Crossing the T

Life at the intersection of Church and Trans with Rev. Allyson Robinson

They call me “Daddy”

(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.” 

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7 Comments»

  Joyce wrote @

Beautiful essay, Ally. It reminds us that we live in the daily, mundane lifeworld, rather than the theory- or politically-driven world.

That you are honored to be Daddy and to be a transgendered woman and a proud practitioner of playground activism makes me feel incredibly optimistic about my own children and my own abilities to thrive in my own daily lifeworld, a transsexual daddy, a loving spouse, and a productive participant in society.

Thanks for triggering all those good thoughts.

  Allyson wrote @

Thanks as always for being such an encouraging friend, Joyce. 🙂

  arizonaabby wrote @

I too am a trans woman with children (three daughters, in my case), although mine are quite a bit older than yours.

Last November, I was visited them for the first time since my transition. Shortly after I arrived, I was sitting in the living room of the house where my ex and my youngest daughter, then 15, live. I was relaxing on the couch in my skirt, reading the newspaper, when a friend of my daughter’s, another young girl came to the door. When she came in, my daughter turned and introduced me, saying, “This is my Dad, Abby.” Her friend had only the merest look of puzzlement cross her face, said Hi! to me, and then they went for a walk. After my daughter came back, I asked if her friend had had any questions about me. She said, no. I was so proud of my daughter for treating the fact of who I am so matter of factly, and hopeful that the younger generation is much more open to gender differences than mine.

Although my children have moved beyond the playground, I’ll continue to do my best to let the world know that I, too, am a proud parent and not so different than any other.

Blessings,
Abby

  Allyson wrote @

What a beautiful story, Abby. You must be very proud of your daughter.

Stories like these need more and more telling! I think they give others courage to transgress that binary gender construct more boldly.

  They Call Me “Daddy” « my four walls wrote @

[…] 28, 2008 by lucas Allyson has a really amazing post on transgender family issues. Until you are friends with GLBT people you […]

  JoeBum wrote @

Thanks for sharing friend. It’s impossible to know what others go through, but good to hear that you and the lil’ ones are making a healthy transition it sounds like.

  commonteri wrote @

Add me to the list of married trans women with 3 children. Two still live with me at home one is twin who is slightly handicapped and 22, his sister is 16.

We discussed the parent name for me and they settled for Teri which is simple for them because Terry was my male name. However they always called me dad and sometimes it comes out in public isntantly making me out as well.

They all try to use gender appropriate pronouns and my name but sometimes they slip and we have a little smile over it. They know I prefer to be seen as a woman so they give their best.

I told them early on that I will always be their dad and not ashamed of that fact. So when “dad” of “he” comes out so do I and it’s something I’ve come to accept as part of my identity.

My daughter’s friends all accept it as no big deal and she often has sleep overs. I consider it part of trans education just by making it a non-issue. My kids taught me that one.


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