My husband is transitioning from male to female: how do we prepare our kids?

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By: Nisha ACC BY 2.0
My husband recently surprised me with a sudden and incredibly unexpected truth that he has been carrying with him for a long time: he wants to be a woman. I am still in a bit of shock, but I’m coping.

I’ve written this post numerous times trying to find the right words to say, or the right questions to ask. I still don’t really know what is going to happen, or how we are going to feel. All I know is I’m sticking with him through it, and helping him with it as best I can to truly find himself, whether it be as a man, or a woman.

Our town is pretty conservative. There aren’t many resources here, and I don’t know any same-sex families or anyone who is transgender. My biggest concern is for our young daughters (ages three and one-and-a-half). They are both all about their daddy, and I’m not sure how to transition them. I’m worried how they are going to react to the changes that are coming.

Does anyone have any advice, or blog links, or even some words of encouragement? I’m reaching out to my online offbeat family. How do we transition our kids throughout their father’s MTF transition? — Holly

Comments on My husband is transitioning from male to female: how do we prepare our kids?

  1. Holly – feel free to contact me – there are all kinds of resources out there for families like ours – and please trust me – your children will be fine; it never ceases to amaze me how incredibly accepting children are.

    I’m at work right now, but I will try to get on here to post links later this evening

    • My husband is transitioning going on 1 yr with meds. My predicament is I have a 5 yr old son who attends a lutheran church and goes to school there as well. My Spouse goes to church as male but it is getting harder to keep this back and forth going. For obvious physical changes in apperrance. My son still calls my spouse daddy. Should we have stopped using daddy and switched to mommy? My church does not know about our personal life but now my son is saying that his daddy is a girl to his class mates. And changes back into the role of daddy when picking my son up from school. It only a matter of time before they start to ask questions. And I don’t want to confuse my son. Can anyone give some advice on how they explained this to their young children. Are there any other lutheran families that have a transitioning spouse?

  2. The ability of children to be open minded never ceases to amaze me. Explain to your children that this is what makes daddy happy, and you should always do what makes you happy as long as it doesn’t hurt others.

  3. Actually, I’m in a boat like yours, just further down the river. I started dating my wife when she was a he… Adam. A few years later he came out and we broke up. A year of agony, compromise and learning that we were soul mates… we got back together, had a baby and were married.
    We’re now a few years through transition and it’s been a bumpy road.
    For your children, who are so young… it just needs to not be a thing. I have a daughter from a previous relationship who was around 6 or 7 at the time. It was harder for her… but she’s coped well. She’s 12 now… we have some issues with pronouns, but it’s getting better everyday. Her and I had always been pretty ok talking about same sex couples and knew a few. So, transgenderism was our next topic and once she seemed comfortable with the idea of it, we announced that Adam would become Zimara… (Zim had been her nickname growing up… which came from invader Zim… the name Zimara allowed her have a name her friends could be comfortable with that we both really liked).
    You could technically start working on pronouns now… start working on using “her, she, wife and most importantly… Mom”. I’m Mom and Momma… and Zim is Mommy to our two year old son. It’s all he’s ever known… to him we’re just his two mommies and your children are young enough that the same thing could happen for you.
    However, that also depends on how your spouse feels about the whole thing… mine wants a stealth life. Wants us to be a same sex couple. She just wants to be a woman and doesn’t want her trans status to define her. Some want for people to know. It may depend on where you live, too. We also live in a small town. It’s sort of tough… there are many people who know Zim from when she was Adam and are completely thrown… but we’ve made a place in our community as a same sex couple… and surprisingly people are very ok with it. We’ve become active in many community happenings… a local garden, the farmer’s market, we opened a business, etc. She’s working on her master’s degree… so money for transition costs are tight.
    The money that transition costs is insane… if your spouse has any coverage for any of it through an insurance, take advantage of it. Otherwise, make a budget and include transition costs.
    It’s going to be a long, tough and financially challenging road for you, your spouse, your kids, both of your families and your friends. Zim came out in Feb 2009… and we’re still working on transition and it’s repercussions. If you ever need to talk to someone, you can feel free to email me. My email is [email protected]. And if your spouse needs any information, let me know. I was “primary research officer” in the transitional change of status of the Zimara Bruckman Committee. 🙂

    • Thank you Leslie for sharing this 🙂 Money is definitely going to be an issue. It’s really early in this transition. He is still male in every way right now, and hasn’t come out to anyone but me. So, I know it’s going to be a slow and difficult process..

