Every dad, whether he admits it or not, looks for recognition on Father’s Day, but there will be no card or packaged gift from me to you this morning. Today I get to insult you simply by doing nothing. Petty, perhaps, but the only protest I can make against your impact on my life. This snub, of course, arises from social expectation – the sort you tried to force on me as a child, though I suspect the irony is lost on you. I know it’s self-defeating to carry ill feelings. I know hate hurts the person feeling it just as much, if not more, than those it is directed towards. I believe in forgiveness, too, when people seek it. So yes, I like to think I have a big heart these days but I do still allow myself this one slight glimmer of spite.
I was bullied as a child, violently, mercilessly, and constantly. I’m a woman today but back then I was seen as a sissy boy – a fact knocked, kicked and thumped into me at every opportunity when I was too weak to fight back. “You’re gay”, the kids at school would shout, the very worst of insults back then. When shouting wasn’t an option they’d write cruel things about me on bits of paper and pass them around the classroom. And when I got home I could expect a clip ’round the earhole for “talking like a poof”. I wasn’t the only victim of your verbal and physical violence.
Sometimes when I tell people I no longer speak to you they assume it’s because of my difficult and lengthy transition from male to female. That frames me as the problem. I don’t speak to you because I don’t share your values and I don’t like the way you treat people. I needed you to love me as a child. People assume you don’t accept me but the truth is I don’t accept you. I didn’t write this letter to hurt you though. I didn’t write this letter for you at all, actually, and I have no idea how you will feel about it or even if you will see it. The damage children suffer can be so toxic to their adult lives. This letter is for anyone whose father wasn’t some romantic stereotype who pottered around the garden while mother prepared Sunday lunch.
I daresay, like my mum, you’d have adjusted to my new identity given time. She wasn’t there for me, either, when I first transitioned. I know what it’s like to spend Christmas alone because my family found my presence more awkward than rejecting me. I also know what it’s like to feel bullied, again, as an adult, in the streets, for daring to walk down them. The taunts became ‘fucking tranny’, for a while, and cruel jokes about people like me are now written in newspapers, and circulated nationally. Thankfully I reached some kind of normality. Perhaps you were right about normality, perhaps it is the most important thing.
I don’t know what I would do without my mum these days and the rest of my family. They got on board. If they hadn’t I suspect I would still be trapped inside the house popping antidepressants and waiting for people who are not you to bring me food. Or worse. I read a study recently. It compared transgender people who have family support with those who do not. Guess what? Of those who were supported, none faced housing problems, 72 per cent reported life satisfaction and 4 per cent had attempted suicide. Those who weren’t supported gave rather different feedback. Over half faced housing problems and just 33 per cent reported life satisfaction. Saddest of all, 57 per cent had attempted suicide. They don’t print stuff like this in Father’s Day cards.
I’d like to tell you about my friend Fox. He was born female. This is what happened when he told his father he wanted to transition: “Dad stood up and cut off my sentence, saying ‘I think I know what you’re going to say, and I want you to know I support you 100 per cent’. It was exactly what I needed to hear and it brought us much closer together”. Fox’s dad Bryan still gets cards on Father’s Day and the only thing that has changed is the gender of one of the senders: “I had two daughters, but I now have a daughter and a son. My wife and I are both proud of his achievements and willingness to promote transgender issues.” He told me he’s pleased Fox opened up to him because he cares for his son and “each day of living a lie is a day unfulfilled.”
I’m telling you this because I want you to know, Father, that it is possible to love your child even though they are different.
I know it can be hard for parents. I know you probably didn’t know any better. The lack of information about people like me in the media and the way we are demonized by the tabloids doesn’t help. I’m trying to change that now, Father, through dialogue, empathy and compassion. Check out the work I’m doing with All About Trans raising awareness among media professionals. There’s a great deal of progress to be made. Many trans people are still rejected by their families when they transition and fear of this often keeps them from transitioning at all. They miss out on the fulfilling lives that I, and many like me, have been lucky enough to secure.
So that’s why today, Father, honestly, if I were to send a card, it would be addressed to me.