March 7, 2008

“What about the kids?”

Posted in family, transgender at 10:46 pm by Michael

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.

Reentry

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.)

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9 Comments »

  1. Tiana said,

    Megan,
    Thank you very much for posting such personal information about your interaction with your children. I would imagine it is not easy, but I want you to know that it is helpful to others, especially me.

    I have two children, a 13yo son and 11yo daughter, who both do not yet know about me. My wife has known for over a year, as I have been making changes during that time through hormones and hair removal. My hair has grown out fairly long, and through HRT I do look somewhat feminine. My kids have seen the transition gradually and for the most part have not thought much of it. There have been instances where someone has referred to me as “ma’am” in front of my family, even though I was dressed in male clothing and no makeup. My daughter thinks it is funny, but did not say much else about it. My son never seems to react to it at all.

    I did take one opportunity to educate them, when I overheard my son telling my daughter about a boy in school who dressed like a girl. He thought it was “weird”, so I sat them down (with my wife’s permission) in front of the TV, which was connected to a computer, and showed them the Barbara Walter’s special about transgender kids that was on YouTube. Both sat through it without making any faces, and afterwards when asked what they thought just said they understood, with no other questions. My message to them was that others may be different but they are just people.

    So thanks again for sharing, and I look forward to reading more about your experiences.

  2. Tam said,

    It sounds like you handled everything with great sensitivity, honesty, and kindness. Hopefully your kids will learn from this that they can approach problems and challenges openly and be accepted even if their needs seem wacky. (That’s kind of the condensed version of what I’m trying to say, but I hope it makes sense.)

  3. Just Curious said,

    You really seem self-indulgent. At the ripe old age of 38, you finally realize who you are, and decide that both your children and your new wife just have to accept it. Shame on you for not dealing with your issues sooner, and dragging in these innocent people. I bet your first wife is quite relieved.

    Megan>> Hmm… again, I’m a big fan of free speech, but it’s bi-directional. 🙂

    From Dictionary.com:

    cu·ri·ous [kyoor-ee-uhs]–adjective
    1. eager to learn or know; inquisitive.
    2. prying; meddlesome.
    3. arousing or exciting speculation, interest, or attention through being inexplicable or highly unusual; odd; strange: a curious sort of person; a curious scene.

    I’m not sure what you are “Just Curious” about, since you seem to be making a statement, but I’ll try to address these statements in order:

    “You seem really self-indulgent”

    Again, from Dictionary.com:

    self-in·dul·gent [self-in-duhl-juhnt, self-] –adjective
    1. indulging one’s own desires, passions, whims, etc., esp. without restraint.
    2. characterized by such indulgence.

    I’m curious, and I really am, have you read my blog, or just this one post? If you had, I think you would see how hard of a decision that this was for me to both face how I felt (gender dichotomy), and then to tell Anh how I felt, and then together with her decide on the right course of action.

    I did none of those things lightly, or “without restraint”.

    Now, you could say that you don’t agree – but you need to be clear on which step you think was inappropriate:
    – engaging in a theraputic course to better understand my thoughts and feelings on my gender identity
    – telling Anh that I had gender identity issues (and to be clear, thats what I told her initially – not that I was going to do *anything*).
    – deciding to transition, based on both how I felt, and a desire by both Anh and I to resolve this conflict that I was having internally

    “At the ripe old age of 38, you finally realize who you are…”

    Two things here… I’m 38 – true – but “ripe [and] old”, now thats a low blow… I hope to have at least as many good years left.

    As far as it taking me about 30 years to come to term with this – yes, totally true. It did. Do I regret it taking me this long to come to grips with this? Of course I do.

    “…decide that both your children and your new wife just have to accept it.”

    Well, these are two different issues now, aren’t they?

    As for Anh, I think there is a fair amount of confusion on this point, as the ABC story got this part wrong. When I told Anh, what I told her was how I felt. I didn’t have a pre-baked plan. We worked it out together. In many ways, Anh’s POV was to accelerate the transition, and not just be in a “middle state” for an indefinate period of time. At any point, she was free to not accept it, and not stay with me. If you knew Anh, you would know this to be true – she’s one of the strongest people I’ve ever known (and I think if you read the blog, you’d get that as well).

    As for the kids, this is true. They didn’t have a choice. And this is where reasonable people can disagree. I know that many people believe that once you have kids, till they are young adults and out of the house, you should orient your life around them. Effectively, “optimize around the kids”. Neither Anh nor I agree with this perspective. Certainly, the kids are critically important, and we try very hard to give them what they need to be healthy children and also well-adjusted adults. We do not believe that parents should subsume their own identities or lives in order to shield the kids. Rather, we believe that by exposing them to a broad range of experiences (e.g. we travel with all the kids extensively, in order to provide them exposure to all that this world is) – and not attempting to shield them from “bad” experiences that they will then grow up as more well rounded adults. This doesn’t mean that we just throw them to the wolves… this means that we consider carefully how to expose them to the fullness of life.

    Now, if you just believe that having a transgender parent is an utter tragedy, then this is not reconcileable. We do not believe it must be a tragedy, and we have tried our best to help them come to terms with this, and I think we’ve done pretty well.

