Donna Rose

A Father By Any Other Name

Filed By Donna Rose | June 02, 2008 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Donna Rose, Father's Day, fatherhood, transgender, transsexual

Every year just before Father's Day I get a call from a news agency wanting to interview me about how transsexual parents celebrate this annual celebration of dads. I certainly can't answer for all transsexuals - I can only answer for me. I have a 22-year old son, and they've been making these calls to me since 2003 when he was a mere teenager. I've gotten used to it, and in fact I'm comfortable with it to the point that I still answer their calls.

The crux of their questioning revolves around the inherent problem we have when language can't effectively articulate what's really happening in our culture. How do MTF transsexuals - women who at one point fathered a child - celebrate Father's Day? What does my son call me? Will he get me a Father's Day card? Am I uncomfortable with that? I acknowledge that these aren't the deepest, most pressing questions that we're facing. But I do believe they're important to discuss, or at least to highlight. The broad tapestry of human existance far surpasses our ability to use words to accurately describe or explain it. That is, the finite number of words we have don't effectively explain the infinite number of ways to be who or what we are.

I have absolutely no problem acknowledging that I was, am, and always will be my son's father. I don't pressure him in any way about what to call me - he's come to a point of what's comfortable for him and that's really all that matters. The most important thing in being a family isn't the words we use to describe our roles or our relationships. The important things are the relationships themselves.

I feel no need to usurp his mother's claim to motherhood by asking to share that role simply because it makes me feel comfortable. I can't do that. She's paid enough through all of this. She carried him. She gave birth to him. She nurtured him. I can't and won't ask her to share that. It's hers.

Ironically, one of the best parts of being a guy was the father/son bond that my son and I developed. I remember teaching him how to throw a football, and how to shave. I remember going to sporting events together, giving each other high fives, and generally just being "buds". Those are memories and experiences that I hope I never lose. In fact, one of the hardest parts of finally coming out to him was knowing that our relationship would fundamentally change the moment those words left my lips, and that we might never share those kinds of experiences again. The mere thought of it was enough to make me physically ill.

When he moved in with me in Texas after I transitioned I was his "mom" to all his friends and to the school. That was his choice. It was easiest because that way he didn't have to explain anything to anyone. Nobody questioned him so he was comfortable with it. Nowadays he'll call me any number of things depending on who's around. That's fine, too.

Many of us are living examples that not all families are so-called "traditional" families, made up of a female mom and a male dad, with happy little masculine boy and feminine girl children. There are as many permutations of that equation as there are families. That doesn't in any way diminish the value of the relationships or the bonds that hold our families together. Not fitting into the family binary doesn't invalidate how we feel about ourselves or each other. Indeed, our diverse families are testament to the broad nature of living and loving. Some people find that hard to accept. I find it hard to imagine that others could possibly believe otherwise.

Hallmark has done some remarkable work on "alternative" cards in recent years. Still, I don't believe there's a Transgender Parent Day card yet. I can see it starts out "It doesn't matter what I call you: mom, dad, or something else...". When you open it it says, "Just Know that I Thank You, I Appreciate You, and I Love You." Now that's a card.

Still, I don't expect a card this weekend. In fact, I'd be surprised if he's even aware that the holiday is quickly sneaking up. Personally, I'm ok with that. I don't feel slighted. To be honest, I find the focus of the day in celebrating the life and memory of my own father; he passed away in 1998. Neither of us ever made a big deal out of Father's Day when he was alive, but the first one after his death blindsided me like a tidal wave. It's unfortunate that we often don't realize our missed opportunities until it's too late.

The fact that I was and remain my son's father is a source of pride, not a source of embarassment or something that I feel I need to justify or explain to others. The fact that I can still be a father figure in my son's life does not diminish me in any way. I respect the fact that others in my community may not feel similarly, or may approach their relationships with their children differently. There is no one universally right answer.

What my son calls me, or how we celebrate Father's Day, is immaterial in the scheme of things. The fact of the matter is that we love each other despite the fact that our relationship might not be simple, or easy to explain. It has been tested in unique and challenging ways and it has endured, matured, and expanded. If that's not the definition of "family", then I don't know what is.

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This is a marvelous tribute to Fathers everywhere, Donna, regardless of current apparent sex/gender.

The challenges transsexual people bring to fundamental relationships as you describe--and as Thomas Beattie also brings--are quite without precedent.

This, however, is not play.

