Should a transgender parent come out to his kids and their father?

Q:

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

A:

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.

9 thoughts on “Should a transgender parent come out to his kids and their father?”

  1. I think the advice to not push the ex-spouse into “accepting” the reality of the new gender makes excellent sense. I am an MtF transsexual, and my ex-spouse and continued co-parent is adamant that she will never refer to me as “Joanne,” nor will she use feminine pronouns. That makes sense to me, since, as she says, she is not a lesbian. In some way, “accepting” my gender role would be about her sexuality. I cannot force her to see that my issues are not hers. And I feel she deserves to have her beliefs left intact.

    But what does her insistance on calling me “John” and referring to “him” to the girls have on their dealing with the changes? Our daughters, 11 and 7, spend every other weekend with me. Our eldest has a need to say nearly every time we are together, “Your not a girl, and you never will be. Mommy even says that.”

    Is it better just to let her air her frustration and to move ahead by hearing her feelings and then letting her make her own “transition” in her own time? (I’ve been told by several folks that the most important person, besides me, in helping children to deal with gender transitions is the other parent.) Or would we be wiser to return to mediation to discuss this.

    (Counseling is not an option. My former spouse has refused.)

    Joanne, Everett WA

  2. I am on the other end of this but I am seeking ways to tell me son that I am a transgendered woman. He is starting his puberty and defining his gender. He got the birds and bees talk from me.

    My problem is how is he going to handle me being a woman (M2F) while he is just starting puberty? I understand that the kids come to terms and understand but you are talking about younger children not a 13 year old.

    I am desperate to find an answer. I want to tell him because he is the final one to know. My daughter which is 18 years old. She says Daddy as long as you are happy and healthy that is all that matters. She told her newly married husband. He answer, Your dad is the coolest dad in the world, He accepted me as a son when He first met me. I doesn’t bother him. My ex wife is aware. She and I are searching for a way to tell our son before he finds out from someone else.

  3. First off let me take this moment to say congrads. For so many years now, being transexual has been used against many people and too many shy away from the conflict when others threaten us by saying they’ll take our children away.

    I`m happy to say that this is happening less and less as more of us come out and take a stand. They are a part of us just as they are for our ex`s and as such have no claim agaisnt our children. Unless someone can show how you have harmed your children they cannot keep them from us. Transman has started on a his journey, and I`m glad that he has found the strength to be himself.

    If you get nothing else out of my message I hope you get these two things. First there is nothing wrong with you and if your children loved you before, they will continue to do so. Second, you are not a transexual not transgender. There is nothing wrong with your internal gender, which is male. The problem is with the external sex, which corrections can be made to. Too many of the GBL groups have this idea that saying transgender means us, but the reality it means all of us, them included. So what they do by using transgender to refer to us is to hide our identity, while showing theirs. I think it`s about time that we do away with thatterm that has been forced on us, ad reclaim ourselves in whole. Sorry about that.

    You have many more challenges ahead of you, but now that you are on the way to bringing your body in line with your gender, you will be able to meet these challenges head on.

    Be Well TransMan

  4. I agree with this advice. Since coming out as an FTM, I have been open with people with whom I am personally ivolved in any way. I can’t say that I have avoided every problem since then, but I can say that things have gone much smoother when I told the truth than when I simply didn’t address the issue, or even worse, lied.

    So tell the truth. But present it to him in a way that he can process it. Don’t give him the interpretation. Just state the facts.

  5. I can’t really add much to what Abigail has already said. I totally agree that as soon as you can you must let your husband and children know. I understand that you may not want him to know before the divorce is final, you don’t need the added complication. It is something that must come from you though, rather than anybody else. You say that he is religious, but has been ok about you being bisexual. Well then hopefully he’ll be ok about you becoming a man. Yes it will mess with his head. Remember that while you are gaining contentment within in your world, he may well be feeling like his is constantly being shook up. It is vital that anger and resentment is not allowed to develop as this will affect your children greatly. It is vital that you keep him on your side as he will be the person with primary responsibility for bringing your children up.

    One thing that I do think that you have to bare in mind is that although you are becoming a man, you will always be your childrens mother. I personally believe for their own sense of equilibrium it is vital that you do not push this out of your mind. You certainly must not allow them to think that this is the case. I think if such a feeling is allowed to be fostered, it could lead to a child thinking that it should not be here. This can be very dangerous.

