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It’s time to talk about Dad

  • Posted on June 13, 2012 at 12:13 pm

This post has been a long time in the making. It is the sludge of life, the sediment that sinks and settles and into which feet get stuck. In a rising tide, that isn’t good. Drown, or leave your familiar boots behind. It is a difficult one, it is intensely personal, and not just about me, so I shall try to be sensitive.

Ron the lemurIt is time also because in a few days the UK has Fathers Day. Card shops are full of jokey ineptitudes of dads on golf courses, indulging footie or booze, heads under car bonnets pretending to know what they’re doing – all the fond stereotypes that try to say ‘we love you for all you failings’. I will always be a father to two children; that is my history. But there was never a Fathers Day card that spoke to me. They are all men, and I never was one really, however hard I tried. My DIY was never inept or bodged though, and I still genuinely fix things of all kinds. Last year for Fathers Day I was given the adoption of a Lemur at Aspinall’s Zoo. Ron, in his fluffy black and white glory (I so love lemurs) is sponsored by Andie, one of my early registrations of the real me, and if I can, I would like to go and see him, though of course on my own now.

Although dad still exists as the person forever inside the rather more lovely Andie, Fathers Day this year will be very different. I wrote a poem last year, based on another trans* father’s experience, and might still post it here (it is in the Realisations collection). But it will never be mine.

Role over

Realising a trans* (transgender or transsexual) identity as a family person involves a partner and children in enormous upheaval for all of you. If mum or dad (wife or husband) has been fighting with their identity for most of their lives, and you never knew or understood the essential nature of it until it all came out irresistably, and now they are not, to all intents and purposes, what they were, the rest of the family feels floored. Should they have known? What would have happened if all this has come out earlier? Would I not have married this trans* person at all? Was it all about gender? Would I never have been born? Where is my mum/dad now?

I suppose fundamentally we live on the level of roles. We spread the responsibilities about for a sense of balance and complimentarities: you play this, I’ll play that, you do the other. So long as mum doesn’t try mending the car, dad doesn’t try braiding your hair, and I know who to talk to about boyfriends, and you know who to look to for real strength (and I’m trying not to be sexist here!) we all know our place. Somehow we start as people who find an attraction of personalities, a sexual attraction too. Our babies are born as unknown people waiting to be discovered, and shaped, and worried over. We don’t mind what they are or what they do in the beginning, because they are just being. Gradually over time most of us find we are playing roles far more than simply being ourselves, and often realise this in mid life, as children grow in independence, and we start taking up interests outside the family that reassert our individuality. But we are still identified by our roles: the mum who bakes, the dad who plays music, the daughter who dances, the son who plays loud music. And that’s what we are then expected to do; we are what we do. Just like at parties: ‘What do you do? Oh, I’m a (job/profession/parent-at-home).’

And sometimes, it is enough just to be.

Imagine a scenario. Daughter’s bedroom is impeccable, son is cleaning the kitchen to Mozart, mum is fixing the shed roof and dad is sewing a dress. And everyone is happy because each knows the other has found something that expresses how they feel about themselves. The roles were useful once, but now they are all grown up enough and can be themselves. Mum may understand growing up as a girl, dad may be better informed on electrical wiring, daughter still has social problems to talk about, and son needs a job and how to present at interview. But role expectations are changing. Dependencies are changing.

Do you remember bringing your first baby home? Do you remember feeling so helpless and not really knowing what to do? Do you remember your life changing forever as you took on a parent role? Do you remember the first time the child was playing in someone else’s house and you were not there? And the early days of school, and the first empty house mornings? And rediscovering partnership out of parenthood? We have already undergone radical role changes in our lives, and in many ways.

And I have lost a role. I am not Father. I am not Husband. I am back to being simply me. I have no role any more. Role over.

The father who never left, the husband who never died

The role changed; not me. I was there at every family event, from the first romantic gesture, the friendship become love, the love become marriage. Believe it or not I was there at conception, at births, and through every little event that life brought us. And I disown none of it. So who am I now?

I am the father who never left. The words might be tricky, and seriously, I don’t mind ‘dad’ so long as the male role expectations aren’t hung on it, and I am introduced as: ‘she is my dad’, with honesty. I haven’t gone anywhere, but I do acknowledge the sheer embarrassment I cause. Schools do not teach about trans* issues, they do not appreciate that the world really is not divided into male and female, and so my (grown up) children are very shocked to find that it isn’t so. And their friends. The boyfriend’s family too. O. M. G. How do you become the daughter or son of a trans* parent, when every popular image is of transvestites, bizarre behaviour, fetishistic performance, kinkiness and – goodness, surely, a touch of perversion in there? Weird, or what?

