A Birthday Party Story

Posted:  December 28, 2005

Trans-parenting. It’s a mouthful of a word, but to some of us, it’s a (hopefully) daily reminder of our odd status as both transwoman or transmen, and as biologic parents.

Like many of us, I transitioned out of an extreme depression brought on by decades of denial, repression, guilt, and shame. In my 40s, I’m a transwoman with two daughters – one 16, and one 11. I’ve been Sandra with them for the last four years. Bonnie, the eleven year old, just recently celebrated a birthday. She’s always had to compete with Christmas for birthday attention, having been born 2 days after Christmas. So we’ve often held half-birthday parties, as late June is often a better time for families to let their kids go. This year, however, she wanted to have a party on the day itself – and hold it at my house.

My children are with me at least one day a week. In divorce, I didn’t seek custody as I felt their best interests were served by keeping their lives as uninterrupted as possible. I’m fortunate to have a good working relationship with their mother, so getting more than 1 day a week is fine. But the younger girl’s wishing to have her party at my house set off alarms in my head. Some long-standing fears were uncovered. Chiefly:

Would the children’s parents allow their kids to attend a sleep-over birthday party at the house of ‘one of them’?

Would my daughter be disappointed in the turnout if that indeed happened?

She invited 8 girls. Two were to be out of town. One family actually replied to the RSVP request to say no (not RSVPing has nothing to do with Ts, divorce, or anything else. As Miss Manners will tell you, it’s a national disease!) I called the 5 remaining to follow up on the invitation. Four of the families told me they had family obligations that day, 2 days after Christmas, and would not be able to attend. The 5th confirmed her attendance. I knew my daughter would be disappointed, but probably not surprised, as that had happened before.

So on her birthday, my daughter arrived at my home (brought by my older one –who drives) and we set out to have a great day. She then excitedly related the story of the previous day. Turns out the friends who were too wrapped up in family to attend the party held at my house, were somehow quite available to go to my daughter’s mother’s house, ‘kidnap’ my kid, and take her to the local pizza place. They had a great time and gave her gifts. I knew immediately that my fears were not unfounded. But I also realized I had an obligation to not whine about it to Bonnie. She too noticed that the reasons they all gave for not being with us on her birthday seemed off somehow. I reminded her that the stereotype of folks like me is not good and she understood.

I must take a major part of the blame for the party failure. Blame because since I transitioned, I’ve kept a relatively low profile in my children’s lives. I chose that path (I said at the time) to help them adjust better and not have to continually explain who that odd looking person was. In truth, I was simply seeking my own pain avoidance. I didn’t want to have to face people. Sure, I went to parent/teacher conferences and confidently said, “Hi, I’m Sandra, Bonnie’s father”. But ‘the look’ was something I’d seen many times and had no particular interest in seeing more than I absolutely had to.

Now, with the feelings of Betty’s friend’s parents almost completely obvious, I could see the error of my ways. Was it any coincidence that I’d met and spoken with the parents of the one kid who was coming? They had a clear mental picture of me to counteract the stereotype. They knew that the ogre media and others told them I was supposed to be was not in fact the truth.

Later that day, they arrived. I invited them up to my apartment. I wanted the mother to look around, see the cleanliness, and the order. I wanted her to smell the cake, the brownies, and the coffee.

Will I be able to change everyone’s opinion about me? Of course not. But I do my children, myself – and my kid’s friends and families – no favors by remaining so far in the background.


Sandra Clark