Tom Forrister celebrates his dad—and wonders how, as a transgender man, he can put his fathering instinct to use.
I was raised by a father who did not realize he had a son.
My family embraces forward thinking, so this “daughter” was encouraged to help with activities often reserved for boys. I tend to gravitate toward things that fall outside gender stereotypes, but I would swell with pride when I got to spend time with my dad in father/son activities like painting the fence, working on the car, or playing catch in the yard. As I grew older, he would call throughout the house when he needed my help on outdoor work, “Oh eldest, strongest daughter!” I internalized this as high praise (except for the daughter bit, but how was he to know?).
My father and I also connect on a geek level. He’s a chemist, I’m a biology minor, and we often had discussions long into the night about science and science fiction. Music is another shared passion. He introduced me to classic rock at a very young age (Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” would lull me to sleep on long car rides), and I keep trying to bring him around to my newfangled tunes (Green Day is my latest success).
We had the kind of conversations that guys have together, and they stayed with me and made me feel better as a teen when I was excluded from guy-to-guy conversations with kids my age.
Our relationship, though rocky when I left home to become an adult on my own, helped lay the foundation for principles that are starting to take root in my life as a man.
Dad taught me to work hard for what I want. Emulating his sense of responsibility has led me to set achievable goals for myself. I am not my father, but I try to take his best lessons and strengthen my own character with those assets, turning them over to do something great in the world. I don’t always know how to get there, but I have a good sense of direction for where I want to end up, thanks to him.
This work ethic is something I always saw myself passing on to my own children. The problem is, I gave up the ability to have biological children when I made the choice to be my true self and transition. Floods of testosterone are shutting down my ovaries, and my uterus will be removed as soon as I can afford the procedure. (Medical insurance sees an operation that, to me, is necessary for my health, as cosmetic—a discrimination that forces me to pay entirely out of pocket).
My wife, who is older than me, is now at the point in her life where chances for a healthy pregnancy for mother and baby are slim, especially since we would have to wait a few more years in order to financially support a child. Adoption is an option, but not easy for transgender individuals, even though I am now legally male. If I truly want a son or daughter, I will find a way. But the loss of passing on my genes is hard. I am sterile at 25.
If I can’t be a father right now, I hope I can be a father figure. The paternal instinct in me runs strong. Now that I have my act together, I am less selfish and more aware of the kids in my own community who grew up fatherless. If I can impart the combined wisdom of my dad’s advice with my experience, I think I’ll have done all right as a positive male influence.
Two years ago, my parents and sisters came to visit my wife and I in Boston. It was right before I told them I wanted to make the transition to become male, so I was nervous. I dressed in men’s clothes and wore a binder to minimize my chest. Most drastically, I’d cut my hair from being shoulder-length blonde to a buzz cut.
My family was surprised, but we soon slipped into a natural ease with each other as we toured the city. Before I ever told them outright that I wanted to transition, they still showed me their love and support. For me, the visit’s best moment was when I shared my first beer with my dad. We had simple, relaxed conversation. I felt like his son.
Despite our differences and misunderstandings when I dropped out of college and moved up north, Dad still shared a beer with me that hot summer day like everything was normal between us, and I hope he knows how much I appreciate his acceptance. When I see him this summer I hope we can continue to reestablish our relationship as father and son, man-to-man, sharing a beer at the good old-fashioned Southern barbeque my relatives have planned. Fire up the grill, Dad. I’m ready.