(Great news! I was recently asked by the wonderful people at the Family Equality Council to become a regular contributor to their blog for LGBT families. I’m thrilled at the opportunity to be associated with such a great organization. Here’s my first post for FEC, cross-posted with their permission.)
In the most recent installment of their video blog “She Got Me Pregnant,” lesbian moms Dana and Helen laugh about the befuddlement many of their straight friends seem to feel over how their son addresses them. I mean, the famous Heather may have two mommies, but she certainly can’t call them both “Mommy,” right? That would be way too confusing for a child . . . wouldn’t it?
Well, probably not. It turns out our little ones are a lot smarter than we sometimes give them credit for being. As Dana says, “Your kids are going to figure it out.” And they do, don’t they?
But what about when one of Heather’s mommies used to be her daddy?
When I began my transition at home, my partner and I worried a lot about what our kids would call me. Okay, to be perfectly honest, I was the one who did most of the worrying. In fact, calling it “worrying” is a bit of an understatement. Truth is I practically obsessed over it. I even recall a particularly vivid nightmare in which I was out shopping with my kids and couldn’t get them to stop calling me “Daddy” in voices vastly disproportionate to their little bodies. I kept ducking behind racks of clothing and trying to explain to them that they couldn’t do that–that people might find out I had once been a boy and would be mean to us–but it just didn’t seem to sink in. It felt strangely like one of those dreams where you suddenly realize you’re naked in front of a crowd of people. I woke up in a cold sweat.
As the time approached for me to transition publicly, we sat down at our kitchen table with the oldest two, who were eight and five at the time, to let them know what was ahead. I would be living as a girl all the time from that point forward, we told them, and at the advice of my wonderful counselor, asked if they would like to pick a new name to call me. A big part of the transition strategy my counselor and I developed together was to share control over things with my family as much as I possibly could, and so I wanted to offer the kids some say in the matter. We suggested a few options and waited for their response.
I’ll confess that, as the question hung in the air between us for a moment, I was really hoping they’d pick something like “Mama,” “Maddy” (the fine conflation suggested by Jenny Boylan), or even my first name. Kids call parents by their first name in all the really cool families, right?
My five-year-old daughter responded first. “I like ‘Daddy.'”
“Yeah, me too,” my son agreed.
“Then ‘Daddy’ it is,” I told them. Big hugs, sloppy kisses, and they were running into the back yard to play.
To my credit, I was so determined to respect their feelings that I didn’t feel all that disappointed. I’ve never really wanted or needed to live a “stealth” life, in which nobody around me knew of my male history. I had, however, been hoping to be able to go with my family to the grocery store or McDonalds without being outed all the time–but my children’s choice opened that desire up for a little much-needed inspection. Why was this so important to me? What was I afraid of? What might be lost by being called “Daddy” in public, and what might be gained?
I wish I could say that it’s been an easy thing for me, that I’ve never flinched at hearing my kids call to me across a crowded playground or blushed at the strange looks I occasionally get. It hasn’t, and I have. And together we’ve learned that we have to be careful sometimes (in the ladies’ room, for instance). But we’ve also discovered a few really important things about ourselves and others through it. I’ve discovered that I really amproud to be a transgender woman–proud enough, in fact, to let the whole world know it. And I’m proud of my partner and my kids, who are courageous enough in their love to own me for who I am. I’ve also learned that most people aren’t nearly as judgmental as I once feared they would be.
I’d be the last to imply that our way is the only way or even the best way for families with a transgender parent. But it’s working for us. And maybe it’s helping to change a few minds and hearts about transgender people and their families. Call it “playground activism.”