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.)

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Corissa August 19, 2013 at 10:20 pm

There is a great community over on the Gender Neutral Parenting Facebook page.

Isabelle P January 19, 2014 at 9:14 am

This really very nearly made me cry at work. Not a good thing mind you, I’m still in boy mode.

I’m still in oh-shit-I’m-going-to-have-to-tell-my-dad mode.

My dad, my boss. We work in a family business, filled with high stresses. He brings his stress home. He drinks hard, talks hard, works hard. He works so incredibly hard, I know I will never be able to fill his shoes.. Never mind the fact that I’d much rather be in some ballet flats.

I’m twenty four. My mom knows, and is incredibly alone in not being able to deal with this with my dad.

My girlfriend knows, and is having a hard time.

But all I want is for my dad to know, and to not push me out of his life.

All my life I’ve wondered why the relationship between my dad and I was so strained, I think I’ve worked it out as such:

I just want my dad to love Me, and not his idea of me.

I really hope you’ll keep posting, or pick it up again. You write beautifully, and I feel like your posts could really help him.. us.

Thanks AD!

Bedford Hope January 20, 2014 at 10:51 am

Im glad you have your mother and your girlfriend; I’m guessing you are self-supporting or living out of the house, so, you are in a place where it is safe for you to share this information about yourself. Feel free to send your dad my way. Nobody has ever taken me up on this, but I’d be happy to email with anyone about this, about how we make the trip, from homo-trans-phobia to acceptance and love. But hopefully, he won’t need me.

T January 20, 2014 at 6:06 pm

My 13 yrold daughter told her guidance councillor that she was transgendered in grade 7. Last year was a blur of shock, anger,and feeling lost. ‘She’ is a very strong kid. I can’t call her a ‘him’ yet. I’m having trouble. I know I will one day.

We live in a Italian area. With many Catholics, Muslims and Hindus at the local high school. We are taking our child to the High school open house tomorrow. I’m terrified. Though I’m grateful it’s a public school system, and our grade school councillor is guiding the transition. She’s arranged a meeting with me and the high school admin next week. My child wants to enter the school as a male. I’m very reluctant. I worry that it will stir abuse, danger. They have offered to give keys to gender neutral bathroom. (Shouldn’t they all be?). There’s pre-requisite gym class. So many hurdles. I’m still in shock. My husband doesn’t want to discuss it, says it’s a phase. ‘Her’ older brother won’t address it. I’m trying my best. I’m being supportive, talking openly, sharing hugging…but I’m terrified that I will lose ‘her’. That suicide, drugs, depression will fall upon my child. The pain of meds, surgeries to come…Or worse, beaten abused by those that hate.

I wish this was an easier path.

Isabelle P February 4, 2014 at 5:10 am

Oh wow! I’m not a big reply-er to blogs, so I wasnt expecting a response.

Yip, I could only come out to my loved ones once I felt in control of something, namely a place to call my own. Having a flat helped a lot, and I told my girlfriend within about two weeks of moving into our new spot together. It was a rocky time. Soon after, I told my mom.

Like I said before, she’s been struggling, but at the same time supportive in a sort of take-it-as-it-comes sort of way. I think things will be harder once everything starts manifesting in a more physical way.

My dad has been abroad for the past six months on various jobs, so I’ve been biding my time with telling him. I’m terrified, but it’s one of those things that just has to happen. There’s no way around it, and even if there was, he deserves to know.

As you said, I hope he might not need your help, but even if it isnt “help” per se, just another father in a crazy world of seven billion people, I’ll definitely send him your way… if possible.

Thank you for your blog, it’s inspiring to see such a supportive father figure in this mess of anger, betrayel and loneliness that one reads online. I love the positive tone that runs throughout your blog, and I’ll definitely be buying a copy of your book once it is on the shelves. :)

Have a great day! It’s another scorcher here in Cape Town. 46 degrees in the city, and my AC is broken in my car.


Eliza G. July 26, 2015 at 5:57 pm

Thanks so much for this post. Our transboy told us about his realization 2 weeks ago. He just turned is a teenage and had been in a bad depression for months. Then he came to put it together that his body image issues were really more about being trans. So our son told us, and got a boys haircut. It really made a huge difference in his appearance, and now we call him the male name he chose.

We will be telling our parents (his grandparents) next weekend, as they all live out-of-state. Any suggestions? We will give them websites and recommend a book.

ejayo July 27, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Hi. I’m glad to hear you are being supportive. Supportive family makes a world of difference.

We were lucky, our parents were on-board, early on, and it was one of many ways in which we were so lucky.

My mother-in-law, now deceased, had had a conversion experience on accepting her gay son, so it was just another small step to accept my child. She was a practical person, as well as being loving and kind. She would bring up conservative talking points, now and then, saying things like, “Some people sy it’s a lifestyle choice,” about homosexuality, and we would say, “Why would anyone choose to be hated and discriminated against and she’d nod, and say, “Good point!”

Religion can be a problem; there are accepting communities of faith, for most faiths, but changing churches is hard for some, and having to listen to family members being demonized from the pulpit is stressful.

It’s good to know that even imperfect acceptance, by those not fully on board, is a huge thing. Acceptance doesn’t have to be perfect at first, or ever, in order for family to still have a positive impact.

There are times and places where people have to cut family out of their lives. I pray this doesn’t happen in your case.

Good luck.

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