You can only do it by finding out what trans* identity means, looking up gender dysphoria, laying all roles aside and asking:

‘What is it that is so important that a grown man starts living as a woman, and is changing in front of all their family, friends, colleagues and social circle? What drives anyone to do that, even to the extent of losing everything they have and hold most dear?’

Whatever it is, it must be worth finding out, because it is not a game or a lifestyle choice, or a betrayal of any previously held role. Who is this person, beyond the roles, who has the guts to change so radically rather late in life? They are not doing this to you. And sooner or later you may realise that a friend or a colleague or a client has a trans* history too, but you never knew. You never needed to. Meantime, the father who never left has been dropped from the team and the rejection is settling like mud, the feet are getting stuck and the way out is getting lost.

It’s time to talk about Dad.

More than that, it’s time to talk to Dad, and find the person behind the role, who feels no differently about her family than they ever did. Dad isn’t leaving, but you can leave Dad of course, believing she doesn’t love you any more. Well, she does.

And the husband who never died? She was there all along and played a role that she cannot play any more. But that person hasn’t died with the role, and their being there still is an important part of the conversation about Dad. If the role of father has gone, and the (entirely socio-sexual) role of husband has gone, and those roles were all that I was, then by all means talk about Dad without me. But if I am still the person who witnessed your lives in every detail, and held back myself in order to support and protect you for so many years, then let’s talk about Dad together before you leave, not after. You might not like me not playing the role any more, but this is who I am and how I am. I was born this way, and sooner or later, this had to happen, and it does need understanding before conversations become impossible, life becomes too entangled, and so we can all accept the reality, make our choices and move on.

It’s Fathers Day. It’s time to talk about Dad. And when you’re ready, her name is just Andie.

Keeping up appearances

  • Posted on March 15, 2012 at 4:26 pm

Today I bought a Daily Mail for the first time in ages. It was because there was a story of how Jane Fae and her daughter Tash came to terms with Dad being transgender. I wish the trauma in our house had been so easily resolved – but envy will get me nowhere.

On the way, I called in at a print shop where I’d been and got a good deal the day before. And the bank to drop some cheques in. Well that was easy: at the bank was the branch manager with whom I’d arranged a business account a couple of months earlier, so she knew the woman presenting the cheques, recognised me, and remembered probably her first openly transgendered client. Yesterday might have been different.

I slid along to the print shop next door, and my first explanation was ‘Sorry: I was dressed as a man yesterday: I know, it can be confusing’, but she was so totally OK about it, I didn’t need to say. Maybe I was hoping she wouldn’t recognise me! But then I wanted her to remember the deal we’d made. We had a lovely chat instead.

That was all after yet another visit from a heating engineer to fix our central heating. Very prompt service, but he met the woman of the house this morning, because yesterday I was expecting to have to crawl around the loft and a sludgy header tank, so I dressed (or didn’t) to do that. The pink blouse and denim skirt didn’t faze him one bit. ’Nah, don’t worry about that, doesn’t bother me!’ He sees all sorts probably, and I didn’t look like I was going to proposition him! We talked about the technical details of heating systems, tuning old cars etc. instead. He was so pleased to talk to someone who actually understood!

What he found today was that the last man in had wrongly diagnosed a faulty pump and replaced it – upside down. I had before and after photos and an invitation form for CheckaTrade. In a couple of hours, the first man was back, humbly giving the pink lady a cheque for £190 reimbursement!

I brought the Daily Mail back home to ‘leave around’, in case it helps break the deadlock. Jane Fae had an interesting blog this morning too, comparing those young trans people we know and love who are sooo young and girly, we just feel a poor second; middle-aged women who, because they look like middle-aged women, look a bit more like middle-aged men than girly-girls. Actually I think Jane looks very creditable. But the comments about her under the Daily Mail online were as awful as ever. People who, in the anonymity of the Internet, find it necessary to be very personal, very derogatory and rude, and feed off each other in showing how utterly ‘normal’ they are. (They don’t do this anywhere else. You won’t catch any of them walking up to a less-than-attractive woman in the high street, just to tell them they look ugly, or to someone with a disfigurement to tell them their plastic surgery has been a waste of NHS money that should have been spent on them instead.)

Well, today I felt more normal than that. I am, after all, just being myself, and keeping up appearances.

It’s just that I have a beautiful grown-up very girly-girl daughter who can’t see me. Here’s another poem from the forthcoming Realisations volume:


Trans parent

  • Posted on March 15, 2012 at 4:23 pm

There is nothing so opaque as being
a trans parent. And yet, in familiarity,
they see right through you. Able only to see

in a distance who you were, without
resting on your heart. It’s hard
to understand whether a father left off

caring, understanding or being strong
when somewhere, inside this not-mother
a voice speaks, vulnerable as they.

