Trans/Parents on Father’s Day

Mother’s Day. Father’s Day. Two days when there is a frenzy of gilt- and guilt-giving in the U.S. for parenting well done or aspiring to be.

Thinking about the ways my American Mexican family’s traditions and cultural influences affected mainstream celebrations, I arrived this year at a decidedly 21st-century question: “How do families celebrate these holidays with transgender parents?”

Gabrielle is a divorced, white, 48-year-old systems engineer and transgender woman living in Fremont, a suburb of San José, California. Her former wife is a public safety worker whose job responsibilities have made it difficult for her to parent their daughter. As a result, Gabrielle is a single parent with custody of their 17-year old daughter.

I had contacted Gabrielle with the idea of learning more about how transgender parents celebrate Mother’s Day/Father’s Day, but I ended up learning much more about one woman’s approach to parenting that is grounded in mutual respect between parent and child.

Gabrielle made the painful decision to delay her gender change for her daughter’s sake. “One of the reasons that I didn’t transition sooner is that my daughter needed a father, a male figure in her life,” she says. “Inasmuch as I so desperately needed to change, she was more important.”

Her remarks underscore the sacrifices that parents will frequently make for the sake of their children. Immigrant parents will journey across dangerous social and geographic terrain to arrive at a place where they can create a better life for their families. Working parents will take on multiple jobs to pay for their children’s college educations. Gabrielle believes that children’s needs are paramount, and that parents must place those needs ahead of their own.

If I could give one bit of advice to someone who is thinking about transitioning, male to female or female to male, think about your obligations with your children first. They really, really need you to be there. At that point in your life, you need to be grownup enough to learn how to sacrifice and put those feelings aside. Be patient because they need you more.

This family has had to consciously disassemble and refigure gender roles within the social structure of a family, but it’s not as confusing as one might think. “I will always be her father,” Gabrielle says. “She has one mother, who birthed her. I will always be her father, regardless of what gender I present.”

But what about Father’s Day?

Gabrielle says, “I don’t care one way or another whether there’s a Father’s Day. I don’t need Father’s Day for my daughter and I to have a really great relationship. Every day is Father’s Day for her and I.”

Gabrielle points to one way in which her daughter acknowledged and supported her as she transitioned from her male to female self.

“She knew I was really having a hard time with the name-change process. She actually went to court with me, where I had to do a legal petition to change my name. She was there with me.”

A lesson that I carried away from Gabrielle’s story is that if parents are able to communicate their humanity in ways that don’t rely on selfish, guilt-based, manipulative processes, or that aren’t accompanied by threat of punishment, there might be a time when every day, if not every moment, is a non-gender celebration of parenting.

Mother’s Day. Father’s Day. How did these observances get started in the first place?

Some historians say that honoring mothers dates back to festivities which celebrated Cybele, a goddess whose origins are rooted in Greek/Phrygian/Minoan/Mycenean traditions. Accounts have described Cybele’s male worshippers as ritually castrating themselves, dressing in women’s garb and assuming women’s roles, in her honor.

Oh, really?

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Comments

  1. Great post, Maria! Happy Humanity Day has a nice ring to it!

  2. The term is trangender not transgendered.
    And speaking as someone who transitioned as the solo parent of a young child I can tell you that for US it was the better decision for me to transition rather than continue to be miserable all of the time. e. My child is much happier with a happy parent. How would she have benefited by me LYING to her for her entire childhood. Perhaps eventual suicide would have been better for her. I’m sure that finding out as an adult that I had decided to not transition because I needed to be solely caretaker of a child wouldn’t have damaged her psychologically.
    This is intensely anti-feminist. The parent should sacrifice happiness so that their kid doesn’t have to deal with any unpleasantness?
    Sorry, but my kid is happy and well adjusted and she knows that I love her more than anything, but I am also teaching her that I am an important and worthwhile person and that being a parent is not just about sacrifice.

