A lot has been written in the media about cis parents who grow to accept a transgender child. Sadly, very little is available about the opposite scenario - a trans parent who is trying to have a relationship with cis children. In my case, I essentially lost any opportunity to visit with my children due to stipulations that my wife attempted to enforce. She is a devoutly religious woman who believed that being trans is a sinful choice that I made. After coming out to her, she always referred to my gender expression as "this challenge that you have to overcome" and was fearful that seeing me as a woman would harm our children. Nothing happening in my life at the time - including protracted episodes of depression and suicidality - could convince her otherwise.
The following is a summary of my efforts to connect with my children after beginning my transition. It has been a long fight to establish visitation, but I worry that the real work is just beginning.
Raised in a very religious home, I spent the first 40
years of my life trying to hide and bury my feelings of being female.
The family religion taught that there was only 1 way to have happiness
in life, and I was a faithful believer. I did everything expected of
young males in the church, while struggling with dysphoria. I thought I
could simply live out my life in hiding. I hoped that I would be
blessed if I kept the faith, and life would somehow work out. I
married, had a family, and struggled. Life meandered through worsening
depression for 15 years, before I became suicidal in late 2015. The
family suffered the consequences of dysphoria, without ever suspecting
the underlying cause.
Fatherhood for me was a mixed
blessing. The religion taught that marriage and family are the source
of our greatest happiness in this life. In some ways, I can see this.
While the marriage was always troubled, the children grew to be my
closest friends. I love them dearly. However, as the dysphoria grew
worse, I had increasing difficulty with the fact that I was a husband
and father. Life became chronically traumatic, and the gender roles I
was expected to play became part of the crisis. When the depression was
at its worst, I could still function at work, but symptoms would
increase every night when I had to return home.
will be hard for some to understand. Everyone says how rewarding
fatherhood is. Even within the trans community, I frequently talk with
trans women who have no regrets about their past lives, and are at peace
with their fatherhood. This has not been my experience. I have only
had the most tender love for my children, but dysphoria made fatherhood a
traumatic experience for me.
Secondly, the family
religion also played into the depression in dangerous ways. The church
essentially taught that being transgender is a sin, and I would only be
unhappy if I decided to transition. When my depression grew suicidal,
the ideas taught by the religion did not make life as a woman seem like a
hopeful option. Honestly, it made death seem preferable. When things
were at their worst, my wife gave me the ultimatum of living as a man,
or being put out of the family. She reasoned that it was the right
thing to do - a "tough love" measure, sanctioned by the church doctrine.
A psychiatrist recently asked me why I did not commit suicide. I do
not have a good answer to that question. I do not know what got me
through my wife's ultimatum. My faith in the church must have faltered.
Perhaps the thought of being buried as a man. I honestly do not know.
being hospitalized for 2 months, I moved out of the family home and
into a small apartment where I would be able to make a serious effort at
transition. It was an extremely difficult day. My wife brought the
children to the new apartment so everything happened in front of them.
first few days were extremely lonely and difficult. While waiting to
start work with a new therapist, I made due with frequent chat sessions
to the LGBT National Helpline (http://www.glbthotline.org/). After a
few days, I had a phone call with my wife. Unaware of the pain the
religion had caused, she wanted me to call every night and pray with her
over the phone. In order to visit the children, she insisted that I
present as a man.
Since leaving, I have been to visit my
oldest son on his birthday last September (2016). I dressed as a man.
My son was happy, but it was incredibly stressful for me. I know trans
women who have a a "guy mode," but I have never been able to do it. The
dysphoria and depression come back in terrible ways. I simply could
not present as a guy after that. I did the best I could to keep in
touch with the children. I called weekly. I delivered Christmas and
birthday presents. These had to be left on the front doorstep of the
family home, where I had to leave after ringing the doorbell. I was not
to be seen.
The children grew hurt, and felt that I had abandoned them. As the months went on, they gradually stopped taking my calls.
out gave me the chance to explore the trans community in Chicago. I
eventually made friends with a woman named Christine. One evening, I
told her about the situation with my children. She told me that I
needed to fight for my visitation rights. She explained that it would
someday be important when the kids asked why I had left. It would give
important credibility when I said that I had never abandoned them.
