Being almost 30 years old, I didn’t think my parents could surprise me anymore. Thinking about it now, I doubt I thought that they could even surprise themselves. My parents, having gone through divorce, loss of jobs, going back to school, getting remarried and gaining step-parents; there wasn’t too much more I expected from them. I was 29 when my dad told my family and I that he was transgender. This was around the time that being transgender was a term that had become increasingly well-known in the world. Bruce Jenner had recently come out in the news as beginning the process of going through his transition from male to female. Chaz Bono had already gone through his transition from female to male and went on Dancing with the Stars. Laverne Cox, a transgender woman, had a leading role in a popular Netflix show Orange is the New Black. The term transgender was still a widely misunderstood term, often being confused with transsexuals, drag queens, crossdressers, or even with someone’s sexuality like being gay or pansexual. At the time, being a bisexual woman myself, I was familiar with many of these terms. However, I admit my knowledge did not have a lot of first-hand experience outside of a few close friends in the community. After the day my dad came out to us, it opened a whole new world to me.
My brother, Justin, sister-in-law, Carolyn, and I had been invited over to my dad and stepmom, Sally’s house for the afternoon. They specifically asked Justin and Carolyn not to bring their two small children, both under the age of three. I was told they wanted to discuss things concerning their will because they were about to go on a cruise to Alaska and wanted to get their affairs updated. It was also mentioned there were other things they wanted to discuss, but I didn’t think much of it then. I didn’t know our lives were about to change.
After we caught up a bit, we discussed the details of their will and things they wanted to clarify or hear our input. Immediately after, I felt there was a change in the feeling of the room. As my dad began speaking he made it clear he had something serious to discuss. He even typed up a letter of what he wanted to say so as to get everything across in the way he wanted without any confusion. He wanted to read it all aloud from beginning to end with no interruptions. Then if we had any questions after he was finished, we could ask him at that point. I could feel tension and anxiety coming from my dad and looking back I remember Sally occasionally reaching out to touch my dad, a hand on the shoulder or arm, and small touches that must have meant to convey reassurance or support. I remember getting very nervous. I looked at Sally who smiled at me anxiously, but with reassurance. I looked at Justin and Carolyn to see if they seemed to have any idea of what we were about to hear, but they appeared to be as clueless as I was. I remember thinking that my dad was about to tell us he was sick. I feared he had cancer or some kind of life-threatening disease. It all made sense, getting their affairs in order, not wanting the kids to be there, and wanting to get everything out before we asked any questions. I had already begun to feel the shock, but somehow the acceptance that my dad was dying. I remember thinking I needed to not fall apart, I needed to be strong, and I needed to be there for my dad no matter how long he had left. I ended up being wrong about him being sick. Yet, I didn’t realize death can come in different forms.
My dad transitioning from male to female was in a way the death of the father I had always known and loved. My dad still exists but is also no longer my dad. George Kim Griffiths, my father, is now Kimberly Sue Griffiths, a woman and my parent. Physically, mentally, legally, and in every way that matters, my father is now a woman.
In the letter my dad read aloud, even the first few words echoed my fears.
“I have something serious to tell you.” He followed with saying how what he had to tell us would make him “a happier person for the rest of his life.”
I didn’t know what to think. He continued to read that he loved us and did not want to hurt or embarrass us. He had been to a therapist with Sally and they were staying together and working through things. Then came the statement that made me realize my parents could definitely still surprise me.
He took a deep breath in, his voice shaking, “I have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria. I am transgender and will be transitioning to live the rest of my life full-time as a woman.”
Coming out as transgender was never something any of us could have ever guessed or suspected. There were no signs I was aware of. No way I could have known. The confession came as a complete shock. You never expect a realization of this magnitude to come to someone at the age of 61. My dad had lived a long life as a man. He was married to my mom and divorced her when I was six. He was married to Sally, and still married for 20 years. I can’t speak from experience, but I understand that as a parent there are things you keep private from your children. If my dad had known he was transgender for years and hid this from us, I would have felt this was a betrayal and something that he should have shared with his children. I would have also felt hurt. I consider myself close to my dad and thinking that he would feel scared, ashamed, worried or possibly judged made me feel sad in his lack of faith in me to have unconditional love for him. However, my dad explained that this was not something he had known forever. He started cross-dressing as a teenager and when his parents found out they sent him to a psychiatrist who threatened to send him to a mental institution. He lied and told them he was cured. This was the late 60’s and he grew up in the Catholic church. This is not surprising of him to hide such a big secret. He also explained that he did not cross-dress while he was married to my mom, and never told her about doing it as a teenager. He did tell Sally before they got married but did not realize his interest in cross-dressing went beyond just dressing up as a woman. He had realized over the previous year that it had become more than just playing dress-up. He felt he was a woman and was born in the wrong body. Once my dad realized he was transgender, he told Sally if she couldn’t deal with it, he would not transition.
