Last Spring, I called my father and told him that my wife was transgender. He asked some weird questions (surprised of course) but ended the conversation by telling me that he loved me and my little family; always had, always will.
I was relieved. It is the same thing I hope to say to my daughter if she ever tells something this sensitive to me.
In the months that followed, when my wife’s parents were jumping off the deep end by shooting insults and death threats whenever possible, my dad was there to listen and quietly support me when needed. I could tell that he had his own feelings and concerns about the changes in my family. When I pressed him to open up and talk to me about his feelings, he told me, “You have too much to worry about already.”
He was right. I was having trouble keeping my sanity. Tired and on edge, I tried to keep our little tribe forward. I worked hard to be some awesome pillar of strength but, in the end, I think it just made me even crazier.
My dad wasn’t using the right pronouns when talking about Michelle. He still called her by her masculine name. Each time he did I would cringe inside, feeling betrayed. When alone with him, I reassured that it was ok if he messed up but that I just needed him to try. His response to me was always the he was trying.
My interaction with him only got hostile once. He tested boundaries by asking me what would happen if he didn’t like the new direction my family was taking. I responded with a short and direct ‘tough shit’.
During some visits, he would be really friendly with Michelle: give her goodbye hugs and ask questions about how she was feeling. Other days he barely spoke to her and acted like he had never heard the word transgender. At the peak of my frustration and in an effort to find a connection with my dad, I wrote him the email below:
I mentioned this weekend that Michelle is transitioning at work this week. I would have liked to talk to you more about it on Saturday but I rarely feel like you want to talk about the transition that our family is going through. I understand feeling uncomfortable or nervous about the subject. And if you don’t understand it, then that probably means you aren’t transgender. Still I feel like we need to be more open with each other.
Michelle being Michelle is not going away and this change has been good for me. Yes it has been rough but I was so miserable with her as Michael. I felt like I was being forced to be something I am not. A dutiful wife relying on a husband to take care of me. I felt pressure from the world to pretend. Now, I feel so much more like who I am supposed to be instead of putting in my time as someone else. You have even told me that you hadn’t seen me this happy in a long time.
Does this mean that I am gay? Maybe so. I questioned my sexuality privately before I even got married.
I know that you are going through your own journey with my family’s change. I can imagine that you have a lot of emotions. Maybe this is not what you wanted or expected for me? Having three daughters, you may have wished for them to marry strong men to provide and protect them. I guess you could be disappointed that I didn’t take that route. But I am not and you know that is not for me. Michelle has all of the qualities you may have wanted for me in a partner. She is my best friend, the love of my life, and the most dear/caring person I have ever met. Michelle has been my biggest supporter through her own transition and she is also a wonderful parent for Marie. She may not be a man but she is everything I have always wanted.
So on Monday, Michelle is going to work as Michelle. She will never go to work again as Michael. As of that day, everyone we know (work, family, friends) will call her by her new name and use new pronouns. You have told me that you haven’t gotten there yet. I logically understand what you mean but that statement hurts me. It upsets me because I feel like, by not trying to use the correct words, you are ignoring what I and my family have gone through the past year. Trying, failing, and correcting yourself is okay and expected. I still make mistakes sometimes. But it really pains me that you don’t try enough to make mistakes and correct them.
Please help and support me by being more open and acknowledging what is going on in our lives.
Please let me know how I can better help you through this time too.
I love you.
The response below from my dad was short and sweet.
Thank you for your message which I do want to read closely with an open mind and heart. I wanted to acknowledge that I have received it.
I love you so much and I truly want you and Michelle to be happy with yourselves, as a couple and as parents. This has not and will not change.
Our exchange did not fix things entirely. He is still hot and cold and I notice that he talks around using pronouns now instead of trying. I have decided to pick and choose my battles with him.
Perhaps the changes in my family have awoken thoughts and emotions in his own life that make him uneasy being around me. Maybe he just doesn’t understand. Either way, he would never let me know.
Last Christmas was the first holiday that Michelle spent away from her family. The toxicity level with my in-laws rose to a point of being unhealthy and she decided to finally let them go. My dad, knowing this Christmas would be difficult for her, had a brand new stocking made for her especially for his house. Across the top it read ‘Michelle’. I know, whether hot or cold, he loves me, Michelle, and our daughter as deeply as only a dad can.
P.S – Dad, if you ever read this, know that I shared this information in hopes that it helps another ‘me’ in the world. I love you dearly.