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 than a gender identity.
Growing up with my transvestite/transgender father was 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. I could see how this hurt her and her identity.
I learned in families, people sacrifice for each other, but this can lead to members trying 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. He had to dress like a fiend needs money for drugs.
The entire family ends up enabling certain members that actually need help— 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 and reformed laws. Truth is they simply have no answers...and are not moving any closer to having any by passing it as normal.
How many transgender need help? Often times they don’t get it.
Update: Years ago it was a secret. Now it’s political and any insinuation they need help is against the law.
My dad's dressing was an obsession from wigs to purses and clothes. He spent us out of house and home the way a gambler would.
Transsexualism may not be a mental disorder in itself (formerly “Gender Identity Disorder”), but mental disorders may co-mingle with a transgender.
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, even after surgery.
Many women find the same obsession (shopaholic) 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. At that time there was no discussion on it and today there are only political debates.
Nobody told me if transgender was ok as a kid. It was my normal, but once my dad got in his persona it was thee image of a split personality. And I didn’t like HER.
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 Gucci bags 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 prematurely’.
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 an 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 dressing up took precedence over our family life.
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 understand 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'.
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. The persona I loathed was permanent.
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.
Questions are marked as hate speech. Real family experiences I came to find out, we’re also labeled as hate speech. Reality isn’t pretty, but many family members have suffered— I have witnessed their suffering—- due to transitioning.
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.
No matter what the trans experience in families is about the transperson. There is no space for our feelings and experienc.
I was initially supportive and hid 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". When people saw my dad’s “female” description on documents, they’d call him my mom. That was devastating to me because my mom should get that credit, not him.
My father 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? Which friends and family do I share this or not share this with?
It was the first time I felt selfish for considering my feelings. This was all about him, right?! How dare I think about myself!
It seemed I was the only one who had to deal with this. The families of transitioned individuals are not well represented. No one openly talks about this 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 on this subject matter- now it wasn't a joke! When I saw her in person I wanted to laugh, cry...and run! Where was my daddy who taught me to swim and ride a bike and play cards? Now being a daddy reminded him of someone he wanted to forget.
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 switch. For me, it wasn’t like seeing my dad become who he always was; it was seeing him become someone else I didn’t know or like.
My dad greeted me with, "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, 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. I still don’t believe this was always truly who he was. There’s an underlying identity crIsis.
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 my dad 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.
Much of what the family goes through is overshadowed by the trans perspective. When my parents got divorced (my dad’s choice to live a new life), her experience was minimized. When my dad transitioned, it was the death of my father, but my grief was overshadowed by his need to be accepted.
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. Being honest and talking with those closest to you so that they can understand you, is an act of love.
Love is letting people in. Being open and honest, and we shouldn't feel bad for that raw honesty. It heals.
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 affects others.
For the families, there are too little resources and support for us. Unfortunately, it has become a political issue that establishes a for-or-against mentality. The reality is it's a complex topic.
The reality is it’s a personal topic and families need to be represented more.
Update: I’ve coached and counseled many family members of transgender and transitioning individuals. It has been rewarding, but the need and resources for families is not sufficient.
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 understand them all for reaching out privately as this is still a topic focused on transgenders, not their family.
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.