This story starts with one of your gifts to me. You’ve given me many gifts over the years: your confidence in my abilities, your compassionate listening, your reading Tolkien to me at night, your patience with me whenever I made mistakes or hurt you. Most crucially, though, you gave me a model of how to be a person perceived as a man, without rooting your selfhood in the domination of women. I have no idea how you were able to accomplish this in our patriarchal society – but Dad, since this is a letter to you and we’re both still here, I hope you’ll tell me yourself in your own good time (and that you don’t mind my sharing this).
There is a more specific gift you gave me this Christmas: a book of Audre Lorde’s writing, titled I Am Your Sister. I’ve read some of her work before, but it continues to astonish– you said she was an amazing person, which I wholeheartedly affirm. This time around, Lorde’s speech “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” struck me anew, and reminded me that I had feelings I had not yet spoken, that needed to be put into words if I was to feel whole.
Maybe you’ve guessed by now: I am “coming out” again. That phrase doesn’t really fit, since it suggests a singular movement in what I’ve realized is really a lifelong process of transformation and revelation. If you’ll permit the silly pun, let’s call this one a “coming in” – coming into a fuller self, into the plenitude we are capable of as human beings.
The first time I “came out” was to myself at 13, when I realized part of the difference I felt from others was that I seemed to be a boy attracted to other boys, in a society that said that was wrong. The first time I came out to someone else was at 15, when a friend told me she was in love with me and I wasn’t able to reciprocate her feelings. At 21, after a disastrous episode in which I mistook my need to accept my own femininity for desire for a female friend, I came out to you and Mom as bi. (You may recall that you joked, “So that’s why you don’t like football!” I thought that was both hilarious and true, though I confess I do like a man in sports attire. But I digress.)
I thought I was finished then. Shortly thereafter I got together with my beloved husband Alex, who has taught me so much about how to be a good man and good lover. I found that I was gay– in every sense– and felt content to remain there. And yet somehow, at 25, I found that my experience of manhood was still hurting me so badly that I felt like a house on fire. I came to believe, after reflecting on my failings and the ways I had internalized patriarchy, that men were basically evil (whether society made us that way or we were somehow choosing to be). It seemed then that the only way out was for me to become a woman.
And so I did! I became a woman, for three glorious years. There are many paths to womanhood; in my case, I needed to pursue hormone therapy and ask explicitly that others treat me as a woman in order to make it happen. But it did happen, and I am so glad of it. Despite having been perceived as a man for most of my young life, I had a great deal of internalized misogyny– I hated and rejected the feminine parts of myself. I realized then, dimly, that I needed to go through some kind of process to give expression to those parts of myself, to own them as being fully part of my being, in order to heal.
There are many people who believe that such a transformation isn’t possible, that transness is some kind of delusion that should be met with polite humoring at best, and laughter or violence at worst. However, I’ve come to think that such beliefs are merely a reaction to patriarchal harms– a wounded attachment to the Procrustean beds on which we are all forced to lie. The idea that we have a constant gender/sex/sexuality across our entire lives is both factually and morally wrong, and the sooner we all realize that, the sooner we can stop hurting each other.
Dad, I’m forever grateful to you for accepting me as a woman when that was what I needed from you. At 28, I now realize that I’ve been denying other aspects of myself that I also need to make manifest. Confusing though it may be, I’m asking you now to accept me again, this time as a gay man.
I have a few concrete requests for how I’d like you to treat me. Please continue to call me Cora – it’s a lovely name and I think it suits me best. Please use they/them pronouns for me if you can manage it, although I think he/him or she/her are both fine now– all of them feel applicable, somehow. Finally, please be patient as I figure out what all this means. As I’ve tried to tell this story to my intimates, I’ve realized that the newfound sense of peace and clarity I feel still requires a process of communication to be understandable to others, and the details are still subject to change as I gain greater insight into myself (or indeed, as who I am changes yet again).
I also have a couple requests for how you treat others. First, please believe trans people when they tell you who they are. (Dad, I think you do this first one very well already– this one is more for the others reading this.) It’s an indescribably terrible feeling to try to transform your being, to live at last in a way that gives you joy, and have your efforts met with disbelief, ridicule, and violence. Having gone through that pain once before, I am very afraid that I will face it again now, but at least I know a little about what to expect.
Finally, the last and most difficult thing (even for me): Dad, I ask you and everybody else to help me expand the concept of what a man can do and be. A man can love another man and say so without reservation. A man can look beautiful in dresses and makeup. A man can cry in public. A man can become (or have been) a woman for three years, or thirty, or for a lifetime. A man can give birth to a child. None of these things are contradictory, or hypothetical, or even strange. Let me be very clear: the complete spectrum of human experience, in all its pain and joy, can be accessed by anyone of any gender. As Terence put it, “I am human: nothing human is foreign to me.”
Since I transitioned the first time, so many people have revealed to me privately that they feel uncomfortable with different aspects of their bodies, their emotions, their gendered/sexual selves, but feel that it’s impossible to change. Often these feelings are confusing and painful, and it’s hard to know what to do in order to resolve them. Sadly, our society has made this task much more difficult than it already is– we want everyone to have a fixed identity, a fixed position in a moral order, but that simply is not the reality of human lives. Having realized as much, I feel an obligation to live as openly as I can and share what I have learned. I hope that my openness about who I have been and am now allows you the freedom to be whoever you want to be.
I love you, Dad. Thank you for not letting my femininity or my love for men distance us from each other. I’m sorry that I haven’t always been able to bridge the gaps that do exist between us, caused by lifetimes of pain (our own and that of others) that neither of us may ever fully know or understand. I hope that my message reaches you across those treacherous chasms, and that our history together– with me first as your son, then as your daughter, and now as a son of a different kind– doesn’t stop either of us from continuing to grow and change. You are a truly loving person that I wish many more people would have the privilege to know.
There’s still much more to say and I imagine (I hope, in fact!) that this letter will raise a lot of questions. I welcome them, though I can’t promise I’ll be able to answer right away or even at all. I’m sure there’s much in it that’s confusing or unresolved– it’s human, so how could it be otherwise? For now, though, I’ll leave you with some Arthur Russell. (I’m not sure if you’ll like him or not, but along with Audre Lorde, Björk, James Baldwin, the Combahee River Collective, Larry Mitchell, Andrea Lawlor, you, Mom, Matt, Alex, Will, and countless others, he’s been helping me to sing my new self into being.)
“It’s a big old world
With nothing in it
I can’t wait to see you