In an uncharacteristic intrusion upon my study time (j/k, Kristine), a faithful reader sent me an email asking an interesting question. She wanted to know if I thought the transition of a (natally) same-sex parent had a more or less significant impact on a child. She noted that daughters have mothers as chief role-models whereas sons have their fathers.
Obviously, I cannot speak from direct experience as I have only daughters. As everyone who reads this blog knows, I am estranged from my eldest daughter as a consequence of my transition. Despite my hopes, prayers, and best efforts, we passed two years apart this past Christmas. It continues to be the hole in my heart that clouds my otherwise happy existence (not a week passes that I don't shed tears over her). But, would it have been different (better or worse) had she been a boy?
Honestly, I think the sex of the child does not matter. I also think the whole "role model" paradigm is over-stated.
I think that many things affect the perception of a child vis-à-vis a parent's transition:
- In two parent households, the other parent's acceptance or rejection
- The child's age at the time of transition
- The original relationship between the parent and child
- Friends and other relationships
I'm sure I'm missing one or more (perhaps the budding psychologist in our family has insight to others), but this illustrates the complexity of the situation.
Reducing it to sex gives a lot of power to sexual stereotypes. Unfortunately, I have to admit that such stereotypes have a lot of power. Still, are those the only things that a boy learns from his father? What is the important relationship between father and son (or daughter, for that matter)? What is a father supposed to provide to a child? In a 1979 California Supreme Court case In re Marriage of Carney, 24 Cal. 3d 725 (a case discussing a father's ability to be a good father despite his physical handicap and confinement to a wheelchair) the court noted:
"[A] boy need not prove his masculinity on the playing fields of Eton, nor must a man compete with his son in athletics in order to be a good father; their relationship is no less "normal" if it is built on shared experiences in such fields of interest as science, music, arts and crafts, history or travel, or in pursuing such classic hobbies as stamp or coin collecting. ... On a deeper level, the stereotype is false because it fails to reach the heart of the parent-child relationship. ... [I]t's essence lies in the ethical, emotional, and intellectual guidance the parent gives to the child throughout his formative years and beyond. The source of this guidance is the adult's own experience of life; its motive power is parental love and concern for the child's well-being; and its teachings deal with such fundamental matters as the child's feelings about himself, his relationships with others, his system of values, his standards of conduct and his goals and priorities in life."
So, I reject the role-model norm. I know that I provided all the important things to my children that I could have provided (all motivated, I assure you, from a deep abiding parental love), that any father could have provided. I did my best. I'm sure my children would regale you with stories of "Daddy lectures", my attempts to both give credit to them for their maturity and intellect and to pass along my own strong system of values. That Jennifer felt it necessary to pull away from me is not a function of my failure as a father; rather, it is asserting her own independence and value system. I honor that in her, I truly do. I think she is misguided and that she is hurt by her choice, but I completely respect her right and ability to make such a choice.
Anecdotally, I also note that my best friend had three sons before she transitioned. They are all still on excellent terms. There is much more I could write, but I have to run off to class. I would be interested in other opinions and certainly in hearing about other experiences!