Over the past year or so I’ve gotten to know a number of the Trans men in our community. Most of our interactions have involved networking as men in advocacy within the transgender community. We have been there working together – all the while sharing space or offering a hand up – whenever possible – to the women, men, and families in the local Trans community. Through events, support groups, and varied resources this family grows and thrives.
And family is not a word tossed around lightly in this group. This is never more obvious than when the parents bring their kids along to share the experience. There are a couple of the dads with family dynamics that may not be quite so common, though, that I want to share with you. Personally, I’ve not run across too many Trans dads parenting Trans kids and I wanted to learn more about their family lives – mostly because I find them kind of fascinating…and thought you might, too. What better time than with Father’s Day upon us, right?
As a parent Kage Fox, St. Louis, Missouri, remembers celebrating both Mother’s Day and Father’s Day with his single mom – she did the work of both parents and deserved both holidays. Kage and his partner Anna like to remind their five kids that everyone’s family looks different.
From the outside looking in this family is very much today’s conventional midwestern family. Kage, who adopted three of their five children prior to transitioning, and the other two after, has modeled much of his adult life after the male figure who had the most influence on him. Like his mentor, Uncle Cub, Kage is no stranger to hard work. Working long hours to support his family often means juggling more than one job, going to work regardless of illness or injury, and wearing several hats throughout the day to make sure each of the kids’ needs are being met, are all part of a typical day. The common pressures to provide for his family are no different from those of his neighbor down the street.
One of the most difficult moments Kage faced as a parent was telling the children that he was going to medically transition. “How do you to tell your kids that mom is going to be dad. I was scared that I would traumatize them. That they would “miss out” on having a mom.” He remembers. “I had to tell them. It was important for them to understand.” As it turns out, they responded with a big accepting hug and went about their business as kids often surprisingly do.
But a challenge not all dads face is how to raise a transgender kid. Kage and Anna have twins who came into the family after Kage had started HRT and was already passing as male. They were not part of the “call me Dad” conversation that the other three kids had gotten a few years earlier; but, all of the kids had been exposed to the LGBTQIA community, attended Pride events, and had been taught acceptance and tolerance. Adrian, one of the twins, insisted on wearing masculine clothing by age 5 and by 8 was ready to socially transition. His diagnosis of gender incongruence perpetuated a conversation with Kage about his own FTM experiences.
Maybe this is not exactly the typical father/son talk you imagine is going on behind the doors at the other houses on your street, but isn’t this how a father takes care of his son? This, and every Father’s Day, they hope to celebrate and continue to connect; and as a father Kage hopes to draw from his own experiences to better prepare Adrian and the other children for the challenges they are going through now and will face later in life. He will do all the dad stuff, and if I know Kage,, there will be some pretty bad dad jokes thrown into the mix!
“We call it Papi’s Day in our house,” explains Sayer Johnson of Edwardsville, Illinois. Sayer, Executive Director and Founder of the Metro Trans Umbrella Group in St. Louis, Missouri, is a father figure to many in the metro area transgender community; but he took some time to sit with me and talk about his own family.
You will be hard pressed to find any two persons more passionate about life and love than Sayer and Sharona Johnson. Before Sayer transitioned from female to male, he gave birth to their two eldest children who are now aged 19 and 17. Sayer loved being a mom; but knew himself to be butch and masculine and his life’s journey took him down the path to transitioning. With Sharona by his side, they navigated the new family dynamic of Sayer becoming the male role model as he transitioned and they worked together in their new family dynamic to raise their two children.
Anyone who has ever met Sayer would not be surprised to know that their third child came to them by way of the foster care system at a very young four days old. One would also be even less taken aback to hear how when speaking of this child, Sayer’s hand immediately went to his heart and remained there the entire time he spoke of the boy we all know as Oliver. Sayer told me how Oliver became legally adopted into their family at five years old. He explained how when Oliver, now 12, came out to them as transgender at age 9 it was certainly somewhat surprising and concerning; but something he was prepared to take on.
As a Trans man Sayer knew he could provide the guidance Oliver would need, if and when, he needed it. That part was easy. His biggest fears were about Oliver – and the other two children – could he give them what they needed to navigate through life’s difficulties and everything society would throw at them. Would they be healthy and happy?
Oliver has already picked up Papi’s lead and is about as active as he can be in community advocacy. He isn’t just a kid tagging along with dad when he accompanies Sayer to work or rides along on work events. If he isn’t shadowing his own parent, he offers assistance to others working nearby – a testament to the early and ongoing mentoring.
I have heard Sayer speak words of inspiration to crowds of many, tell tales of historical significance to light paths for youths needing guidance, and simply brighten a person’s day with a quick hello; but to listen to him illustrate how in a system that was not set up for him to survive in, he has been fortunate enough to get to do work that he is passionate about. He has created a space where he has survived, thrived and made a difference; and has been more successful than he ever imagined. And, that it is exactly the life that he wishes for his children…and all of the children.