    I fully appreciate the desire to say this is who I am accept it, but it’s not as simple as that. I sense that you are aware of this. You were a woman when you married your husband as you were when you had your children. You no longer believe that this is correct and you need to be a man, well fine you can do that. You have a past with them and you want to maintain them in your life, therefore you can’t just wave goodbye to the fact that you were once a woman, well physically at least. I believe that it is just as important for people to honour their past, as it is to live in the present and to look forward to the future.

    I wish you and your family peace, love and understanding.

  6. Once the divorce is finial, who cares what he thinks. Your concern is for your children and they certainly are both you enough to be able to except the change and old enough to understand it.

    Explain it to them in very simple terms,and answer in simple terms but don’t try to make them understand or pressure them to talk about it.

    You are right about putting the children in the middle, so don’t. After you have told them either write a letter to him or call him. Again short and sweet, direct him to books or web sites but don`t you try to explain it at that time, try later when he has digested and given real thought to questions.

    Also, you didn’t mention it in your posting, do you have a lawyer involved in the divorce because you may want to consult the lawyer about what could or could not happen.

    In the end there is nothing you can do to stop you ex from any way he chooses to think or feel. That is in control of your ex so don’t let him hang it on you.

    It sounded as though you have a positive support system around you, good for you. Have you looked into and queer parent groups or queer dad groups? That would be great if you could find some that meet for social support for each other and their kids. We started our own here in Canada for queer moms and it`s amazing how much it helps kids not feel like they are the only ones with queer parents.

    Oh you will have to decide what your children will call you, either by your name or dad or something else alone those line.

    My oldest daughter calls me Leslie and youngest calls me mom, so I understand what it is you are going through. I`ve also done the custody trial thing too. Did well there too.

    So Stay true to yourself and hold your head up, when you’re happy your children will be happy. Hold them, love them and be yourself.

  7. Congratulations! Please know that this could be a rollercoaster for him, and there might be times when he expresses more negative sentiments than other times. If he is feeling okay about it, but then gets all these weirded-out reactions from friends (and his mom), he might have to cycle through his feelings again. And again.

    I’m not saying that will happen, but don’t panic if he seems to turn on you without warning. Hang in there, don’t bad mouth him in front of the kids, keep living with integrity, and he will come around again.

  8. I think that you’re going to be very proud of me, Abigail — I finally came out to my ex.

    He was shook up, but he hasn’t denied me access to our children, and he’s handling his mother’s reaction (which wasn’t pleasant). I was able to give him some information, and although he still says he “doesn’t know what to think,” at least he’s not reacting the way I was afraid he would. His first concern was for the children and what this would do to them, and I’m not sure he’s over that fear yet, but in time I have hopes that I can show him the relevant literature and that he will understand that this is not harmful to the children.

    And now I’m free to be myself with my children — there’s no one who doesn’t know about me now.

    Thank you for your splendid advice. I can’t thank you enough.

  9. i admired everyone that has posted their feelings and advice.. I am struggling with questions that maybe only you’all can help. I married a wonderful man at 27yrs.. i lived a very sheltered life …very norman rockwell.. one of the things that was always instilled in us was that you would not have sex with anyone but the man that you loved and would marry… now when i met my husband i knew that he was the one for me and i felt he felt the same so we had a very short courtship and married 7 months later… i was very shy but my husband was kind a gentle… i started to notice things — that we never had sex unless it was dark or the curtains were closed and it was always one side… mostly towards me..
    i did not meet his family till 3yrs into the marriage and on one of those trips his mother had too much to drink and showed me a picture of my husband when he was younger and that was when i learned that he was acutually born a woman…

    I was shocked and i cried and didn’t say a word to him…. i just kept it to myself and then realized that it didn’t matter that i loved him anyway…

    my questions is: Can the hormone therapy totally change a person’s personality? i don’t know who i married… he is so completely different he says that i have changed but i think it’s him.. he seems so angry and every little thing makes him mad… i worry for him… first of all this secret life he lives has got to weigh so heavily on him… no one knows who he really is and for the last 14yrs i have helped him live it… i’m afraid that he would not be able to handle it if people knew who he was or they found out….

    the questons i am asking is because i worry for him and after 14yrs we have decieded to separate for good.. i will always love and care for him but not as his wife…. help me find some website for him to come to grips with who he is…

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