A Letter to My Father-In-Law

My father-in-law wrote me a letter last month, the gist of which was to, (I think, he never really came out and said it,) be a man and not to make the similar mistakes he did and screw up my kids like he did his.

Here’s my edited-for-the-web response.

Feel free to borrow any parts that are relevant and critique any parts that are off-base.

17 March, 2012

Dear W,

Thank you for your letter of 27 February. I appreciate you reaching out to me and sharing your experiences.

I think you’re pretty hard on yourself when you call yourself a miserable failure. I’ve found parenting very hard and it’s been difficult to set aside my expectations of my children and engage with them as they are, not how I want or expect them to be.

I still often fail at this five and half years in and I expect that there are yet many years of failure ahead of me in this area. I try and keep the perspective that parenting is something I have to practice with them every day, not a test to be passed on a certain date, and that the mistakes I make will be smaller and less hurtful to them as time goes on.

But without failure, we have no clear direction in which to grow and learn. If you feel you have somehow failed your children in some way, there is tomorrow and the days after it to practice the lesson with them.

To address the elephant in the room, your, “…beg[ging] me to reconsider the choices that [I] have made” I must assume relates to my efforts to navigate a course to address my transgenderism{1}.

Sadly, most people’s perceptions of transgender men and women have been painted in a most lurid fashion via the media and by extension, the entire culture. We tend to be rejected and reviled while also expected to stand for a scrutiny that would make the most uninhibited exhibitionist blush.

When telling a good friend of over twenty years acquaintance that I thought I might be a transgender woman, his immediate response was to ask me if I was going to have “the surgery.” Pause for a moment and imagine telling your best friend that you have brain cancer and the first thing that they say in response is, “So, are you going to have your skull sliced open and have it cut out?”

This level of ignorance and insensitivity is part and parcel of the transgender experience. Layer in the ingrained cultural reflex to pretend we don’t exist or  either mock, harass, kill or leave us to die{4} when we are seen, and it comes no surprise that 41%{5} (compared to 1.6% of the general population) of transgender people have attempted suicide.

It’s incredibly hard to express the transgender experience to a cisgender{6} person. So when someone frames my experience as one of “choice”, my hackles go up. While what I actually choose to do about it is my choice, it is a physical condition that I was likely born with{7}, and I’m stuck addressing it.

As far as I’m concerned, the options to address it are all Faustian bargains. To me there are no clear-cut options as they all blend together, but here are the major waypoints:

1) I can ignore it the best I can and deny it when it calls for me
2) I can sandbox it off and only express it during select, hidden times
3) I can sandbox it off and only express it during select times outside of my family time
4) I can integrate parts of it into my daily life but generally hide it
5) I can integrate parts of it into my daily life and be open about it
6) I can embrace it fully

I’ve found that options 1 and 2 just don’t work for me anymore. I was able to do this for many years, but they now create a level of mental anguish that I am unable to endure. I’m currently living a blend of 3 and 4, but I find that I chafe and wear at parts of it, and I fear that the only way to remove the discomfort is to move towards option 5 and beyond.

Since my frame of reference is one of a physical, not mental or emotional accommodation, I struggle with, on an almost daily basis, a very simple question: will I be happier if I move toward embracing it?

This is an extraordinarily hard question to answer.

On the surface, it seems like a no-brainer. Of course transitioning to live as  woman would be disruptive to my family. Of course my life would be harder in some ways. Of course I risk losing the intimate relationship my wife and potentially my kids. Of course this would be complex and hard, and potentially emotionally scar my boys. Of course I’d move myself into a minority group that receives active, violent hostility. What am I? Nuts? Deluded? 

But then I dive a bit deeper, and things don’t seem so clear.

What if I become a happier person overall if I transitioned? Wouldn’t that be the best model I could be to my kids; someone pursuing happiness?

What if I suppressed or hid it for my kids’ and wife’s sake? I know exactly how it makes me unhappy; how long can I carry that burden of unhappiness before it either crushes me and I become a statistic or I lay it down and let them down?

So I’m trying to walk a middle path now. For you to say, “You have the opportunity to break the cycle of raising two children that may turn out to be pretty messed up,” is you projecting your own experience onto mine, which has about as much in common as a hedonist and a cancer patient smoking pot in my eyes, and completely overlooks their mother’s influence.

Sorry to vent there, W, but I’m tired of being the punching bag for screwing up my family.

I love my wife and kids fiercely, and the thought of being estranged from them tears at me.

To close an overlong letter, I put to you a question: which choices would you have me reconsider and how would you have me choose otherwise? As your daughter will attest to, I’m often dense, so it’s likely that I’m missing something obvious, but I need you to spell it out. Sorry about that.


{1} This is a much better term than transsexualism, which is a very unfortunate term popularized in 1966 by Harry Benjamin in The Transsexual Phenomenon and tied to his most famous patient, Christine Jorgensen. The term transsexual overweights attention to primary{2} or secondary{3} physical sex characteristics. Transgenderism is an umbrella term applied to people who are uncomfortable with and/or reject their primary and/or secondary physical sex characteristics and/or social gender role ascribed to them at birth.

{2} Sexual organs. e.g. – testes, ovaries, penis, vagina, etc.

{3} Muscle mass and fat distribution, voice frequency, hair pattern, etc.

{4} On Aug. 7, 1995, a transgender woman name Tyra Hunter was involved in a car accident in Washington D.C. Emergency personnel were called to the scene, and upon discovering she was a transgender woman, care was stopped on the scene and the emergency room doctor refused to treat her as well. She died. Medical experts later testified that she had an 86% chance of survival with proper treatment. This is one example of many.

{5} See http://endtransdiscrimination.org/PDFs/NTDS_Report.pdf for some similar statistics around harassment, employment, income, etc. for transgender people.

{6} The opposite of transgender.

{7} The current theory is that sometime between four and six weeks, when the fetus is still sexually undifferentiated, they receive a hormone shower that should match their chromosomal makeup (estrogens for XX and androgens for XY [there’s another  discussion about people with mixed or variant {XXY, XYY, etc.} chromosomes that I won’t go into here]) but they get the wrong hormones, thus gendering the brain in the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis opposite to the physical chromosomal code. (The bed nucleus of the stria terminalis is sexually dimorphic, generally being twice as large in men than in women.) Briefly, the brain sex doesn’t match the body sex. With the stria terminalis connecting the amygdala to the thalamus, this is a deep-seated brain structure that is involved in our emotions, memory, and consciousness. The science here is still fuzzy since the resolution of the current imaging technology isn’t enough to compare sizes in live people, so only post-mortem data are available. That said, more and more “mental illnesses”, (as transgenderism/transsexualism is currently classified,) are proving to be either brain wiring or chemical variations, so I’m of the conviction that transgenderism is an innate condition vs. something psychologically manifested based on the science and my history of a sustained, decades-long presenting condition.


About cistotrans

A Seattle-area trans woman seeking a happy spot to stay at along the path of transition.
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One Response to A Letter to My Father-In-Law

  1. Pingback: Week 153 – Five years later… | Becoming Me

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