Slightly more than 15 years ago, I ended up in a romantic relationship and marriage with a wonderful lady who was divorced and was raising her 12-year old daughter. At the time, I was legally classified as male and trying my darndest to fit into male culture and to be a good mate and step-parent, even though I had always had internal conflicts as to feeling as if my brain were basically female and not male, in so many ways.
My step-daughter and I interacted in a way that somehow never fitted a step-father dynamic. I was close to 100% nurturing and close to zero % authoritarian.
I recall giving her a driving lesson on a rural dirt road one day, when she was 14 or so. A sheriff’s deputy pulled us over and observed that “dad” was giving her driving lessons. Somehow the “dad” felt so wrong to me when he said that, and not because he’d omitted “step” as in “stepdad.” This event occurred more than ten years before I started confronting (no longer evading) the mountain of evidence that indicated I’m transgender.
Perhaps my step-daughter had already figured it out. She didn’t ever call me “dad” or “step-dad” nor did she like using my first name. Instead she made a phonetically cute derivative of that, and it sounded more androgynous or feminine than my formal first name did. And, much as she seemed to appreciate my contribution to the parenting dynamic, she never gave me a father’s day card. But, she gave me … “Assistant Mom” cards.
Clearly, there’s a pattern here somewhere.
When she heard that I’m transgender, she was socially distant (e.g., didn’t rush over to help me go shopping for make-up) but was interpersonally warm and supportive. Her basic message to me was that as long as I was happy, that was all that mattered to her.
Even so, I felt awkward about being in her presence, and I avoided her socially. I vowed to do a great job of looking as feminized as I could, so that my looks and style would match my brain structure and so that it would not be awkward for her if she met me in public.
About six months after I started wearing make-up and girl clothing all day & every day, I had a lunch appointment with a supportive friend. The restaurant was upscale and so I put on relatively formal make-up, and I dressed extra nicely. Finding the right balance as such is difficult for me. Even though I’ve had Adam’s Apple surgery and facial feminization surgery, my face still has too-masculine features. I would probably look weird if I were to dress up in frilly pink outfits. (This is ironic because my brain structure, according to my Stanford BEM test results, is not just feminized but very much so, to where it’s more feminized than 85% of genetically integrated girls.)
Especially early on, I tried to dress fairly androgynously albeit basically with a feminine flair. That’s how I was dressed for the lunch date, that day. By then, I hadn’t seen my step daughter for about a year, which was fine by me since I wasn’t avoiding her in the sense of being unavailable – if she ever needed me she could just say the word and I’d be there.
I felt that I was becoming worthy of socializing with her; it was something I was working towards; was earning. So, I was surprised when, purely by coincidence, my stepdaughter was also having lunch with one of her friends, that same day, at that same restaurant. The place was very crowded in the area where folks were waiting to be seated, a space that she and I shared. I decided it’d be rude for me to not say “hello” and so I approached her while she was in an animated conversation with her friend. I stood behind her friend and slightly to one side, and smiled at my step-daughter. I’d guess I was probably 6” taller than her friend and thus hard to miss. I waited for my stepdaughter to notice me and say “hello,” but she never did. She just kept looking at her friend and focusing on the conversation.
I turned away to digest this. I figured she either really didn’t recognize me, meaning I’d transitioned style-wise way better than I’d suspected, or perhaps she DID recognize me but had been embarrassed by my presence and hadn’t wanted to have to explain the situation to her friend. The latter option seemed out of character for her, but I didn’t want to rule it out.
Later that day I sent her a text message saying I’d seen her at the restaurant but she seemed focused on her conversation and I’d decided not to interrupt. She expressed surprise that I was there and yet she didn’t notice me there. I found this to be great news since I’d been in her field of vision (and she has excellent vision) perhaps 24 inches away from her. I concluded that indeed, I look a lot different than when she saw me last. Good progress, then.
The situation is especially ironic since my step-daughter is a brown-eyed athletic girl with long, blonde hair and nowadays, so am I. Since my facial feminization surgery, my eyes also look quite similar to hers. So now, she and I now look very similar. A casual observer could easily guess that she is my genetic daughter, i.e., that I’m her genetic mom as opposed to her … assistant mom.
Ironically, her genetic mom has bright blue eyes, and so that mother-daughter visual resemblance might actually be less strong, to a casual observer.
A few months ago, my step-daughter opened a new business, and she had an open house celebration for publicity. I showed up, and brought her some flowers as a way of saying “congratulations.” I timed my arrival so that most of the crowd would have left by then, in case my presence might still be awkward, e.g., “here’s my step-mom whom we thought until recently to be male, at least officially anyway.” That sort of introduction would be bound to distract folks from focusing on the new business. It turns out that my timing was good, and the visit was very positive. My stepdaughter later remarked to a mutual friend how feminized I look nowadays, yay!
Father’s Day was this past weekend, and I got a text message from my step-daughter, saying “Happy Assistant Mom’s Day!” I loved that.