Parents Q&A Briefing Sheet

Questions About Transgender
& Possible Answers

Callan Williams Copyright 1999


We had three kids -- one of each.

Our oldest child, who was born male, is transgendered. We have known that from a very young age when they would crossdress in our home, and we even sent her/him to a therapist in third, fifth & eighth grade.

He is anatomically male, and we raised him as a boy. He worked hard to live as a man, but while he had some success, he never really blossomed. For over the last 10 years, he has been actively working in the area of transgender, searching and writing, with some success. Keynote speeches and all. Now, he feels the need to write about transgender, to present his work, and he feels he can do that most comfortably and honestly as a woman.

--What is transgender?

Across cultures and across history some kids are born with male bodies and a feminine spirit, or female bodies and a masculine spirit. Lots of cultures have honored these people for their gifts, but this culture sees them as sick and demands that they deny their heart and follow the rules for people with their reproductive organs. This keeps them in the closet, keeps them from blossoming, keeps them from contributing.

Our kid really tried to be successful as a man, but this calling is very strong. Now, she has decided to make the choices of a woman.

-- Are they going to become female, have surgery?

Well, no surgery can make them female, though hormones can change their bodies and there is surgery to change the reproductive organs. Of course, most people never see other people's reproductive organs, so it's the change of role that's crucial.

We don't know how our child with change their body, and I don't think they know yet. They have been focused on changing role.

-- Were they always effeminate, always like a woman?

No. Actually, he wrapped himself in a big sort of curmudgeon role, with lots of man stuff -- kicking walls, girlfriends and all. But he never was one of the boys, never involved in sports or very macho, a sensitive bright kid full of pain & rage. Now w

We know that lots of that pain and rage was at being forced to deny his feminine nature.

-- He dated girls? Is he gay?

No, actually he only had relationships with women. He says that he couldn't imagine a relationship without a woman in it, and if it couldn't be him, it would be a woman born female. These relationships were OK, but he was never married. I suspect that some part of this transgender just got in the way.

Now, she says that all transgendered people are bisexual, if only because on some level their partners have to accept both their masculine and feminine parts. What that means, I don't know, but we just hope that she finds someone to love, a good loving relationship, whatever form that takes.

-- Isn't this hard?

Yes. But by this time we knew he wasn't going to be a carbon copy of us, wasn't going to have a big family and all. We knew that she was different.

All we can hope now is that by coming out, by speaking the truth of her heart that she can both help others and find some peace, fulfillment and happiness in her life.

Kids will always break your heart, but if you let them be all they can be, they can also give great gifts that are total surprises -- and this kid, as a transgendered shaman who walks between worlds, sees things in a unique way, and powerfully speaks for the human connection with God, gives plenty of gifts.

-- Do you think he can really be a woman?

I don't know. I do know that it will be hard for us to see her that way, knowing him for all these years. I have seen transsexuals who really are women, though they were born male, and it's easy to think that they were always effeminate, but who knows? The question, I think really comes down to how much she exposes her feminine heart and how much she keeps up those masculine defenses.

-- Aren't you worried about them getting hurt or abused?

Sure! It would be so much simpler and easier for her to stay hidden, but apparently, she just can't do that. I told her once that she had chosen a hard road, and she just smiled and said "Well, if I chose it, I chose it before I was born. This was a choice made by a higher power."

--What do you think causes this?

All indications are that some kids are born this way. We had two boys, raised them both the same way, but they were very different almost right from the get-go. Sometimes I wonder if his having a sister who was stillborn a year before influenced things in a spiritual way, but who knows? All we know is that people have always been born transgendered, and the only difference is how they can express that in culture.

--Were there actually cultures where this was seen as normal?

Well, it is normal, but yes, lots of tribal cultures saw "two-spirit" people as having a gift, as walking between worlds, as shamans. I know that this one has always been too bright for their own good, with lots of insight, and I hope that coming out lets her focus this power for the good of society and for their own good. We worry, but on some level we just want to be happy.

--Do you understand all this?

No! I grew up in a time where we didn't talk about all this, where we knew some people were gay, but they were expected to hide it. We didn't know what to do about all the transgender behavior s/he had back in the 1960s. We tried, but we really thought the best thing was to teach him to be normal appearing, and as a very bright kid he learned to fake it. But it isn't what is in her heart, and she is trying to let that out.

I don't get it. I wish it would go away -- and so does s/he -- but after 44 years, I suspect it's not going anywhere.

-- I keep wondering who "they" are. Doesn't all this pronoun switching make you crazy?