      Thank you for sharing your email, i would love to keep in touch 🙂

  4. I have so been here! My wife (then husband) came out to me in the spring of 2010 and we were very conservative religiously at the time, so it was very scary. She has since transitioned to living full-time and is doing so well! Our whole family has transistioned well, we have 4 kids aged 6, 4, 3, and almost 2. They loved their daddy, and they love their “Dee” (Short for daddy) or “Mama Haley”, she has only improved as a parent since being able to put aside the huge burden of of trying to maintain her masculine facade. It has been a long journey, and it has been stressful and exhausting at times, but so worth it! The kids adjusted on their own time and we have tried to explain and answer any questions they have had. Haley gradually became more feminine around them, there was never a big “tada” moment where we made a big scene about it. They know that their mama Haley used to be a boy, and they see the pics and home movies from a few years ago and know that it’s her. They know she is the same person she has always been, and that she loves them very much and helps to care for them. I wrote about our story on my (then personal) blog last summer, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/permissiontolive/2012/04/unwrapping-the-onion-introduction.html you can read more about it there, and feel free to email me or friend me on facebook if you like. Hang in there!

  5. I understand how worrying this must be for you – to comes to terms with it not only yourself, but with your friends and most importantly your children too. One of the most important things is to remain supportive to your partner and sit down and explain to your children that daddy wants to look as pretty as mummy! Children are VERY accepting and will love thier parents as long as they feel loved by there parents.There are lots of sites on transitioning, so have a scout around and find one right for your situation. All the best x

    • “Daddy wants to look as pretty as mommy” What? Um, no. We explained it to our kids that people are born with different bodies and different minds, everyone is unique. Everyone knows if they are a boy or a girl, and it is up to them to live the way they want to. Haley lived as a boy because she was born with parts that made people think she was a boy, but inside she always felt like a girl, and she decided to just be OK with that and live openly as a girl, and it makes her very happy to be herself. This has nothing to do with anyone trying to be “like” anyone else, or trying to be “pretty” (whatever that means) this is about respecting oneself.

      • “Everyone knows if they are a boy or a girl” makes sense as a simplification for young minds, but I don’t think it’s entirely true. It assumes a gender binary, that you can only be one or the other. I imagine the transition could be even harder for kids if a parent has more fluid gender, but it happens.

        • True! I think I would actually rephrase that to say ” Everyone knows who they are.” When we were first attempting to explain this I was still thinking more of a binary mindset, I have grown since then, but even that was a far cry from when we were buying our toddler girls toy cooking tools so they could “be mommies” when they grew up! lol!

    • Yikes… don’t know that I’d tell the kids that “daddy wants to look as pretty as mommy.” Transitioning doesn’t have anything to do with looking pretty; it has everything to do with one’s mind and body being congruent. I think a better approach is to explain to the kids that on the inside, Daddy is really a girl, so he is changing his outside to match his inside. This is how I began explaining things to my young children when I transitioned.

    • I think what the poster is saying here is that when sitting children down to have a conversation such as this, it is best to speak to them on their level. 2 year olds don’t understand the term “gender binary.”

      • No, but a 2-year-old would understand words like, “Some people feel like a boy, some people feel like a girl, some people feel like both, and some people feel like neither!” You can simplify the concepts while not reducing it to one parent wanting to play dress up to look like the other.

  6. I started my transition when my two children were 5 and 3. They have done very well with it, and that was with a very non-supportive ex-spouse. I think that your children will be fine, especially considering that the transition is supported by the non-transitioning parent.

    I wrote one anecdote about how my 7-year old is doing here at Offbeat Families, http://offbeatfamilies.com/2012/10/transgender-parent-visiting-school, and there are many more in my blog, linked above.

    Feel free to reach out to me!

    • Faline, your article was the first thing i read after my husband came out to me. Thank you for being so open, and sharing your story 🙂

      • Wow… that alone makes me so happy that I wrote it. I hope it gave you a little comfort and/or hope at a time when it may have been difficult to find.

  7. If your older daughter likes The Wizard of Oz, you might read the sequel, The Marvelous Land of Oz aloud with her. The main character, a boy named Tip, (SPOILERS) learns that “he” is really a princess named Ozma. At the end of the book, Tip/Ozma is turned back into a girl. Queen Ozma lives as the girl she was meant to be for the rest of the series and has adventures with Dorothy. Yes, this was written by the original author in the early 1900s!

