Source: “Coping With Crossdressing” Copyright © by Jane Ellen and Frances Fairfax and CDS Publications
For eleven years we had explored the peaks and valleys of our life commitment. The sun was shining brightly on our marriage. Along the way Jane had discovered her femininity. Together we explored its ramifications and integrated it into our relationship. We had negotiated such obstacles as security concerns. Having consulted the Bible, and our house church pastor, we were at peace with our God. Throughout our relationship, our commitment to trust each other in all things stood us in good stead. Now it was time to start our family. The terrain changed. From familiar territory we found ourselves on the shore of an unknown sea.
The prospect was daunting. Always we had based our relationship on openness and trust. To us, parenthood was a sacred responsibility. What fearsome storms would we encounter if we exposed our children to crossgender expression? Would our children, exposed to crossdressing, become crossdressers themselves? Would they be confused by an ambiguous father image? Would our sons be deprived of a role model on which to base their lives as men? By sharing Jane’s existence with our children, would we be subjecting them to the judgment of their peers? We didn’t know. There was no literature to inform us.
Hiding the crossdressing, however, seemed no less inviting. What harm would we be doing by depriving our children of half their father? Knowing the stereotype is wrong, did we want to perpetuate society’s macho model for males? As responsible members of the transgender community, could we justify lies and deception to hide something that had brought nothing but good in our relationship? What kind of example would we be giving to other crossdressers and spouses who would look to us for guidance? What would the consequences be if the children “found out?” Did we want to share it with them ourselves at a time of our choosing, or did we want to trust to luck? The odds of hiding it did not seem good. From the “age of reason” to adulthood, our children would be at home over 50,000 days, each day representing a chance of discovery. If the children did find out, it would almost certainly be in an atmosphere of guilt and shame. What emotional trauma would they sustain? Above all this whirlpool would hover the issue of trust that binds a family together. How would we deal with the hurt in their eyes as they asked, “Why couldn’t you trust us with this?” The last question decided the issue for us. Inclined by nature to openness, we decided to be honest with our children.
When should we tell them? Given our situation, it seemed wrong to wait until they were adults. There was too much chance of their finding out beforehand, and taxing us with our failure to trust them. It seemed unwise to share crossdressing with them during their adolescence, when they would be struggling with their own sexuality and gender role issues. Adolescence, when peer group pressure emerges as a greater influence than parental teaching, and parental IQ progressively declines in children’s eyes, did not appear to be the most fertile field in which to sow the seeds of acceptance. And still there was that issue of trust.
It was tempting to delay telling the children until they reached the “age of reason,” age 7-11, Freud’s “age of latency.” At that age, we would not have to deal with the conflicts of our children’s emerging sexuality, and they would still be at an age when they were highly receptive to parental teaching. There would be a certain amount of maturity, so there would be less risk of their inadvertently violating security. By the age of 7, however, a child’s personality is largely set, and he has already, especially in these times, been exposed to a lot of outside influences and societal stereotyping. Besides, it was not as if we were telling them about some secret shame. In a very real sense, we would be sharing with our children a gift. Why not make Jane’s existence a part of their lives from Day One?
As she awaits the birth of her child, a mother-to-be prepares her home for the new arrival. Buying baby furniture and clothing, setting up a nursery, and baby-proofing the home occupy her mind. Having made our decision, we reviewed our relationship and discussed issues Jane’s presence was likely to raise. Jane felt good about herself. Frances totally accepted her. Together, we would be able to provide a framework, as JoAnn Roberts suggested, for our children’s desired response. They would see agreement rather than conflict. We were united on the issue. Our ship was provisioned; we were ready to set sail. We steered our course toward honesty and openness. Never have we been sorry.
From the day our sons came home from the hospital, Jane played with them and nurtured them. When they started to talk, they would point out and identify objects in their environment. They learned what a “Mama shoe” and a “Daddy shoe” were. A “Jane shoe” was like a “Mama shoe,” only bigger! Frequently, Jane would get dressed and play games with them. When we hosted transgender support group meetings in our home, our boys welcomed the chance to play with other children of crossdressers. When we went to transgender conventions, our sons knew they would be taken on outings to interesting places. Jane’s presence in their lives has been associated with a lot of fun and excitement. At conventions, gender-gifted people treated our sons with kindness, and complimented them on their good behavior. As a result, our children got to know many of them, and accepted them as ordinary friends. They never learned prejudice. Our little guys have a stable home, consistency, lots of love, and lots of friends. Both have become well adjusted children.
