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My Father, The Transsexual
This was written several years ago, but began an ongoing discussion I'll never forget (just check out the comment section if you don't believe me).
Those who've been affected by a transgender person/loved one in their lives also get an opinion. The experience is theirs as you will see reflected in this, that transgenders aren't the only ones with a say in this matter. Others need to be heard...
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 deep down feeling it wasn't OK.
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- whether it was money issues, work stress, when he was upset with my mom. It was a coping mechanism.
Besides the point: At age 5 it wasn't hard to put all this together and that 5yr old me had it figured out better than our society today. Blind inclusion without really doing the research...or at times ignoring the research and even common sense.
Growing up with my transvestite/transgender father was still confusing though. 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.
It was a dark secret. It's odd to me that the one person who really needs help in a family, is who everyone tries to "protect". Lies are built around them to protect them when they just need help. The entire family ends up enabling them- this applies to anorexics, alcoholics, addicts...you name it.
And now our society is hell-bent on normalizing them before getting them help. Look, I lived this lie for most of my formative years. It's not "normal". It's also not shameful- but the person does need some help and the current answer is hormones and surgery. Just like every condition is treated in our medical system with surgery or medication. They simply have no answers...and are not moving any closer to having any by passing it as normal.
"Normal" doesn't take over the family life as an addict's antics would too. It's an obsession. Everybody bends over backwards to make everything appear "normal". When society tries to normalize this, they become the enabler.
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 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.
I didn't know the definition of transvestite http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transvestite until after my parents' divorce (due to my dad cheating on my mom)- 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.
My dad was trying to be a woman. He wasn't a woman- no matter his thoughts, his gender identity, it just was 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
As I grew-up, I learned to fine-tune my very mature adult ability to keep big secrets and sweep them under the rug. 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.
I began studying psychology because, if anyone had a right to be curious, it was I who wanted to know what makes people do the things they do. 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 humans. All that psychobabble was easy to practice and 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. He not only had the genitals done, but breast implants as well. Sadly, I probably would have been OK with the genitals only, but breast implants? Too visibly noticeable I guess.
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 had so many questions, but I knew my dad's tolerance was low for him being questioned about anything. I realized, for the first time, I never questioned my dad even about other things. It was time I did.
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"- why can't I? There's no middle ground- the trans is looking for your full acceptance or a relationship is off the table. It's was still his number one priority.
I was initially supportive and thought I was being unselfish, a good daughter, by hiding my true feelings. In reality, my first response to this news, after the purchasing and heavy drinking of tequila, was pure selfishness:
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. 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? My mom moved on and found her a real man- second husband. 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. 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. If you don't believe there is a difference in the way they are before surgery or transitioning, you're dead wrong.
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, but with a desensitizing lack of emotion.
If transsexuals describe their need to change as something they "have/had to do" then why are there so many insecurities after the fact? They spend their entire lives doing things to convince themselves they are this "new" person after their surgeries. I've seen how it doesn't work.
All of a sudden I didn't know how to talk to my dad without offending him. And sometimes I did, by accident but shouldn't I be offended, oh I don't know, because I was lied to for so long. It's not right to lead a child on and manipulate society's leniance on gender roles in their favor.
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.
My father continued to be very selfish after his sex reassignment. He had finally done the ultimate thing for himself and everything since has been the same way. He got used to life being on his terms- ya know, like the addict in the family that everyone tries to pass as completely normal. The world is falling apart for those around them as they go traipsing around on the jackets people lay down for them over the puddles.
I guess all I was hoping from him was... 'how does this make you feel?' or 'I can understand you're troubled and confused'. 'Do 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, besides protecting yourself first.
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.
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). My concern in the last few years has been directed on our children in society, what they won't understand about the current transgender agenda. I'm not against trans. I am against them not receiving the help they need. I see my dad still struggle with identity issues and a lingering unhappiness.
- 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...
Suggested Reading: Another gender experience...
- Almost a Woman; A Woman's View of Her Man's Body - Honestly, Laura
What's it's like being transgender...an intimate portrayal.
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.