    • I remember reading this book independently as an eight year old. It made TOTAL sense to me and I accepted it without a question as many children would.

    • this is fantastic! i had no idea. I’ve never read these books but i love the story and all of the movies that have come of it. To the library we go 🙂

    • Not to get too sidetracked from the topic at hand, but the author (L. Frank Baum) of the Wizard of Oz books was married to Maud Gage Baum. Maud Gage Baum’s mother was Matilda Gage who was quite politically active as a suffragist and an abolitionist among other things. His writing in the Wizard of Oz stories reflects the influence his wife’s and mother-in-law’s political activism had on his own beliefs. 🙂

  8. I’m not a parent, so I can’t help too much on the parenting aspect, BUT my girlfriend is also MtF and so in terms of helping you with that aspect of transition, feel free to e-mail me. (We both want kids, but it’s just not in the cards right now, as she is in grad school and I work for a non-profit.)

    As for your kids, I would try to see if there is a COLAGE chapter in your area or near you. COLAGE is a great organization for children of LGBTQ parents. Their website is colage.org. Also, see if there are any trans* support groups in your area. Not only will it help you and your partner through transition, but could also be a good resource for helping your kids, too. Good luck!!!!

    • COLAGE has a lot of online resources, too, including a Kids Of Trans Guide and lots of other resources for both parents and kids (and adults with trans parents). There are also many SOFFA groups online and in person, as I think someone else mentioned.

      I’m not a parent, but I am in a long term cis dyke / trans dyke relationship and have spent a fair amount of time in trans communities that include kids. My experience is that little kids often have a really easy time understanding a loved one transitioning, much more so than many adults.

      Another resource is No Dumb Questions, documentary about 3 kids (ages 6, 9 and 11, I think) whose aunt is transitioning. Also, Erin Ryan Fitzgerald wrote an essay on xojane about her partner transitioning while they were expecting their first child – I was extra excited to read this because her partner, Evan Greer, is a cool riotfolk musician.

  9. There are a number of children’s books that deal with this very same topic. “My Mommy is a Boy” by Jason Martinez (ftm, though) and “Carly, She’s Still My Daddy” by Mary Boenke are two that come to mind. These might be a better fit when your kids are a little older. Often you can find other similar books by plugging the titles into Amazon and then looking at the “people who bought this also bought these” section.

    • I found the links for one of those (My Mommy is a Boy), but can’t find the second. Might look around at used bookstores, guys!

      I also found Trans Forming Families, which might be of interest to some:

      A collection of positive short stories by parents, families, and friends of transgender people who have come to accept and embrace their transgender loved ones. It includes stories of male to female and female to male transgender sons and daughters of loving parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends who have helped them on their journey. These are invaluable stories intended to help those struggling with misinformation, pain, anger, and fear for their loved ones.

      • “Carly, She’s Still My Daddy” is offered through PFLAG (Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians & Gays)’s Transgender Network here — scroll down till you find it.

  10. There is a website called My Family! that has a book called When Leonard Lost His Spots (at least I’m 99% sure that’s what it’s called) about this topic. Probably more helpful to your three year old, than your 1.5 year old. Kids are pretty resilient little creatures though. As long as they’re being loved and cared for, I’m sure they’ll make it through okay.

    • This is the number one book I recommend to anyone interested in gender, masculinity, femininity, or trans* experiences. It’s SO SO GOOD.

  11. No advice to offer, but wishing the best to you, your partner and your kids as you go travel to this new place in all your lives. 🙂

  12. Thank you all so much! We will definitely be reaching out to those that have so thoughtfully offered their support! Both of us have so many questions it’s hard to figure out where to start… it’s a new experience for both of us.

  13. Hi! Transitioning with young children seems a bit easier. I was a teacher when I met a family whose father was MTF. They had young boys who were fine with it although they continued to call their father “dad”. They were 10 years.
    I had met another family (back in ’93) who weren’t so lucky to have their community accept them. I do remember how strong this family unit was and how awesome their son was. Good luck! You being supportive is so key!

  14. Hi there! My sweetie is transgender (specifically, bi-gender, identifies as both male and female and goes back and forth between the two). We have two children, ages 5 and 7, and have not come out to them yet, however we’re exploring the same question that you are: how?

