This is a repost from the first season of The Cis Jungle nearly two years ago. This three part writing about being transgender and parenthood captures the stories of both myself and my close friend Arykah. In her own words, here is Arykah’s story:
“So Daddy, why did you and mommy get a divorce?” These were the words of my then 11 year old daughter as we whizzed down the interstate shortly after I picked her up at Detroit Metro Airport. It was October 2013 and it had been over a year since the last time that I seen her chocolate face, hugged her neck, orkissed her cute cheeks. After 10 years of marriage my ex-wife had enough and decided to leave and took a job and the kids toArizona, a distant land from Cincinnati. The process of separation, divorce, distance, and the tension between the parents fiscally prohibited visits. While I know that some that read this will object to the existence of God, and I respect that view, I credit God with the circumstances that caused my ex-wife to ultimately relocate to Michigan a short time later, a destination substantially closer and affordable to travel to fromCincinnati than Arizona. So after the question, “Daddy, why did you and mommy get a divorce?,” I told my daughter that I would tell her when the time was right, now was just not the time, and she was cool for the time being. I was not surprised by the question and suspected that she had been prompted to askbecause her mother had threatened me in an email six weeks earlier stating, “SInce you are coming out about being a transvestite, when will you tell your daughter? When will you have that conversation? If you do not, I will have it with her. Her interest and well-being are all that I am concerned about.” I explained that I would tell our daughter when the time was right and that I was seeking counseling to determine the best way to explain me being transgender. I had moved from what my ex-wife knew, and I had never used the word transvestite to describe me but I suppose this was her jabbing at me.
Many individuals know that they are different early in life but are unfamiliar with the term transgender, especially when growing up in the years before the internet, we hid, denied,overcompensated, and ran; this was me, Caitlyn Jenner, and Kristen Beck to name a few. I struggled to fit in and faked it as much as I could to be masculine. I played sports, did scouting (eagle), pledged a masculine Greek letter organization in college, worked on cars with my dad, and at times over dated women to overcompensate for my desire to be a female. Realistically, I liked those things then and they are things that I like now, and girls can do them too. My sexuality was never really in question; it was my gender identity that I struggled with. I ultimately married a beautiful woman and conceived a child, my daughter, the focus of this article.
I started my transition in April 2013 knowing that it was going to be a hard road travel, but I was up for it because anything else didn’t have a good ending. I didn’t have a plan but I knew what I had been doing wasn’t working and had to try something different. I was seeing a couple of therapist who were helping me on this journey to resolve some of the unknowns, the largest of which was my daughter. My ex-wife had only a few rules of relationship of which one was “don’t lie to me.” I had lied to her through omission by not tell her about how I felt from the very start, but hell, I didn’t really understand me at the time so how could I explain it to her or anyone else. After divorce, reflection, and research, I concluded that the lesson that I learned was that lying doesn’t pay, my daughter deserved the truth.
It was one month later for Thanksgiving in November of 2013 when I picked up my daughter for Thanksgiving break that she hopped into the backseat of the car, strapped on her seatbelt, crossed her arms, and said, “So daddy, why did you and mommy get a divorce?” At this point I knew that this was not going to go away, nor did I expect it to, I was on a journey and she was with me. I said that we would talk, and as we stopped to get lunch at iHOP I told her that I would tell her during her Christmas break.
I am and have always been an active “father” in my daughter’sand stepson’s life. I can’t take all the credit, but I was instrumental in helping to teach them to cook the basic meals, clean house, drive a car, ride a bike, throw a football, helping with homework, teach life’s lessons, and a plethora of other things. I talk to the kids and am genuinely concerned about what they are going through. I am not perfect, but I am there and learning just as they are. Being a parent is hard and there is no exact blueprint, every child is different and you can paint a pretty picture of what it is going to be, but you have to bringextra paint to the party repaint what it really is.
It was one month later in December that I had prepped myselffor this talk, I had thought about the effects of this on my daughter, and steps to take should she reject me or need help getting through this. I didn’t think that there would be a problem because she is just a loving child, but I needed to be prepared for the worst. I had talked with Trans friends with children in similar situations and I had heard and read the horror stories of friends and acquaintances that waited until their children graduated from high school, college, or grad school to tell them, only to be slapped with rejection. Their children were upset not because the parent was Transgender, but by the factthat they had been taught to tell the truth and be upstanding people, yet here their parent had been lying to them and not living authentically for years. Additionally, my encounters taught me that younger children are moldable, more accepting, and less judgmental; there was room for us to grow together, and society had changed so much in the last 30 years.
She jumped into the car and with that same routine and zeal, asked the question, “So daddy, why did you and mommy get a divorce?” I didn’t want to start our time together on this, so I diverted the conversation until New Year’s Eve. I had told myself that I wanted to start the year anew, so this was it. That morning she made breakfast and I said, “let’s watch a movie,” sowe hopped on the couch with a quilt and watched the HBO movie “Normal.” The movie is about a rural family of four in which the husband comes out as being Transgender. I chose the movie because it was very similar to our family and my story, the children were about the age of mine, and it presented a lot of the issues that families and transgender individuals go through. About half way through the movie I stopped and said, “you have been asking why mommy and I divorced, well it is because I am like Ruth, I am transgendered.” Don’t get me wrong, this was not the only reason for divorce but it was the main one, we had other problems, and according to my ex-wife she has no problem with me being Transgender, her problem was that I lied to her and didn’t give her a choice, fair enough.
My daughter didn’t blink or seem to be phased in the least bitwhen I told her. I explained a little more about me by telling her that I would always be her daddy and that while I might change on the outside, I would always be the same person to her on the inside. I showed her some pictures, and asked if she had any questions, she didn’t. We finished the movie then decided to go to the mall, and on the way she said, “Daddy, I am going to need a picture of Arykah.”
Children are interesting creatures, most simply wanting to express and receive love while being extremely accepting of most things that aren’t harmful. I use to believe that it took both a mother and father to raise a child, and while I still believe there are a few gray areas where this thinking has some value, I also know that given the world that we live in, good parenting, love, time, and attention go a long way regardless of the gender make up of the parents. I still do believe that it takes at least twoparents working together to create balance for their child’s development, and that those two parents know that being a parent never ends.”
To read more be sure to check out Arykah’s forthcoming book.
“In Exile: Beautiful Struggle.” The Cis Jungle will share details of the release as they come! And of course once the book is released I will be doing a review!