Archive for Coming Out
My Dad was the last to know.
I knew it would be hard for him. The most important responsibility our culture assigns its fathers is the transmission of masculinity to their sons, and so I worried that he would blame himself for my choice to drop the masculine mask I wore for so long. I worried that he would agonize over all the ways my transition might affect me adversely and wouldn’t be able to see how healthy and happy I was finally becoming. I worried that he would feel like he was losing a friend, and that he might never recover from his grief enough to give our new friendship a chance to begin.
I never worried, though, that my father would reject me. It’s hard to put my finger on precisely why. He just wasn’t that kind of person. Maybe my intuition was based in my experience of his love as absolutely without conditions. Maybe it grew from the value I knew he placed on loyalty. I think sometimes you just know who you can count on in this world, and I knew I could count on my Dad.
I wanted to tell him in person, face to face. I hoped to sit down with him and Say the Words. In the end, though, it didn’t turn out that way. He knew something was wrong, and he was really worried, and he was losing sleep, and it was time for him to know the truth. But distance and circumstances conspired to prevent me from being able to go and tell it to him, so instead, I wrote him a letter.
Before I sent the letter, my Dad and I would speak by phone several times a week and exchange email about as often. After I sent the letter, it was over three weeks before I heard from him. The silence wasn’t unexpected; I knew he would need some time to absorb the truth, figure out how he should respond, and find the strength to do it. I was genuinely relieved, though, when he called me one day during my afternoon commute.
“Let’s talk about your letter,” he said after pleasantries.
“Your news really surprised me, but I want you to know right now that I love you as much today as I did the day you were born.”
My Dad is a person who chooses his words carefully, and as a father myself, I understood exactly what those words meant. I know how it feels to hold your newborn child for the very first time. I know what that kind of love is like.
But I knew it would be hard, and to be honest, it has been for both of us. My Dad and I have struggled to reestablish our relationship. He has found it supremely difficult to talk about my trans-ness with me or even to call me by my new name, and I have wrestled with anger, impatience, and frustration. He has yet to see me in person as I am today, a logical “next step” that I fear circumstances are going to force on him before he feels ready for it. I’m ashamed to confess that I have occasionally questioned the character of his love for me. “He says he loves me,” I’ve said to myself, “but love is as love does.”
And then today, he called me–on the anniversary of the day I was born. Just to tell me he loves me, and to wish me a happy birthday.
Thanks for the call, Dad. It means more than you know.
I think that demonstrating to the world our common humanity despite our differences is our highest calling as trans women and men.
And a thought from me: I’m so encouraged to hear so many trans voices speaking about living openly as a way of fulfilling the mandate of a calling or of enacting and empowering change. I’m inspired by this kind of courage.
(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.”
There will not be a magic day when we wake up and it’s now OK to express ourselves publicly. We make that day by doing things publicly until it’s simply the way things are.
Speaking of fathers, please take a moment to read the letter Rev. David Keller, pastor of First Congregational Church, UCC in Concord, New Hampshire, wrote to introduce his congregation to his transgendered daughter. It is full of grace and truth.
(Thanks to TransFaith On-line!)
Who would Jesus marginalize? No one, of course.
But do we really believe that? More importantly, do we really practice it?
The most effective means of marginalization is genocide, death being the ultimate form of powerlessness. In societies where mass murder is prohibited or prohibitively costly, however, the powerful must resort to other methods to protect their power. History shows that the means to be limited only by human ingenuity. Justifications for marginalization, on the other hand, and particularly those that stand the test of time, are not so easy to come by.
To survey the means and methods by which human beings marginalize one another one doesn’t need to travel to Darfur or North Korea or Saudi Arabia, though. In fact, one needs travel no further than the local middle school. Middle schools may not be where we learn the art of oppression, but they are the place where we begin to practice it with the intelligence and organization of adults. Ask any middle schooler, and they’ll tell you who has the power in their world, who doesn’t, and what the powerful do to keep it that way.
One of the most powerful methods of marginalization in this or any context is silencing. The concept is simple. Those in power simply ignore those they want to marginalize. The “in crowd” refuses to relate in any way to the “outsiders,” as if they simply do not exist. The result, in essence, is a kind of “genocide of the imagination,” and the psychological effects on those who are silenced can be devistating.
Someone once said, “If you preach about pain, you’ll never lack an audience.” My own experience, both in the pew and in the pulpit, confirms the truism. The reason is intuitively obvious: the current of suffering passes through every life, leaving among the ruins in its wake the Great Question, “Why?” The whole human race, it seems, is seeking an answer.
Our credibility as ministers of the gospel–and, by extension, the credibility of our gospel as a body of teaching and as God’s message to the cosmos–hangs on the answers we offer to this universal question of suffering. If people find our answers to this question unsatisfactory, they will (rightly, I think) reject off hand the answers we might offer to any other questions they ask. In his new book God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer, Bart Ehrman (Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) describes how his own search for an answer led him away from evangelical Christianity and, ultimately, to agnosticism. (Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air interviewedDr. Ehrman this week; you can listen to the interview and read an excerpt from Ehrman’s book here.)
I can relate to Ehrman’s journey. My own questions formed in the fire of the pain brought about by feeling like a woman in a world and a church that required me to be a man. Why would God do such a thing to me? As I wrote in the “coming out” letter I sent to some of my dearest and most respected Christian friends,
For most of my life, I believed that this deep impulse I felt to live as a woman was sin or sickness, and I prayed fervently for God to heal me. The fact that God did not heal me, in spite of all my pleading, led two years ago to the most profound crisis of faith I have ever experienced. There seemed to be three possible explanations. My prayers had gone unanswered because (1) God did not actually exist, (2) God felt no compassion for my suffering, or (3) my feelings were neither sick nor sinful, and I was free to seek a way to integrate them into my life.
As one of my friends who received my letter was quick to remind me, there is another possible explanation. Perhaps my being transgender was something akin to the burden the apostle Paul refered to as his “thorn in the flesh.”
In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Cor 12:7b-11)
Reading these words over the years, I wondered if perhaps feeling myself to be a woman, feeling discomfort at being forced to exist in the world as a man, was my thorn in the flesh. Was it simply my cross to bear? Read the rest of this entry »