Gay Dad Life

A Gay Dad Shares His Experiences Raising a Trans Son on Latest Episode of Daddy Square

Author David Strah sat down with the Daddy Squared guys to talk about fatherhood, his book, and experiences raising a trans son

Here's a fact: gay parents are much more attentive to their kids' gender expressions than heterosexual parents. Just from the nature of growing up different, sometimes in an unwelcoming environment, we don't want our kids to suffer the emotional pain that we went through.

This is a partial explanation for an amazing growing phenomenon, where gay couples step forward and adopt transgender youth who were thrown out of their homes. In this episode of Daddy Squared we brought on David Strah, a family therapist from Los Angeles who specializes in LGBTQ issues. David is also a father of a transgender boy, and shares from his own personal experience.

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I don't know if my daughter is transgender or not. I don't know if she's a lesbian or not. She's seven -- if she knows these identities, or feels different in any way, she hasn't told me. But already at seven she's experiencing pressure to conform – she's being bullied.

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When Seattle husbands Rich and Brian found out they were going to be dads, their initial reaction was panic. "It was so early in the adoption process, we weren't really ready for anything," remembered Brian. "We hadn't read any books, we didn't have a crib, we had nothing... we were going to be dads and the baby was going to be here in a week!"

"I didn't really think about being a parent," added Rich, "and more what do we needed to do logistically, and how we were going to make it all work."

The dads adopted Emerson from birth and raising a girl has taught the dads a lot; they are her biggest advocates. The dads are making sure that they're "raising a girl who feels empowered and able to speak up, play sports, just as anyone else does."

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The social worker had been waiting on the street for three hours and pounced as Adam Holland, his husband and their son pulled out of their West Hollywood, Calif., driveway. The mother of their child’s best friend at preschool, they learned, had called children’s protective services.

“The report said that we were forcing our child, our boy, to dress like a girl,” Holland said. It said that we were confusing him, and that he was suffering.”

For Holland (who asked that his real name not be used to protect his child’s identity), 44, it was a confirmation of the worries spinning in his head since his son began announcing that he was a she.

“At about 3 years old, we got that this kid wanted to wear princess outfits and cheerleader outfits that grandparents got and little Disney frocks from the play chest,” he said, “and we figured, ‘We’re liberated gay dads; our kids can role play however they want.’ So we had plenty of costumes of all different kinds.”

That led to pitched battles to remove the dresses before bed and school, as well as family counseling, which Adam wound up attending solo.

“She said, ‘Well Adam, why don’t you come back next time, just you.’ And I didn’t realize what was happening, but over the next couple of months I kept asking, ‘So when do we bring the child back?’ And she said, ‘Oh well, we find that the kids don’t really have much work to do. It’s mostly the parents.’ And I thought, ‘Ah, I get it now.’”

In fact, while an understanding of children who don’t conform to traditional standards of gender may come easier to gay fathers, they can face challenges that heterosexual parents may not.

“Gay and lesbian folks deal with all of this better,” said Dr. Johanna Olson, medical director of the Center for Transyouth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “But the challenge that gay men still face, particularly if they have a transgender daughter, is a fear that people are going to think that they’re doing that to their kid. There’s an overall pervasive idea that the parent is doing this to their kid, but that’s especially true for gay men.”

With the help of the therapist and others, Holland put together a so-called safe file, letters and other documents from their pastor, counselors, teachers and others explaining the gender identity situation of their child Claire. They showed it to the CPS investigator, who left their home considerably more educated. Still, the incident was terrifying for Holland and his husband. “We had finalized an adoption with this child and it felt like they were going to take her, in the guise of a well-intentioned but uninformed social worker.”

While Holland was learning to confront his own feelings about the gender identity of the child he increasingly accepted as his daughter, she sent him a message that she needed the process to move more quickly.

“Claire at one point tried to cut off her own penis. She wasn’t using a very sharp knife, it was like a butter knife, and I sort of happened upon it and said, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’ And she said, ‘I want to get rid of this.’ So at that point, we had to do something really tangible for her.”

That was how Claire came to Dr. Olson, who explained to her in terms understandable to a 4-year-old that doctors could eventually help her be externally who she was inside.

"I am touched and moved as a pediatrician that I can play a tremendous role in what I see as a human rights movement,” Olson said.

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Fatherhood, the gay way

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