I'm still their dad, but should they call me something else?
January 17, 2012 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Need suggestions on how my kids should address me, their transgender father. "Dad" now seems kind of weird at times.

I'm MTF transgender, married with young kids and out to the kids. We are as matter-of-fact about my trans-ness as we can be. ("Sometimes daddy just likes wearing a dress.") For several years now I have been crossdressing, flipping back-and-forth between male mode and female mode. In female mode I am getting more and more passable (and have even been called "ma'am" a couple of times when in male mode).

When out with the family this weekend while I was presenting as female, my wife and I have noticed that the kids calling me "dad" has actually prompted a few double takes.

So my question is what alternatives to "dad" are there? Some considerations: (1) Whether or not I transition to full-time, I'll always be the kids' father. I don't want to suggest I'm repudiating any of that relationship. (2) Likewise, having the kids call me "mom" seems to usurp my wife's relationship and doesn't seem right. (3) Both my parents and my wife's parents are somewhat traditional, so having the kids call me by my chosen female given name just feels inappropriate.

Our oldest, age 9, suggested "ex-mom", short for "extra mom", but neither my wife nor I really like that one.
posted by TranSubstantial to Human Relations (53 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Could they call you by your first name? 9 might be a bit young to start that, but I have friends who have always addressed their parents by their names and it seems to work fine for them.
posted by Phire at 8:32 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I know a lot of people who call their grandparents by different sets of names- so, you'll have Grandma and Grandpa on one side, and Nana and Gramps on the other, for example. You could steal that idea and look into adopting a name that means 'mom' but isn't the word 'mom,' like 'mama.' "This is my mom, and this is my mama."
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:34 AM on January 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

A friend in the same situation uses "Bunny."
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:35 AM on January 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

Your kids sound like they are cool with this, which is great. The XMom idea isn't bad at all, except for the "formerly" meaning it carries. I'd do more brainstorming with them to see what they like — maybe try other prefix letters, like DMom, pronounced duh-mom. It carries a vestige of "Dad" (you'll always carry that), it's clearly "mom", it won't confuse strangers, and leaves you wife as clearly "Mom".
posted by beagle at 8:36 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Some lesbian/queer-women families use "mom" and "mama" or "mom" and another version of mom (mami, mum). I have relatives who refer to their mom as "mummy" which sounds either teddibly teddibly upper crust or like a horror movie depending.

Congratulations on your transition and on having such cool kids!
posted by Frowner at 8:36 AM on January 17, 2012

Mom Betty and Mom Sue?

Can you acquire a cute or silly nickname?
posted by emilyw at 8:36 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know a couple who uses the word for "mom" in another language for the partner who is not the mom.
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:40 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Go by Patty or Patricia. The root is Latin for father.
posted by michaelh at 8:42 AM on January 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

What about "D" for dad? Sounds like a nickname but is still tied to dad which you are but won't cause looks. We have a few family members who go by their first initial as a nickname so I don't think it seems too odd.

Or the word for either mom or dad in another language? Particularly one that isn't as common. At 12 my daughter started calling my husband padre instead of dad because she just liked it better for some reason. Of course, padre is a more well known word these days.
posted by maxg94 at 8:43 AM on January 17, 2012 [18 favorites]

I think you should defer to what your kids want to call you. If they want to call you Dad, who cares what strangers think? They will come up with their own nick names for you eventually I think.
posted by katypickle at 8:49 AM on January 17, 2012 [18 favorites]

They should only call you something else if you or they want to call you something else. If you're all happy with "Dad", here, then go ahead and stick with it! Most of the trans parents I know have done that, and, yes, it does get them some odd looks, but they shrug it off.

