Coming Out as Dad, Part 1: Birthday Party

Coming out to other parents was one of the last things I thought about when planning my daughter’s birthday party. There was so much else to take care of – the invitations, the decorations, the food, the ice and coolers for the food… It wasn’t till maybe the night before the party that I thought about “What am I going to tell the other parents about myself?”

It probably wouldn’t have been an issue at all if I’d had the sort of party where parents drop off their kids and reappear two hours later to pick them up, just as they’re reaching the zenith of their sugar highs. I could have just introduced myself by name (my preferred name is easily misinterpreted as feminine in the U.S.) or as Iz’s parental figure, waved by, and left them blissfully unaware they just talked to a transgender parent.

But no, I had to plan a party at a massive local playground, where I hoped all the parents would stay to enjoy the festivities (ie. help supervise their children). And they did. And rather than let them be mystified by the mix of terms used for me (female pronouns from my recalcitrant parents; male pronouns from my kid, girlfriend, brother, friends, and my kid’s aunt and other grandpa; and the lingering “Mommy” from my kid), or have them misgender me based on my appearance, I decided to take the bull by the horns and come out. “Mom transitioning to Dad” was the phrase I decided to use.

I didn’t let on to anyone else, but I worried about how the other parents would respond. This being a liberal area, and not having had any problems coming out at work or with volunteer organizations in the area, I hoped for the best, but still. What if this was the time someone got upset? What if they made a fuss or left the party? If they refused to have anything to do with me and my kid, or badmouthed me to other parents?

Ultimately, though, I couldn’t masquerade as Mom. Not with almost four months worth of testosterone pumping in my veins, not with my already rather deep voice and already rather prominent muscles. Not now that I was out to almost everybody in my life and planned to present myself as Iz’s dad when school starts again in the fall. Not if I wanted to feel anything other than miserable during the party.

And so, when that first parent walked up to me on the playground, I shook her hand and introduced myself by name, then said, “I’m Iz’s parent. I was Mom; now I’m transitioning to Dad.” She didn’t comment on that but introduced herself, and then we launched right into talking about the kids and the party. One down, five more to go.

In the end, I came out to maybe three out of five of the parents that didn’t already know (a couple of them were buddies of mine who already knew about my gender). Sometimes there was so much going on that I only had time to say my name and not give my coming out spiel. One parent actually asked me, “So you’re… her mom?” and I replied, “Funny you should ask–” and said my thing. In another case, in an effort to save time, I introduced myself as “Mom slash Dad,” and the other parent said with a sympathetic chuckle, “Ah, you mean you’re very busy.” “Well, and also I’m transitioning…” I explained.

Honestly, I don’t know how many of the parents even got it. They were possibly feeling near as frazzled as I was, what with the kids running around the huge playground, and the overwhelming heat (heat index of 105, yay). The fact that no one asked me any questions about my transition hints that either everyone was being extremely polite that day, or that they were too distracted, or they actually didn’t get what I said at all.

Even if they didn’t, though, I’m glad I did it. It felt worlds better to know that I had tried. I wasn’t hiding; I was being myself, even if everyone was too busy to actually notice. I did not get misgendered at all, aside from Iz calling me Mommy. And I one-upped my parents out of calling me by the wrong name by introducing myself by my preferred name.

The party passed in such a blur – setting up decorations, greeting people, getting kids to play games, sending people to fetch pizza and then the ice cream cake, trying to get goody bags to kids as families began to wilt from the heat and leave – that I didn’t really think about these things till afterward. Even that evening after the party, all I could think was, thank the gods it went off so well. People showed up in spite of the heat; there was enough food and drink and goody bags; the kids had fun; Iz was beaming.

It wasn’t till today, two days later, that I started to reflect on my coming out, and realized how much of a non-issue my identity had been – not just my intentional coming out, but the way I dressed and acted, the sound of my voice, my obvious masculine expression.

I also realized that I had stumbled on a parent label that fit, at least for now. On another of my blogs, I’ve written about how my gender identity is in flux. It makes sense that my parental identity would be in flux, too – that I might not yet be sure that I’m Dad – but I see myself on a journey of “Mom transitioning to Dad,” and that’s what I feel comfortable telling people.

As for how Iz sees me and calls me, she has already referred to me as her dad on several occasions – it’s just that when she needs me, the word that pops out of her mouth is still “Mommy!” I’ve started to nudge a little at changing this habit, especially in public — but I think it’s going to be a work in progress for some time.

And it’s not as though it won’t be obvious that I’m trans for some time to come. I am going to be coming out as “transitioning” (I’ve already started using that in my standard coming out spiel in general – “I’m transitioning female to male”) for however long it takes me to be generally perceived as male – if that ever happens. I’m lucky to live, work, and have my kid attend school in an area where people don’t seem to have a problem with this.

Because really, there are more important things going on, such as needing to get candles lit and “Happy Birthday” sung before the ice cream cake melts in the 105 degree heat.