Long ago, Art Linkletter used to interview children on his television show. Asking them questions about their lives and families, he got some most unusual – and sometimes embarrassing – answers. While such answers were hilarious on television, we wonder whether the parents were laughing. In our case, such frank revelations could have serious social and professional repercussions. Most parents teach their children “not to tell others your business.” Crossdressing came under private business, right up there with “how much money Daddy makes.” We informed them that not every Daddy crossdresses, and that people outside the family might not understand it and might give them a hard time. Early on, we made it clear the problem was society’s, not ours. Jane was an integral part of their lives, and they loved her as well as their masculine father.
This love did lead to one interesting situation. When our older son was four, his teacher asked him to draw a picture of his family. In the resulting picture were Mom, Dad, little brother, cats, dog, and… Aunt Jane. The following conversation ensued:
Teacher: “Does your Aunt Jane live with you?” Robert: “Yes.” Teacher: “Is she your Mom’s sister, or your Dad’s?” Robert: “My Dad’s sister.” Teacher: “You certainly have a nice family.”
As our children grew older we taught them more about the meaning of crossdressing. They learned about the feminine side of personality, about self-expression, about social stereotypes and society’s double standards about dress. We taught them to evaluate people not by what they are, but by what they do. When they encounter prejudice against crossdressers, the facial expressions and tone of voice tell them where the problem really is. Our children are free to express their emotions honestly. They have never lived in the social prison that limits freedom of self-expression.
Since we regard crossgender expression as a gift rather than a fault, this question is meaningless for us. “But,” some ask, “do you want to subject your children to social ridicule?” Throughout history, people have been subjected to ridicule because of race, color, religious beliefs, height, weight, sexual orientation, gender, intelligence, ignorance, wealth, poverty – just about any parameter imaginable. To be human is to be subject to ridicule. Rather than focus on undeserved guilt, or pander to other people’s problems, we have simply encouraged our children to be all they can be. Our children see a balance of gender expression. Jane plays board games with them, and opens Christmas presents with them. Unless school is in session, our children go where we go. Transgender community conventions have given them a rare opportunity to see the world – from the Alamo to EPCOT Center to Hollywood to the Rocky Mountains to the Bahamas.
They also, however, have fun with a Dad who is happy in his masculinity. If they do well in school, each son gets a special night out with Dad. The son sets the program. One son likes to dine out at fancy restaurants, bowl, and go to sports events, while the other prefers pizza or an oyster bar, miniature golf, and the batting cages. Both boys, now ages 12 and 10, are Little Leaguers, and Dad is an assistant coach. Other family activities include church, movies, plays, sports events, piano lessons, dining out, and going after Gulf blue crabs. While both boys occasionally help Jane select dresses or accessories, neither has expressed any interest in crossdressing. They are exposed to a kaleidoscope of interests, and the lively world of books, from which they can pick and choose. We are at peace with the probable outcome.
Granted, our situation has been an ideal one. Jane did not discover her existence and begin crossdressing until some years into the marriage. We had many years in which to solidify our relationship before crossdressing became a factor, and before children arrived. We did not have to deal with the trauma of an “accidental” discovery of a “guilty” secret, with its attendant sense of betrayal and breach of the trust that is the bedrock of a marriage relationship. Nor do we happen to live in the sort of fishbowl neighborhood where neighbors (and neighbors’ children) drop in unannounced, and expect to know all the details of each other’s lives. We have also been blessed with two very intelligent sons, and our relationship with them has always been on a mature level. They have been able to understand both Dad’s need for crossgender expression and others’ need not to know about it. Hosting meetings in our home, and traveling to conventions, have long since made crossdressing “no big deal” for the boys. It is just another facet of otherwise typical boyhood revolving around school, church, and Little League baseball.
What about other families, whose situations may be less than ideal? More typical are those families where secret crossdressing is revealed only after several years of married life and the birth of children. How should they approach the subject of crossdressing as far as their children are concerned?