Obviously, odd looks hit some people harder than others. If that's you, or you live in a community that makes this more difficult, then maybe come up with a related nickname that you're all happy with. I like the suggestion of "Dee" or something similarly related to "Dad" but less obvious to outsiders.
posted by rosa at 8:50 AM on January 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

My ex is now FTM, but our son still uses Mom. Our conclusion and that of others we knew in the community at the time was to be honest with him but let him use whatever name he wanted. In our case, the transition was immediate, but if you are still flipping then you are also still presenting in your original (to the kids) role while the female side is temporary, even if you spend more time there.
posted by Ardiril at 8:50 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Poppy? Could mean dad, or it could be a woman's name.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:55 AM on January 17, 2012 [12 favorites]

Some butch or genderqueer parents go by "baba" instead of mom or dad. Not the same situation, of course, but it's a word that sounds affectionate and like a name for a family member without having a specific meaning to the general public. (I've heard it happens to mean dad in Chinese, though.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:58 AM on January 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

What about "D" (or Dee), as in Dad, or the initial of your first name if it lends itself to a kind of nickname quality (e.g., J/Jay)? When friends of mine had a family member transitioning (MTF), they found that using the initial of her first name from when she was male (in this case, Z/Zee) was useful during this period, especially for their children who were getting used to the idea of their uncle becoming their aunt.
posted by scody at 8:59 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your children's needs are more important than the way you feel, what you want or the double takes of strangers. You are their dad. Answer to that. If it embarrasses you to be called dad in public while you are dressing as a woman then leave them at home, don't dress as a woman or get over it.

Even though they seem to be handling things well, you really should get them into counseling. There are all sorts of thoughts and feelings that children have that they do not share with their parents. The counselor can help you navigate what the children will be comfortable calling you.

My main point here- The children's needs come before yours, period.
posted by myselfasme at 9:00 AM on January 17, 2012 [7 favorites]

I think you should talk with your kids about it and ask what they want to call you. You can tell them that you don't think the nickname "Daddy" fits anymore -- you don't have to explain why really, they probably know that you have a real name and that different people call you different things.
posted by hermitosis at 9:05 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Let your kids pick the name. My Father didn't want to be called Grandad as it reminded him he was old, so he tried to get the kids to call him "Big" Dad as it was sort of the same thing. The kids ended up calling him "B". You could go for something similar like "D" or Dee, then it's still technically Dad in your kids minds, just a shortened version.

Another option maybe find a word for Mum or Dad from another language and appropriate it, sit and go through some lists online with your kids and let them pick a couple to try. Personally though I'd suck it up and let the kids call you Dad, when they are ready they'll find a name that fits.
posted by wwax at 9:07 AM on January 17, 2012

Some butch or genderqueer parents go by "baba" instead of mom or dad. Not the same situation, of course, but it's a word that sounds affectionate and like a name for a family member without having a specific meaning to the general public.

Yeah, I was going to suggest Baba also as it is sort of gender-vague but still parental.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:08 AM on January 17, 2012

Further... This is just the tip of the iceberg for your kids. Get active in the trans community and meet others with kids. Not only does this give you and your wife a support group (you will need it once you transition entirely), but also a circle of potential friends for your kids, who will also need that.
posted by Ardiril at 9:10 AM on January 17, 2012 [11 favorites]

A friend had this and while she was older, she just ended up calling her dad by dad's new name: Susan. As you say, perhaps this doesn't work for you.

"Uncle" Terry became "Aunt" Teri when she transgendered.

I've called my parents by a variation of their first names since I was thirteen and while it sounds weird when I hear other people do it with their parents, it felt perfectly normal to all of us and we aren't an alternative family by any means.

The key in my case was that the variation/shortening of my parents' names wasn't something anyone else used. It was/was not their names at the same time. I quite like it, and instead of being grandpa/grandma to their grandchildren, they've actually adopted my brother and my pet names for them as how they want to be called.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:18 AM on January 17, 2012

A friend of the family is transgendered. She encouraged her kids to play around with whatever they wanted to call her. Some names they tried: Janie (her name is Jane, but no one calls her Janie), May, Mia, Beebee, Baba, Mère. Janie seems to be the winner for 2/3 of them, but the youngest is always asking for her Beebee.
posted by jingle at 9:21 AM on January 17, 2012

You're doing exactly what you want to do -- transitioning from male to female -- so why not let your kids call you whatever they like? Seems like a small concession for you to make, especially since you're asking a lot of them in dealing with your transition. If they want to call you "Dad," then geez, let them call you "Dad."
posted by jayder at 9:23 AM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't know if you're a Dickens or an Arthur Ransom fan, but in either case "Aged Parent" is nicely non-gender-specific (and easily explicable as a literary reference). It's shortenable to "Aged P" or just "A.P." too. Kids might get a kick out of it, too, if they have an ironic cast of mind.
posted by yoink at 9:27 AM on January 17, 2012

Definitely ask them what they prefer. They may feel strongly tied to "dad" because of the deep relational meaning and bonding associated to that role/word. Your oldest is only nine and they might still be too young to realize you can remove the word "dad" and you're still that person, still a father and still have that strong bond with them. Or, they may not have reached the point where they can understand that. That's worth discussing with your wife and/or counselor.