  3. I think that some of the notions you’re playing with here are dangerous and could be upsetting for transparents to hear. I understand that the idea of waiting to transition is not yours, but it is one that puts out there the notion that it is safe and/or potentially more beneficial for transpeople to not transition while their children are of a certain young age. I think that this notion is faulty and that your relaying it in an article that is supposed to be about Father’s Day without also discussing the possible negatives of a parent “sacrificing” and not transitioning is hurtful and irresponsible. On a side note, I also think the whole premise of “how do transgender parents celebrate x holiday” is trite. And finally, it’s not transgendered, it’s transgender.

    -A Concerned Transguy

  4. Jessica Stites says:

    Jessica Stites here, Ms. editor. Can’t believe we used “transgendered” instead of “transgender.” *Smacking selves on head.* We’ve updated the post.

  5. It’s telling to me that in an article on Father’s Day and trans parents, you focus on a trans woman, as opposed to a trans man. This implicitly reinforces this woman’s assigned gender, as opposed to her actual gender, and plays into transphobic & cissexist tropes in journalism & media of playing up a trans person’s “life before transition.” This trope is problematic because it reinforces perceived hierarchies between cisgender and transgender people, with cisgender people marked as “authentic” men or women, and transgender people as always “copies,” “imposters,” or “fake.”

    Also, seriously, parents should sacrifice their fundamental physical and emotional well-being for the sake of their child? How is that a feminist argument? Isn’t that the same line of reasoning that conservative, anti-feminist forces have been using to justify keeping women “barefoot & pregnant, in the kitchen?” That a woman’s proper place is in the home, with her kids, otherwise her kids will suffer unimaginable psychological harm? Are we really supposed to believe that a trans person’s proper place is closeted and suppressing their full, vibrant selves and genders, otherwise their kids will suffer psychological harm?

    I have no interest in critiquing this woman’s choice of when or how to transition, I’m sure that she did what made the most sense for her and her family, and it sounds like she and her daughter have a great relationship – which is awesome. My point is simply that NO ONE, including Ms. magazine, should get to dictate when or how or why a trans person should come out or transition, except for that individual trans person.

  6. I cannot believe the author of this post is being criticized for reporting on a person who made a decision with which these commenters disagree, as if Ms. Magazine is trying to dictate anything or promote that personal decision as the feminist argument. Raising children always involves some sacrifice. Why does this particular form of sacrifice seem so threatening and antifeminist? Are we really supposed to believe a person who rejects the gender role assigned to that person cannot express the full, vibrant self without the technological intervention of plastic surgery and hormones? How is that a feminist argument?

    Also, what is this concept, actual gender? Gender is an artificial social construct assigned to people by male-dominant cultures based on sex, to the detriment of women. There is nothing intrinsically real about it.

  7. Wyatt Austin says:

    I will not speak for the woman who this interview is about. I will not speak for the trans community. I will not speak for the feminist community. I will speak for myself only. I am a trans man and the solo parent of one young child.

    My original plan was to wait until my child was grown up, because I thought I was being selfish. It hurts my heart that Ms. Magazine decided to publish this article to further the idea of this to other people, who are transitioning and those who are not. I lost my family because of this exact sentiment, that you have furthered right here. It isn’t selfish to show your child who you really are and to bring them up with the courage to be who they are. As parents, we all sacrifice daily to do better for our children, one of those sacrifices doesn’t have to be our happiness/mental health, sense of self or potentially our life. ]

    @Jo You are the very definition of ally. I am always proud to know you.

    @Althea Please google the cisgender privilege checklist.

  8. Wyatt Austin says:

    *Aletha* (sorry for the typo/misspelling)

  9. This blog post left me with more questions than answers. You are aware that Mother’s Day began as an anti-war protest written by Julia Ward Howe? Please visit my blog for more information about this: http://trishwilson.typepad.com/blog/2004/05/happy_mothers_d.html

    I wish I knew more about Gabrielle and her relationship with her former wife. I take it they’re divorced. When did that happen? How long has Gabrielle had physical custody? It doesn’t sound like there was a court battle. From what the blog post states, it sounds like she and her former wife agreed on their own that she would have custody of their daughter because of the former wife’s job. Was Gabrielle’s former wife the child’s primary caregiver during their marriage? This isn’t a transgender woman taking on custody of a middle schooler or toddler. It sounds as if she got custody when her child was older – and is nearly a legal adult.

