March 7, 2008
“What about the kids?”
As is well documented, we have three kids – Peri, 10 – John – 7 (almost 8 ) and Samwich (1 in a week!).
Many people have asked many questions about the kids – how did we tell them and how they reacted, how they dealt with my early transition and how they are doing now.
How Did We Tell Them?
The challenges for telling the kids included:
– what to tell them, and how to do it in a way that they would understand
– how to give them space to react and respond
– how to be “true” to myself, but at the same time still love and honor these precious little beings
We ended up telling them at the start of a two week vacation. Me, Anh and my mom sat down at the dining room table and told Peri and John that we had to tell them something important.
We first reassured them that no one was sick or dying, and no one was going away. (Their grandfather – my dad – had died about a year earlier, and they were still scared of that) We reassured them that we loved them, and that nothing about that was going to change.
I then told them that while most kids, when they are very young know that they are a boy or a girl, and their bodies match that. I said that I didn’t feel that way. That I felt more like I was really a girl, even though my body was that of a boy.
We told them that at the end of the year, I was going to start living my life the way that I really felt inside – as a girl.
We reassured them that we loved them, that I was still their Dad, and that our family was staying together.
We didn’t say a whole lot more.
John started to cry, and after that so did Peri. Anh reassured them that it was ok to cry and to be angry with me. That she was initially as well. We let them have their feelings, and didn’t try to talk them out of it.
This initial conversation was brief… probably only 10 minutes, or so. We all hugged, reiterated the central points – that we loved them, I was still their dad, and that we were still all together.
We just sat there for a while…. Both Peri and John were just sitting on my lap, and I was rocking them gently….
The next day, while on a walk, Anh asked Peri how she was doing, and then did the same for John (privately). At this point, they both said “Fine” but then “Angry”. She asked them if they had more questions, and they said no.
Over the next few days, life kind of went on, just the same as always. We didn’t bring it up. They didn’t bring it up – we were intentional about this. They needed the room to just feel what they were feeling.
After three or four more days, we checked in with them again. Peri really didn’t want to talk, but John did (I was surprised by that, given that he is two years younger, and an important two years).
I asked John how he was doing or if he had any questions, and he said:
“Is there any way to stop this?’
I said: “No, there isn’t”.
John then said one of the most amazing things I’ve heard though this entire process – note he was 7 years old at this time:
“Ok, I understand, if you stopped, you wouldn’t be being true to yourself, and that would not be the right thing to do, right Daddy?”
Peri was much quieter, and didn’t really want to talk to me about it for quite some time. She talked to Anh privately, but not as much to me.
John had another moment of brilliance later in the trip. My mom said to him “You look just like your Dad.” John says, without skipping a beat:
“Ha! But only until Thansgiving!” [that’s when I had FFS]
Dealing with the Early Transition
At home, for about three months before I transitioned, I would dress “fulltime at home” (oxymoron) in female clothes. Not ultra femme at all – jeans, t-shirt, etc. Not a lot different than what I had been wearing before. Before I did this in front of the kids, we talked a lot about it – gave them a lot of notice, and incrementally introduced it. We were monitoring the whole time if they were showing signs of stress or discomfort, and slowing (not stopping) if they did. After a while, as others came over (family and friends who knew), they saw that “nothing really changed”, and this was reassuring – in that I acted the same, Anh acted the same, and other fnf acted the same as well.
Dealing with The Transition and my FFS
I was in SFO for two weeks, and over a weekend. On that weekend, Anh went up to Seattle, and got the kids to bring them down. Partially to see me, but also to see Anh and the rest of the friends and family that were down as well. The time they were down was the hardest for me recovery wise – they got down on a Friday night, the day after FFS. Anh left it to them if they wanted to see me or not, and they both wanted to, with some trepidation. But after, in talking to them, they expressed that they were glad that they did – and I looked better (HA!) than they had feared.
Pre-surgery, we talked to them about their fears – and it really revolved around “change” and “loss”. “Change” in that I would “be different” in an unquantifiable way, and “loss” – mostly fear of me dying.
The lesson for us out of this was even though it was hard for them to see me in a hospital bed, bandaged up – that it *wasn’t as bad as they had made up in their minds* and as a result, it was a net positive. Fear of the known is easier to deal with than fear of the unknown.
Over the weekend, they spend the vast majority of the time exploring the city and being kids, and hanging around with their aunt and cousin – they loved it. They spent a little more time with me, saw me getting better, and in general were relieved.
Samwich was a little reserved with me when I had dressings on my face. As soon as all of those came off, I was just the same old Maddy to him, and he was 100% back to his previous big slobbery kisses for me.
The weekend we got back from SFO, Peri and John both had events that we were going to. This would be the first time that they would be in public with their dad Megan. We spend a lot of time talking to them about how to handle it – even minute stuff like who was going to drive them, who they were walking in with (us or their mom), etc. We talked to them about a proposed plan, and then asked for feedback – and they gave us great feedback. In the end, this was a fantastic day, and they felt included, listened to, and in control. This was our big takeaway – that they needed to feel in control, and have it be ok for them to say what was ok and what was not ok.
We have not heard of, nor have they told us of any teasing at school, at all. To the contrary, we heard a story of a mom who told her daughter who is friends with Peri:
“It’s your job as Peri’s friend to defend her. If someone starts to tease her or make fun of her because of her Dad or anything else, you need to step in and tell them that its not ok to do that.”
That was pretty amazing.
Peri and John still both call me Daddy. Its their choice what to call me, and I’ve told them that.
Anh and I refer to me as “Maddy” to Samwich. If he decides to call me Daddy, or something else in the future that would be ok too.
However, we are all pretty consistent about referring to me as “she/her”, and not “he/him”.
Update From Tonight
I asked Peri and John tonight about how they were feeling, and if there were things we did or didn’t do that they thought we should do differently.
Peri Says: “Since you told us when we were on vacation, we almost had too much time together after that. I liked being with Ma [her grandmother] and Anh, but I was mad at you, and I didn’t want to be with you *all* the time.”
Peri Says: “You think initially that it’s going to change everything – you think that – even when you said that it wouldn’t, we didn’t believe you. But now, its like nothing has changed. I’m fine now.”
John Says: “You still look like Frankenstein, because of the line on your head with no hair on it!” [I let him touch it, and that made him feel better too]
John Says: “I wish that this didn’t happen. And I’m going to wish that it didn’t happen forever.”
We talked about it more… he asked me if I was done, or if there was going to be more change. I said no, that I was done. He got a big smile on his face:
“Its ok now because I know its done. Right now is ok. Just ok. Maybe even good.”
John Says: “You are the best daddy ever!’ (Peri chimes in with the same – I think they may be pandering.)