My Children/My Story
By Lisa P.
Doubts…I’ve Had a Few…..
Reading what I have written here in the past you would be forgiven for concluding that I am a confident and determined woman, certain of her future, knowing exactly what she needs to do next. But you would be wrong. I step forward each day knowing that I must take the steps I am taking, but just barely taking those steps versus others. In fact, I have said to others that I step SLOWLY precisely for that reason. If I take a wrong step, I won’t be a mile down the road before I realize I have taken the wrong road. The truth for me (and likely for many of us) is that along the way I have wondered dozens (or it is hundreds or thousands) of times whether I am doing the right thing. Doubts have at times consumed me and those doubts lead me to question my actions and motives constantly.
Such has been the case with respect to being out to my children. Being a father has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. Every year I celebrate Father’s Day with real joy. I love my children. Those four simple words say it all for me. I love my children. From the moment they were born I have cherished them. They fill my life with happiness. The punch line is that they love me too, even knowing that I am a transgender female. But is being a woman compatible with the role of being a father, and does knowing that I am a transgender woman affect how they feel about me as their father?
Perhaps you will have a glimpse of the answers for me if I give you more details regarding my personal journey.
If you have read my earlier essays, you will know that I have a Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell relationship with my wife. As is typical of the rules of the road for DADT, I am not to disclose to anyone that I am a transgender woman, unless my wife approves. I believe the reason for this rule is that she never wants to be surprised by a question about my gender identity. She also wants to “keep a lid on it” (and pretend it doesn’t exist) to the greatest extent possible. Note that if Lisa P. meets someone as Lisa, that doesn’t count as coming out, unless along the way I tell them my legal name. So far, I have only done that, to my knowledge, with medical personnel. In any case, for the record, with one exception I told my wife I was going to come out to our children before I actually came out to them.
The sole exception is our daughter. You may recall from my prior essays that I have three grown children, two boys and a girl, and my daughter was the first to find out I was CD/TG. It happened by accident when she surprised me by walking into her childhood home without knocking one Saturday afternoon about a decade ago. She was in her 20’s at the time. I was partially dressed in feminine attire, and she had a look of complete surprise upon seeing me. I said “hold that thought,” and rushed out of the room to change into the clothes she is used to seeing me wear. When I had cleaned up and caught my breath, I explained to her (using the words I had available to me at that time) that I was a crossdresser. She was in a rush to get to an appointment, so we didn’t talk long. I was confident that coming out to her would yield further discussion. Imagine my surprise when I discovered she found my “confession” to be so uneventful that she didn’t bring it up again. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I brought it up to her in the context of coming out to my two sons.
I was a bit more formal in coming out to both of my sons (both of whom were also in their twenties when I came out to them). I know I was much more nervous, as I expected that the revelation that dad secretly preferred being a princess in an evening gown over being a starched shirt businessman would be terribly unsettling to two bearded, athletic and “in their prime” young males. Moreover, given the shock I had given my daughter, it was pretty clear that my extensive efforts to hide my crossdressing activities had been 100% successful. Even my wife had no idea about the extent of my experiences and the time I spent as a female over the prior quarter century. I still find that level of success surprising. If I was so successful in keeping the secret, why on earth upset the apple cart and come out? In this case, I felt compelled to do it because of politics.
The legislature in my State was discussing enacting a “bathroom bill” that would require persons to use the bathroom relating to their “biological gender at birth.” Both of my sons openly expressed to me that they opposed the law; I wanted them to know that their fight against the bill was rooted in my very real need to urinate safely when I needed to, regardless of how I was dressed. In the end, my big “reveal” was again a non-event. Both men were nonplussed by my revelation and saw no need to discuss it in depth. I should add a funny vignette about my youngest. Son. One holiday many years earlier he came home and said that a professor had stated emphatically that “all families have secrets” to which my son had replied dismissively, “not my family!” This happened before I came out to him, so when I did come out, it was a funny moment when I had to admit to him that his professor was correct: his family did have a secret. Yes, son, your family is normally abnormal…. just like everyone else’s family.
The lesson I got from coming out to my three children is that for some children coming out is a big yawn. I surmise that my children are sophisticated enough to realize their parents have personal lives we don’t share with them; just as they have personal lives they don’t share with us. Certainly, there are certain issues that are obvious “off limits” issues for all children (their parent’s sex lives, for example!). My guess is that gender identity veered very close to the “none of my business” line in their minds.
Sometimes I insert a public service message, and I will add one here, in case you find it useful. I still keep Lisa’s life (extensive though it may be) separated from the lives of my children. But I have involved my daughter in one very personal part of myself, for practical reasons. I have an active online and personal social life as Lisa. If tomorrow I am hit by Kandi’s truck and die (please Kandi, don’t do that!), it is my personal preference that the world knows what I have been hiding. Since it would be too uncomfortable for my wife to be the executor of Lisa’s estate, I have asked my daughter to do that and have given her access to my passwords, thumb drives, etc. so that she can decide which part of me she wants to share at my funeral and keep for posterity. As an aside, my male persona has been drafting an obituary to tell “his” story; eventually, I hope to draft Lisa’s obituary, to be read hand in hand, as “her” story. In my opinion, people need to know we are normal people, living normal lives – we simply have a personal reason to celebrate Pride Month.
Six years have passed since the last of my “big reveals,” and much has happened in the interim. My oldest son has a lot of responsibilities and so we have only had one other conversation – this time to confirm to him that I identified as a transgender woman. But, since he still sees me in male garb all the time, I haven’t made the issue a challenge for him. I am not out to his wife. As they say, “it’s complicated”. I hope I will be able to come out to her eventually, but I need to do so at a time when the news will be received neutrally, rather than as part of broader relationship issues or in the context of her own parenting concerns.