    While I know transgender issues play into this case, I think that quite a bit more of it has to do with how well the parents get along in order to make informed and stress-free decisions about the care of their child. But then again, I’m not sure how this played out since there isn’t enough information in the blog post.

  10. Oh, how did I know that was coming, ye old cisgender privilege checklist? I know all too much about that. I do not buy it. Women are not privileged in this society, period, end of story. Virtually everyone in this society besides straight white well-off men has to deal with various forms of discrimination. I have no interest in playing the Oppression Olympics. It might be more conducive to an intelligent discussion to answer my questions than to presume I need an education about my privileges. I am well aware some people face more virulent forms of discrimination than I do, as a heterosexual white woman. That the average Joe may find me less detestable than, say, a lesbian of color, does not make me privileged. Society merely throws me a few crumbs it withholds from her. Being viewed as a more tolerable sex object is not my idea of privilege.

  11. Aletha- I understand where you are coming from, but I don’t think that there is only one kind of privilege that matters. You say that gender is an artificial social construct, and I agree with you, but then you use that same exact artificial construct and turn it into something real by using it to inform the absolute nature of privilege and oppression as you see it. And as you see it, it’s based entirely on this (patriarchal) binary construct.

    So really you’re trying to use the master’s tools to dismantle his house, and I’ve heard that doesn’t work. If you’re better off than someone else because of the color of your skin or the side of the tracks you were born on or something else you can’t help, that matters in society. It really does. What if all men just up and died one day? Then what? Would all women suddenly be equal? Would oppression end entirely? Or would there still be a difference between the lives and experiences of Bristol Palin and the Queen of England and a woman sold into slavery and a woman being gang raped in the Congo and a woman with 5 kids and 3 jobs? I think there would still be a difference.

  12. Gabrielle says:

    Hello,

    First I would like to thank Maria for bringing this issue to the table. I am bewildered by some comments and delighted by others.

    Clearly, I feel Maria did a great job telling my laconic side of “How do families celebrate these holidays with transgender parents?”

    Second and most important, my daughter and I have a great relationship which, has its ups and downs. The teenage years are formidable to say the least but every parent, transgender or not, swims in the same mud puddle, if you will.

    Lastly, I would be happy to answer any questions, if they are brought respectfully.

    Gabrielle Ludwig

  13. Ms. Shields, you do not understand where I am coming from. I looked at a couple of those lists of “privileges,” to verify what I recalled of this line of argument. I object to this terminology. These are not privileges listed; they are matters of basic human rights and respect. That some of these matters of rights and respect may not apply to me directly, in theory or law, where others do suffer directly, does not make me privileged. This is all a matter of societal expectations and norms. People have to pay in various ways for refusing to conform to social norms. Nothing is real about any of it, but the consequences have to be faced nonetheless, because these illusions are empowered by the powers that be, in order to keep them in power. To identify the othering of women by men as the fundamental oppression does not make it real, absolute, or justifiable. Many branches have spawned from the mindset of subordination. They all matter, but my point is they have the same root, and no subordinate group is privileged because the dominant group has tossed it a few crumbs now and then. I might add, none of those crumbs came without a momentous struggle. The mindset of subordination is the problem; unless that becomes obsolete, little will change.

    To use the word privilege to refer to matters of discrimination that should be illegal, or at least viewed as reactionary or bigoted, is more likely than not to sow division among the disempowered, the Oppression Olympics as it has been called in the feminist blogosphere. All those things matter, but they are symptoms of a bigger issue. Men have privilege, whites have privilege, the elite have privilege, because the old boy network needs that hierarchy to maintain its power. The average woman is not privileged because she does not suffer the same kinds of discrimination as someone viewed as too weird. The crux of the matter is being treated as a second-class citizen, less than fully human. Is it the mode of oppression that matters, or the mindset that nourishes the oppression?

  14. Wyatt Austin says:

    Back to the ORIGINAL TOPIC, I thought this was incredibly relevant:

    http://ravenkaldera.org/activism/tgparent.html

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ms. Magazine, Erika Halstead. Erika Halstead said: RT @msmagazine: I ♥ MY TRANS DADDY http://ht.ly/1YYJi [...]

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