Continuing my Family Voices series with the second post by a member of COLAGE (Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere). Below, Jonathan shares a bit of his “lovably bizarre” family, talks about his experience as the son of a transgender father, and reminds us of the importance of keeping a sense of humor.
Tell us a little about the family in which you grew up. Who was in it? Anything particular you’d like to share about yourselves?
My family is a witch’s brew of geeks, dorks, and delinquents. We built secret passages in the basement for fun, and my father fought an eternal battle against right angles. My oldest brother just got married: he walked down the aisle with his wife to ‘Where Is My Mind,’ by The Pixies, my sister-in-law chucked a bouquet of dead flowers to the tune of ‘The Doom Song’ from Invader Zim, and then the entire place (a museum) was rocked by Britpop and New Wave until midnight. Because that’s the way my people roll. And by the by, my father is a transgender woman.
What has been the most challenging thing you’ve faced as the child of (an) LGBT parent(s)? How did you handle it?
My father came out as a transgender only when I was 21, months before I was to graduate university: the secret pact between her and my mother was to wait until my two brothers and I were fully grown. Consequentially, the biggest challenge has been just to juggle the split between my parents. They’re both the best parents a boy could ever ask for, and really quite happy living their separate lives: they endured the divorce with maturity and sensitivity, which is a testament to the strength of both their characters. They still talk all the time. But when they both live on separate sides of the country, plane fare just gets to be a pain after a while.
What, if anything, did your parent(s) do to help you understand their sexual orientation or gender identity, or to help you deal with any issues this raised at school or elsewhere? Any resources (groups, books, movies, Web sites, etc.) you found particularly helpful?
Nothing needed to be done. Before my father came out, she had been borrowing my books on gender theory for two years prior. My brothers and I all had gay and lesbian friends, and I had transgender classmates and professors by the time I was sixteen. When she finally came out, my initial instinct was to ask whether we could still make the 2:20 showing of X-Men 2. My oldest brother’s response was, in fact, ‘Well, duh.’
Anything you wish your parents had done differently in terms of the above?
Nope. They raised us to love our family, to battle bigots, to live life beautifully. Having a parent shift genders isn’t going to undermine any of that. Why would it?
How does having an LGBT parent affect you in your adult life? Or how has the experience of having an LGBT parent shifted in adulthood?
Considering that I use female pronouns for my father – my awesome father, who I inevitably mention in passing conversation, like any other member of my family whom I love – I become the de facto gender-theory ambassador. Conversations occur because of the ‘I Love My Trans Dad’ button that I place on my pinstripe suit. And for some reason, I find myself speaking on panels about my experience, because people have decided that my opinions are worth listening to. Wacky. Growing up – when my father was a man – all my friends thought that he was smoking hot. ‘Shawn’s Hot Dad’ was a local band, actually. Now that she’s a woman, our friends still think the exact same thing. And really, that never gets any less creepy.
What are the ways that having an LGBT parent has made you into who you are today?
Easy. My parents taught me how to be a man: how to come to bat for those you love, how to swing a hammer, how to wear a nice suit, how to read good books as often as humanly possible. We never gave a damn what bathroom my parents used, because that was never the point. We just cared that they were fantastic human beings, and they taught us to follow suit.
What advice would you most like to pass on to other children of LGBT parents? To the parents themselves?
My family was lovably bizarre before gender reassignment was even a glimmer on the horizon, so my experience is hardly applicable to any other families this side of the looking glass. So I recommend this: Have a damn sense of humour about it. Humour wins you friends, disarms enemies, forges bonds, relieves stress, helps people forget their troubles. Worrying only does so much, after which it only sours relations, rots potential, and undermines dreams. Laughter gets you the rest of the way.
Why did you choose to become involved with COLAGE?
I was working in Turkey, and a girl – an American girl, a co-worker – spoke ill of my father: called her a bad father, in fact, because she ‘obviously’ was so obsessed with her sex change that she ‘neglected to raise me well.’ One of the most vindictive things I’ve ever heard uttered by another human being, actually.
How else, if at all, are you involved in your community or in LGBT activism/politics?
I’ve definitely fallen into transgender activist circles, which as a smack-talking straight boy does make for hilarious stories. Like whenever I take a piss at a transgender conference, I realize that every FTM in twenty feet is staring at me (albeit in the most discreet way possible). And then they come up to me later that evening, half-drunk, yelling, ‘You’re so convincing!’ I tell them it’s from twenty years of practice.
Please share a favorite memory of being a COLAGEr or having an LGBT parent.
My father’s a woman who races cars in her free time, and she constantly embarrasses men by knowing far more about high-performance engines and independent suspension than they do. It’s hilarious, every single time.