My wife and I moved forward with a divorce in the fall. We made two attempts at mediation.
had only 2 sessions with the first mediator. I thought things were
going well, but my wife abruptly halted the sessions. The mediator had
tried to broker a deal on child visitation - I would be allowed to see
the children if I dressed androgynously. While she kept a calm outward
appearance, my wife was inwardly angered by the thought of compromise.
few weeks later, the wife called, telling me she wanted to try a new
mediator. She told me that she thought this new mediator would be more
"professional," and we would get more value for our money. I
reluctantly agreed to go along. We worked with the 2nd mediator for ~6
weeks, but I soon realized that the "mediator" was not going to side
with me on anything. No compromise. It became evident that the wife
was trying to use mediation to force a settlement that no court would
ever agree to. I stopped mediation altogether at that point, knowing I
would be protected in the courts.
We do not have
any real assets, so my wife borrowed $4,000 from her mother, and hired
an attorney. The divorce petition was filed 2 days after Christmas.
After an auto accident, I used the insurance settlement to hire a
divorce lawyer in mid January. After we filed a response to the
petition for divorce, my wife filed motions to restrict my parenting
rights. She argued that I was a danger to the children because of their
religious upbringing. She formally asked the judge to order me to
present as a man in order to see the children.
(2017), the two attorneys had a pretrial conference. Both sides were to
set forth their expectations for the trail, and the judge would provide
guidance. At the conference, the judge dismissed outright my wife's
petitions for restricted parenting. In fact, the judge quickly rejected
the main points of my wife's proposed settlement plan - including
requests for an order that I present as a man in order to see the
children, permanent maintenance, and an inequitable division of the
marital assets. Judge Flood added that she was a judge of the law, not
of my ex-wife's religion.
At the conference, the judge
endorsed a plan we had advanced that called for use of a therapist to
help me re-connect with the children as a trans woman.
only remaining obstacle to visitation was to find a suitable
counselor. In the following month, my wife soon put forth a motion
suggesting a church-affiliated counselor. In good faith, I contacted
the woman to ask about her experience, but it was evident that she had
never met a trans person before. After a little digging, I found the
name of another counselor who took the family insurance and had a
history of working with transgender children. She became the focus of
our motion. A hearing to decide the matter was set for July 13th.
the meantime, relations with the children were not getting any better.
In late June, I dropped off a birthday present for one of the children,
and my daughter happened to see me through the window. This was the
first time she had seen me after almost a year into my transition.
spoke with her on the phone a few days later. She asked who had
dropped off the presents. When I said it was me, she was hurt - she had
not recognized me. She went on to ask me to "dress as her Dad" when I
came to drop things off. I tried to explain that I love her and will
always be her parent. In response, she protested and started to talk
about religion - telling me that she knew that my transition was wrong.
I tried to explain that my transition had saved my life, but it was of
little use. I could not begin to explain that mom had given an
ultimatum that would have ended terribly for everyone.
difficult call underscored how far apart the children and I had
become. My transition has gone really well, and I had been passing as a
woman since December. My facial features had softened and grown more
feminine. My facial hair is almost entirely gone. My breasts were a
size B, and I had stopped padding my bra months before. My hair was
shoulder length, curly, and had been highlighted. Even without female
clothing and makeup, I did not look like a man anymore. However, that
was only the beginning. The kids have stayed locked into a religion
that I had to leave if I was ever going to accept myself. They had an
extra year of Mom's influence, and have heard her side of the divorce,
and have tried to soothe her hurt feelings.
the 13th, the hearing was supposed to be brief, but it ended up
including an hour's worth of testimony for and against both therapists.
My testimony included an admission that I had left the church, and
discussion of how church teachings had done harm to myself and the
family. I also spoke of our therapist's experience working with the
families of transgender individuals. My wife's arguments focused on her
track record of making decisions about the children's healthcare
providers, and the experience of the counselor that she was
championing. In the end, the judge took my side. She ruled that the
family needed the guidance of someone experienced with transgender
I have a date to see the children - August 24th at 10:00. This will be the first time they have seen me as a woman.
has been an incredible struggle over the past ~2 years. I somehow
fought back from suicidality, but in doing so left a church that was
openly hostile towards trans people. After being separated from my
children for over a year by conditions set by their mother, I fought and
secured visitation rights. The kids are upset, and I know they are
going to judge me for many of the actions I took to save my life. They
are going to side with mom on her losses in court. I know the kids will
blame me for many things, and the older ones may never accept me as a
I am sure they wish I would simply go away.
Why do I persist? Because I love them. Life is hard enough, and I know they will need that.
anything, my transition has taught me a lot about the home in which the
children live. It's a world that is judgmental, and at times openly
hostile. It's a place where love, once thought sure, is frighteningly
Some of the children may learn these lessons. When that happens, I will be close enough to make a difference.