This children’s playground chant illustrates the necessary order of human events, an order that is certainly of paramount importance where crossgender expression is an issue. In considering the matter of telling children, or of dealing with children who may have found out already under less than ideal circumstances, so much depends on the quality of the husband-wife relationship. On subjects other than crossdressing, have they enjoyed good communication, worked out compromises, learned the necessity of placing others’ needs ahead of their own? Put another way, is their love mature, or selfish and immature? The issue of crossdressing, however carefully introduced, will produce shockwaves in any relationship. How the wife is told (or otherwise finds out) is very important. The entire subject of telling one’s wife deserves its own lengthy chapter, but in essence, the crossdresser must first educate and learn to accept himself, then present the issue to his wife in a manner free from fear, guilt and shame. He must be able to reassure her of his love, commitment, and concern for her and the children. Even in ideal situations, there is an inevitable process of adjustment as husband and wife redefine parameters, renegotiate needs and wants and expectations, and find workable compromises. This is a process that goes on daily, even hourly. Unfortunately, it does not go on in a vacuum.
When children are part of the picture, the utmost in love is called for on the part of both parents. Neither parent can allow his or her own needs or manipulative agendas to impinge upon the children’s need for a loving, stable family environment. The parents must present a consistent united front in dealing with the children, particularly in matters of discipline. Children learn soon enough how to exploit parental disunity to play off one against the other. In the context of crossdressing, the parents must first go through their own process of accommodation before considering telling the children. If Dad’s crossdressing is presented as something not that uncommon, as not a moral shortcoming but a gift, as a matter of freedom of expression and full personality development, and above all, as not threatening to the parents’ marriage nor to the children’s own lives and relationships, acceptance is far more likely.
If the children see shame and guilt on Dad’s part, fear and anger on Mom’s; if conflicts erupt over the time and money allotted to crossdressing; if they witness the classic buildup of tension prior to a support group meeting; if they see a Dad taking risks that may expose not only himself but them and their Mom to public ridicule or worse; if they experience parental manipulation of themselves (the children) as go-betweens or “fixers” of what are really the adults’ problems; if they witness hateful and wounding “words” or worse; if one or the other parent slams out of the house to avoid further “discussion” of an issue; etc., the children suffer not only immediate trauma but lasting scars that will impair them own future relationships.
Parents must remember they are parents. They have together conceived children whose needs must take precedence until they reach adulthood. This is not an optional commitment. Research has shown that divorce and/or parental abandonment is far worse on children than growing up in a family with parents who are “staying together for the sake of the kids.” The crossgendered person’s desire to fully explore and express his “second self” must be modified and certain aspects of his dream “put on hold” until that vital task of child-rearing is accomplished. He must carefully guard against self-indulgence in the use of family resources. He must also guard against abdication of healthy masculinity and family responsibility, either out of a sense of guilt or out of a mistaken notion of femininity. Children need a father and a mother whose life together provides the blueprint for their own future lives as adults. Wives who use their husbands’ crossdressing as the lightning rod for all other “static” in their relationship; who use threats of exposure, divorce, and loss of the children in attempts to control and manipulate their husbands; who shame and undermine the father to his children; who refuse to communicate on the subject at all; who make no allowance for responsible crossgender expression within their relationship, let alone in the wider family context; who “run home to Mother” (or anyone else); are themselves failing to act as mature, loving, responsible parents.
The emergence and development of crossgender expression should be viewed as a positive growth process for all concerned: for the gender-gifted person, for the wife, for their relationship, and for their family. With priorities established, mutual compromises reached, and an atmosphere of loving acceptance and openness in place, children can only benefit. They experience a father who is in touch with and expressive of his more tender, nurturing side, without surrendering his healthy masculinity and his leadership role in the family. Such children will grow up freer than most from societal stereotyping along genderal, sexual, racial and cultural lines. They learn family solidarity in the face of societal biases. They experience a model of mutual love and accommodation that will serve them well as they build their own adult lives. Their father’s “gender gift” becomes a gift of love in their own lives.
“Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” Love is the compass that will bring the family ship home across the uncharted sea.