    I think Chante’s advice, based on what I’ve read before, is spot-on (she commented on Facebook: “I also have no experience with this but as a Mom, I would say to keep things as much the same as possible i.e., if your husband would still accept them calling him Daddy (or whatever they call him) even after he becomes she that would be helpful I would think so they know the role he plays in their lives will be the same. And I would encourage lots of family activities that are already part of your individual family traditions to help them feel continuity–i.e, if you have family game nights, family movie nights, certain activities that are your own significant family things, pay special attention to keeping them going during and after transition. Your husband may be looking for people in his life to embrace this change (I have a friend who recently transitioned so I do have some experience with this) but I think he needs to look to others for that, not the kids. Have a supportive friend do the shopping for women’s clothing with your husband, etc., and experience those new things while not putting too much pressure on your kids to right off the bat change not only how they perceive your husband but also the kinds of activities they do with Daddy, which will cause them to feel more like they are losing something. I don’t know if this makes sense?”)

    There’s a website you can go to for more support, called http://www.lauras-playground.com. By support I mean, you can get some answers to your questions from the perspective of individual transgender/transsexuals, their spouses, adult children of TG/TS’s, etc. I also just went to Google with the same question and ended up finding another bigender (biological sex- male) who has children and blogs (with words and videos). I felt like could really identify with what he/she said (there are videos where she posts presenting as her female identity and others are posted presenting his male identity).

    Please feel free to contact me. I know my situation is a little bit different because my partner isn’t fully transitioning but I think we’d still be able to relate on the topic. 🙂

    PS. I found that by sticking by my partner and being unconditionally supportive, our love has grown exponentially! I’ve only known since last July (2012) and we’re the closest we’ve ever been. If you accept her and support her, you will have a loving, faithful partner for life.

    • I have found that too. Since he told me just over a month ago, we have been far more open with each other than we have ever been. Even sex has gotten better. It’s as if since he told me, we’ve fallen in love even more. It’s still terrifying as hell, and I have no idea what to expect, or how I’m going to feel when he is a woman, but I can see a light at the end of this dark road! 🙂

    • I would caution against asking a trans woman to continue to be called Daddy. If that’s what works for your family, great – I know people with dads who are women, and it totally works. But I also know women who find it really painful to be referred to as dads, and sometimes don’t feel comfortable speaking up about that because of social pressure to avoid anything that might be seen as creating family drama, or as taking another parent’s role. Also, some kids find it really natural to change parenting terms. My suggestion would be to keep communication and options as open as possible until you figure out what works for your family (I know, that’s really vague, sorry). I get the sense that you’re doing that really well already.
      Best wishes.

  15. You must, must, must RUN to your local library or bookstore and read the memoir “She’s Not There” by Jennifer Finney Boylan. Boylan writes about coming out, her MTF surgery, her amazing wife, the last time she made love to her wife as a man, how their kids took the news (very well) and came up with a new name for her (Maddy instead of Daddy; “Dommy” was rejected with a chuckle) and the full range of emotions that both Boylan and her spouse experienced. Boylan’s wife goes from bewildered to angry to sad to peacefully accepting while always being unwaveringly supportive, from deciding to start slow with nights dressed “en femme” playing Scrabble at home right through dancing together as two women at a family wedding. They are still married, I believe. You are not alone.

    • I think I need this book! The librarian is going to have fun going through the collection of books that I’ll be taking out this week. Ha! Thanks to all of you, I have a rather large list 🙂

      • I always feel better about Big Changes when I have a laundry list of things to read about the topic. 🙂 Not nearly the same kind of life change, but I am researching motherhood right now like it’s a grant I’m applying for.

        Also, I was thinking after I posted this that this might be a good read for your partner, too. The author includes the email she sent to human resources explaining her change as well as the email her employer (she’s college professor) sent announcing the change to her colleagues, but she also writes about all the changes in a very accessible way, including how she felt about a noticeable decrease in her upper body strength, how her eating habits change (she starts craving salads), and little things you might not think of, like getting annoyed when someone assumes you don’t understand the designated hitter rule in baseball just because you’re a woman when no one had a problem assuming you understood sports as a man. The author is by no means writing a how to book for transsexual people, but hey, if I were panicking about what might happen at my job, I’d totally want to read those emails in the book, you know?

        There’s a section as well that made me cry, where the author talks about fighting the feeling that she might be a woman her whole life and hoping and praying she’d find and fall in love with someone who could “save” her from those feelings. For a long time the author did feel, when he was still a man, that his wife did save him, that loving her and getting to live as straight and “normal” was the redemption he was seeking. The author ultimately talks about how her love for her wife and the family they had was wonderful and redemptive, but the whole identity thing mattered too. A lot. Enough to risking losing everything to not only change her gender but her sex. Their love endures, though.

