When I was a student I remember buying a glass tea set. It was useful because it was so cheap but I was also captivated by the way it presented things. Making and consuming hot drinks became a delight. Fruit infusions could be appreciated for their delicate rose colours.; fresh mint tea showed off it’s beautiful leaves; freshly black coffee looked rich and an opaque deep brown. Transparent crockery lets you see what you are drinking. Whilst I had the set I stopped taking milk in tea so that I could marvel at the diversity of colour it gave, from Pale Jasmine Blossom to dark Assam. Diversity, difference and authenticity all came with transparency. In a way it’s a metaphor for being who you truly are; for being clear and open about your self. So what about parenting? Does transparency have any relevance apart from he title of my blog? I happen to think it does. Transparency in a person is about being honest and true, about NOT hiding who you really are.
Trans* parents have long since had a rough ride when it comes to child rearing. Heavily criticised in the past for breaking up families, harming their children and damaging relationships; Trans* parents have got a bad press. I have lost count of the number of comments containing expletives which condemned my decision to come out ten years ago. Those comments have focussed on blaming me for imagined damage caused to my family. One relative used the occasion of my father’s funeral to tell me that he could never forgive me for the harm I had ‘done’ to my ex and children. Psychologists too were quick to blame my Trans status for my offspring’s difficulties; ones later ascribed by their colleagues to external causes. More recently, an individual who scarcely knows me referred to myself and my partner as ‘fucked up parents’. Because of such attitudes, many Trans* men and women lose their spouses and also their children: They witness the disintegration of close and much loved relationships. On coming out, Trans* individuals may also lose close friends and members of their extended family. In written correspondence with one Trans woman I was told: “I quite literally gave up absolutely everything: I have nowhere to live, no wife, no kids, no mates….”.
Are scenarios like the one above extreme and uncommon? I really don’t know. I’d like to think not. I know relatively few other Trans* Parents and seem myself to have had something of an easy ride. I realise that I’m fortunate. I’m a highly educated white professional woman who has seldom been out of work. I have a close and friendly relationship with my ex partner and we enjoyed an easy, mutually agreed and relatively seamless annulment of our 27 year marriage. We have continued to enjoy each other’s company, taken joint holidays and carried on a sisterly relationship. We have supported our family co-operatively, with love and understanding: We just don’t live in the same place any more. This isn’t to say that there have not been difficult times; there are in every marriage. As joint parents of our two girls we have had to cope with the distress and joys of supporting one child with disabilities and another who felt alienated at school. We put one of our children through independent school and the other has just graduated College. We are proud of what they have achieved in the face of their own set of challenges as adults. One is now a dance teacher and one works in retail. We love them both dearly.
Adaptation has been the key to coping with challenges and change. As a family we have had to adapt to living apart: My eldest lives in the South, my ex in an adjacent county. We have had to adapt to a family in which both parents are women with their own distinct personalties; where we have new and distinct sets of friends and where one of us has a new partner. We have adjusted by making sure that there is always a welcome in both our homes and that our two daughters have the chance to stay in touch. True, along the way there have been casualties. Intolerance within my ex partner’s extended family has meant some strained relationships and being exposed to bigotry (my blog has been witness to that). Though warm hearted and close tin the initial years of my transition, my eldest daughter is now more distant.
Since I found a new partner there have been other changes too. We now have a man in a household which was once all female. The dynamics of our family have shifted. It has meant sharing love and ensuring that there is enough to go round. I have coped with seeing my daughter very much in love and in a relationship. She in turn has adapted to seeing me give my love to a wonderful guy, Martin, who returns that precious gift a thousand times over. Our apartment is now tidier and more ordered with three people in it; broken things have been fixed. There is now a Dad as well as a Mum in my daughter’s life. My partner is also Trans*. Sometimes he presents as female. My daughter relates well to that and sometimes I wonder why. Why is she so accepting of diversity and so welcoming? It can’t have been easy for see a new man in my life. More recently my youngest came out as Lesbian and she too has encountered new challenges. It isn’t my place to chronicle them here. She has her own blog and I have seen her use it continually to grow and make sense of her world. What has struck me throughout is the extent to which she has drawn on new skills and strengths to move forward. It made me think. ‘How has having Trans* parents helped my daughters?’. ‘What strengths can a family with Trans* parents give to their children?’ It has prompted me to examine what both I and my new partner have given to our family besides a good home and love.
First and foremost I believe that we have presented a true, positive role model. As Trans* Parents we have had to struggle with our own definition of who we are and how society chooses to define us. We have explored, embraced and finally come to celebrate and be proud of OUR diversity. So many parents live a lie, failing to be authentic and true to themselves. They hide from problems and issues. They struggle to keep up appearances by appearing ‘normal’ and ‘fitting in’. When children of families such as these encounter diversity they may see it as deviance from the ‘norm’ (whatever that is) and respond to it with hatred and intolerance. As an educator, it is a trend I see repeated so often in the classroom. I see none of that in my own family. I have been proud to see how well my daughter has coped with embracing and rejoicing in her own sexual orientation. I believe that in learning how to cope with our own gender identities we have also helped her define her sexual orientation.
I believe that as Trans* parents we have also successfully promoted self advocacy; the ability to speak out, stand up for your rights and validate your value within the community. Self advocating individuals are generally strong people; capable of coping intelligently with challenges and setbacks. People who are an inspiration to others. I have seen my daughter empowered to cope with homophobia as well as being willing and ready to advocate the rights of her friends.
As a Trans* parent I have become a better listener and a more understanding person. Having had to encounter bigotry and counter it, I am more open to listening to the opinions and viewpoints of others. I have become acutely aware of my own stereotypes and prejudices, particularly towards those outside the LGBT community. It has made me work harder to see others more clearly, to appreciate their diversity and to encourage my daughters to do the same.
Finally, for those who claim that having a Trans* parent makes a child more vulnerable and open to hatred, I have this to say: Hate is everywhere, if you don’t fit in or are in anyway different you will encounter it. Having a Trans* parent is no different in that respect to having a Hispanic one, or one who is Disabled. Seeing their parents struggle against prejudice and overcome it has made my children stronger, not weaker. It has equipped them well, not only to combat hatred but to strive to change it. I see them prepared not only to cope better with Society as it is but to be the forerunners of bringing forward the diverse and caring Society that should be.
Trans* parents ARE transparent. They are authentic individuals, ones who know themselves well through their struggle to be who they truly are. Rather than frowning on Trans* and Gay parenthood we should celebrate it for the force it gives to moulding a better and more equal world.