I take it as as sign of remarkable progress that no one wished me a Happy Mother’s Day this year. Earlier on, this happened fairly often…certainly understandable given my gender transition. There are no published data, but I suspect most transgender parents switch parental titles right along with their names and pronouns. The fact that I didn’t do so probably makes me a bit of an outlier. 1The absence of maternally-themed well wishes therefore reflects a nuanced understanding of my story which was not evident in earlier years and which I greatly appreciate.
Of course I found myself secretly wishing this morning that I wouldn’t be wished Happy Father’s Day, either. I welcome the sentiment, but mismatched gender cues sting the ears even when clearly offered with the finest of intentions. It’s all a bit messy, isn’t it? Sorry.2
To my kids, though, I am still “Dad”. This reflects a number of different things particular to my own personal thinking and circumstance, and not necessarily representative of the trans community in general. First, I have watched my spouse take up and embody the fullness and beauty of motherhood in an an intuitive way that I have never experienced. I would personally think it hubris, if not sacrilege to see myself as her equal. Read this with a generous helping of “in my experience”. Many other trans people negotiate their family dynamics in other equally valid ways based on their own personal understandings. Perhaps my late transition is part of what makes motherhood inconceivable for me personally.
Second, “Dad” is not nearly so much a gendered word for me as the description of a role that I continue to play and refine. Though parents of either gender may do so, the blend of qualities I bring to the table–provider, planner, rough-houser-in-chief, clown, person-who-puts-things-on-the-high-shelf, law-giver, rascal and repairman are still somewhat more associated in my consciousness, if not the collective American social consciousness, with male parenting. At some point along the way, I had to ask my children to re-imagine me in light of transition. This was difficult enough without depriving them of the contributions which they had come to expect from me and for which I continue to have some degree of aptitude.
Finally, and unsurprisingly to those of you regularly reading my ramblings, I simply haven’t figured out a better solution yet. I wade into the water. My son and I especially have had several conversations over the last year about the potential risks of being called “Dad” in public. Not all attention is positive attention, and though I don’t expect I pass to observant folk, neither do I think it is wise to attract unnecessary scrutiny. Further, the fact that I have given him no better alternative label to use means that way he refers to me in my absence reinforces masculine expectations about me among his friends and associates in a way that is potentially awkward later on. It might not be ideal, but frankly, it was hard enough for us all to adapt to “Renae”. One of our friends, through a incident too convoluted to relate, has taken to calling my son “Evil”, and she suggested that perhaps I should be accordingly referred to as The Progenitor of Evil. Works for me…if only it rolled a little more quickly off the tongue.
Renae: I appreciate your willingness to explain your reasoning about these gender-focused parental-recognition days. As your cousin and, increasingly, your friend, I’m relieved to know that you recognize I may stumble sometimes, even as I interact with you, always, with the best of intentions. I appreciate your willingness to be teacher while framing your experience as your own. Your description of the “dad-ness” that you still cherish warms my heart. So allow me to say, “Happy Father’s Day” — because whatever you call yourself, and despite your many other accomplishments, your role in the life of your family may be your greatest achievement.
What Amy said Renae – you’re an outstanding spouse – parent – person and have every reason to be proud – so I also will say Happy Father’s Day –
Enjoyed reading this very much! Thanks, Renae!
Renae, please take license to add sensitivity, artistry and spirituality to your list; these are a rare and potent additions to your “dad” qualities.
Names are important. My kids have chosen “Mapz” for me, a variant of “Mapa”, as a term of endearment, recognition of my evolution and acknowledgement to the absurd parallels of our family to Transparent’s Pfeffermans. Ya sure, we would be the Minnesota Lutheran version, don’t ya know. It seems they still call ”Dad” when they are looking for problem solving or money. Two of the three apparently waiting for “Mapz Day” to become official to send a card.