One of the main reasons I wanted to write this blog was to try to explore something that I see quite often when you see children of transitioners in the media. Not that I seek out these stories (although I may have to do for this blog!) as it’s something I often avoid. I couldn’t bear to watch TransAmerica for example. Or Transparent. For a long time, the last thing I wanted to do was confront my emotions around transgenderism and my father. I have always avoided stories with trans characters. But, for various reasons, this issue has chased me through adulthood and expanded all around me. Now barely a day goes by that transgenderism isn’t in the news and another outrageous thing is said and done by a ‘trans woman’ that sets my teeth on edge. And I am 14 again and right back in that apartment I shared with my father while he transitioned. It’s a pretty grim feeling to be honest.
I’m sharing what happened to me now to come to terms with the whole thing because I can’t avoid it any more. I don’t want to bury these feelings. I want to listen to others too.
And I want to start with the fact that we have to pretend that it’s OK. Because it’s not just about pleasing your parent, which of course we want to do with all our heart. That’s why we’ve changed the pronouns. That’s why we can’t say Daddy any more. It’s more than that because if you say you are unhappy with what’s happening you are uncool, a bigot, difficult. Perhaps you are made to feel like you are hurting your parent if you get the language ‘wrong’ or that you are breaking a special pact. Your personal is also political and you have to be OK about it… or other parents won’t get to see their kids perhaps. Or trans people will look bad. Lots of people’s feelings rest on you suppressing yours.
Anyway, this idea floated up again when I saw the Twitter reaction to Bruce Jenner’s son Brody. Buzzfeed reported this as: “Brody Jenner Misgendered Caitlyn Jenner Twice On The Hills: New Beginnings And It Didn’t Go Down Well”
Probably not the best example, but Brody has already expressed his feelings that his father wasn’t a great dad and wasn’t around for key moments of his childhood. But now dad is trans and Brody’s feelings about his father have to be policed. What seemed clear in the coverage is that Brody doesn’t get to talk about his father on his own terms without outrage from people who can’t possibly understand what it’s like for a child to have to substantially change his relationship with his father like this. So leave the Brodies alone, please. The crowd there to police the language used around trans people aren’t helping.
It’s genuinely not easy to change the language you have used around your parent for all your life. I remember yelling, “Dad!” once after transition to get his attention, and it was only the once because of the anger it produced in my father. Sometimes it felt like my father had died and been replaced by a self-involved imposter. But that’s my damage and not necessarily Brody’s or anyone else’s. More on this to follow, inevitably.