The recognition of the relationship itself--connections between what some might call spirit and spirit--not its trappings, certainly not its sexual/gender aspects, may yet be one of the greatest contributions of transsexual people.

As we proceed into the future language will eventually catch up to where we are today. It may even come to the point where it describes, other than in cliches, how we get to where and who we are--and always have been.

My father died over 15 years ago, long before I transitioned, so he never knew this daughter of his--and I will never know him as who I am.

Thank you for this, Donna.

"A rose by any other name. . . ."

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 3, 2008 2:51 AM

The old yarn of the early teen son complaining about how stupid his father was,

and how much smarter he became with each passing decade,

is once again vindicated! Superb Donna

I have a saying that I use, regarding family and T people: "What they call you is less important than THAT they call you."

My father departed the coil going on 10 years ago now. I was fortunate to have the relationship I had with him. He knew about me; shall we say, crossdressing runs in our family. I learned about that a couple years before his lifelong smoking finally killed him. He was also my go-to guy on matters of history, a great conversationalist on matters of politics, and a generally sensible guy.

Not to slip into gender pronoun city, but his friends always described him as deserving of the term "gentleman." He was better at it than I, always in good shape, always well dressed, always honest, and always kind to others. I never heard him raise his voice - but he always made his point.

I'm afraid that not everyone here agrees, Donna.

It is very much an insult to women when a forty-five year old husband and father decides to have surgery and call himself a woman.

Post Here

If someone married a woman and said to the world that he was a woman’s husband, let’s take him at his word. Someone with an indentity of woman could not do that.

So you see Zoe, I don’t have to draw lines. People do it in their lives. Here are some more elementary facts. Females do not father children. You are a proud father? Then be a proud male and a proud man because that’s what you have said you are.

Post Here

"I will never deny being his Daddy. Not for anyone. No mother would. No woman could."

Women are not fathers. Men are fathers. By the same token men are not mothers just as you are not a mother. Women are not fathers or daddies.

This is why the trans movement has little credibility. It's because fathers insist they are women when that's not possible.

Post Here

Let's put it this way, you are male enough to impregnate a woman and father a child.

Women are female and cannot impregnate other women.

But there is something beyond that. You say you "identify as". It doesn't make any difference how someone identifies. Someone with an identify of female isn't going to father a child because it is contrary to their identity. "Identify as" are words. Impregnating a woman and becoming a father are actions which negate the words.

It's this kind of contradiction which run rampant in transworld and makes it into a fantasy land.

Post here

If late transitioners are all going to be classified as paraphiliacs in the DSM, along with fetishists, necrophiliacs and the like, what are the odds of us retaining the ability to change birth certificates, marry, or even legally access to hormones or surgery, no matter what medical professionals may deem necessary?

I would hope all late transistioners would be precluded from allowed or to be able to falsify their documentation.

Post here

We have a long way to go, don't we? Even here at Bilerico. Still, people like us don't give up easily, do we? Our children give us strength.

Zoe~ I can see in the back end that the comments on those threads keeps on going, long, long, long after regular readers won't even know how to access them. I was seriously hoping that that garbage would just be TBP's dirty little secret - for some reason the HBS-TG debate has to take place on old TBP comment threads.

Donna~ Great post! I'm so glad you both have found an arrangement that makes you comfortable.

Donna, you brought tears to my eyes while reading this. Your feelings and attitude toward your son mirrors mine toward my two. The oldest turned 26 this past Sunday and the other turns 24 this Saturday and as I have stated before, I am so proud of both of them.

But, it was when you mentioned your father that made more tears flow. My father died on December 17, 2005, and I miss him so much. For seven and a half years, I was not allowed to see him, because he was suffering from Alzheimer's and diabetes and my mother didn't want to put undue stress on him. Not getting the chance to see both of them made me move to Atlanta.
I got the call that he was in a hospice and didn't have long. A priest gave him last rites. My sister put the phone to his ear so I could tell him one last time I love him. He made some sounds. My sister said it was the only moment he made any sounds. My mom told me to come home.

While I waited at the airport, my son called and told me he had passed away. The Eric Clapton song, "My Father's Eyes" always comes to mind when I think of him. I didn't get to look into my father's eyes one last time. I didn't get to kiss him good-bye. He didn't get to ever see is oldest daughter.

