I have previously written about my meeting with the mothers of young transsexual adults. I should also take this opportunity to say that I write largely about the transition of males to females, because that is where my experience, to date, lies. That does not mean that I will ignore female to male transitioners, should the opportunity arise; indeed, in many ways I am sure that the same emotional journey applies for the families of these transitioners. It is simply that I have no personal experience upon which to draw any conclusions.
Is a father’s love for a child the same as the mother’s? This is an often-asked question, under many different circumstances, to which there are potentially many answers. Women are generally seen as more empathic, open to change and willing to show emotion; some may say that, in this instance, they are the stronger sex. Mothers can, and do, make exceptional allowances for a child’s needs, which is not always the case for the father. In a previous blog I wrote about two ‘daughters’, who were being supported (during their sex reassignment surgery, and for the four subsequent weeks of recovery) by their mothers, while their fathers remained at home in the UK. In one case the father had to stay behind because of work and financial constraints. The support was, undoubtedly, there; in fact, twelve months previously, both parents had accompanied their daughter in Thailand for a different kind of surgery: she had chosen, at an early stage, to have Facial Feminisation Surgery (or FFS), to remove some of the subliminal facial markers which, without either the ‘victim’ or the ‘perpetrator’ being aware of them, often help to identify male to female transitioners as being somehow ‘fake’. This, in itself, is a huge topic, and must be discussed elsewhere.
The other parent who stayed at home is, in fact, a step-father and, although the love for his step-son was undoubted, the reassignment surgery was apparently very difficult for him to cope with, and he chose to stay in the UK while ‘the deed was done’. It has been confirmed at first-hand that the parental relationship is strong and I am sure that the love from father to daughter is there; nevertheless, it seems to be exceptionally difficult for a man to understand the driving force that leads a young person on the trail of reassignment. In my experience, and this appears to be borne out by others, mothers appear to be more willing to try to understand the often-indescribable but core needs of their offspring and to be willing to offer support where they can. A man appears, on the surface at least, to consider the physical and surgical changes required for a male to female transition and to wince; it is perhaps a sweeping generalisation but, in doing so, he fails to comprehend the emotional needs of the child.
To redress the balance, I have experienced just the opposite on a previous visit to Thailand. In this case it was the father who had travelled 14,000 miles around the world to be with his child and who was there to support her as she underwent Sex Reassignment Surgery. We met regularly in the hotel dining room and often spoke over a shared glass of wine. He was an intelligent, well-educated and worldly-wise man, but I still sensed the difficulty he had faced when his ‘son’ had come out as transsexual and had started the journey of transition, in order to become the woman she needed to be.
We are dealing with slightly older people here than I have previously written about; the daughter was in her mid-30’s and was already in a same sex relationship with another woman. I think that the father had had his eyes opened in many ways and it is a testament to the love he had for his child that he was there in support. He took much teasing from more than one transsexual woman during the overlapping 10 days while both he and I were there, albeit for our own different reasons, and he was always in good spirits, although he kept his personal thoughts very much to himself.
A father’s love can be as great as a mother’s in situations such as this but it is also, perhaps, more fragile. There is fear of the unknown with, in the eyes of at least some fathers, mutilation of the male body and so, without understanding, there can only be dismissal and exclusion. Nevertheless, many fathers of male to female transsexuals do try to understand and, on the surface, are supportive; but inside, I fear, there is an incomprehension that can create a distance between father and ‘daughter’. This is a situation where therapy can be of great assistance. Of course the reverse is also true and, post-surgery, that relationship can build until the father’s love is no different to that special bond which happens at birth, a situation to which I can personally attest.