The other issue to consider is avoiding creating any shame around the fact that you're the dad but when you're presenting as female, you're not and can't be called that in public.
posted by vivzan at 9:32 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I disagree with those saying that you should defer to your children and still go by dad in public if it is causing you problems. There is an element of physical safety that plays into this, folks, and in some places being visibly gender variant or outed as gender variant can get you killed. Alright, that's a little extreme, but still - I think OP's kids would benefit from a healthy, happy parent far more than one who feels constantly under public scrutiny. Alternating titles based on presentation may lead to shame, as vivzan mentioned.

I really think "baba" is a good option. Either that or some other gender neutral "family" term from another language would be a good way to allow your kids to claim it and work with it. Come up with a list of them and present them to your kids for them to choose which one they like the most - this involves them in the discussion and gives them a sense of agency in a potentially confusing situation. If they don't like any of them, involve your kids in the search for other options.
posted by buteo at 9:37 AM on January 17, 2012 [11 favorites]

Baap but also Bapu, Babuji, Bapak, Baba - words and names for father from Eastern India down through South East Asia.
posted by infini at 9:38 AM on January 17, 2012

It's perfectly okay to use a made-up title that has special meaning for you (and/or your kids) but not the rest of the world. These folks use "B-da," pronounced bee-dah — it turns out to be short for "butch dad," but you'd never know it to hear the kid use it. It just sounds like a pet name to outsiders.
posted by RogerB at 9:51 AM on January 17, 2012

Generally speaking, buteo, places where a transgender person could be in grave danger are not places anyone should be taking kids.

You mean like...the bus? A public street?

Anyway. I don't think it's the worst thing to let your kids have some input into what they call you, and it's also not the worst thing to talk with them about how you want to change from being called Dad (at least, in earshot of unknown people). It's not the same, but when my dad remarried, my stepmom began things by asking me what I would like to call her, and telling me that she wasn't comfortable with any "mom"-type names - so we both started from places of asking, talking, communicating, and open to compromise.
posted by rtha at 9:52 AM on January 17, 2012 [11 favorites]

Your children's needs are more important than the way you feel…

i'm sorry but this is the kind of child-worship b.s. that i find ridiculous. like, we have kids and then we are dead as adults and nothing else matters than what the child wants ever? if the kid wanted to call him "asshole" is that cool bc that's what the kids want? please. the parent is part of the equation here too. if an adult called us by something we weren't comfortable with, everyone here would be screaming to tell the poster to correct that person. why should a child be allowed to call someone something that person isn't comfortable with?

if the OP is feeling uncomfortable with the "dad" moniker, then you all sit down and come to a mutually agreeable one. there are great alternative suggestions up thread.
posted by violetk at 9:53 AM on January 17, 2012 [15 favorites]

The problem here, violetk, is that just because Dad transitions into Joanne does not mean that Dad becomes Joanne in the kids' minds. The name and the role that the kid has already learned has pretty much been imprinted.
posted by Ardiril at 9:59 AM on January 17, 2012

i'm sorry but this is the kind of child-worship b.s. that i find ridiculous. like, we have kids and then we are dead as adults and nothing else matters than what the child wants ever?

I tend to agree with this.* However, I would still say that you should defer to your kids somewhat in this regard. The transition period can be emotionally fraught for everyone involved and your kids may still be somewhat confused by the whole thing (especially if the oldest is 9; the younger ones may not get it...then again, they may be less affected because they haven't had as long to be socialized to think that there is somehow something "wrong" with transgendered people). It sounds like you've done a good job of explaining it to them, but I don't want to assume that they aren't struggling with this on some level.

Anyway, I would talk to the kids about this and try to figure out something that is comfortable for all involved. I like the suggestions of "D" given upthread. That seems to carry the "dad" meaning without necessarily referring to your old gender or getting you the double-takes that are troubling you.

