- Gender and Relationships
Transgender/Transsexuals from The Family's Perspective
We can hardly bring ourselves to discuss the topic of sex with our kids yet sex is literally everywhere from TV shows, commercials, Internet, and holds an exceptionally strong influence when selling products. As most adults have found out through years of experience, these media sources are hardly reflective of real life sex.
Why do I mention this? Well, when my father got a sex change I Googled it (looked it up on the Internet). Almost all the information was in x-rated form. There wasn't one quality piece of literature, story, or real account of transsexualism or transgender. It was all dirty. If it wasn't x-rated, it was hard to swallow scientific gobbly-goo. It lead me to believe my situation was unique...when in fact it isn't. Plenty of families are enduring the transition of a parent, a loved one, a sibling, etc. Likewise...many transsexuals and transgender are enduring the process of transitioning and dealing with family.
Now or Later?
A couple of years ago I first wrote on this topic and gave my uninhibited, real life testimony about my father's transition. It was gruesome to relive- it's been about 10+ years now so a lot has changed. I say gruesome because part of me is ashamed about how I handled his transition and part of me is disappointed about how my father handled it. Could things have gone better?
I believe things have worked out for the best...now. At first, I didn't talk to my dad for about a year. He was hostile, I was shocked and probably hostile back at him. We were both obviously hurt.
One of the reasons for bad reactions is bad deliveries. the single most important aspect of transitioning is slowly letting the most important family members in on the process. In all fairness, the family of a trans has not had the opportunity to do a lot of research about the process. We have not spent hours of obsessed time spent researching it like a typical trans has. We are literally in the dark. When people are in the dark, they get scared and even defensive.
Most family members I've heard from report the change being sprung onto them. It certainly was to me. i had not seen my dad for almost two years before he changed. He retired and moved a few states away. I was busy finishing college, but made sure we emailed each other almost every day. At no time did my dad mention taking hormones or gradually transitioning. He did not mention his full sex reassignment surgery until he was visiting my town and I met with him/her. Shocked was one word...pissed was another.
In the past I have received a lot of hateful comments from trans that get upset with how selfish I was about being mad. I've heard it all..."Grow up"..."You're so selfish"..."Your dad didn't have to share that with you"..."Your dad doesn't owe you an explanation or anything". Yes, I was upset my dad couldn't at least share this huge part of his life with me. After all I had shared so much of my life with him, even ridiculed by him for some of that which I did, but nevertheless, I shared. I thought the relationship was mutual.
***Please note: Do not fill up my comment section with how selfish I am. I am generously sharing my genuine experience with you. I also hope to help others as well.
As the daughter of a trans, I questioned my whole relationship (past, present, and future), with my dad. So from the family's perspective please share this with those most important to you...break it to them gradually and age appropriate (if small children are involved). Educate them and answer questions. The sooner, the better.
The #1 Question Family may not Ask
The number one question a family member may not ask, but really wants to know is "How do I fit into your life now"? Also related to this is..."What now?" I've got friends, I've got aunts, I've got a mother. So how does my transitioned, now female, dad fit into my life? A child really struggles with this because parents play such a vital role in our lives.
Let's take away the "sex" aspect of transsexualism and let's just say your dad suddenly came up to you and stated he wanted to be your friend or uncle instead. You immediately feel a sense of loss, bewilderment, rejection, and even anger. Keep in mind this scenario has nothing to do with gender. It would still be enormously difficult. Correct?
To trans...No matter how you run the scenario in your head, family will most likely have a variety of reactions. However, if you love them, you do owe them the information as you know it and your plans. What do you want from them? Communicate your needs. Ask what they want to know. Most of the time family only want you to be happy. We also want to know how this will affect our lives. A wife may want to know if this is the end of the marriage.
I know my mother had issues with my dad for feeling like she was lied to. He did not ever tell her nor show her his urge to dress as a woman. She felt their life together was a lie. This is all an example of how poorly trans end up handling things with their family. Not entirely their fault, but it is sort of a self-preservation mechanism. I am pleading with trans that saving yourself by leaving your family in the dark is not ideal. My mother never told me what my dad was and why he dressed up, I had to overhear it in a phone conversation with one of her friends. This is not ideal either.
For an older child, we can argue that in a way parents transition into a friendship type of role in our lives as we get older. This process is gradual and natural. It's not sprung onto us as with most transgender circumstances. Hopefully you wouldn't spring onto anyone any major decision substantially effecting them emotionally or otherwise.