He told her, “If I do not go through with the transition and you could no longer be happy with me, now knowing that I was a woman inside, I would understand if you needed to leave me. I want you to be able to stay and be happy.”
My dad and Sally have one of the most loving relationships I have ever known. Knowing that my dad would give up who he knew he was inside to stay with Sally, had that been what she wanted, he would have done it. Realizing that love he had for her lifted my heart up and broke it at the same time.
Sally once told me something my dad had said to her that made her really understand how he felt about who he was. He told her, “I think you have been thinking of me as a man pretending to be a woman and how I feel is a woman who has been pretending to be a man.” That has always stuck with me.
After we found out, the only thing to do was accept it, and accept my dad as Kimberly or risk losing him and possibly Sally completely. I didn’t hesitate to embrace him as the woman he was to become. Of course, this transition didn’t happen overnight. It happened over time. I will now use the pronoun “she” in reference to my dad, as he is now a she. She is also still my dad. I still call her Dad in private, and to my mom and certain friends. However, I also refer to her as she, Kimberly, and her. Her transition has been a long process that is still not finished. I’m not sure it will ever be finished. I don’t think I am finished becoming the woman I am. I think we all continue to evolve, and especially since Kimberly is still playing catch up for lost time as her true self. I think she will continue to change as well. She is taking hormones, has had laser hair removal, presents as a woman, and is going to be getting surgeries to change her outside to match her inside.
I continue to be unsure of her and who she is. She is my dad, and always will be, but also won’t ever be again. She is the same person she was as my dad but is also an entirely different person. Transitioning from a man to a woman is more complicated than I could ever know. Acceptance for me happened instantly. I knew I would stand by him or her, whoever she was, thought she was, wanted to be, or would be. My dad is my dad, my family, and I have unconditional love for her. Unconditional love and acceptance do not come without trials. Her transition from George to Kimberly, from man to woman, wasn’t instant. To me, her transition is comparable in ways to a child transitioning to an adult. More accurately, a teenager to an adult. For her becoming a woman isn’t all about makeup, nails, boobs, and girl talk. Although, that is part of her change. At times, I’m also confused about what to say to her. She can be selfish and get her feelings hurt over something unintentional. Sometimes I find myself just nodding along with what she says to placate her. Transitioning is public, judgmental, and being unsure. It’s also politics, feminism, transgender rights, LGBTQ education, religion, and plain old human rights. It can also be loss, disappointment, frustration, and anger. I have had to transition as well. Though, my transition has been more subtle, private, and introspective. How do I introduce my dad? How do I explain to the man I was dating and falling for when he would meet my parents, what to expect? Could I lose someone by standing by my dad? By standing up for my dad? Who do I ask these questions to, that can understand? Are there other 33-year-old women out there with a 64-year-old father transitioning from a man to a woman?
When I told my boyfriend at the time, almost a month into the relationship, he said, “I’m from New York, you think a transgender person is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen?”
I’ll always be grateful for that, for his humor, and for never once making me feel like he had any judgment. I struggle with these questions some days more than others. Most days I am thankful.
Kimberly was retired at the beginning of her transition. She had always struggled with depression, anxiety, and OCD. When she felt the worst, she would isolate herself and never go out much or do anything. Her circle of friends was small and mostly came from people she had met through Sally. Her transition has not only changed her body, but it also changed her spirit. She is active in multiple LGBTQ organizations around Ohio. She volunteers her time running a support group for transgender individuals. She is active in her community and spends her time with many new friends she has made throughout her transition. Often, I find her going out to events, dinners, and socializing with an excitement I have never seen. She visits prisons around Ohio to bring support to LGBTQ people who have no resources. Recently, she started her own organization that focuses on going to surrounding rural areas that don’t have any means of support for LGBTQ people. She is trying to bring more education, support, and hope to those individuals who live in those more isolated areas. She is also very active with politics, transgender rights, and human rights movements. Sally and my dad have even spoken at a conference about their marriage, how they have managed to stay together, and ways to work through the difficulties during a transition like this. Mostly, the change I see is her happiness. Kimberly has so much she is passionate about. Transitioning may not have cured all her struggles but, it has definitely brought her out of some darkness into a new light. Any difficulties in having her transition are hugely outweighed in seeing her happiness. I am so proud of who she is. I am thankful she has found her purpose.