Father's day is a mixed day for me. My sons bring me joy and pride. The lost of my father and not getting to say good-bye to his face causes me to cry. If you think I'm writing this with clear eyes, think again.

Thank you, Donna. You are a wonderful friend. I needed to hear what you wrote.

Beautiful Donna. I wish my father was as generous and loving as you are.

And Zoe, let's leave that crap over on those other threads instead of bringing them here. This is such a beautiful post that it doesn't need marred by the whole HBS debate.

You're a credit to fathers and loving children everywhere Donna. Those qualities supercede the words that describe these relationships. Good for you.

A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Those comments had nothing to do with the HBS tempest in a teapot, they were about all oppressing transsexuals who dared reproduce in the only way biologically possible for them.

The fact that I was and remain my son's father is a source of pride, not a source of embarassment or something that I feel I need to justify or explain to others. The fact that I can still be a father figure in my son's life does not diminish me in any way. I respect the fact that others in my community may not feel similarly, or may approach their relationships with their children differently. There is no one universally right answer.
Amen. Those words, spoken straight from the heart, are echoed in my own.

We may indeed differ, and I too respect that others in the community may not feel similarly. I respect their right to do so. I don't even blame them. They may deny our narratives and our sense of identity, because of their philosophy. While disrespectful of us as human beings, that is their right too.

Where I draw the line though is when a minority of GLB without the T views overtly call for the withdrawal of existing human rights from people like Donna and myself. And that is happening, right here, at Bilerico. It would be more comfortable for everyone if we ignored it and pretended it wasn't happening, but happening it is.

We cannot effectively deal with the "dirty laundry" without exposing it to sunlight first. I wish it were not so, for Donna's post is eloquent, beautiful and bespeaks of our common humanity. It shouldn't be besmirched.

But the daggers in our backs, they hurt.

The best way, the only way, of making sure these uncomfortable words don't sully the beauty of Donna's thoughts is not to sweep them under the carpet, but admit they exist, and do something about the situation.

I feel dirty posting this, as if I'm bleeding all over the carpet and spoiling the party for everyone. But we've tried being silent, tried pretending before, and look where it got us.

Zoe is what Autumn Sandeen has called "being a bad tranny."

I ought to know, I've been an exceptionally "bad tranny" on by own blog--that, in large measure, is what I created it for--and even here, on Bilerico.

"Being a bad tranny" is what many, following the lead of feminists, I believe, have called "Speaking truth to power."

Speaking truth to power is always dangerous--and usually gets us ousted--but is absolutely necessary, for several reasons:

1) For marginalized people it is simply unavoidable. We see, with more clarity than we would ever want, that oppression/marginalization is not like some stagnant pond, but is a dynamic cascade. All people are capable of it; we see it in our lives.

For many of us, it would simply be detrimental to our lives NOT to name what we see in front of us every day.

2) Because privilege invisibilizes marginalized people--please forgive the jargon, this word is popular in some of the circles I frequent--speaking truth to power quite naturally irritates those with this privilege. Privilege comes in all forms, class, age, sex, orientation, surgery status, cissexual and cisgender status, race.

3) It is the obligation of those of who work at speaking truth to power to address, in a principled manner, the privilege itself and the ideas, thoughts and actions that manifest it--not the persons who do this.

And to articulate, also in a principled manner, the options available to address privilege.

4) If we don't speak truth to power, how will those with privilege, who truly wish to learn learn? How will we attract allies?

How will we progress into the future?

Do we truly believe the future will simply be a straight line function from the past?

Awesome post Donna, love your sense of family and commitment. Its a wonderful testament that we are able to transcend common barriers and move about the universe free to love.
Thank you for being you! And Happy Parents Day!

Well, not to completely threadjack, but here goes....

Zoe said:

Those comments had nothing to do with the HBS tempest in a teapot, they were about all oppressing transsexuals who dared reproduce in the only way biologically possible for them.

OK, I just thought the whole thing was an extension of the HBS drama. I went back and read a few of the comments (sorry, when they're 8 paragraphs long and there are 358 I stop reading a thread), and, yeah, and thanks for pointing this out.

Where I draw the line though is when a minority of GLB without the T views overtly call for the withdrawal of existing human rights from people like Donna and myself. And that is happening, right here, at Bilerico. It would be more comfortable for everyone if we ignored it and pretended it wasn't happening, but happening it is.