A Dad By Any Other Name

…would still smell just as sweaty after karate class.

What’s in a name? In a way, not that much. Whatever I’m called, it doesn’t change the fact that I hug my kid before she gets on the school bus each morning, that I read her bedtime stories while she snuggles up to me, that I take her to the playground and the library, I bandage her boo-boos and make sure she brushes her teeth and eats her vegetables, I go watch her dance recital and I go with her to “Daddy and Me” karate class the day before Fathers’ Day.

Wait, what?

Yes, I went to Daddy and Me class with my daughter.

And at least once during class, she called me “Mommy.”

Names mattered a whole lot at that moment.

I had ended up there kind of by surprise, or accident. When “Mommy and Me” classes happened back in May, I thought regretfully that I probably wouldn’t be able to attend the dads’ version this year. I’d be too obviously trans, or more likely, be perceived as a butch woman. I wouldn’t fit in. I’d get weird looks and embarrassing questions. It would have to wait, I thought, till next year, when I’m much more likely to be perceived as male.

And then when the date of the Daddy and Me classes was announced, I realized it was the same day as a wedding we were to attend, and I’d have to work that day as well, so we wouldn’t be able to make it anyway. I was simultaneously disappointed and relieved.

But as it turned out, the end of the week arrived and Iz had only gone to class once (she is supposed to go twice a week). So my mom and I arranged that I would take Iz to class, and my mom would pick her up so that I could go straight to work from there.

And as we were going out the door, I remembered that it was day of the Daddy and Me classes.

So knowing full well what Iz would say, I asked her if she wanted me to join her for class. After all, I started her in karate so that we could bond, and that was just what this class was for.

Her eyes lit up.

Anyway, if I could play it off as my kid’s idea, that gave me an excuse. “I know, i don’t look like most people’s idea of a daddy yet, but my kid really wanted me to take class with her, so what could I do?” *shrug, smile, keep doing what I’m doing*

As it turned out, no one said anything, not even when Iz called me mommy. Well, one of the other dads did say, “Looks like you’re experienced at this,” when I did some super fast blocking during one drill. But nothing about gender. Nothing implying  I shouldn’t be there.

I started out class a nervous wreck. And I was relieved when it was over – as much for getting through class in somewhat restrictive pants as for not getting any flak for being in the “wrong place.” But I also felt accomplished. I had made it clear – to that small group of parents and students in the dojo that morning, anyway – that I was dad, that I was male. Even though some people still look at me and think I’m Iz’s mom. Even though Iz still calls me “Mom” a lot of the time.

When it’s just between her and me, it really doesn’t matter a bit what she calls me. I am myself; I am not the label. How I treat her doesn’t change, other than that I’m embracing my masculine style of parenting more now, but that’s a result of accepting myself and my identity, and not of the label itself. I don’t even receive the right label that often when it comes to parenting, and in fact haven’t even settled on one yet. I just do my thing.

But parenting is a very gendered sport, and nothing makes this clearer than the Hallmark holidays we have for binary gendered parents. Mothers’ Day is only for female parental figures, and Fathers’ Day is one for male ones. For transgender parents, it’s a territory fraught with the mines of potential questioning and rejection or even derision or harassment, and the anxiety and dysphoria that can bring on. And for parents who identify outside the binary, neither holiday may feel right, as I brought up last month.

Ideas of who can raise children have expanded remarkably in recent years, as the awesome book Families, Families, Families! goes to show. It isn’t until page 16 of this picture book that the example “Some kids have a mom and a dad,” is given, after two dads, just mom, grandparents, and so on. But even so, the labels stay the same. Moms. Dads. You’re one or the other. There’s no allowance for being in between, whether it’s because you’re in transit from one or the other, or camping out there indefinitely.

I’m not saying we should deny mothers and fathers and refuse those names. But some flexibility would be nice. I haven’t yet figured out whether “Dad” is a name that fits, and I can’t seem to get Iz to call me anything other than “Mommy” for very long. (Yesterday she called me “Fa-fa” – short for “Father” – for a little while, but then switched back to Mommy later.) I know that some trans people make up their own parental titles (and I’ve tried that), and some feel fine sticking with the title of their previous gender (but I don’t think I like that, at least not in public, at least not at this time).

I was lucky, though. In spite of my own uncertainty, my non-cis-male appearance, and my daughter’s flagrant, public misgendering, I was able to take that karate class with my kid without any negative response, and on Fathers’ Day itself, my amazing girlfriend took me out to brunch, and I got Fathers’ Day wishes from my kid’s aunt and supportive friends. I got to have my day, even if I was among those doubting whether it really was mine.

And now, for 364 more days, I’ll continue doing my parenting thing regardless of what I’m called, sweating through summer days at the playground and Saturday morning karate classes, reading bedtime stories and bandaging boo-boos. Maybe next June it’ll be a little clearer – to me, to Iz, to the world – whether or not I’m “Dad.” For now, though, I’m just going to be me, cause as far as Iz is concerned, that’s perfect.