        She has a new book “Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenthood in Three Genders” coming out next month, which probably speaks more to your original question, actually. In googling her, I found these two current blog entries: http://wehappytrans.com/qa/7-questions-the-writers-jennifer-finney-boylan/

        And this one,

        http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stuck-in-the-middle-you/201301/we-cant-call-you-daddy-if-youre-going-be-girl

        “We Can’t Call You Daddy if You’re Going to Be A Girl” where she tells the Daddy-turned-Maddy story, talks about her upcoming 25th wedding anniversary, and how her boys have grown up to be just fine. She writes, ” I know that things worked out just fine, that having a parent who changed genders had no direct effect on their sense of “manhood.” Whatever masculinity is, in their hearts and minds, it appears to be hard-wired. My sons, like any other sons, developed most of the passions that we traditionally associate with men– an affinity for sports; a love of loud music; a passion for climbing mountains, bungee jumping, and diving in shark cages; and some virtuosity in the realms of Skyrim, Minecraft, and Zelda. And if they’d developed in some other way, that would have been fine too. Whatever they are is the result of something other than my own emergence as trans.”

        I feel like I’m posting spoilers now, but as compelling as this all is as a story, it’s still one real person’s real life, and I feel like the reassurance this all offers outweighs that. Anyway. Be well. One foot in front of the other, and all that. Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.

    • This book was the most helpful thing I read while we were going through the early stages. I identify very much with Grace and how she was feeling. And Jenny Boylan is an incredible writer. She also has a book coming out next month (mid-April) about 10 years of living as female and her experiences with raising her now-grown boys. (I think they are 17 and 19 now). The book is called “Stuck in the Middle with You: Parenting in 3 Genders”

      Here’s Jenny’s blog: http://www.jenniferboylan.net/

    • Yes! Jennifer Finney Boylan is amazing. I actually got to see her speak when I was in college. She read some passages from “She’s Not There” and then answered questions from the audience. It was definitely very moving and enlightening. I know her new book is just coming out and she’s going to be touring. I would definitely see if you and your partner can find a appearance near you. I know for a couple transgender kids on my campus, her speech changed their life.
      Good luck to you in your partner.

  16. I was one of those children who grew up around transition. I was around it at a much older age, but I believe that in some ways, growing up with such an intimate relationship with transgender issues and with openness around these topics makes for open and accepting adults.

    I’d be happy to talk to you about what it was like living with someone going through transition (and the experience specifically through a child’s eyes). My mothers girlfriend went F-M, so it certainly is different, but some of it is similar, and we had a lot of friends who went through M-F transition while I was growing up.

    I’ve got a contact form on my site and you can find me there. 🙂

  17. Transitioning as a parent may also present your family with legal challenges as far as insurance, employment, and medical care go. Different states treat parents in transition differently with regard to marriage, custody, and other issues. It might be a good idea just to touch base with a trans advocacy group, so that you’re prepared for issues that school districts (for example) may raise, since you mention you’re in a conservative area. I like the Transgender Law Center for advice and advocacy in California, and some other states (http://transgenderlawcenter.org/issues/familylaw) or the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in New York (and surrounding states).

    • We are in Canada. I know my husband has looked into that aspect of it a bit more than I have, but so far from what he has found it is a bit different. Lots to learn though!

  18. I have nothing really to add, but I just wanted to say that all the amazing comments on this blog remind me why I come here. Such an incredible collection of different people ready to jump in and help others, with no judgement and so much beautiful encouragement. Keep it up OBF readers!

  19. Hi, Holly. We’ve been down that road, too. Our kids are between 3 and 10, and we went through this for most of the last two years. Transition became permanent in October last year.

    Honestly, the kids take it better than any adult I’ve ever encountered. They accept easily that people are all different and loved for who they are. It is only us adults that teach them to discriminate. I have found, especially with my now-10yo, that he has become much more considerate towards people that are different. My 8yo and 7yo are a bit more challenging. They are still at the body image phase where boobs and penises are gross, but farting is a game. And the now4yo doesn’t know any different.

    I would love to chat more, but I’ve had a really long day with a sick child and am facing another tomorrow. Don’t hesitate to email me, though.

  20. Tom Gabel from punk band Against Me! announced his transition from guy to girl last year, he has a wife and 2 year old. Very cool story if you look it up. The sooner you do it the easier it will be with your kids, they are young so any changes will just become the norm. Good luck!

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