The other day my daughter looked at me misty-eyed and sincere.
“I love you, Daddy,” she said.
Now, that might not sound so strange, but when you consider that I’m a male-to-female transsexual who transitioned almost ten years ago, the word daddy can stick out like a thistle with the ability to scratch, irritate, fester and wound.
My children watched me transition at fairly young ages. My son was ten and my daughter three years old when I began my real life test. Of course, we talked about what they would call me, and we decided on the name Sophie since my new middle name was going to be Sophia. I assured them they’d be the only ones to call me Sophie since they’d been the only ones who’d called me Dad. Over time, though, my children abandoned the Sophie tag. They reverted back to calling me Dad, and I didn’t discourage it, mostly because I didn’t want them to feel like they’d lost their father because of my transition.
My children’s need to call me Dad wasn’t based on denial. They accepted my newly manifested gender expression very well. My son told me he liked me better as Paula since I wasn’t a “drill sergeant” anymore, and my daughter treated me like a mother in most ways, consistently using the she and her pronouns. So, I accepted my role as a woman called Dad, embraced it. The only remnant of Sophie is a nickname my daughter affectionately bestowed upon me, Sofa, because I’m as big and comfy as the living room couch.
Being a woman called Dad has opened my mind to the fluidity of gender, the artificiality of roles and expectations based upon gender, and the way gender oppression limits our lives.
For example, before I transitioned I was an avid motorcycle rider. I loved riding down Western Oklahoma highways during the wheat harvest, watching the golden waves of grain, feeling the warm sun on my face, listening to the wind. I felt connected to the world in a special way when I rode my bike, racing trains, stopping under interstate bridges when it rained where I smelled the ozone of a nearby lightning strike and listened to the rumble of thunder echoing among the steel beams and concrete. But, I gave it up when I became Paula because I’d convinced myself that riding a motorcycle was too macho.
It wasn’t just the masculine stereotype; it was the clothes. I can’t wear petite leather vests and cute halters. I can’t find fringy jackets in my size, nor can I wear high-heeled boots. I was afraid if I wore what fit and what was comfortable on a motorcycle, I’d look like a guy. But after a few years of lusting after motorcycles flying by me on the interstate, envying their freedom, and after I met a number of lesbians who rode motorcycles, I decided to get a bike. So what if I have to wear men’s jackets, vests and boots – things made more for safety than fashion.
Now, my spouse Pam and I ride all the time. We go to poker runs and biker bars just being ourselves. Some of the other bikers nod at me, smile and say, “You rebel your way, and I’ll rebel mine.” I like that. It’s a wonderful affirmation, the recognition as a fellow rebel.
My children taught me how to think beyond the male-female binary, taught me that a woman can be a dad, that more important than being a man or a woman is being an authentic person. They’ve taught me the words mom and dad are not pronouns but relationships, that I don’t have to abandon the masculinity that still works for me, nor do I have to suppress my femininity. Because of their influence, I’m as close to being a whole person as I’ve ever been, and I’m free from the rigid role expectations that oppressed me before and even after my transition.
Recently, I climbed on my motorcycle and rode on down the highway with my daughter sitting behind me singing into my ear. “I love you, Daddy,” she said, wrapping her arms tight around my waist.
“I love you, too.”
Then I rolled on the power, feeling the wind, hearing the whine of the engine, happy to be alive, moving on in life, balanced on two wheels.
Yeah, finally… balanced.
©Paula Sophia Schonauer August 26, 2010