The first time Jeffrey met Jessica, he knew his father had made the right decision. But it was a rough path for this young man.
Dad was visiting again. Jeffrey, named after his father, never knew if the visit was temporary or permanent; he had lived in more apartments, shared more homes and bedrooms, and traded friends and schools more often than many kids his age. Dad walked him to a park today; unusual not to have his little brother go instead. Jeffrey was getting too old and too wise for park play. They sat for a moment. “Do you know why mom and dad fight so often?”
“No…” said Jeffrey, but his stomach began to sink…why? What could the worst reason be? “Are you gay?”
“No, I’m not gay.”
Whew. He was relieved. So how bad could the news be?
“I want to be a woman.”
Oh. Shock mixed with naivety….”is there a cure for that?”
That is how the younger Jeffrey Butterworth learned of his father’s distress, his plight of spending years trapped in a male body when everything inside screamed he was meant to be female. That is when his past began to make complete sense and his future was about to become a tale he could have never predicted, one of Shakespearean tragedy, bravery, extreme sorrow, and a light so bright that older, wiser eyes stare in awe and admiration. His life began like any young boy’s life. He spent his time with a quiet, conservative father, an outgoing, outspoken mother, and a kid brother. Mom and dad had problems, at times more tumultuous than others, and she even moved out with the two boys for a time, but he visited his father often on weekends and weeknights. Dad brought them a Christmas tree one year, and stayed. Jeffrey’s youngest brother was born nine months later, and they were a family again. Soon, the marital strife returned and mom left, taking the youngest, third son with her. Jeffrey chose to stay with his father for several reasons. He was in junior high, he had good friends, but there was more: he had always butted heads with his mom. Maybe they were too much alike, overly opinionated and headstrong; maybe he bore the brunt of too much household anger because he was old enough to know and strong enough to bear the weight when his introverted father opted for silence. Perhaps he just felt he needed to protect the quiet, sometimes sad nature of a man who always seemed generous and more willing to forgive.
The days that followed the separation were sobering. The eldest Jeffrey worked long hours, dawn until dusk many times, and his eldest son inherited the responsibility of getting his little brother off to school, walking him back home, and often making sure homework was completed and dinner prepared. Weekends were spent on long drives to visit their mom and youngest brother. He still argued with her, critical of her move, her instability, and she, in turn angry, accusing him of persuading the middle son to stay behind as well with his father. The days were trying, but dad’s long hours finally had a payoff. There was money for attorneys and a custody struggle, and a chance to have all three brothers together in their father’s home. The battle was long; he was 14-years-old by the time he looked forward to his youngest brother’s return home. Then the rocky path took another sharp turn. His mom and baby brother were involved in a near-fatal car crash: flipped vehicles, helicopter lifts, and days of needed rehabilitation followed. So mom returned home to live with a stronger support system, a chance for recovery, and time to return to school. They were a family.
Jeffrey was a sophomore and life seemed to settle down for a time before relocation was announced again. The family would move to a city more conveniently located near his mom’s school. During this event, there were happenings that made no sense at the time. Jeffrey remembered a box of larger women’s clothes found high on a closet shelf. He was questioned about a suspicion concerning an extramarital affair; mom moved into the extra bedroom. He was unaware of the true reason behind the mysterious box of clothing. He only knew his mom and dad had been taking long walks at night, having private discussions he would later learn centered on the dream of Jeffrey Sr. finally having the surgery that would allow him to live as a woman. The clothes were props to a secret life of which only the parents were aware. The box was not the only issue that suddenly became clear that afternoon in the park when he learned of Jessica’s desires. His father’s introversion, his mother’s pent up rage, a constant phrase heard over and over again from dad when Jeffrey would complain about life not going his way….”You don’t know half of what I go through….” and a realization there had been many times when his mom, prompted by seemingly innocent opportunities, spoke to him about her seemingly unsupportive views on alternative sexuality. His father had always preached acceptance, about sexuality or otherwise.
By the end of senior year, despite dad’s full custody, the boys left for Texas with their mom to be reunited with extended family, and dad stayed behind to finish work projects with the intention of joining them later. The untold motive behind the move was an unshared secret between mother and father: Jeffrey Sr. would begin the long process of finally becoming, medically and surgically, a female. It was during one of dad’s visits to Texas that the truth was finally told, that day in the park, to his eldest son, a legal adult, who needed the truth because of his desire to spend time in California with his father, and his mobility in being able to legally and financially move away from the constant tension he felt with his mom. Jeffrey even moved back to California briefly and lived and worked alongside his father during the onset of hormonal medications and the growing out of longer hair with little angst other than that typical of father and son in close proximity. However the revelation would launch a river of conflicting and sometimes uncomfortable emotions, an understandable fear of the unknown, and even a fierce desire to protect a father whom Jeffrey was unwilling to lose; days would also be honest and a breeding ground for reflection and expansion.
Jeffrey met Jessica for the first time in the home of a supportive uncle, and accompanied by a close friend to ease the process. Upon Jessica’s arrival, Jeffrey closed his eyes and tried to breath. He heard his father’s voice first, and his initial reaction upon the meeting was fear. He needed to make a quick exit of the house to break down and build back up. His friend, resolve, and a lot of courage demanded he walk back into that living room. Father and son spoke. Jessica used her traditional sense of humor to coax her son into a more relaxed and stable mood. Although Jeffrey had done his own soul searching, fighting a fear of losing a father he loved, and even seeking reasons to reject the transition outright, he softened. His father was now a woman, but inside his father was also, still, the loving parent with whom he was so familiar, and, someone new, too: someone finally comfortable in their own skin, someone happy.
The next months were chaotic. There was a return to Texas, requests from Jeffrey’s mother to ensure he leave the younger brothers innocent of their father’s transition, a return to California, and the eventual meeting between Jessica and her middle son. However, nothing could prepare Jeffrey for the battle looming ahead. Jessica wanted to see her youngest son and mom had cut off all contact through phone calls or messaging. Petitions were sent, lawyers were retained then lost, psychological tests completed, and, when money once again became a factor, a final push for self-representation followed. Court was more than frightening…it was heart wrenching. Jeffrey had done his best to anticipate questions, answers, and cross examination tactics, but the hostility of the battle was not predicted, stories were slanted to each party’s personal view, and truth was lost somewhere in the tangled web. Texas courts were not known for tolerance, and an attempt to convict Jeffrey of contempt of court left scars in their wake. They lost the war as they exhausted all appeals.
Today, nineteen year old Jeffrey Butterworth has not seen his youngest brother since 2012 and he last saw his mother and middle brother in court one year ago. Jeffrey has a new respect and softness for his father named Jessica. They live together, work hard, and entertain friends, the kind of friends that, if they know the story, they are completely accepting, and, if they are unaware, there is no need to delve further. Jessica is a woman; she lives as such, and not as a “former man”. Jeffrey respects her identity and even calls her Aunt Jessica in honor of her struggle and courage. When I asked Jeffrey if it was sometimes difficult to go from “dad” to “aunt” his response brought admiration, and a sense that any parent would be proud to have raised this young man: “No, she prefers that. She’s been waiting her whole life for it.”
Find Jessica’s story here.
Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Butterworth