*On a related, but tangential note, I was told by a marriage counsellor that the most important relationship in a marriage is the relationship with your spouse, not the relationship with your kid(s). The marriage comes first; the kids come second.
posted by asnider at 10:03 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

The name and the role that the kid has already learned has pretty much been imprinted.

i agree that the role is imprinted but not the name. i have a friend whose 4 yr old just recently started calling her dad by his first name. out of the blue. so actually, while the moniker is fluid, the role is the same. there's a difference.
posted by violetk at 10:07 AM on January 17, 2012

My aunt didn't want to be "grandma" and so my mum and my cousin's first daughter started to call her "Crazy Orchid Carrot Lady", which eventually ended up shortened to COCL, pronounced "Cockle". So she's Cockle now. Maybe something like that, a jokey name-phrase that you can shorten?
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 10:08 AM on January 17, 2012

Wow, a lot of great ideas here. I think that the best option is having a conversation with the kids about this though, and letting them decide, or at least have input into the decision, so that you can share it. Totally float your favorite suggestions though.
posted by Garm at 10:10 AM on January 17, 2012

I have a cousin whom I am close to, who decided as a young adult to change his first name. I had grown up calling him something, and was now asked to call him something else. I still thought of him as the old name in my head, and I was constantly stumbling over his name - "Hello Oldname, errr, I mean, Newname." He was my dear cousin Oldname, and it took years for that to get out of my head. I wonder if your children, growing up with you as Dad, feel more comfortable keeping you as "Dad". Dad may be your name in their heads, not a just a title meaning "Male parental figure". It may be hard for them to switch.
posted by molasses at 10:17 AM on January 17, 2012

A friend of mine is in a nearly identical situation. After some discussion, her 13-year-old son decided to call her "M," both as a form of address ("Hey, M, I have a field trip tomorrow") and as a referent ("Hold on a second, I have to ask my M if it's OK.")
posted by KathrynT at 10:23 AM on January 17, 2012

If you're interested in another language, Ama-la is Tibetan for mother and Pa-la is Tibetan for father. The la part is honorific and can be dropped.

This family were interviewed on the radio yesterday their site and I think they used Mimi....I read it yesterday but can't find it right now.
posted by taff at 10:33 AM on January 17, 2012

It sounds like at least the 9-year-old is on board with the name change, having suggested ex-mom. I agree with those that say the childrens' needs come before worrying about what outsiders think, but it sounds like you've got the communications thing covered with them. And obviously this is going to be a confusing time for them, but I think you also have to keep in mind that the strangers' double takes are affecting the children as well as yourself. So if your kids are cool with it, I like "D" or "poppy."
posted by hazyjane at 10:44 AM on January 17, 2012

MTF writer Jennifer Finney Boylan is "Maddy" to her kids.
posted by anotherthink at 10:44 AM on January 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

A 51 year old friend of mine has a transgendered parent (MTF). She transitioned when he was about 8 I think (many, many years before I met them). They have a very good relationship. He refers to her by the first name she now uses almost all the time, but will on rare occasions, when the link between them is important to what he's saying use, use the phrase "my father".
So perhaps you all also need to consider your attitude to that as well, whatever actual name is used."My father is over there in the red dress." "My father's picking me up, here she is." etc (very crude examples I know).
I've no experience beyond that, but my gut instinct is that suggesting a change of name is perhaps less of an issue.
posted by sianifach at 10:48 AM on January 17, 2012

i'm sorry but this is the kind of child-worship b.s. that i find ridiculous. like, we have kids and then we are dead as adults and nothing else matters than what the child wants ever?

It's not "worship," but basic empathy. It's understanding that you created this relationship and gave them this name for you, and that when they are still very young, your relationship with them forms the pattern of their world. Any change to that relationship is disturbing and unsettling to the child, in a way that cannot possibly with any empathy or understanding be compared to the relationship with any random adult who is calling you by a name you're not comfortable with. If it's essential to your happiness (as in, the basic decision to live as the gender you feel yourself to be), then obviously, you look at the trade-off and determine that it's worth doing. But it's kind, when you're asking a lot of someone, to let them control those aspects of things that they can. So let the kids choose this.
posted by palliser at 11:48 AM on January 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Nthing let the kids pick. My relatives call my grandma "Honzee." My grandpa refers to her as his "honey," and when my older cousin and I were very small, we were under the impression that he was saying "Honzee," which I guess we concluded must be her real name. It stuck, and I'd guess that the cousins who are younger than I am have no idea why everyone calls her that.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 12:09 PM on January 17, 2012

