture), would be without their grandfather. Did this make me more of a woman or less? I couldn't even introduce my future husband to my "father". My father also legally changed his full name so what did my last name represent now? I felt orphaned. Would he want me in his life because I was literally a reminder he was a man? Who could I talk to about this? Is it shameful and taboo or somewhat more acceptable nowadays? Which friends and family do I share this or not share this with?
It seemed I was the only one who had to deal with this. The families are not well represented. No one openly talks about this stuff unless it's part of a political agenda. Do they realize this is real life for some of us? I had no siblings or ever knew anyone who went through this.
I had joked with all my friends when watching Jerry Springer shows of this subject matter- now it wasn't a joke! I hadn't even seen him in person, what would I do- laugh, cry, run? Where was my daddy who taught me to swim and ride a bike and play cards?
New and Improved?
The day I met my new father was sickening. Sorry, but that's the way it felt.
Your parents are the people you think you know best and when that rug is pulled from underneath you, there are doubts about yourself that inevitably sneak up too.
They aren't the same person as before. It's truly an idenitity disorder and even an element of multiple personalities.
My dad greeted me with saying "Hi babe". I'm not sure if I said anything, only listened to a new voice and, well, a new person. I tried not to stare or laugh, but only because I exasperatingly hung onto the hope this was all a joke or a nightmare. That was the day I grieved the loss of my father.
All of a sudden I didn't know how to talk to my dad without offending him. And sometimes I did, by accident.
It's been 15 years since I have known my dad as a transsexual, as a woman.
Personally I don't accept the statements, "I was born this way" or "I've been this way as long as I can remember". You are born with a sex, not a gender. Gender is what you think about yourself. What you think about yourself is your exposure to your environment.
Bruce Jenner states (about his first experience at nine years old dressing in his mother's clothing), "I didn't know what I was doing, but it felt good."
I guess all I was hoping from him was... 'how does this make you feel?' or 'I can understand you're confused'. 'Do you want to talk about it'? He had years to get used to himself as a woman, I had a few days, from getting the news to seeing him. There's a big difference between a dresser (transvestite) to a transsexual (the whole body make-over).
I am the incurable student of life. There is something to be learned from everything- so what did I learn through this experience? I know how it feels to be blindsided, so if I have any major transitions going on in my life, I make sure it's not a surprise to those close to me. Love is letting people in. Being open and honest, and we shouldn't feel bad for that raw honesty.
For people who are waiting to unveil a big surprise to family and/or friends, don't wait. In fact, you should have never waited one minute. It's best to talk things over before it becomes big news. Waiting only makes it easier for yourself, not those you care about. It's your decision, but take others into account, and accept initial emotions even if it's anger or something unpleasant. Take responsibility for the fact that what you do effects others. Unveiling a secret or big news is not just about you.
For the families, there are too little resources and support for us. Unfortunately, it has become a societal issue that establishes a for-or-against mentality. The reality is it's a complex topic.
I want to thank all the people who wrote into me, the emails, etc. You made me realize (after writing this) that I wasn't crazy for all these thoughts. Thank you for making it easier to open up. This was a shot in the dark, but the personal emails of those who know the reality have made it worth it.
I have a relationship with my father (on his terms still). My concern is whether we are helping the trans community as much as we could. I see my dad still struggle with identity issues and a lingering unhappiness, even after surgery.
- My Dad wants to be a Transsexual Woman
The funny thing about my situation is that I always thought that my family was perfect. I thought that my parents were happily married. I thought that we had all the money in the world. I thought I had the most perfect life. I was so naive. At the...
Transgender/ Transsexuals from the Family's perspective is a must-read. There currently isn't much support for the family members of transitioned and non-transitioned trasgenders.