Showdown with a Son

Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #096, Winter 2001.
by Stefani Moore

n 1997, my then 11-year-old son Zachary walked into the bathroom to catch me coming out of the shower. At that point I?d been on hormones for a little over a year. He looked at me and said, ?Wow Dad, you?re growing udders.?

A familiar dilemma gripped me. When should I tell my son? When should I sit him down and have that heart-to-heart discussion I?d been dreading? What words would I use? Daddy is really another Mommy? Nothing sounded right in my head. Eleven is so young. Nor was I ready. So I reacted as I always do when I?m uncomfortable: I made a joke out of the whole thing by mooing like a cow.Months later, Zach looked at the shoe rack behind my door and said: ?Dad, why don?t you get rid of mom?s old clothes?? The rack contained rows of womens? shoes, 24 pairs, all mine. Likewise, my closets were stuffed with both boy and girl clothes. ?Why don?t you give them back to her??

Here I?d thought Zach was slowly absorbing my whole transition by osmosis. I thought he?d seen my womens? things (which I?ve never hidden), knew they were mine, and just declined to comment. Not exactly! Truth of the matter was, he figured they belonged to his mother, who?d been gone since he was two years old.

?Why don?t you get rid of them?? he asked.

Okay, here goes nothing. ?Because I wear them.? There, I?d said it!

When I saw the look of confusion cross Zach?s face, I added the joke tag line: ?When you?re in bed. I like to wear them when I?m vacuuming at 2 am.?

He shook his head, ?You?re so crazy!?

Again, another deflection. How long would I be able to keep this up?

One day, I knew, we?d have that heart-to-heart. It was only a matter of time. I?d been on hormones since July 1996 and living fully as a woman while Zach was with his mother on weekends.

Initially that had been enough to satisfy my needs to live as Stefani. His mother knew. My parents knew. My friends were finding out, one by one, but I resisted confronting the issue with Zach. Deep down I knew if he couldn?t handle the situation, I was going to be devastated. I love my son dearly. He?s a big part of my life, and it scared me to know that the day was fast approaching when I?d have to come out to him. Each month spent on hormones was making the changes harder to hide. Somewhere ahead loomed an inevitable showdown. So I waited for the proper time to present itself.

It came a year later, when Zach was 12. One day he walked into the house, and said disgustedly: ?Dad, Megan says that Cavellucci is a man.? ?Mother? Josie Cavellucci is a dear old friend, an enigma. She?s a 75-year-old drag queen, wit, and local celebrity (you could say she was a full-time crossdresser, but she?d consider it an insult and have to ?lay you out.?

Zach has known Mother since he was four years old. He?s always seen Cavellucci as a woman, and accepts her that way. Megan?s mother, my next door neighbor Trish, is a bartender and a bit of a gossip. It irked me that Trish obviously could not keep her mouth shut. She knew Cavellucci, and she knew gays, drag queens, and transsexuals went in and out of my house as if it were the corner grocery store. I wondered what Trish had told Megan about me.

Instead of answering Zach?s question, I, ever the clever artful dodger, responded with a question: ?What did you say??

?I told her she?s wrong. Cavellucci is a woman!?

At that point I clammed up and let Zach believe what he wanted to believe. But at that moment, I knew the cat was out of the bag. It was only a matter of time before Trish told Megan I was a transsexual and that too got back to my son. Who did I want the news coming from?Megan, or myself? High noon and time for the showdown had finally arrived.

The very next night I took Zach to dinner at his favorite restaurant, Chi Chi?s. It wasn?t to soften him up so much as to put us in a place where I knew we?d be able to speak one-on-one, uninterrupted.

I began by saying, ?Zach, do you remember the other day when you asked about Cavellucci??

He looked up warily. ?Yeah??

?Well, I never answered your question. And we need to talk about it.? I took a deep breath. ?The truth is, Megan is right. Cavellucci was born a man.?

