My father was the first person to call me a faggot.
One night, my younger brother had woken me up from sleep due to a realization that death is inevitable. I tried to talk him down, but he wasn't able to be soothed. At wits end, my solution for his anxiety was to accompany him to our parents in the living room. My father, high and drunk, looked at us and with a smirk on his face said, "Holding hands? How can I help you two faggots?"
My father's abuse, physical and verbal, was always jarring, but this particular phrase surprised me. Two years earlier, at age 6, I came out as a transgender boy to him. We were walking to baseball practice. I was the only female-assigned-at-birth on my entire baseball league. I remember complaining to him that my teammates challenged me relentlessly because they viewed me as a tomboy, not another boy.
"They throw the ball harder at me, they quiz me on players stats, they wait for me to mess up and they make fun of how I run, but they shouldn't, because I'm a boy, too."
"What? No, you're not!" My father exclaimed.
Softly, I rebutted, "Well, maybe not... a full boy.. but I am at least half boy."
He asked me if there was a dick between my legs that he didn't know about.
Standing in front of him that night, nurturing my brother, I felt affirmed. I knew he viewed being a fag as feminine, and therefore a shameful trait. I wasn't sure what the term truly meant, but I knew it referred to a specific kind of man. Through hateful words, he was unconsciously recognizing me as male.
My father, as most fathers do, taught me how to perform masculinity and who was "allowed" to be masculine. He assumed only people assigned male at birth could be masculine. He taught me that being a man meant protecting your masculinity in extreme ways. He expressed verbal discomfort around the fact that I could beat up boys. He'd tell me that these boys would eventually become men, and I would be put into my place. To prove this to me, one day he snapped after my brother and I had a scuffle. He grabbed me and held my hands behind my back. He directed my brother to hit me as I was restrained. On my knees and unable to defend myself, my brother wept as he punched and kicked me.
At the start of my medical transition, I needed a man who was comfortable with his body, sexuality and masculinity to be in my life. I wanted support in matters dealing with sex, as well as my physical and emotional changes due to hormone replacement therapy. I was looking for a father-type figure. After some searching and a few problematic and lackluster experiences with male therapists, I fathered myself. I learned how to shave my face. I excitedly flaunted my new body hair to the Internet. I embarrassingly watched a lot of bad porn.
The more I passed as male, the harder it became to get close to men in my life. I've felt pressure to perform a masculine person's specific brand of masculinity, or affirm them, in order to have a bond with them. This type of set-up does not feel authentic to me. While I didn't find a dad during my male puberty, I was helped a lot by a friend. Kent is a cisgender, straight male who helped me simply by holding space for my transformations, feelings, queerness and softness over coffee. Our connection through non-performative masculine support was life-altering. My past experiences with masculinity, before Kent, felt staged, fragile and isolating. Many of us are just little boys who are quietly weeping as we're directed by someone else to punch and kick.
I am not implying that I am different from most men. In fact, my girlfriend has a tendency to remind me of this when I act out. I possess my fair share of insecurities and have gained male affirmation, in the past, through silly and harmful methods. Recognizing our similarities as men and creating dialogue is the first step in gender healing. It is time to deconstruct masculine rigidity. Another step is to change the future as fathers. I want to be a dad. I find this to be horrifying, but not for the reasons many do. While I haven't seen my father in nearly a decade, I still struggle with what he taught me about being masculine. Because of this, I fear behaving like him when raising children. I also scrap with the idea that because I am transgender, I am somehow not "man enough" to be legitimately viewed as someone's father. As a culture, we need to change the narrative around what fathers look like. Fathers aren't always born with conventional male genitalia. They don't have to be biologically related to their children. Dads can be queer. They can be kind. Fathers shouldn't have anything to do with upholding patriarchal male standards. Fathers are all genders. Fathers can be so much more then what our traditional view of them is.
I don't fully know how I will interact with my kids if I have them. I do understand that no matter what, I will be myself. I'll give them permission to feel and exist as whatever gender they choose. I can promise that I won't perform for them. I will only show up as my complicated, transgender, sensitive, bisexual, sober, funny, spiritual, ever-changing and supportive self. I will always show up. This Father's Day, I will love my father from the furthest distance possible by listening to a Black Sabbath song for him. I will thank him for teaching me about what I do not want to be and I will express gratitude for who I can become without him.