I have been watching TransParent and I Am Cait with the sort of fascination of someone who has lived the experience – not from the transgendered male’s perspective, but as a daughter.
Unfortunately, my father died before Caitlyn Jenner won her award, or education about gender orientation and sexual orientation were readily available. Tragically, when he passed, we all sighed a breath of relief that the oppression of our father’s deep, dark secret was finally over. We had all been sorrowfully misled.
When my father confessed to me in 1972 that he was really a woman born into a man’s body, my teenage brain freaked. A) I had never heard of such a thing; and B) I already had a mother thank you. I did, however; suddenly understand why my parents insisted I be in my room for the night at 8:30 (I thought they had just despised my presence), and why I had to call home, not to let them know where I was, but when I was coming home on weekends. I would also recognize, in time, that this was why my mother was a nervous wreck, and frequently zoned out.
Had he sought help, I wanted to know.
He had, and the trend in those days, especially in conservative south-western Ontario, was to believe that he suffered from an addiction, so this was our accepted understanding. He did after all manipulate, and contrive to get his way, and we did all suffer the shame of his circumstance. Psychiatrists had even tried electric shock treatment, but he proved ‘resistant’ to treatment. He begged us not to make him go back.
So, we compromised. My mother, who had little choice in the matter, would tolerate his desires, and the rest of us would keep out of his way.
At the end of each day, my father would transform into Liz, a woman we came to identify as his alter (or split) ego. We would give Liz her time and space, but not participate. It was an imperfect plan.
My father, the man, was a WWII commando, regimented and driven by ambition. He was a heavy drinker, with a volatile temperament, and we all lived in terror of his unpredictability.
Liz, on the flip side, was patient, worldly-wise, quick to tear up with sentimentality, and always available to lend a sympathetic ear.
How would I know that if I avoided her? In those rare, intimate moments, with my father, I would wizen up to the fact that under the robe my mother had sewn for him was women’s clothing. It was really Liz I was talking to, although neither of us would acknowledge it.
I relay this information with a heavy heart. There was so much of my father/Liz I would never know because of our ignorance – because of society and psychology’s ignorance at the time.
I watch Cait Jenner and the fictional Maura Pfefferman in hopes of catching glimpses of my father. I study their families’ reactions in hopes of glimpsing myself.
It’s too late for my father and I, but hopefully not too late for healing to happen. We cannot change the past, however; we can revisit it from a renewed perspective.
My father used to keep a book tucked away in his bedside drawer: it was the story of the first sex reassignment surgery (male to female). My mother says it was his bible. It gave him hope.
Imagine what he’d be experiencing today?
Writer, avid reader, former educator, and proud grandmother, currently experiencing life through the lens of ME/CFS. Words are, and always have been, a lifeline. Some of the best adventures, I'm discovering, take place in the imagination.