From Humiliation to Appreciation

From The New York Times:

Published: April 18, 2013

When I go home to Ohio for the holidays, I spend my time as many 20-somethings do: I sleep like a teenager, wander around my bedroom in my prom dress slightly tipsy, thumb through old yearbooks, and laugh, eat and occasionally bicker with my parents. The only not-typical aspect of my visit is that my parents are two women who are no longer together, one of whom used to be a man.

When I was 4, my father decided he wanted to become a woman. Decades earlier he realized he wanted to be a woman, but now he actually made the decision to become one, to the great shock of my mother and to the utter bewilderment of my Appalachian farming grandparents.

I was too young to remember what must have been the most difficult time of this process: the initial conversations between my parents, the phone calls made to friends and family, the first doctor consultations, the first time my father wore a skirt in public.

My mother could probably tell you the date, time and emotions that went along with each of these “firsts,” but when I try to remember my father as a man, he appears as an unformed vision, almost a mythological creature, half-man, half-woman.

I have faint recollections of a hard chest and deep voice, stocky shoulders and tight arm muscles underneath silk button-down blouses. I remember that one Sunday he was singing in the men’s tenor section of our Episcopal choir and a month later he joined the altos with the women. To 4-year-old me, who approached the world with wonder and without judgment, this was an organic change. In retrospect, it seems bizarre.

My mother, a hippie rebelling from a family of old Southern wealth, briefly thought she could stay married to my father and make it work. Having been an adolescent during the women’s movement, she asked herself, “What is gender, really?” And maybe she hoped that love trumped all.

But as my father showed more of his truth, the truth of the person he wanted to be and become, my mother realized that in many ways she had fallen in love with the image he had constructed to appease the world.

As it became clear that their romantic relationship was more a part of his confusion and the facade he had lived behind than the genuine self he was beginning to unearth, they fought more about the little things and agreed less on the big things until deciding to dissolve their marriage.

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