I don't think it reflects on the site. We have to remember that anyone in the world with an internet connection can come and leave a comment and that our commenting standards are incredibly low here. We've left quite a few comments up from utter homophobes because of open discussion concerns. If you see something in a post, then it's a reflection on the site.

But I really thought the whole thing was an extension of the HBS drama from the beginning of the year. But I don't understand why you have to go back to that thread. It's been over for a while, it's hard to find, and if we don't feed the trolls then they usually just leave.

Some of those people aren't going to change their opinions, ever, and they're just thriving on the conflict. The only solution I can see is just shutting down those threads, but I'd really hate to do that. That's just not the way we roll around here.

But you're always welcome here, Zoe, and I'm glad that you took the time to explain this to me, since obviously I was ignorant.

My point has been made, and I'd now personally prefer some more comments of the same inspirational nature as Donna's original post. I don't like being the spectre at the feast, and we need that inspiration as much as we need honesty. Thanks Alex for being so understanding.

Wow! Thanks, Donna! You really said a mouthful. This is an awesome view of family.

Alex.....exactly how constructive is it to label the concerns of those of us who use HBS to call it "drama". That trivalizes our concerns and positions and serves to silence and belittle.

I respect Donna, but her solution is not everyones. Shortly after transition I requested my daughter honour my transition by not sending me fathers day cards. This is not a hardship because my birthday falls within a few days of it each year and she understood perfectly my position.

My relationship with my own father was not great. I felt he never missed an opportunity to let me know I didn't measure up and after his death, I learned that he probably took part in the decision to surgically assign me male at birth....all of which was hidden from me most of my life. My fathers misogynist attitudes made a feminist of me at age nine predating the rise of second wave feminism.

My relationship with my own daughter is something else and in part because she and I are so much alike that people who see her high school pictures assume they are mine. The fact she is practically my clone was a standing joke between us her entire childhood. Today she is a wonderful adult woman I am proud as punch call my own.

We each arrive at our own solutions to these thing.

Cathryn, I'm not going to speak to everything else you're saying, or the HBS debate in general, but what goes on when people debate among three or four people for weeks and weeks and there is no conclusion and they say things like what was said to Zoe is drama. It is trivial if it goes on in a comment thread that no one will see.

This brought tears to my eyes, and I do not cry easily.

It reminds me so much of the father that I never really knew, because he kept all of us - my Mother, brother and sister, and friends, at arms length - and when I was old enough to have been able to say to him "Dad, TALK to me, because I want to know you, and to know about you, and to come into the world that you inhabit alone", he had had a stroke and could no longer talk.

It also reminds me too, of how I had become a younger mirror image of this man, and how I too kept my children at arms length - and lost them. Now that I know where I went wrong and would do something about it, it's too late, because I no longer know where they are, or how to get in touch with them.

I envy you, because you knew your Father as I never did, and because you have a relationship with your son that I will never have with my children. You have something that is precious, which knows no boundaries (nor would recognise any) which you nurture, and that is good. Long may it last.

Angela XXX

Gerri Ladene | June 8, 2008 3:33 PM

Just for curiosities sake I thought I might put this link in here to do a little expansion on the use of pronouns. yes we all become a little miffed whenever the descriptive pronoun is not appropriated to us but still, nobody’s perfect!

All the talk of correctness, remembrance and personal loss has deeply emotional aspect to me personally. In family it has been loss of loved ones at both ends of this spectrum. My father as of only this last month and my youngest some years back, so the discussion of Fathers day has a double edged sadness in it for me in my own heart. So when I hear others tell of their loss it is with a great deal of empathy that I can relate to how they feel.

It is difficult for others to understand, though not impossible, the pitiless reality that so many TS have to deal with in our own duality of comprehending of both sides of genders nature. For those who transition later in life the problem becomes more intense the identity, feelings the ability to have a dual point of view which is unique to us. It could be said that we are cursed with this dual sided nature of mental and physical opposition and yet blessed at the same time by our capacity to see life as if we stand it on edge to observe both sides in unison!

Of course its heart moving for Donna and the many others who come out to tell of their genuine individual and intimate details of their own experiences so that society can gain insight to our humanity and that we do feel like everyone else and that we are no different than any other parent, son or daughter in how we view life and our emotional feelings toward those close to us. Donna has put in her won eloquent way of how she deals with this and in doing so has shared her heartfelt feelings for her son and the memory of her loss of her father.

Here’s wishing you a Happy Fathers Day, Donna! You go girl!