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Parents in transition navigate gender roles and expectations 

Queer & There

'How will I explain this to my children?" is one of those rhetorical questions straight cisgender people (those who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth) bring up whenever LGBTQ, and especially T, issues are discussed. Luckily for that crowd, it's actually pretty easy. Explaining to children that some people are attracted to and fall in love with people of the same gender, or that some people are unhappy with the gender assigned to them at birth and decide to change it, isn't a complicated process.

"It's amazing how quickly they can adapt and move forward with a change like that," says Silas Musick as his 3-year-old daughter, Wren, plays downstairs with my boys, 6-year-old Henry and 4-year-old Abe. Musick began his transition from female to male when Wren was 2, and says: "she won't remember a female version of me."

Coming out is a difficult process for any trans person, but it can be especially difficult when you have children. Not only are you adapting to a new role as your authentic self, but the people around you adapt as well. While coming out is a huge adjustment that many adults have difficulty making, kids seem to take it in stride. Coming out to your toddler can be a relatively painless process, but it isn't always easy with older children.

Musick met his stepson, Jack, when Jack was 3 years old. Now he's a teen, and Musick says: "He's been very gracious about it; he's very accepting, and surprisingly mature and kind. Ultimately he was like 'what does this mean for me?'" But for children, life often changes very little. The parent adopts a new name and a new set of pronouns, but they're still there to love and protect their child.

Musick is very cognizant of the social stigma having a trans family member can bring, and tries to limit potentially embarrassing situations. During the recent Community Engagement Fair, Musick navigated an awkward conversation about pap smears with the County Health Department with his daughter in tow. He was especially aware of how his transition might reflect on Jack during a recent dental visit. "I care so much about Jack's experience in public with me right now, so we just focused on his teeth, and nothing else. Nothing obnoxious happened, but there was a thickness in the air. They just referred to me as 'a parent' and not 'mom' or 'dad.' And it's always with folks who don't have a historical knowledge of us."

Transitioning as a parent often means transitioning one's gender and gender role. Expectations around behavior and responsibilities shift as parents move from "mom" to "dad" or vice versa. However, Musick felt that "I kind of functioned in that lane already. I hate cooking, and I always have. As a young girl in southwest Virginia my grandmother used to say 'how are you ever going to prepare meals for your husband?' None of that has ever been relevant." In addition to avoiding the kitchen, Musick notes that now he "can easily opt out of a level of engagement just because I'm dad ... I have to check myself and maintain my feminist ideologies."

Transitioning doesn't just impact domestic gender roles, but social ones as well. "I can't joke about other moms' boobs anymore," Musick laughs, "I feel I have to refine my interactions and manage what I say in a way that I didn't before."

As a trans woman, my experiences are the opposite. I find that I hold myself to a higher standard as a parent and community member than I did pre-transition, and am involved with my children and their extracurricular activities in a way I wasn't before.

Trans people often have fraught relationships with their parents, and that tends to impact how they parent their own children. They tend to be wary about not only how their transition might affect their child, but about the effect of societal gender expectations. Musick admits that being trans "makes me really careful about how I parent, knowing how deeply those things go. Letting the kids find their own self is important, and sometimes we manage it way too much."

Musick finds joy in his new role, however. He enjoyed a common father-son rite of passage when "Jack asked me to help him shave for the first time. He initiated it, and I was over the moon that he would trust me and be willing to share that with me." Musick is also excited to celebrate Father's Day. "The kids validate me," he says, "I think it would be harder without kids."

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