I came out as transgender at the young age of 16. These days that is not so uncommon, but just 15 years ago, that was a rare occasion. Then, at age 22, my life changed dramatically again, when I was thrown into fatherhood because I was dating a woman who had a son, Garret.
I didn’t know what I was doing—by a long shot.
In the years that followed, I raised him alongside Pam. We did it all: We ate dinner together, read books, and went on adventures. We were an “insta-family,” as I liked to call it at the time.
Garret never knew I was transgender throughout these years. I was stealth, and becoming more and more disconnected from my transgender identity. As Garret got older, my own fears of being “found out” intensified. What if he thought less of me as a father if he knew? What if he was embarrassed? What would other parents say?
These are questions I still ask myself, but now, Garret knows I am transgender. I came out to him when he was 11. He did not have much to say, as Pam and I raised him knowing other transgender folks, and being around other people of the queer community. I am lucky he is so indifferent to it. It’s a non-issue, and talking about it seems to be silly in his eyes.
More recently, I brought Garret to a filming I was participating in for a documentary. I explained to him what the film was for, i.e. to promote non-discrimination for the transgender community. He was surprised and saddened to hear that transgender folks can be legally discriminated against in New Hampshire.
“I explained to him what the film was for, i.e. to promote non-discrimination for the transgender community. He was surprised and saddened to hear that transgender folks can be legally discriminated against in New Hampshire.”–Jamie Gagne, Nashua
Writing those words, “transgender people can legally be discriminated against in New Hampshire,” pulls at my heartstrings.
I have not experienced direct discrimination as an adult, or as a parent, but I have experienced it indirectly. The fear of being targeted for discrimination is what made it harder for me to be open with my son about my identity.
Because people do not know that I am transgender, they speak freely about queer folks—and what they say can be very hurtful. I know that people do not understand what it means to be transgender. People make fun of people who are transgender. And, lastly, people think that’s entirely OK. It’s the transgender people who are not OK, in their minds.
Whether we have directly experienced discrimination or not, we feel it. We feel it as less-than-citizens, and it deeply affects how, if, and when we come out to our children.
These days I am more out than I used to be. It took a lot of personal growth to get here. I am more comfortable being the dad I always wanted to be, but it has taken a lot of work. It is my hope that in the future, transgender fathers will not have to do all that work. It is my hope that they can celebrate being the fathers that they are, as soon as they become fathers.
Happy Father’s Day to all of those awesome dads!