Open Letter to All the Parents of Newly-Identified Transgender Children
I remember the day my son was born, and how excited and proud I was. I would have said that I didn’t care about my child’s gender, only that he or she be born healthy. I was wrong. I did care about gender. I felt such incredible joy knowing that I had a son.
Over the years, I tried to raise him to become a good man, doing all the things a dad is expected to do. I was the den leader for his Cub Scout pack, coached him in several sports, and took him to hunter education. But I failed to accept him in one area–when he said he was a she.
During my son’s 9th grade year, my youngest daughter informed my wife and me of a video our son had posted on YouTube explaining how he was a she but didn’t know how to tell us. He was seeking input from the entire world! Knowing how cruel people could be, I had him remove the posting immediately. We then got him into counseling.
At that time I had a strong aversion to trans people. It certainly wasn’t a result of my liberal upbringing, and I do have gay friends. And yet, observing “katoeys” in Thailand who were prostitutes, and then dealing with transgender prostitutes as a cop, I couldn’t see anything positive about it. I only saw mental illness.
I wanted counseling to remove any thoughts my son had of being a girl. I thought he was just confused. Instead the counseling reaffirmed his conviction to be female. When the counselor confidently told me that, in effect, my son was going to move forward with a gender transition, it was one of the worst days of my life. I was losing my son! How could this be? I raised him to be a man! I still vividly remember the shock and utter devastation I felt that day.
Our family started to disintegrate. I found myself experiencing the first stage of grief—denial. I refused to believe that my son was transgender. If I denied it strongly enough, maybe I would get my son back. My wife was tremendously hurt when I refused to learn more about it. I ignored the pile of books she strategically left out for me.
Meanwhile, my wife and son began attending a transgender support group. I never went and I have no idea what was discussed. I only know that my wife cried a lot, dubbing herself as “the Kleenex lady.” I gave her no support.
Then, I experienced the second stage of grief–anger. I was angry with my wife for supporting our son’s transition. I felt betrayed. Our discussions were heated, with her trying to convince me to accept the situation, and me trying to convince her to fight it. I was unaware that, for my child, there was no going back.
Our marriage took a big hit the day I forced her to promise not to buy our son any feminine clothing. I essentially forced her to choose between her husband and her child, and I lost. My wife broke her promise, lied to me, and helped our son pick out new clothing. The first time I saw him in a dress I freaked out. “Whoa! What the hell? Get out of that thing!” I yelled. I couldn’t accept it. I couldn’t forgive my wife for betraying me, and she could not forgive me for forcing a promise she could not keep. At this point, our marriage died.
I sank into depression, the third stage of grief. Numerous times I thought of ending my misery and the pain I was causing my family. One day, I found myself holding a pistol. I was about to head into the nearby forest to end it all. I figured that my wife and son wouldn’t care. They both seemed to actively hate me by this time. I thought of my youngest daughter, who still adored me, and I couldn’t go through with it. I couldn’t bear the thought of devastating one more person.
One day, I told my son to do some chores. He snapped, decided to run away, and fled on his bike. I gave chase in the car, and eventually convinced him to stop. We spent over an hour under a huge oak tree talking and I agreed to go along with his transition. I was not ready to accept it, but for the sake of family unity, I decided to get out of the way.
In an attempt to save my marriage, I agreed to attend the Gender Odyssey Family conference. They offered a closed session for fathers. I went reluctantly, but I’m glad I did. It helped me find the final stage of my grief–acceptance. While discussing the suicide rate for trans people, I piped up: “What about the suicide rate for parents?” I lied when they pressed. “No, I have no real intention of going that route.” I didn’t mention that, just a few weeks before, I’d been holding my pistol with just that intent. I came out of the session with a new understanding. I was resolved to accept my child. I started referring to her with female pronouns (though I still had difficulty calling my son my daughter).
Our next steps included a name change and announcing the transition at my child’s high school. We live in a small rural community, so I was extremely apprehensive about the safety of my child. I feared the worst. And, we were indeed in for a real shock—nothing happened! The first day of her new identity (including her new feminine attire) took place the day after her name change, and just about every one of her friends accepted it (or perhaps they ignored it).
My daughter completed the next year and half of high school, graduated, and was accepted to a media school. People who meet her now aren’t aware of her history as a boy. She plans to pursue gender reassignment surgery once she’s through school and has her career on track. I now support her in this endeavor. To be honest though, part of me still hopes that one day I’ll see my son again, but I know this won’t happen. I love my daughter, but I still grieve for my son.
I wish my story had nothing but happy endings. My refusal to support my wife and oldest child has damaged our marriage so badly that I am not sure I can repair it. I may not have time. I was diagnosed with stage-four cancer. My wife even acknowledged that part of her felt relief. Honestly, I don’t blame her. They all deserved for me to be a better husband and father. My goal, before I die, is to find the love that we once had together.
I have a few words of advice for any parent who discovers they have a transgender child.
- This is not something you can change through resistance, punishment, denial, or laying down the law. You can save yourself, your spouse, and especially your child a lot of agony by simply seeking a path to acceptance.
- Be supportive of each other. Don’t make demands or ultimatums. It just won’t work.
- Find support for yourself and your family: a group, a therapist, books, etc. Your relationships with all family members are at stake.
- If your child says that they need to transition, let them. It is reasonable to ask them to do it in small steps so that you have time to catch your breath, catch up to them, and then go along for the ride.
- Don’t be like me. Save your marriage, your family, and the life of your child. Waiting or resisting the inevitable might be too late.
A Husband and Father Who Wishes He Had a Second Chance