Being a transgender parent can be very challenging, especially when you come out in middle age, lose your job in the middle of transitioning and during a tough economy, and by the time you pick yourself back off the ground, you’ve changed your name, gotten a divorce, and are now the non-custodial parent of two children you love very much. That happened to me six years ago.
When transitioning in my early forties, I was faced with the possibility of losing a lot of things: my career, my friends, my family, respect, and love. It took me until I was about 30 to find love, and it didn’t take us long to bring our first daughter into this world. We bonded before she was born, and her eyes locked onto mine the morning she was born. She was always inquisitive, willful, and bright. I saw myself in her as I watched her play, soothed her when she cried, and fed her when she was hungry. I came face-to-face with my gender identity once again, thinking I had buried it. It was harder this time, but eventually, after conferring with my wife, I suppressed my emotions. The one thing I was most afraid of losing was my family.
Then our second daughter was born, more passionate, more creative, more emotional than the first and I love her just the same. Now with three women in the house, I lost my struggle to suppress my own gender identity, but prayed for any solution that would let me keep my family. I began to try to explain things to my then 9 year-old and my 3 year-old, while I sought counseling for alternatives. At first, my children started to begin to understand and my oldest would do research. When I came out to my wife, she was supportive, but unaccepting and that’s what started to kill me. To be honest, I felt that I was living with my own ghost, as she felt that she had lost her husband. It meant several suicide attempts while I attempted to support others, rather than see them in such despair. After almost a year and many hours of introspection, I knew I had to at least start on the road to being the person I was meant to be.
After starting hormonal therapy I noticed my anxiety levels went down considerably and my sense of being at peace with myself increased, but my wife’s anxiety increased. A year and a half on hormonal therapy, I found myself without a job. The first opportunity that allowed me to make enough money to support a family of four was what was supposed to be a contract-to-permanent job in Kentucky, leaving my family in Texas and hoping to bring them when the job turned permanent.
While in Kentucky I found it easier to transition outside of my wife’s presence, but arguments over the phone increased. In a few months, I had changed my name and divorce papers were being filed with tears streaming down my eyes. The one thing I had feared losing most was slipping from my fingers and my children were starting to feel abandoned as I did the best thing I knew to do for them: leave them with their mother who had a stable job and leave their mother the house. And just like that, my heart was broken.
I have seen my children three times since then. One time was during the divorce, another time when I discovered my youngest had severe allergies to cats, and one time when I rented a hotel room near their home when I went back for my 30th reunion. I have kept myself always available for my children– sometimes sharing emails, text messages, buying pizza in Texas from Utah. Financially, I have done everything I can for them, anytime they wanted something, like money to buy a Mum for homecoming. I wish there were more that I can do.
My oldest daughter just recently turned 18, and I am incredibly proud of her. I see myself as her safety net as she prepares to go to college. She’s applied to several and is confident that she has the scholarships, but the cost of the room and board is scary. It was scary when I first attended many years ago, and while part of me wants to just do it for her, the other part says hold back. Give her a chance to fly on the trapeze under her own power, but be the safety net to take care of her if she falls. Just like the bicycle was scary, and those first days of school, for both her and me. Just like I was scared she would stop breathing in her sleep, I need to let her try to find her own way. She doesn’t yet understand and she’s a little bit mad at “Dad” that she has to do it on her own, but in reality, all she has to do is ask and I’ll be there.
My youngest is growing quickly and I was amazed when she finally came to grips and declared that she wasn’t going to send me a Father’s Day message, because I wasn’t a man. My heart leaped for joy as much as it did when her sister sent me a Happy Father’s Day message that same day. My patience, my unconditional love holding out. If there is one message that I want to leave with my children, it’s be the person you were meant to be, and don’t let society hold you back.
I am not the only transgender parent in our family. My new wife–we married on December 30, 2013–is also transgender, and brought four grown children into our family, making me a step-mother, and a step-grandmother three times over. She still has close ties with her children, but we have discovered something in common. Her children more readily accept me as a woman, and my children more readily accepted her as a woman
I get it. It’s hard to see someone you thought of as “Dad” suddenly become a woman. But with enough love, determination, and patience, we can find a way to still function together. After all, love makes a family.