He put down his fork. ?What? No way!?

?It?s true.?

Zach took a bite and chewed thoughtfully. ?If Cavellucci is a man, then why does she dress like a woman??

?Well... because inside, Cavellucci is a woman. She might have been born a boy, but she?d rather live as a girl, and that?s the way she?s spent most of her life. That?s why she dresses that way. It?s what makes her comfortable. You have to admit, she looks more like a woman than a man, right??

Zach?s brows remained closely knit, deep in thought. This was all new to him. I could see him absorbing the whole thing. ?I guess....?

?Sometimes people are not what you think. Do you remember Danee?? Danee was my dearest friend in the world, a person I still love very much, who died in 1995. She was also a full-time, pre-op transsexual. Like Cavellucci, Zach had known Danee from a young age, and never considered her anything other than a beautiful woman. It seemed unfair to out her now, but I rationalized it would sound better coming from me than from someone like Trish. ?Well, Danee was a transsexual. She took pills that helped her become a woman.?

?No way!?

?Yes, it?s true. She went through several operations to help her live that way.? Zach had been in the car when I drove Danee to New York City for her implants in 1992. He sat with me in the doctor?s waiting room. He was only 7 years old and had not fully realized what was going on.

Zach motioned down toward his crotch, ?Did she have an operation??

I was amazed my son knew enough to even ask the question. But no, Danee had never gone that far. Yet if it helped Zach think of her as more of a woman that way, a little white lie wouldn?t hurt. ?It?s called a sex change operation.?

Zach?s wheels were turning, but he wasn?t bowled over. He considered all this.

?Does what I just told you make you feel any less towards Mother Cavellucci or Danee?? I knew he?d loved them both dearly.

He didn?t even hesitate. ?No, I still love them. It really doesn?t make a difference.?
I breathed a sigh of relief.

?What I want to know,? Zach said thoughtfully, ?is if you?re going to do the same thing. Do you want to go through a sex change operation too??

Children can be marvelously perceptive. There it was. The question I?d dreaded, the subject I?d been avoiding for the last 12 years and through this entire dinner conversation.

Yes was the proper answer, but at that point, I wasn?t ready to admit it to him. ?I don?t know,? I said. At that point in transition SRS was a dim desire, made distant by such roadblocks as this one with my son. The hormones were my way of trying to find some happy medium. ?But I?m taking hormone pills, just like Danee did.?


?Because I want to be able to live as a woman.? I wanted to say it in a smart-alecky way, like one of the Monty Python troupe. All of this was getting just too serious, too close to the bone. I should have felt comfortable explaining who I am, but these were issues I struggled with myself, and I didn?t want to convey my confusion.

The why?s just kept on coming like a missile barrage. I did the best I could, but to a great degree, I don?t know that I was completely honest, and by using a certain amount of deception to cover my embarrassment, I slowed down the process. With some of these things, you need to go slow. Children need stability, not drastic changes in the domestic scene. At that point, during our initial conversation, to have told him I was going to go through a sex change would have rocked his world to the foundation. So I kept a piece of the truth hidden for a while longer. At least, when we left Chi Chi?s the door was open.

I suppose we all have our own particular way in dealing with the coming out process. This is ultimately how it worked for me. I spent the next two years slowly opening the door wider and wider, until today, I believe I have achieved total understanding, and acceptance with my son. How did I do it?

Once that initial showdown had been faced, daily I began pushing the envelope. I did it with a long list of little things, small details. Wearing a little mascara. A little powder. Showing Zach a few photographs of me en femme. Wearing a little perfume. Experimenting with different hairstyles. Switching from mens? straight leg jeans to womens? flairs. Each small, subtle switch along the way was met by comments from Zach, and occasionally a few words of resistance. But by the second or third time he saw me in a pair of womens? boots, he?d accepted the changes. This is not to say I wear dresses or high heels around him. The secret is slow, small, subtle changes. Nothing drastic.

