August 2013

To the Unicorn’s Dad

by Bedford Hope on August 5, 2013

I got a note from a kid who just came out as Trans, who asked for a post to his father. This is it. I hope it is useful.

Dear Father of an Exceptional Child,

You don’t know me, and I don’t know you, but first of all, I’m very glad that you didn’t freak out when your child revealed that he was transgender. The child you’ve known as she since birth told you he’s a he.

You didn’t kick your kid out of the house. You didn’t seem to have any reaction at all. Not a bad start.

We’re in very different boats, because my  child was born a boy, and when a boy insists on wearing girl clothes, liking girl characters, well. It’s obvious something is afoot. We had a lot of time to figure this out, over the years.

You haven’t. The rules are different, for boys and girls, and the culture prepares us better for girls who like boy things. Nothing wrong with that, but it probably means that you were blind sided. We had years to come to terms with this. Years and years. You’ve had a few weeks.

First of all, you need to reach out, yourself, for support, in the form of some of the groups in my sidebar. Some are in person, some are on-line; however you do it, do it. You won’t realize how much you need it until you do it.

Do it.

Maybe you were preparing yourself for having a gay kid. I know we were. In my support community, we spend a lot of time, wondering, to ourselves, out of earshot of our children, ‘gay, trans, gender queer, cross dresser, or just-a-phase?’

There aren’t many ‘just-a-phases.’ This stuff means something, something important, in almost all cases. But you’re not a clinician, you’re not playing the numbers, you have one kid.

Your kid is reaching for professional support, professional input, and I hope that you can help him get it. Someone who has experience with transgender. We know, in my community, from past experience, that not all professionals are up to this, however. There may be no one in your health plan; no one in your city. But look hard. Monitor the treatment carefully, and be prepared to find someone new if the first person you find stinks.

Trans Youth Family Advocates (see the links in my sidebar) is a great place to start. The story of Kim Pearson and her son is one that will feel familiar to you. Her son is a transman. He’s a great kid, I’ve met him, though he’s not really a kid anymore.

Growing up, her kid was accepted and celebrated in all her interests, playing on the boy’s baseball team, her hair and clothing choices respected, by a family that was utterly and completely shocked by the transgender revelation. Within a matter of weeks, they’d educated themselves and figured out a plan. The plan changed, over time, as all plans do. But they were up to it, and so are you.

Her child, who had been afraid to order for himself in fast food restaurants, who had hidden himself under layer upon layer of clothing even in the stifling heat of the Arizona summer, came into his own through the therapy. Life got better for him, for them.

You’re going to ask yourself—did we do this, somehow? Is our kid the way our kid is, because of how we raised him? Because we ‘indulged’ his interests? Because we didn’t force him into dresses? We didn’t force him to have more friends and activities within his bio-gender?

You’re going to ask these things even as your research shows you, no, you didn’t cause this; this is just one of ways people are.

You’re going to ask yourself this; so listen to me when I tell you, you didn’t do this to your kid, this isn’t a result of trauma or parenting or high power lines or MSNBC or Rachel Madow or Ellen or Chaz Bono.

This is one of ways people are, one of the ways people have always been; you can’t stamp this out of people. We know this because we all tried to, at one point or another, to one degree or another. There isn’t a parent I’ve met who didn’t play gender police for some period of time. Some of the parents in our support group went whole hog, Zuckering their kds.

Zucker is a former gay reparationist, a psychologist who believes he can with therapy avert transexual outcomes. In his small sample he seems to have succeeded; with the one small caveat, that none of his patients report being happy after treatment.

And there lies the core of it. You want your kid to be happy, and you worry, that if your kid is like this, they won’t be. And so you wonder, if there is something to be done to change it. We all went through this.

We found out two things.

One, our kids can be happy. It’s not a sure thing; happiness never is, but in our support group we see a lot of success stories; enough to know that being transgender doesn’t mean you can’t be happy and successful.

Two, the other thing, is you can’t change this. It lies at the core of identity. Exactly what this is, your kid may not yet fully understand, and professional help can help you get to the core of things. But there are no widely respected professionals at this point who seriously think they can alter someones gender identity or preference.

Gender identity is more controversial and than sexual preference. The culture is making huge strides in acceptance of gays and lesbians, and crawling much slower in its understanding of transgender. Confusion exists with the Gay and Lesbian community on what exactly Trans is, so you may face opposition from places you expected support. Keep looking, though, support is out there.

Mostly, I want to say, that weird visceral feelings of discomfort, shame, remose, anger, fear, fade over time and are replaced by love, acceptance, admiration, and a new normal, which includes your child and your child’s friends and significant others.

You’ve joined another family. Whether you want it or not. Some trans folk like to transition and return to normal; people like Chaz Bono who don’t really see themselves as Transmen. They’re just men. Men born with a birth defect.

Some trans people remain under the GLBTQ umbrella, comfortable with the support and understanding that often resides there. There’s no one right way to be transgender. No single understanding of gender we all agree on intuitively. And that’s OK; as long as we listen, and respect each other, we can all get along, as our understandings deepen.

Be glad your kid knows now. Be glad your kid trusted you enough to tell you. Be glad you didn’t freak out.

Reach out for support, for you and your kid; nobody can do this alone.

It’s going to be OK. You’re going to be Ok.

Welcome to the family, to the movement, to this imperfect moment in time and your own imperfect state of being. It gets better, as Dan Savage says. It really does. I promise.

Bedford Hope

(AKA Accepting Dad.)

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