January 16, 2017

We don't even know if he's straight yet

"We don't even know if he's straight yet."


This is what a friend whispered to me the day my first child was born, back in 1996. Our baby Ethan wasn't even 24 hours old, and his doting grandma had just suggested that he might grow up to marry a friend's newborn baby girl. At the time, I rolled my eyes at grandma but bristled at my friend's response. First-time dads can barely figure out which way to tape on a diaper; this "friend" could keep her insinuations to herself.

Twenty years later, I now think that every doctor should say that same phrase to every newborn's parents. Maybe not immediately after recording the Apgar, but at least once before they leave the hospital with their tiny squirmy poop machine.

Why? Because it reminds new parents that even the most "obvious" assumptions about our children could easily turn out to be wrong. Through the years, I've remembered that whisper and used it to check my expectations. My son doesn't like soccer? I'll get over it. My son has one weak eye and needs an eye patch for a while? He'll be fine. My son wants to join the military? Well... all right, I guess I'll get over that, too.

As for being straight, well... Ethan did in fact grow up to like girls.

He also grew up to become a creative, smart, artistic young woman named Emma. Emma came out to us as a trans girl about a year ago, and although the physical transformation will take a while yet, in our hearts and minds she is fully Emma. Medical records, tax returns, and job applications still say Ethan, but those will be corrected in time.



The people I've told about this, they praise me for being supportive and accepting. They tell me it must be hard for a parent to go through such a thing. And I can testify they're right. It is hard. It's hard to watch your child suffer with the choice of living in the wrong body, or living with prejudice and discrimination. It's hard to visit your child in a lock-down psych unit because depression drove them to the verge of suicide. It's hard to take 20 years of habits and expectations, and turn them inside out. But it has never been hard to love Emma, or to feel proud of her. Those are and will always be easy for me.

"We don't even know if he's straight yet."

That one sentence, whispered 20 years ago, may have been the preparation I needed as a parent to understand that my assumptions and expectations will not always be right, even when they seem obvious. Like "It's a boy."

Last week I introduced myself to a delightful young trans woman, a barista at one of my semi-regular coffee shops. She began transitioning a few months ago. I simply wanted to say hello and offer a few words of support. I'm glad I did; we only had a few minutes to chat, but she's very sweet. Unfortunately, her parents weren't able to accept who she is. Instead of realizing their assumptions about her were wrong, they reacted as if she had broken their trust.

If only the doctor had told them, "We don't even know if he's straight yet," they might have been better equipped to understand that her transition has nothing to do with them. Of course it makes them uncomfortable, but their discomfort is irrelevant. Their discomfort simply represents the gap between their expectations and reality. Reality doesn't change just because you wish things were different. But expectations can be changed.

Believe me, it's damned hard to discard assumptions you've carried for 20 years. If you accept that those assumptions were wrong to begin with, however, it becomes possible.

We are all just stumbling through life, figuring it out as we go. I don't know the right way to be the father of a trans woman. Twenty years ago, I didn't know the right way to be a father. All I really know is that it involves love and patience and acceptance. And I think I can manage that, especially for my own child.

This blog post is my first public reference to Emma's transition. Some of you who have known Ethan may be shocked and unsure how to respond. That's okay. No response is necessary. If you feel a need to say something, comment or DM or email or call. It's all good.



23 comments:

jjdebenedictis said...

Powerful blog post, and kudos to you for being a great dad. I hope Emma's transition goes smoothly and that she finds happiness and peace in a body that reflects who she really is.

Angela Parker said...

Beautiful. Much love to you and Emma and fam.

Melanie Hooyenga said...

Thank you for sharing your story. I hope it reaches people who need it. Much love to you all.

firehorse said...

She's a lovely young lady. And she has great parents.

Unknown said...

Lots of love to you all and happy for all of you: having a loving, spring family! XO

Julia

Wendy said...

Sending lots of good vibes your way and Emma's! Thanks for writing this.

Heather Cavage said...

