Relationship Defined

“If male-to-female transgenders are called “transwomen,” should male-to-female transgender fathers be called “transmothers” ?”
— Father’s Day post on a crossdressers blog

Absolutely not.  You may change your identification in the world, but you can’t easily change your child’s identification of you, or change your responsibility to them.

Once a father, always a father, at least in the eyes of a child.   They need fathers, need someone to be there for them, someone who they can rely on.

You want to go gender neutral and call them a trans parent, well, maybe.  But fathers are defined by kids who see us, not by our own claims and assertions.

To be a father is a sacred responsibility.  You carry role that from the moment you start that relationship with a child.

The ABC Family reality show “Becoming Us” centres around the teenage son of a transwoman who is just emerging.   He is dating a girl whose father also identifies as trans, but who still lives mostly as a man.

Ben is clear: while his transitioning parent may not want to accept the label “father,” preferring to be called “mother” or at least the gender neutral “parent,” she is his father.   The very fact of denying the facts of fatherhood upsets Ben a great deal, causing him real loss and distress at a time where he is working to embrace his own manhood.

I understand this firsthand.

“It’s easier to call them Diane and Holly,” I said to Evan, “but I know that they are your mother and father.”   I could see him relax in that moment, a transperson understanding the facts as he understood them and not trying to rationalize or finesse.

In a binary world, it’s easy to want to believe that if you are not one thing then you are the other.  The ideas that if we renounce manhood, we become woman, and everything about us changes to that model is seductive and compelling, allowing the idea of clean and perfect transitions.

The old Benjamin transmodel used to kowtow to that binary expectation.   We were expected to rewrite our history to be more gender normative, turning boyfriends into girlfriends, wives into husbands and so on.

While we could concoct a new history, the people in relationship with us had no such obligation.   They would remain our ex-wives, our sons, our parents, and so on.

We are unable to rewrite the memories and facts of anyone else’s life, even if we try to erase, manipulate and rewrite our own.    The relationships we had are the relationships we had, the choices we made are the choices we made, and the consequences and responsibilities our actions created are the consequences and responsibilities we have.

The mother of Katherine Hawkins was clear.  “My daughter emerged as trans and purged herself of all her inner ambiguities…  and dumped them all right onto us!”   Our emergence demands that people either disconnect from us or engage our ambiguities.   For children, this is an enormous burden to dump onto them.

Emerging as trans in the world does not move us from man to woman.  It moves us more fluidly and fully into the world of trans, of between, of both and none.  We have always been unfixed in the world, most of us knowing that very early, but we knew how to hide behind the expectations written on our bodies

We dream of becoming fixed, but that is not our lot.   We come out, holding on to whatever bit we can, but we still know that we can become unstuck in any moment when someone writes their own assumptions and expectations over our hard-won gender.

Our past is our past, no matter how far we have come from our old habits, traditions and choices.  Our body is our body, always stuck between the sexes no matter how much we intervene.

We have a trans past, a trans body and a trans life.    Our relationships cross gender and time.   We ask our lovers to engage all of us so they have to move past heterosexist binary to find their own embracing sexuality

We ask those we are in relationship to stay with us, but relationships are never one sided.   It always takes two to tango, and we have our own part to play, especially with those we have brought into the world and who are struggling to create their own full, mature and complete lives.

We have labels of preference, assertions of identity that we feel keeps our past in the shadows and throws light onto our present choices.   We make our claims and strive to grow into them.

None of that actually erases our past or our responsibility, though.  If we value the relationships we are in, want to keep the connections that we have created, we need to stand up and do the work.

I have seen transwomen try to blame families and I have challenged them, in print (1997) and face to face, encouraging them to reach out rather than just sit at the bar feeling sorry for themselves.

Our relationships with other people don’t change just because we want them to.  Everyday we will always be trans, in relationships, in our minds, in the eyes of others, somewhere, no matter how much we want to be fixed and normative.

We have interesting lives, we transpeople.  And we remind the people with conventional lives of our continuous common humanity.

We have gifts we can give to those we love, but only if we do the work to stay in relationship with them, respecting them as we want them to respect us.

(Oh, and I would not easily call a transperson a “transgender” any more than I would easily call a gay person a “homosexual.”   We are not our diagnosis.)