By Andrea Kelley
One night in early 2010, my stepmother called me. (She was my stepfather then, but I will use her current pronouns for this story.) At the time, I was working on a group project on transgender people and their families for a social work class. I told her all about the project, and how I was having trouble finding any information on trans folks’ family members. There were so few resources and even fewer studies. I told her that maybe this was something I’d pursue when I eventually went back to school for my Ph.D. She laughed, and we talked a little more, then I hung up. I didn’t think anything of it.
A few weeks later, she told me she wanted to take me to dinner. This wasn’t unusual. My internship schedule and her work travel put us both in the same place at the same time right around dinner, and she occasionally stopped on her way home to take me out. So, one night at a sushi restaurant in Wilmington, Delaware, she started to tell me about a dream she had. She was choosing between two outfits to wear; a dress and a skirt suit. Before she even finished her story, I knew where it was going. That dream was a revelation, she said—and after 50 years and close to retirement—it was time to transition. And, she and my mom would stay together. I was excited for her, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t shocked as well. In all the time I had known her (which was as long as I could remember; she married my mother when I was three). I had never thought of her as anything but masculine before that moment. Although it was a lot to process, I was happy to support her on her journey.
I was the oldest child, and given that I’d already had a conversation with her about trans families, I was the first of her children to which she disclosed. I was 23 at the time and had moved out of the house many years before. While I didn’t personally know any trans people yet, I was part of the queer community and at least had some knowledge about trans issues, and I supported trans rights. My parents also had two sets of twins (both boy-girl fraternal) together, who were 19 and 12 when they found out. Due to our age differences but likely for other reasons as well, we all had very different experiences, and I found myself wondering about other families like mine.
While our society still has a long way to go, trans visibility and the ability to publicly transition has increased considerably over the past few years. It is likely that more people who have already married (or have long-term partners) and/or already have kids will transition. As evidenced by the Facebook support and informational groups search results for “transgender” and “spouses” or “partners,” some of those partnerships will stay together. However, there are significantly fewer resources that specifically address the kids—or people with trans parents. COLAGE (www.colage.org) and GIRES (www.gires.org.uk) have fantastic information, and COLAGE has a Facebook group specifically for people with trans parents. But there is little else out there. On the research side, the studies that are out there are promising but also few and far between. And, most of those studies cannot glean the effects of the transition from the effects of a divorce or split, which happens with many couples who go through transition.
So what about those that do have parents that stay together? What can their stories tell us?
Eight years later—I stuck to my word. I’m now a Ph.D. student at the University of Delaware, and I’m working on my dissertation on people with transgender parents. I want to find out how having parents who stay together through transition affects the way that people think about gender, sexualities, and relationships. Specifically, I’m conducting an interview-based study focusing on people who are aged 15-30, whose parents have stayed together through transition, and who found out about their parent’s transition when they were at least 10. I hope the research will provide insights into the ways that families transition as a whole. I especially hope to show how the greater visibility of trans folks (especially in mass media and social media) affects the experience of children and young adults with trans parents. I want to use this work to help change family policy and inform trans-supporting organizations on how to better support family members as well.
Do you know someone who fit my study demographics?
If so, then either contact me at the email below, or pass along this information! All interviews will be confidential, and participants will receive a $10 Amazon.com e-gift card. I will be recruiting participants throughout the summer, and I’m always happy to answer questions!
or contact Maisie@transgenderpartners.com
Andrea D. Kelley (she/her) is a Ph.D. Candidate in Sociology at the University of Delaware. She has master’s degrees in social work and sociology, and was previously a sex educator/counselor for adolescents. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, toddler, and two snuggly cats.