I am a transgendered man who left my ex-husband two years ago. I left him for other reasons and did not realize — at least, not consciously — that I was transgender until after I left him.
We have two daughters, 4 and 5, who live with him by my choice. I feel that they’re better placed with him than with me, and I visit them regularly. I have made a lot of positive progress in my life since coming out about my gender identity, and just about everybody in my life knows. But I haven’t been able to get up the nerve to come out to my ex.
Our divorce is almost final, and once it is, I plan to start physical transition. I don’t think I can hide the changes that will occur in me once I go on testosterone, and I don’t want to hide them. He has been pretty accepting of the fact that I’m bisexual, but he is pretty religious and I think the revelation that he was married to (and had children with) another man might push him over the edge.
My main concern is the children. I don’t want them to be put in the middle. Other transgender parents have told me that the younger the children are, the easier it is for them to accept a parent’s transition. Do you have any suggestions on how to make this less jarring for everyone involved?
Transman in California
I agree that it’s best for children to learn about a transgender parent when they are young. Our society teaches gender and the sexism and transphobia that goes along with all of that. Tell your kids now, before they are rigid in their ideas of gender. What a gift you can give them: to show them that there is so much beyond the limitations of “boy” and “girl.”
As for their dad, I think the reason you need to tell him now is because so many other people know. Someone at some point is going to slip up. When he finds out accidentally, he could likely feel deceived, angry, or betrayed for not being told, in addition to dealing with the news itself. Avoid that time bomb and make sure he hears it directly from you.
Another way to make coming out as trans less jarring for your former husband is to back off from the concept that your ex was married to another man. You’re right: that could push him over the edge, because it is no longer just about you, but also about him. You would be implying to a religious (and presumably conservative) person that he was unknowingly in a same-sex relationship. However, your transgender identity does not need to be presented to him in that manner.
Unless he asks specifically, he will most likely prefer to categorize his marriage with you as one that was with a woman — a woman who has since become a man. The distinction to you may be huge, but letting him think of it that way is a minor compromise that could mean the difference between manageable shock and a total freak out.
Remember: Their father is key in helping you maintain good relationships with your kids. The faster he can process and eventually accept this information, the better he can support his children’s relationships with you.