When Your Co-Parent Hates What Makes You, Well, You
byLeo CaldwellJun 09, 2017
wife has an email folder labeled with her ex-husband’s name. For the purpose of
this story, we’ll call him Jay. It’s labeled with the year 2014—when her divorce from him was finalized and co-incidentally, when Jay’s emails took
an erratic turn. The folder has become a storage unit for some of the most
cruel accusations hurled my way.
I began transitioning in 2009 before I met and subsequently married my
wife in 2015. Based on Jay’s history of behavior I figured
we’d go through some rocky times with him. Co-parenting with exes is always hard,
but co-parenting with someone who has a different worldview and what seems like
an active dislike for your existence is exhausting.
my world, gender is one big gray space. I’ve lived on both sides of the gender
binary and in the spaces not so visible. I have connections with men who have
been pregnant and moms who used to be dads. My world is built with queer and
trans building blocks.
that lens, I’ve been able to present to my stepchild that the world is limitless.
They are not required to wear certain clothes or play with certain toys because
of their gender. They are encouraged to be exactly who they are throughout
their ever-evolving identity.
the other hand, Jay sees gender as a strict binary— women versus men and we have emailed about our differing views. His
views are best summed up in a line from one of those emails, “A stallion and a
mare make a foal.” He, admittedly, lives in a black and white world.
realize that Jay’s views are still, unfortunately, relevant. Every single
preschool teacher I’ve spoken with talks about the differences between boys and
girls; not realizing that they are perpetuating that difference by maintaining
heart breaks when these black and white worlds corral my stepchild into a
gendered box. They will make decisions to not play with a certain toy because
it’s for the “other” gender. I take those moments to ask them how it makes them
feel. In a low voice, they often respond that they are angry and they don’t
like that they can’t play with the toy. When this happens, I have to be bold
and directly oppose these lessons of gender they’ve been taught by their father
and by so many others. I try to create a space where they can be whoever they want
to be as long as they are kind.
Recently I had a friend who was pregnant and my stepchild was
very fascinated by the whole process. One day I casually commented that boys
can be pregnant too. They were enthralled and excited about the idea. Kids love
when there aren’t boundaries, right? We talked briefly about it and then their
attention span dwindled and moved onto something else.
forward a few weeks later, Jay
expressed his concerns to my wife about an inappropriate conversation I had
about pregnancy. My wife acknowledged his feelings and later she invited him to
discuss it in therapy via email. This wasn’t the first time she had invited him
to therapy through this process. He ignored the invitation and referred to me
as a “his/her.” This is the pattern. I’ll discuss something that isn’t aligned
with his world of male and female. We will then receive a flurry of emails accusing
us of abuse for having these conversations.
But how can I deny the gray spaces
of gender when that is where I exist?
outbursts paralyze me as a parent. I worry that maybe I shouldn’t share my
genderless world with this brilliant child. But how can I deny the gray spaces
of gender when that is where I exist? I can’t make myself invisible.
I feel this way, I often find myself shrinking back from parenting. After all,
I have little rights as a stepparent. Legally Jay’s biological tie is greater
than my many sleepless nights and long exhausting days taking care of this
child. Sadly, I believe those are his intentions: to try to render me powerless as a
parent. He wants me to be afraid to parent as a trans person.
Jay began his abusive rants, I thought they couldn’t last long. But three years
in, I realize he may never stop. My wife and I have found ways to navigate this
rollercoaster of aggression. And maybe
with time, we’ll find ways to remain completely unaffected by the
outbursts and not be scared by his anger.
when my stepchild bounces in from the weekend at Jay’s and wrap their arms
around me. I refuse to be afraid. I refuse to shrink back from this love.