At the end of 2022 I did decide that it was time to come out to the other two spouses of my children. Why did I want to do that? Doesn’t it create even greater risk of disclosure? Both are good questions, and each of us will answer questions like that in our own way. For me, the greatest pain point right now in my life is that my wife demands/needs me to be in the closet as much as possible. If you are not transgender, you won’t understand what it feels like to be asked to be a “ghost” in your home. I have cisgender female friends now, but I am committed to making those friendships about real girlfriend issues, not about my gender identity. I have a therapist, but I see her episodically. So, the truth is that I need more allies; I want people who understand and are sympathetic and supportive of my need to be me, and people with whom I can share something particularly delightful or troubling that has happened. Moreover, by coming out to the spouses, I gave my own children someone they could confide in (if, for example, they were worried about me). Fortunately, my son-in-law has a close friend from college who is a lesbian (in fact, she was a groomsman in his wedding).
Meanwhile, my daughter-in-law and I have talked extensively over the years about her personal support for the LGBTQ community (going back to her teens). I was definitely on solid ground coming out to them. I came out first to my daughter-in-law late last year. She and I took a walk and we talked for an hour, and she was so incredibly honored that I entrusted her with the information. She gave me a huge hug at the end, and I honestly believe it strengthened our relationship tremendously. A couple months after that I came out to my son-in-law. Now mind you my relationship with him has always been of the “bro” variety (complete with chest thumps and him proving with the handshake that he is the strongest of the two of us), so I wasn’t completely free of trepidation. Sensibly, I chose to take him to a bar so we could have some beers first. Once softened up, I dropped it on him. The first words out of his mouth were … “would you like me to call you Lisa?” It was really cool (although, as I am in the closet, I had to tell him to use the name associated with the gender I am presenting).
I will pause for a moment to give you a personal rule of thumb I employ in interacting with my family members since I am not living my life 100% as a woman. Somewhere I read that one piece of bad news has the same emotional impact as ten pieces of good news. Even if that is not strictly true, I have taken it to heart. I interact with all of my children as much as I can as their father. I scrupulously avoid telling them how I feel about being a transgender female (that is a job for a therapist). I want them to have the “good news” that their relationship with me is intact reinforced ten times for any one time that I might make them feel the cognitive dissonance that naturally would occur when a child interacts with a woman who has been your father for 30 plus years. Also, I feel that my children aren’t the right people with whom to share all the details of my transgender life. This community fulfills that need. So, I generally mention things only in passing to them.
Still, you probably wonder, with all this acceptance, whether any of these family members have met Lisa. Ms. DADT absolutely has not, for reasons that should be clear. That is one of my wife’s hard and fast rules. I have, however, had the opportunity to introduce myself in person within the past two months to three family members. My strongest ally without a doubt has been my daughter. She gives Lisa gifts on her birthday and at Christmas and corresponds directly with me as Lisa. My daughter told me last Christmas Day that she would like to meet Lisa, but I could tell she was worried about it. She was worried for good reason. We both are well known in our local business community. Anyone seeing us together would quickly put two and two together, imperiling our work relationships. Also, she is such an instinctively honest person that she would feel the need to respond affirmatively if asked if that woman accompanying her was really her father. She also didn’t want to lie to her husband. Coming out to her husband first, and then planning a visit to a restaurant neither of us frequent, turned out to be the answer to the conundrum.
In mid-May, on a day my wife was out of town, we finally got together, and I must say it was a fabulous experience. I had my hair and nails done, picked her up and we drove to a very nice restaurant where we enjoyed a wonderful dinner together. I know it comforted her when the hostess and wait staff referred to us as “ladies” multiple times, and properly used “ma’am” with me. In keeping with the rule I asserted earlier, I assured her afterwards that regardless of my gender presentation, I would always be her father (and I’m damned proud of that!). Like most daughters, I found out afterwards that her greatest concern was me. She said that she had a lot fewer feelings about being with me than she thought she would. Her thoughts were “mostly about the future and how that will look for you.” Since I too have had many worries about the future, especially recently with the negative public discourse relating to transgender persons, I can hardly blame her. Doubts…I have had more than a few about the future.
My youngest son and his wife live across the country, but a recent visit home (coupled with a work day for my wife), enabled me to ask if they would like to meet Lisa. I might add that in my son’s work he has developed programs specifically to address housing needs in the LGBTQ community, so to him my gender identity is an interesting way for him to connect personally with a community he serves. I doubt those facts fit many of my readers. His wife, in turn, employs a gay assistant and also tries to do outreach to the LGBTQ community. So, it is accurate to say that they were enthusiastic about meeting Lisa for the first time. We ate lunch at a Vietnamese noodle restaurant. Afterwards, my son asked to be dropped by a coffee bar so he could meet with some old local contacts. Since it was just me and my daughter-in-law and we had time to spare, I asked her if she wanted to join me at a nearby café to have a glass of wine. She accepted and our time together was simply splendid. We talked about work concerns mainly. My son told me afterwards that it was “really nice” to meet me. He went on to say. “I was a little surprised by your voice being a little higher, but I got used to it really fast. I liked that you are able to style your hair the way you like. And you always felt just like you!” Meanwhile, my daughter-in-law simply said, “it was lovely to get to spend the afternoon together.”
Comments like that haven’t eliminated my doubts about the future, but they have eliminated all my doubts about coming out to these family members. They are now part of a support system I very desperately need at this point in my life.
May we all find the support and encouragement we need, from whatever corner of our world we can find it. To paraphrase an aspirational civil rights song made famous by Pete Seeger, “We Shall Overcome Our Doubts Some Day!”