I know! All pronouns are gendered, so we whe we try to use gender neutral words, like "they," it sounds funny.

Well, she will always be my son and he is a woman, and no matter how mixed up that might sound, I know that this is the same person, the same way I know that a caterpillar and a butterfly are just two faces of the same creature. I do hope that people see her and treat her like a woman, but she is not denying her past as a man, not denying that her body is male, and so there will always be a he and a she in the way I see her.

I do hope that people will work to see her heart, her truth as she is expressing it, and accept her new name and her new pronouns, but mistakes happen, and as long as people try, that's what counts.

-- Isn't this unnatural?

All I know is the nature of her heart, and she is being true to that. What more can we ask? Nobody really knows what natural is, only what is conventional, and while it defies convention, it's true to nature.

-- What are they going to do now?

She is going to take her writing, get it published and go around talking about it. I believe that there are gifts and insights in there, though sometimes I don't quite get it, but it can be hard to teach an old dog new tricks.

-- How can they be a man and a woman?

The term is "woman born male." Male and female are biology terms about reproductive organs that apply to all animals, while man and woman are cultural terms about gender roles, A woman is someone who makes the choices of a woman, in dress, expression and so on, even if she was born male.

-- Isn't it inappropriate to show this to kids? Shouldn't it be kept in the bedroom?

I don't think she is just a she in the bedroom. In fact, I have never been in the bedroom with her, and I think that will be true of 99.99% of the people she meets in her life. Women aren't just women in the bedroom, right? This choice is about her gender identity, about the feminine heart she has.

I trust that she won't do anything that wouldn't be appropriate for any other woman to do in public. That's not true of some crossdressers who stay in the closet, but coming out of the closet means that you have the same social pressures as any woman.

--Aren't men and women different?

Sure! But every time they do a study about the differences between males and females, they always say that the difference between two males or two females may be greater than the difference between the average male and the average female. That means that some males are more womanly than the average woman, some females more manly than the average man, but we make these people fit into the cookie cutter roles anyway just because they were born with or without a penis.

Everybody is different, and some people just don't fit into the norms. Shouldn't we let them follow their heart as long as they are appropriate and concerned?

-- Couldn't he just live as a gay man?

Gay men live in a world of men, and she doesn't see herself as a man. Not everybody is Richard Simmons, that kind of a clown or a decorator. We might prefer it, but it just isn't her.

I remember seeing a sweet essay by one of her friends, Kate Bornstein, in the New York Times Magazine, where Kate talked about losing her mother, about all the roles and connections, and in it, Kate identified as a lesbian. I called my child and asked, and she laughed "Well, if you love women and are a transgendered male, you have two choices -- stay in denial and try to be homosexual, which doesn't work that well, or be a lesbian!" It didn't make sense to me -- I thought men loved women and women loved men, but I do know that's not always true, and people are talking about it much more today.

I guess that means I'm not only the parent of a woman of transsexual experience, but also the parent of a lesbian, but she identifies as bisexual, so who knows?

-- So she wants to be a woman to meet & date men?

No. That confused me too, because we tend to think that all the parts fit together that "males are masculine are men who love women," that "females are feminine are women who love men." It turns out that those four parts -- sex, aspect or gender/identity, gender role and sexual orientation are different, not always locked together, like we expected them to be.

So she is male who is feminine who is now a woman who loves women. Confusing? Not to us. We just see her as our oldest kid.

-- I don't know how you handle this.

Well, we do it one day at a time. But basically, we remember that it's her life not ours, that she has to follow her dreams even if they scare us. What else can we give our kids but the empowerment to follow their heart, wherever it leads them, however scary this is.

She may be our child, but she is mature and bright. This is her choice, not ours.

-- Can't you stop this?

We can disapprove, try shaming her into conforming with the norms, but I think then we would lose her. We did our part to try and help him be a normal man, and he really tried, and it was very hard for him. Now, it's between her, her god and the culture

-- Say it again.

Our oldest child, born male, raised as a boy, is a transgendered shaman who is now living as a woman, writing and teaching on transgender.

Frankly, I wish we had her writings when we were trying to raise a transgendered child, which we knew from about age five! She says that she is writing what she needs to hear. They say up to 2.5% of kids are transgendered in some way, and we hope that our child's work can help these kids and their parents find ways to blossom rather than hide in culture.

-- Doesn't bisexual mean promiscuous? Aren't you worried about AIDS?

No. Actually, she has never been into casual sexual relations, but rather she thinks like a woman and prefers sex in the context of relationships. I think the truth is that she is more celibate than anything else. Promiscuity is not something I worry about.