My friend was married to a gentleman, and they had two daughters. When the eldest daughter was five years old the father came out, saying that he wanted to be a woman. He changed from being male to being female and then the parents got divorced.
The girls are now nine and eleven years old. They see their dad regularly and when they do, she is dressed as a woman but they still call her “dad.” When the eldest daughter sees her dad she becomes very angry and gets into a mood. Can you explain this please?
I am very worried about these two little girls. They have never gone for any help because their mom feels that it is not necessary.
— Family friend in South Africa
While it might seem rocky right now, I am pleased to hear that the father is still in her children’s lives. Of all the LGBT parents who risk being ostracized by family, transgender parents are the ones who risk the most isolation and heartache. Whatever effects their father’s gender identity might have on them, none could affect them more adversely than not having a relationship with her.
Every child is going to react to a parent’s gender transition in their own way. Many factors go into how this change will affect them, including their age, the quality of their relationship with the parent before transitioning, their family’s religious background, and the rest of the family’s attitude about the transition.
Noelle Howey, author of Dress Codes: Of Three Girlhoods — My Mother’s, My Father’s, and Mine, was 14 when her dad came out as a cross-dresser and later as transgender. About her father’s transition, Noelle writes:
I never said good-bye to my father — the original model…How do you label the sensation of losing not a person, but a persona? It seems trivial compared to real ashes-to-ashes death, and yet there’s something profound about it. (p.307)
While Noelle says that her relationship with her Dad is stronger than ever, she still acknowledges that his transition brought a sense of loss. Her dad looks, sounds and smells different as a woman. Her dad as she once knew him is gone and another version took his place.
Returning to your question, the younger child in this family may possibly be adjusting better because she was only three when her dad transitioned. She can hardly remember anything else. The eleven-year-old, however, probably has memories of when her dad was male. The daughter’s expression of anger could most likely be her unarticulated feelings of loss.
Have the girls had the opportunity to talk about the transition? Even though their mother might not feel that counseling is necessary, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to give it a try — provided that the family therapist is transgender-friendly.
As for what the kids call their father, “dad” is fine as long as the children and their father are comfortable with it. There might be times in public when it might be safer to use an alternate term of endearment, but that should be left up to the kids and their dad to decide. Regardless of her gender, she will always be their father.