My memories of my dad are endless. As a kid, he took me to my first concert. My first 5 concerts. At the age of 8, I did not have the knowledge of music or the ears to appreciate Bob Dylan. In stark contrast, TLC and MC Hammer’s lyrics were mostly lost on a 10-year-old but the music was catchy, and I’d heard it on the radio. He taught me that you can have no legal custody over your children, but you can still be there. He taught me that when in doubt, band t-shirts and a flannel are always the perfect outfit. He taught me if the smoke starts coming out of the car vents, not to panic, but you should probably pull over. He taught me all the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody by taking me to see Wayne’s World 6 times and playing it on the way there and back. He then made me a mixtape of all of Queen’s best songs which I still have today even though I no longer have a cassette player. He taught me music. Oh, did he teach me music. Joni Mitchell, CCR, The Beatles, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd, Nina Simone, Nirvana, Eminem, The Rolling Stones, Offspring, Curtis Mayfield, A Tribe Called Quest, Prince, Tupac (and Biggie), L7, Fleetwood Mac, Johnny Cash, Bob Marley, Ella Fitzgerald, Beastie Boys, Weezer, 7 Year Bitch, Radiohead, The Kinks, Dr.Dre and I think you get the point.
He taught me hard things I would come to learn of my own personal mental health. He taught me listening to your music with your headphones on for 2 days straight may be a sign of bigger problems. He taught me people can get divorced and still get along. He taught me depression, anxiety and OCD are genetic diseases. In spite of that, he taught me how to laugh. Big belly laughs, squirt Dr.Pepper out of your nose, pee your pants on his lap when he tickles you too much laughs (I warned him). Puns, dad jokes, going through McDonald’s drive-thru asking for tacos in Mexican accents. The spot in the park with the roundabout so big and empty that speeding up and going around and around in circles is always fun. He taught me you can never have too many CDs or degrees or go back to school too much. An attorney, librarian, DJ, realtor, financial advisor… He taught me the best marriages may not be your first but will be the one with your best friend. Most importantly, he taught me you can never be too old to start your life and live your truth.
These days, I teach my dad a lot of things. I teach her how much is an appropriate amount of eyeliner for a 64-year-old woman to wear and Sally and I taught her how to apply it. I teach her both your fingernail and toenail polish colors do not have to match (but she makes sure hers do anyway). I teach her the importance of removing your makeup at night and the order of applying your products when you have a skincare routine: cleanser, toner, treatments, moisturizer, eye cream, always finish with an SPF. I teach her that she is spreading herself too thin and sometimes you must stop and put family and yourself first. I teach her no matter how safe you might feel, if you’re a woman walking alone to your car at night, you should always carry mace or preferably a taser I continue to try to teach her that acceptance exists through my actions and support., and that even though I may slip up with pronouns on occasion (a 29-year-old habit is hard to break overnight) he isn’t a he any more to me. That all the depression and tuning out and switching careers over the years makes even more sense when you are not living your life as who you truly are. She never felt she belonged because she never knew who she was. Until now. She’s still learning. I’m still learning. I considered myself politically correct, understanding, accepting, and I am. Yet you can never stop learning how much you have to learn and how to be more of all those things and how many people are none of them. Hopefully, I am one of the women in her life that teaches her only she can teach herself how to be a woman, a realization I’m still learning.
These days we teach each other. She teaches me how to be politically active and passionate because these issues DO involve me. That no matter what my pronoun is or the gender I date or the shade of my skin, I am a human with rights that we really don’t have, so we are always fighting for more and should never stop. That volunteering your time in the community and prisons and getting involved is important. I hope I teach her confidence because she is beautiful. That no matter how beautiful she is, not to worry if someone doesn’t think you are or to constantly question if you are passing or if they look twice at you in the woman’s bathroom. All concepts I will never understand being born a woman, but I do understand the judgement that comes from being a woman. That not everyone has to like you.
I consider laughter as a continuous teacher. When situations are so bad you must find the humor. When people stop talking to you because of who you are. Or that apparently, a 64-year-old transitioning woman can grow bigger boobs in 3 years, than I grew in my 33 years. Sometimes you just have to laugh. Because I certainly never thought I’d be talking to my 64-year-old father about her facial feminization surgery, boobs, and bottom surgery. Communication is great, I’m loud, I’m proud, my dad, Kimberly is Transgender and is now a woman. Or she’s always been a woman. But no matter how proud you are, she’s still my parent. My Dad definitely taught me that no matter how much you need communication, her asking me if I think her boobs are big enough… is really never something you want any parent to ask. So, you laugh. Whenever and however possible. Laugh and love, with all of your heart.
I know there may be more hard times ahead. With my dad ultimately going through major surgeries, I fear for her health and safety. I am saddened by loss of close friends and family due to lack of acceptance over her transitioning. Times are hard with our current political climate and the many hate crimes that continue to happen to transgender people. I take comfort in the knowledge that change is inevitable. We tend to fear change and what it can bring. The surprise I got four years ago when my dad came out to our family showed me the strength we can have if we embrace that change. I hold hope that everyone can one day feel this way.
Like this post? View similar content here: Thank You, Jerry