Having the kids over Christmas was both the best thing and the worst thing for me this year. The best because they’re my kids and I was able to have them for almost an entire week and to give them a good first Christmas in the new divorce situation; worst because three kids on vacation in a one-bedroom apartment on Christmas is a study in parental insanity. Also, when tacked onto the work week prior, it means I have been in Him mode for two solid weeks. I need to be able to relax a bit. Luckily, the next week is more open to me, and I still have a week off of work.
Having the kids around for so long was bound to push that urge I was feeling to come clean, to tell them about myself,to clear that hurdle. And on Christmas Eve I had a conversation with my son, Daniel, that opened that chance up.
It started when Daniel said something that triggered my increasingly sensitive “gender binary” detector (I don’t even remember what it was anymore, but it had something to do with boys liking “boys things” and girls liking “girls things,” probably in the context of toys or video games) and I pounced on the opportunity to try and shake up his thinking. I started talking about how boys could like girl’s toy, and how girls could play video games, etc.
As I talked, somehow the word transgender made it into a point I was making. I don’t remember why I used it. Maybe I was subconsciously trying to push the point, or maybe I was just talking faster than I was thinking.
Daniel, who’s fairly sharp, noticed a word he’d never heard before. “What’s a transgender?” he asked.
Crap. I stumbled over a few words as I tried to put it in a way he’d understand. I told him that transgender means someone was born one way, but felt inside that they were another way, and that it was just something that happens sometimes. At least, that’s what I hoped I was saying; my brain had been caught off guard and wasn’t entirely in sync with my mouth.
“You mean like Ryan? Ryan likes the Little Mermaid. Is he transgender?”
Ryan is the little boy of a family friend. Honestly, there’s a very good possibility Ryan is transgender. He does indeed love all things Little Mermaid, and he acts very much as if he were a little girl. But I didn’t want Daniel to think of transgender as merely “liking girl things,” so I tried to redirect him. It wasn’t about liking things, I said, pointing out that we know girls who like Call of Duty and we know boys who like the Little Mermaid, but liking things didn’t make someone transgender.
“So if a boy is transgender, it means they like to wear dresses and do girl things and stuff?”
No, I told him. At this point, I think I dropped the phrase gender binary for the first time, and tried to show him that liking girl things didn’t make someone a girl; it was about identity. So I rattled off a bunch of things that boys sometimes like to do, that are considered “girl things,” that didn’t make someone transgender. In doing so, one of the items I listed was “making jewelry and bracelets and stuff,” which is, in fact, a hobby I have picked up recently.
He pointed to my wrist, where a couple of beaded bracelets hung. “Dad, you like to make bracelets, and you got your ears pierced. Does that mean you’re kind of transgender?”
There it was: the moment. I knew my daughter was in the back, listening to the conversation (she was quiet, which always means she’s paying attention), and I knew my son was in an inquisitive mood. I could have done it there — struck while the iron was hot, grabbed the golden ring as it passed by, made the leap of faith, started the process of acceptance.
But it was Christmas Eve, and we were driving to gathering of my ex’s family. All my fears about hurting my kids welled up. All of my fears about rejection kicked in. If I said “yes,” would they start crying? Would they run in and tell the whole room about me? Would I ruin a festive Christmas Eve event?
I needed to make a snap decision, and so I chickened out. Instead of telling them plainly, I went for the far dodgier, “We’re not talking about me here.” But then, immediately hating myself for letting the moment go, I added: “But what if I told you I was transgender? What would you think?”
Daniel pondered for a moment. “I think that would be weird.” It was an innocent comment, but it bit at me a little.
That conversation weighed on me for the next few days. Coupled with the wig incident — which hadn’t been brought up again, by the way — and I was feeling that pressure again. That pressure to come out, to tell my kids what the situation was, to get it out there. Telling my kids has been very much a sticking point in my transition. I can’t tell the world until I’ve told my kids!
Saturday was the moment I made the decision. It was time to tell them.
All things considered, it was pretty anticlimatic. I pulled the two older kids onto the couch (the youngest is a bouncing ball of two-year-old energy and wouldn’t have been able to follow the conversation anyway), put an arm around each one, and dived in.
“Dan,” I started, “Do you remember the conversation we had in the car on Christmas Eve? The one about boys and girls and being transgender?”
“Yeah?” he said, uncertain.
“Do you remember what transgender means?”
Pondering again. My son has the best Thinker-pose when he’s trying to remember something. “Um, that boys can like girl things?”
Groan. “No, remember, I said it wasn’t about that?”
“Oh! Yeah, that it’s about how someone feels.”
Phew. “Right. And remember how you asked me at one point if I was ‘kind of transgender’?”
Okay, deep breath, aaaaannnddd … “Well, I am. I’m transgender.”
My daughter, who’d wiggled her way into my lap (her preferred place), looked up at me. “You like girl things?”
I nodded. “Sort of.”
My son didn’t even need to Thinker-pose this time. “I’m okay with that.”
If this were a television show, the conversation might have ended there, with an awwww! from the audience and a warm-hearted smile from the woman as her kids ran off to play. This wasn’t television, though, and so there were several more minutes of trying to explain and clarify things for them, to make sure they understood exactly what this meant. At one point, I said, “You realize this means that at some point you’ll see me in a dress, right?” and my son did an overly dramatic “head exploding” sound and gesture before collapsing on the floor, but then he quickly looked up and laughed.
As part of the conversation, I asked my daughter if she remembered the wig she’d seen in my closet. She started giggling. “Daddy, I put it on Bun-Bun, because I wanted it to look like he had long hair.” Bun-Bun is a stuffed rabbit she likes to play with, about six inches tall. So we went to closet and opened it, and sure enough she’d put Bun-Bun in the hollow of the wig stand, surrounded by hair. I don’t know how long Bun-Bun had been there; honestly, I hadn’t had a chance to wear the wig since the last time she and I talked about it.
That was about it. I didn’t suddenly go all femme in front of them or begin demanding they call me “Mom.” In fact, I told them that I was their Dad, that I would always be their Dad, and that they could call me Dad for as long as they wanted to call me Dad. I will not erase my relationship with my children or demand that they rewrite it in their hearts just to suit my desires. I couldn’t do that to them. They are exempt from all the expectations I might place on society.
So there it is: a big step I’d been dreading was both just as monumental as I’d anticipated, yet not monumental at all. Now I just need to tell the rest of the world.