One morning Zach looked at me as I came downstairs and said, jokingly, ?What?s going on? How come you?re wearing boy clothes today??

It was just a silly comment, but it told me he?d noted the changes. He didn?t exactly love them, but he was dealing with it, and he was able to talk with me about his feelings. Which we do, constantly.
By the time Zach turned 14, I was able to talk to him about things I?d always hoped I?d be able to speak about openly. Instead of trying to cover things up by saying I?d been to the doctors, now I could just say, ?I was at the electrolysist.?

One day I want to sell our home, the house Zach was been born in, and move to a new town so I can begin living full-time as a woman. My neighbors know my situation, but not all the young children know?so when I start the real-life experience, I plan to start fresh as a woman. Like a lot of MTF transsexuals, I?d rather be known as a woman, as opposed to the local crossdresser.

These types of issues impact Zach greatly, so he has a right to know how my transition is going to affect him, especially if we move to a new house. Slowly, I?ve approached him about each of these things. It took time, but by including him in the process, he?s evolving with me.

Not every issue is easy. We compromise. As a single child, Zach?s friends are like his siblings. They?re important to him, and I understand that. He doesn?t want to leave the neighborhood till he?s finished high school and gone off to college. I agree. He doesn?t want me dressing as a woman in front of his friends, and again, I agree.

The latter issue is probably the biggest concern for my son. Teenagers are notoriously rough on each other. All he needs is for the entire school to find out his Dad is a crossdresser, and he?ll be laughed at as the kid with a freaky father.

I understand how important this is to Zach, and have complied to the best of my ability. Still, it hasn?t been all smooth. Four years on hormones and some minor cosmetic surgery make it hard to hide, even in boy clothes. Zach?s closest friends, the ones in and out of our house like they live here, are not stupid. One time Zach and his friend Tom walked into the living room to find me and my boyfriend Kevin watching television. I was leaning a little too closely against Kevin?s shoulder, a fact that did not go unnoticed by Tom. Later, Zach told me that Tom asked him, ?What?s up with your Dad? Is he gay??

So one has to be careful. Teenagers are more perceptive than adults realize. On the other hand, some of Zach?s friends who have noticed the changes, have been incredibly supportive. His friend Jason told him, ?My mom told me about your Dad. I know he goes out with Kevin. I know how he dresses, and I just want to tell you I don?t care. I?ll always be your friend.?

When Zach told me about this conversation with Jason, I told him, ?Jason really is your friend.? But if Jason knows, odds are others know too, so a certain amount of danger surrounds my son, at least until he graduates high school in 2003.

So far, nothing bad has happened. No one picks on Zach in school. He?s a good-sized boy for a high school freshman. He plays sports and lifts weights. No one is bothering him or burning any crosses on our lawn.

The test I feared most, opening up to my son and possibly losing him, has been met and passed. Having his understanding and growing support, I feel that now I can plan to move forward with SRS. If all goes well, I?ll have my surgery in 2003-2004. Those are seemingly distant dates, but they?re realistic and give me plenty of time to get each of my ducks in a row. From this point, things can only get easier.

One last thing: I was said I was slow to wear dresses or heels in front of Zach. Well, that barrier was crossed a few weeks ago. I now feel comfortable wearing whatever I want around him, with very little complaint. If there is a problem, it?s an argument over style or fashion, not gender. Last Sunday I went to a fund raising benefit for Cavellucci (the poor dear just went through surgery), and when I left the house in a black velvet dress with my hair up in a poof, Zach looked at me wide-eyed and said, ?Wow, you look good.?

It feels great to be out and accepted, especially by those you love.

This is not to say my relationship with my son is perfect or that all my transition issues are resolved. This is just to say I love my son dearly and that we have open lines of communication. I make no pretense about having all the answers for dealing with children. What I do have is the love and the respect of my son, and for a lot of parents, that?s something very, very special.