What a thoughtful way to explain your role as Emma's dad. I know you and Maria will continue to love and accept Emma!

Steven Friedman said...

I am a friend of you wife's, from the Write On Mamas. I loved your blog, and loved your honesty. We don't always know how to parent wherever or whomever our kids are, but, as you said, we can love them just the same. Blessings to all of you.

Mandrake said...

I hope you already knew that you and Emma have my unguarded friendship, admiration and support. If not, I hope you know it now. Peace.

Colie-MC said...

Proud to know you <3

strugglingwriter said...

This is a beautiful post. I honestly don't know why more parents can't just love their kids unconditionally like you obviously do.


-Paul/strugglingwriter

Stephen Parrish said...

She's lucky to have you as a dad. And we're lucky to have you and your family as friends.

Sadhbh Martin said...

When my son was born, my parents-in-law were overjoyed because he had six female cousins and he was going to save the family name (MARTIN - probably the most common family name throughout Europe - I was in no fear of it dying out). Then a year later my second son was born and they were even more ecstatic. My mother-in-law was totally shocked when I said she was being premature. "What if they're gay, or they want to be (Catholic) priests?" Well thirteen years down the road, neither of them appears to be gay or overly religiously inclined, but if they were, that would be just fine. It's their lives that they have to live, not mine. All I want is for them to be happy and safe, granted that's still easier when you're straight, but it shouldn't have to be. A person's sexual preference should be none of their parents' business (because ewwh, incest!), their preference should only be of interest to their sexual partner(s). As long as their partners are not mistreating them, then it's their choice entirely.

Sandra Turnsek said...

Lots of love to you and your family. Congratulations to Emma. I hope her life will be full of joy, love and success. Mwah!!!

--Sandra Cormier aka Sandra Turnsek

Peter Dudley said...

Thank you all so much. The outpouring of love and support in just one day has reminded me that love will overcome hate in the end. It will take time, but every kind word each of you says is an arrow from love's bow. Please keep sharing your love and kindness with the world. It's as important today as it ever has been.

Kevin Espirito said...

Thank you for a wonderful and honest post - you are an inspiration to all fathers. Emma's courage is incredible and I wish you all love and happiness.

Laurel said...

Aww. What a loving post! I think it says an awful lot about your family's strength and love for each other that Emma even felt able to come to you with this at such a young age. The relationship you built before that laid the framework for her to trust you and you to support her as she moves forward.

All the best for Emma and her wonderful family!

xoxo

tom and sue said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Bognanno said...

As someone who also knows the joys and the at times heart-wrenching pain that comes with being a parent, I just wanted to share with you how much I admire your incredible courage, compassion and authenticity. I can't begin to fully appreciate or understand the journey that you and Emma have been on to get to this point. What I do know however is that the greatest gift a parent can give a child is their unconditional love and acceptance. That is especially true when life presents us with the unexpected. Emma is extremely fortunate to have you as a father.

La Chica Para Toda said...

Love your honestly and humility as you show up each day to be the best parent you can be which ultimately has only one rule, love unconditionally and make sure your children know they are loved and accepted for who they are. The whole journey of parenthood is not a straight path (slight pun intended) but a twisty road with many, many detours. Sending my love and support.

Aileen abeyta said...

Thank you for this beautiful blog. I too am the mother of a beautiful trans child. I raised a daughter that is now my son and you have said everything I have ever felt. I just want to say thank you so much putting into words things I didn't know how to say. Emma is beautiful and strong thanks to you. I often wish I could educate people in the way that you have. Again thank you

Leslie said...

Hi Pete –
I haven’t seen you in quite a while, but I think of you (and our old writing group) every time I walk in the door at Peet’s in Alamo. I’m so glad I stumbled upon this post. Your lovely, heartfelt story gives me hope in these strange and uncertain times. What a brave, beautiful daughter you have! Wishing all the best to you, Maria and the kids.

Leslie

Panharith said...

We're lucky to have you and your family as friends.






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