[Editor's note: This guest post is by Monica Helms, an Atlanta based transgender activist. Monica is past executive director of Tran=Action and co-founder of Transgender American Veterans Association.]
When you first hold a brand new life in your hands, whether you are the father or the mother, your mind races on how they will turn out as adults. You could be holding a future President of the United States or the next Ted Bundy. You never know what fate has in store for your child, but you know part of their future is shaped by what you will do or don't do in the next 18 years... and beyond.
My two sons were born almost exactly 2 years apart and will be 26 and 24 in early June. Robert is the older and Bryan is the younger. Bryan was born on my mother's birthday and since the age of five they would go out to lunch or dinner to celebrate their birthdays together. Bryan never forgets.
(The Photo, left to right: Olivia [Robert's Fiancée,] Robert, Donna [my ex,] Bryan, Hilda [Bryan's wife, in the back,] Xavier [my grandson,] and me.)
Over the years my ex and I did the best we could to raise Robert and Bryan, giving them as much freedom to do things so they could learn adult responsibilities. They rode the city bus by themselves to the mall at age ten and had a savings account at age twelve, learning to deposit and withdraw money on their own. At age 16, they worked in stores on commission and did a great job.
We also emphasized the importance of accepting all people, regardless of any differences. This was evident when they brought over friends of all races and colors to play at our house. Today, Bryan is married to a Hispanic woman and Robert is engaged. Both my ex and I adore our two daughter-in-laws.
As we all know and many have experienced, transitioning for a transsexual can cause a lot of problems for their children. I'm sure that coming out as being a gay, lesbian or bisexual person can also cause problems with any children you may have. The only difference is the child doesn't see their parent change appearance in a short period of time. When I started living as Monica in June of 1997, Robert and Bryan had many issues with it.
Robert told me he was harassed by friends at school and his response to them was that they were no longer his friends. He went through many other problems in high school, but his female cousin helped him get through those tough times. At age 20 he joined the Marines. Since I served in the Navy, it created an instant bond between the two of us. To this day we are very close.
Bryan appeared to be okay with my transition, not feeling uncomfortable being seen with me in public. I remember one Saturday we were in Home Depot getting supplies for large lizard enclosure he wanted me to help him build. I stood in the long paint line to get a specific color while he and his friend rushed around the store finding parts we would need.
When Bryan found some hinges for the enclosure, he came up to me and said, "Dad,
Dad, I think these will work."
"Sure Bryan, I think they will too." Then I looked around and other shoppers were staring at me. "Ah, Bryan, maybe while we are out in public you can call me 'Monica'?"
Bryan and Robert came through those early years a lot less scathed than others I have heard of. In spite of the courage they have shown over the years, they will be stepping it up a notch in a couple of weeks when they attend the International Foundation of Gender Education's yearly conference in Tucson, April 2-5. Not only will they be attending one of the premier transgender conferences in the country, but they will be giving a workshop with Monica Canfield-Lenfest, a member of Children of Lesbian and Gays Everywhere (COLAGE). Her father also transitioned as an MtF transsexual. The workshop is entitled "Children of Transgender Parents."
"How do I feel?", you might ask. "Nervous" is one word that comes to mind. "Amazed" is truly one of my feelings. "Proud"? Absolutely. I told them to tell it like it was and not hold back on anything. Others need to hear what they went through in hopes it could help. Do I risk humiliation having that part of my transition exposed to the world? I don't see that it will be an issue. The importance of showing others in our community that some children make it through okay and that they need to watch out for the pitfalls far out weighs any issues I could face from Robert and Bryan being there.
I love my two sons and they love me. What more could I ask for? I'll get to be with them at the IFGE conference and introduce them to my friends. I'll see that as a dream come true. I'll write another piece after the conference on how it all turned out.