Parents of trans youth have a wealth of information available to them, but when you’re the child of a trans parent, the information is a little more difficult to come by. Here, Joe Oakes, son of GenderGP’s head of therapy, Marianne, shares some insights:
Finding out my dad’s transgender
It was 2007 when I found out that my dad is transgender. I would be lying if I said I already knew, I didn’t have a clue – so it was a bit of a shock. At first I didn’t know what to do about it in my head, but then I thought why does it matter? I have a gay uncle and that’s not a problem to me, so I treated this in a similar way. I have always known I am a bit different, so when I found out I was autistic it made sense. I didn’t want people to treat me differently so I decided to take the same approach with my dad. Dad has always been the head of the family, with the strongest personality; this situation would not change that.
To come out or not to come out
When it came to work it was a bit awkward, as my dad owned the company we all worked at. It was full of family and friends that had no clue about the situation. I had to work away with these people for years, sharing rooms in hotels all over the world, so I was very close to most of them.
My dad’s choice was not to come out at work, assuming there would be some level of abuse. We worked in the building trade, which isn’t traditionally the most accepting or accommodating of people’s life choices. So we didn’t say anything. This meant I never had to deal with it while I worked on the shop floor. It only came out once we shut the company, many years later.
By that point my friends told me they’d worked it out anyway – they just hadn’t mentioned it as they hadn’t wanted to make things awkward. There were of course those who took a different view but they tended to be the people I didn’t like anyway, so I didn’t lose too much sleep over it!
Explaining to people that this woman is my dad
Accepting my dad has been the easy part. The hardest thing for me is calling Marianne ‘Dad’ in front of people, because I don’t know how they will react. This can make me feel anxious. I can understand how people might see this as odd because we have all been conditioned to say Mum to women and Dad to men, so when you see someone saying Dad to a woman they must think “did I hear that right?”. It’s getting easier as time goes on, but it isn’t something that feels normal straight away. It takes time.
Dad is a role, not a gender
People always think that to be a dad you have to be a male. I have learned that this statement is not true – just look at single parents, they have to play both roles! My dad will always be my dad no matter what.
How to explain to your friends that your dad is a woman
I have never had any issue with doing this when I think the time’s right. I have always thought it was odd that I am expected to speak about my mum and dad’s personal life with all my friends, when I have no interest in their parents personal life! If I don’t tell them though, it feels like I’m keeping a secret. Blocking them out, that I don’t trust them. One thing I would say is that I have never had a negative response from my friends, which is a great thing.
Telling my wife about my dad
I have only ever told one woman in my life about my dad, and she went on to become my wife. I knew as soon as I met her that she needed to know and I needed to know that she was ok with my dad being transgender. She handled it perfectly. We now go on holiday together at every opportunity.
Meeting dad’s friends that only know her as a woman
This can be one of the hardest parts of being a child of a trans person. Because we are both adults, it’s almost like other people don’t see Marianne as my dad, they see her as my friend. This leads to my being included in lots of awkward and inappropriate conversations about things you would never speak about in front of a family member – it gives me a level of insight I would rather not have if I am honest!
Seeing my dad for the first time as a woman
I thought seeing my dad for the first time was going to be odd – but actually it was fine. It was then that I realised that despite looking different, it was always going to be the same person I saw. The more I saw my dad as Marianne, the more ordinary it became to me. I have now done gigs with my dad in Manchester – we’re both musicians – and I help out with Marianne’s work helping the trans community. Marianne is now one of the top counsellors in the trans community helping people everyday to become the people they have always wanted to be and I couldn’t be prouder. I hope to work alongside my dad again in the future.
It’s ok to get things wrong
If I am being honest it’s still hard today getting it right each time. I am sure it will come. Luckily, my dad doesn’t get offended when I slip up, by using the wrong pronoun for example, so it’s not the end of the world. I know that the most important thing is that I keep trying; that I show I care enough to get it right. That’s the best advice I can give.
Finally, it’s ok to have a laugh with it as long as both parties find it funny. Do what comes naturally. Whenever we’re at an event, and I have to introduce myself, I always say: “Hi I’m Joe, I am with Marianne. She is my dad”. It may sound odd but it’s the most natural thing in the world to us.
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