    “Shame on you for not dealing with your issues sooner…”

    Yes, I should have dealt with this sooner. I do not feel proud of myself that I didn’t come out earlier. This is a double edged sword however. If I had, then perhaps neither Peri, nor John nor Samwich would exist. Would that be better? Again, read the blog. Make your own conclusions about the three of them, and how they will impact society in the future – I think it will be for the better.

    “… and dragging in these innocent people”

    I think this is covered above.

    “I bet your first wife is quite relieved.”

    About what? About the fact that we were already divorced when I came out? About the fact that I came out?

    ——————————-

    I don’t provide this “response” to be defensive, or to attempt to defend myself, but only to educate. As I’ve said before, if you really try to understand what I’ve done and not done (reading the *whole* blog is a good way to do this), and at the end, you believe that I’m just a bad person, then fine. May you live your life in peace and happiness, and not worry about the likes of me.

    Over the past few days, as you can imagine, I’ve seen a number of exceptionally negative comments about me and my family. I’d ask those that are so negative to think carefully about their position – is it about being anti-transgender people in general? Is it about not believing that trans-people actually feel that they are wrongly-gendered? Is it about believing that even if you feel this way (after extensive therapy), that you still should not transition if it will impact any other people? Or is it just the particular facts of my circumstance?

    I am genuinely curious.

    I also feel genuinely sorry for those not willing to at least entertain that the feelings, experience and choices of another person may not be their own, but at the same time, may still be real, deeply felt, and even perhaps at least as relevant as their own.

  4. Tarald Stein said,

    Great reading! And very helpful, even though my daughter is much younger. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Selene said,

    Hi Megan… just found out about your Nightline last night and unfortunately did not see it… but I for one wished to drop a note of support to you. Lord knows there’s enough negativity out there; I applaud your courage to go ahead and do what’s in your heart. I myself am at the very point of facing the same decisions, and it can be very discouraging, and then I read things like your story and get re-energized. Don’t let the naysayers get you down!

  6. Lucy said,

    Hi Megan – I found your site through Ariel’s “Microspotting” and added you right away to my RSS feeds. I’m a Mississippian, white, mid 30’s mom (of one) and wife – I tell you that not to pigeon-hole myself, but to illustrate that you have listeners and supporters far and wide. Your transitions, your sensitivity as a parent, and your positivity and grace through your life’s changes have been incredibly inspiring to me. You seem to be such a brave, strong, centered person – and I try to connect with my daughter as you are connecting with your kids. Your wife sounds really great too. It’s really wonderful to read about someone going through these changes in such a positive and supported way. Thanks for sharing these parts of your life, Megan.

  7. Sharon said,

    Megan:
    I saw you on the ABC site and then on Nightline. Since then I have spent many hours reading this blog . . . back to front. It was like reading the 1st draft of a short novel. I liked it a great deal. The human story is the best story. Yours was touching and real. Everyone has a story, its just that most are not shared with the world. Thanks for being so candid. It must be comforting for those who love and care about you to see the progression of your body matching your spirit.

    One question, are you going to continue the blog?

    Fondly,
    Sharon

    Megan>> Thanks Sharon! Well, as to your question, yes, I am planning on continuing the blog as long as a) I have anything to say and b) people are interested. So… I hope I can be creative!

  8. Karyn said,

    Hi Megan,

    I’ve watched the night line episode, read all the comments there and browsed through your site here. I wasn’t going to post but I’ve decided that I wanted to get a few things out so here I am.

    Congrats on your transition and most of all I am very happy that you have a wife who not only loves you unconditionally but understands that you simply cannot help who you fall in love with.

    With that said the one constant issue that keeps popping up in this judgment of you is the idea that you are selfish, I guess people just don’t get it or are unwilling to admit their bias is based in the gender issue and not the issue of family.

    I too am TG and in process of transitioning. Like you I am married and have a spouse who not only loves me but understands that this transition is to ensure a quality of life that will afford me longevity and happiness. If anything my wife had encouraged this more and more as she has seen the positive changes in my attitude and overall happiness. So, does my transition under those circumstances make me selfish? Maybe but then every other human being that expects me to live in their definition of my being is selfish as well.

    Feeling whole, happy and at peace with yourself will only create a better family unit in the long run and it will teach a new generation about diversity. People get so caught up in their own uncomfortable feelings about things that they use children as a means to justify their disagreement. Let’s face it, children are innocent enough that if they are brought up open and unashamed of it then this whole type of issue is really a non-issue. Children have the ability to look past the superficial ….

    Anyway I wanted to congratulate you on not only your transition but the idea that you want to make it better for others by being public, it’s an honorable thing to do.

    In closing I wanted to mention another part of your blog that struck me as humorous. I’m from just North of Boston and I’m well aware of the Boston guy speak you mentioned. I have to admit though, my daughters accent is much worse than mine and she is a GG ..LOL … I’ve never totally noticed a difference here in the guy/girl accent .. but maybe that’s because I simply don’t hear it like someone who isn’t here all the time …

    You go girl and oh yeah .. Go Sox!

    Karyn

    PS Check my blog link out, I’ll be happy to add you as a link if you like

  9. Violet said,

    I’m a parent, myself, so I know that telling kids about “mundane” everyday things don’t always go as planned. Kids are human, after all. I think both you and your wife handled everything the best way you, or anyone else, could have. You have my admiration.

    And 38 isn’t old! I’ll be 40 this year and I’m just getting started! I still feel like a work in progress and I think that’s how it should be.


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