I shall never pass here, only be different –
as if swallowed, digested, absorbed
by someone uninvited to their home.

I have become thin – a veil on their whole
lifetime, from first blue-eyed recognition
to this struggle with a strangeness.

So thin, so hard to focus on, that I am
deep as an ocean, clear as water, a sea
through which a seahorse passes unseen.

2012 © Andie Davidson

From the new collection Realisations.

A normal transgender person

  • Posted on February 8, 2012 at 10:32 am

I have left a poem Front Page News that is part of this story. It came about after the Metro newspaper landed on commuters in and around London in September 2011, juxtaposing two headlines:

‘The £1 million man from Atlantis. Walliams completes his torturous Thames odyssey … and raises a fortune for charity in the process’

– and

‘Boy, 10, who went back to school a girl’.

It made me think: why is it so normal to swim the Thames, and why does it make you such a hero, compared with a 10-year-old who braves the opprobrium of parents, friends, family (and, under headlines now, the world) and causes a sensation? Most real heroes, when asked, say that their act was not a matter of choice, but instinct, so you judge who is most heroic here. It felt such an irony to see these two together, and quite sad too.

Since then several children have made headlines, and with immense bravery shared by their parents, have pressed forward the case for transgender identity to be normal. Not just normal, but acceptable; beyond sensational headlines, beyond despicable use of words that make trans people different, reviled or just a subject of ridicule. This has been the most difficult year of my life. It’s odd that for fifty years I have struggled with not feeling normal, and now I feel completely normal, I struggle with a society that says I have become abnormal. So I applaud organisations like Trans Media Watch who tackle the prejudice, deliberate sensationalising, or even the sheer thoughtlessness and ignorance, of journalists and editors everywhere. I wish I was one of them: I wish I was up there at the front being bolshie and noisy about being normal, and making others like me a bit safer and more accepted.

So I admire these children and their families for risking so much to be seen, to be listened to on their own terms. I know who is the heroine in the headlines.


I immediately know that the statisticians among you will say that normal has a definite meaning: the majority group in the middle of the bell curve of variance. What I mean by normal is that ‘this happens: rather a lot more than most of us know’ and that as a result, being trans is an everyday part of diversity. There are many places you can read up the stats on transgender people, intersex incidence etc., if you haven’t, just be aware that you will likely have met, maybe know, people whose transgender identity, past or present, simply isn’t apparent to you. Part of the reason for this is that it can be so difficult to reveal or fulfill a transgender personality. By doing so, you make a statement that still shocks, that so runs counter to preconceptions it tears families apart. There is no blame, there is no cause: it just happens, and because we don’t accept it as normal we have to set it apart, in case it’s dangerous or subversive.

If we all accept that there is a bit of the feminine in all men, and a bit of the masculine in all women, we are inevitably faced with the question: ‘yes, but how much’? And how much is ‘too much’? Too much for what? Our personal gender security? Even if it could be properly measured, how could we ever determine a maximum percentage for a definition of normal?

So as I watch, support, and follow the children who recently have made the front pages and the breakfast TV, my heart is with them. I wish I had known at an early age that there is a language for this, a space in life and society, and that it’s OK: you can be loved, you can express who you are and you can live a normal life. Meanwhile, I am still up against the buffers, where people can choose to be associated with me or not, on grounds of my kind or normality (‘Don’t let anyone think I’m the kind of person who finds this normal’!).

I can’t walk away from being transgender, but they can. If they can only feel safely normal by distancing themselves, they will. I am a normal transgender person – why do you feel your personal sense of gender is so betrayed? I hope these children work a miracle in the popular mind, until one day there is no media sensation, no permissible transphobia, and it is perfectly normal to love, be seen with, be a parent – as a transgender person.


  • Posted on January 30, 2012 at 7:00 pm

There’s a boy in my son’s class
who wears girls’ shoes.
Next term, we’ve been told,
he is Katie.
My son has no problem with this.
I said: He is Katie?
My son has a new girl friend;
he says she’s funny.
And happy now
she wears girls’ shoes.

Parents stand, all jeans and
coloured t-shirts in the playground
and wait in trainers
for the bell.
I wonder what I’m training for
as Katie and my son
run bursting out
for Mum.

They part to race to me,
to her. She stands,
perhaps in training too, but
wearing sandals and a skirt –
pretty as a flower.
She stands alone, with
Katie in his shorts and shoes.
What does he know?
He waves to my son,
takes her hand
and skips away.

You could wear pretty shoes too!

I could.
But it isn’t uniform
and I am in trainers
pretending to learn.
Katie’s mum
moves on
trailing eyes and opinions.
Katie has a friend.
So does my son.
I hope he’s happy
in his shoes.

© 2011 Andie Davidson

From the new collection Realisations.