My last post talked about "Going Stealth" about my transgender child's identity at school and in our community. Deciding whom to tell is a complicated, risk-filled and dynamic process. Dynamic because at different ages, the risks and rules change. Each phase of the decision-making process requires asking questions. Who needs to know and why? Is my child ready? Are we ready to expand our inner circle?
I often struggled with how to tell long-distance family members, hometown friends, college buddies and past co-workers that we have a transgender child. As time went on, every contact with our outer circle from "away" became more stressful. Each conversation started with how are the kids and when are you coming home for a visit? I was running out of excuses. Frankly, I was afraid to tell them, partly because I knew I might not like what I was going to hear and I thought I could never help them understand. Fear is a powerful force; it made me avoid things. Fear makes good people act poorly and some fears can close down the minds of the people you love and respect.
One day I received an email from an old friend that I had worked with many years ago. Chip is a good catholic, a conservative man who values hard work, god and country. He also values friendship, neighbors and volunteering. I thought he would have a hard time understanding my world, but I was wrong. He listened closely and then said he was very proud of me for doing what was right for my children. He also reminded me that most of our real friends are our friends because we have similar values. After talking to Chip I made up my mind to reach out to family and friends and I hoped by sharing they would want to learn more.
The first letter was to a past coworker. He works in the petrochemical industry in Texas. I was not sure he was ready to hear our story, it was a big test, but I was hopeful for a positive outcome.
I have been delinquent in keeping in touch with you because our family has been on a unique journey. A few years ago I would not have had the emotional strength or wisdom to write this letter. I hope that I can enlighten you a bit regarding our journey to help you understand and hopefully remain our good friend.
You are the first to get this letter, others will follow and I expect some to be uncomfortable and be removed from our Christmas list. I have no other way to start but tell you that our son is now Nicole, our beautiful daughter. It has been a long and sometimes painful journey, one that some may never understand. I do not expect all of our friends to grasp the reality of what I am describing right away, but I am hopeful most will want to learn more.
You know my background and how difficult this journey might have been for me. As you read this, please remember that just like you, I have always focused on raising happy, healthy and productive children and that is what we are still doing.
In the beginning we knew very little about transgender youth and little research existed to help us. For the most part we were on our own. We learned that the most important thing we had to do was really listen to Nicole and find professional help to make sure she grew safely. We have learned that not allowing her to be whom she needed to be was harmful.
We have also faced a great deal of adversity. Throughout the ordeal we have tried to remain strong. There is much more to tell but it will require a few cold beers.
We live in a new town and the kids live in hiding, going to school each day wondering what might happen next. At least it is a more normal life, no more bullies or fearing for her safety every waking moment.
Living through this experience; watching our children grow and suffer has taught me a great deal. Observing the complexity of transgender life, learning that basic biology is not all true and becoming involved in promoting change has been humbling and rewarding. I have learned that listening to your heart can open your mind to new things.
We are still very worried. We have already seen so much turmoil and I am scared. The challenges are many but we are also seeing much success at home. I think I might be the only father that can say, "I am the proud father of identical twins -- one is a boy and one is a girl."
I have never sat down and written to anyone in this fashion. It was very hard to do so. I value your friendship, but if we must part ways, I understand. I would like to stay in touch. I hope you do to, if so let me know and I will call you.
Not too long after this letter was sent I heard back from Randy and he said we had his family's full support. In 2010 he came to Maine on business. We went out to dinner, we had that cold beer, we talked a great deal, I cried a little and I was right. He is a good man, a fair man, with a big heart that transcends our differences in background and party affiliations. If I had not written that letter I might not have gained a strong supporter from the Heart of Texas.
We decided to accept the risks and not judge people by their politics alone. Friendship, family and core values can trump fears, politics and lack of knowledge. But I also must remind you that many families cannot be this open because the risk is too great. Many families have similar stories tell and most cannot. This has to change!