The Parent-child Relationship
One of the reasons I contribute to my dad's lack of transparency with his transitioning is the fact that even though I was in my mid-twenties at the time, I know he still viewed me as a child. It is difficult for parents to view their children as adults. That's a transition that is hard for them. Either they want to protect or they figure they wouldn't understand such adult subject matter or it's a superior role in which they don't owe their child an explanation.
Remember in any family relationship, these hurt the most. Many families will reject and retaliate if they feel that's what has been done to them. My dad was hostile to me before I even reacted to his change. He was literally trying to push me away before I could give some so-called approval. Mostly this is due to lack of information or the family member receiving the news well into the transition process or the feelings of the trans reflected onto the family member.
For my dad and I, it was a unique situation in that he was entering womanhood at the same time I was (in my -mid-twenties). Yes, I was little upset that I felt like I had earned that woman hood and here comes my father who thinks that getting a sex change makes someone a woman. But I realize he had a tough journey as well and we all have the right to become who we really feel we are.
Here is society again, rearing it's ugly head into the transsexual/ transgender scenario. Another way in which trans and their family members are on opposite ends. If you think about it, there is a lot going against trans having normal relationships with their family because of such opposite directions they are taken as the process ensues.
Family has to live their life with their trans family member, trying not to care about society, the looks, the public attention, and even the danger it can cause. While trans on the other hand, are usually over-concerned with "passing" as the intended gender of choice, in the eyes of society. If a trans can pass as the opposite sex then it is held to highest esteem- it means a lot to them. They are seeking that approval while the family member is giving up on public approval.
I ignored and soon forgot about the way people saw my dad when we were in public. Although I see the hopes of approval in my dad's every move. I mentioned something about danger and it's true. I have my kids around my dad and never knowing when someone hates someone like my dad enough to hurt him or us. I was visiting my dad with my newborn baby girl when his house was vandalized. It was scary. There is such a range of reactions from people. My solution I hope to convey to all is to educate. First educate within families enough so that the trans have a support network. Then start a discussion as I am doing here.
The Perfection Plague
Family is the worst...so guilty of this phenomena. What is it with everything needing to appear perfect? If a child becomes transgender then the parent automatically thinks it will reflect upon them and their reputation. Frankly, it's disgusting. I've dealt with this perfection plague with other family issues, not just transgender, but I know it plagues the transgender situation.
Everybody wants the elusive appearance of perfection. This is another flaw our society has created. The fight with society's one-dimensional views is very entangled in the outcome of trans and family relationships. The reaction of family members has something to do with society's perception. The child of a trans worries about peer approval or disapproval for having a "different" parent. The parents worry if their parenting was imperfect. This is the fight for trans to have better relationships with their families, it is a fight within society to loosen up the perfection reigns.
During or after a transition, the trans is likely to feel elated, excited about their new identity. They want to celebrate and move forward. Although many feel a lingering sadness about their family, especially if they have younger children and/or leaving a marriage. I viewed my dad as extremely selfish during this period and it was difficult to be around him. I remember him criticizing me not dressing well and yet I was college poor while my dad was spending ooodles of money on women's designer clothes, wigs, and make-up.
I realized the transition for my dad was a celebration and for me it was grief. How could we be on the same page if we were both feeling such different emotions within this one event? I think counseling is always beneficial in any circumstance where there are too such divided sides. There are numerous things a family member just can't talk to the trans about. I was in college at the time of my dad's transition and so I went through free counseling at the college; great resource. Pastoral counseling is not as subjective as you may think and it's a lot less expensive than traditional psychologists. Forums and support groups are wonderful ways to get info and run things across people, obtaining various perspectives.
How did I finally deal with this, as a family member. Well, it's been two-sided. Finally a reciprocal relationship with my dad. I began seeing my dad through my little girl's eyes- she just saw someone she loved and loved to be around irrespective of sex or gender. I now have that viewpoint as well. My dad also started viewing me as an adult with respect and admiration. But it's a process. It takes time. People always want answers now...and truly this is one that takes time to adjust to a different role, a different person, a different relationship.
I honestly don't think understanding trans is the answer- it sounds great, but education is really the key. The trans should educate themselves about how the family may react, how to tell them, etc and the family needs to know what to expect in the transition and what exactly is a transgender. In my case, I will never understand my dad- I do not know what it's like to not want to be the sex I was born and I do not understand how the male-to-female trans ideas of what a woman is. And that's OK- I don't need to understand.
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