Mod note: Folks, once you've said your piece, it's time for you to step away from this thread and not turn it into an argument with other commenters. Thanks
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:41 PM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd say let the kids make up whatever names they like and then call you that, without the need to even run it by you. Like, you can say 'can you not call me dad', and that's fine; but saying 'call me X instead' is a bit different. Nicknames and pet names, names of affection and family names-- all of which 'dad' is and more-- are what they are because they are natural, spontaneous and voluntary. Just like you wouldn't ask someone to call you 'munchkin' (an affectionate pet name), I'd say a family moniker falls into the same category. If you institute something, it will a) be unnatural; b) may very well not stick. This allows for different kids having different nicknames for you, but that should be fine. A mild compromise is simply calling you by name (which is the one thing one may naturally request without it being 'weird' or artificial). Yes, it's a bit early but some kids call their parents by name from the start.
posted by reenka at 1:25 PM on January 17, 2012

Response by poster: Wow, lots more responses here than I expected. It's very interesting to see the range of perspectives.

Some clarifications. Growing up, I would never, ever, EVER call my parents by their first name. I am currently in my mid-30's, and still never do it. My wife's family is a little bit more egalitarian in generational roles, but even then she almost never addresses her parents by their first names. Early on in our dating relationship, my wife's use of the first names of my aunts and uncles without any honorific was perceived by my family as a lack of respect. For instance, she would say to someone, "I was talking to John at the party last night," and someone on my side of the family would disapprovingly correct her and say, "You mean UNCLE John, right?"

So my discomfort with my kids using a given name (male or female) for me really arises out of expectations both my wife and I have/had about how the parent-child relationship works.

I didn't want to thread-sit so I will (belatedly) call attention to what I said in the original question: "Whether or not I transition to full-time, I'll always be the kids' father. I don't want to suggest I'm repudiating any of that relationship." I think any conversations with the kids have to stress that, and hopefully we've been able to accomplish that so far. But at the same time I have hopes that it's possible to have a conversation along the lines of, "How do you feel about calling me ____" without the negative connotations.

I think that as parents, we have the leeway of being able to suggest alternatives, and point out drawbacks where we see them. (That's why my wife and I pointed out problems with other connotations of "ex-mom" to our nine-year-old.) I think that for any name to stick it has to be palatable to both the parents and the kids, but at the same time just saying "let the kids decide" ignores our ability to suggest possibilities.

The Boylan family's use of "Maddy" was something we have thought about and last month both my wife and I finished reading Boylan's memoir, She's Not There (or "SNoT" as Boylan called it recently). I was most interested to see if the old hive mind could identify other alternatives to "Maddy" or other issues, and on that front the responses have been quite helpful.
posted by TranSubstantial at 1:54 PM on January 17, 2012

When a friend of mine transitioned FTM his two children decided together to call him Adah (Ah-dah) which he was happy with. I just googled it (to make sure he was still anonymous since it sounds unique) and it turns out it's also the name of a woman in the bible. It still sounds a little like Dad, though.
posted by tracicle at 3:12 PM on January 17, 2012

From what you've said ("Whether or not I transition to full-time," "flipping back-and-forth between male mode and female mode") you need something that works for both genders. Think of your most cherished moments with your kids and come up with some options that recall them and that make the kids feel special. Playing with plastic blocks? "Lego" or "Blocky." Making breakfast? "Pancake" or "Eggy." Come up with a list of nicknames acceptable to you and let the kids decide which they like best.
posted by Morrigan at 4:40 PM on January 17, 2012

I like the suggestion of "D." Here is why. When I was a kid, sometimes family friends or extended family members would ask me to call them nicknames that were uncommon and in some instances seemed a little "immature" to me (c'mon, I was 11 or something). Like, calling Aunt Lillian, "Aunt Loo Loo" or something. When I was in that awkward stage of being too old to want to call people baby names, but too young to understand that there's much more to defining age than just using a nickname, I was a little uncomfortable with the weird family nicknames and self-conscious about what friends would think. A name like "D" is simple and can also be played off as kind of lazy and 'cool'. "HEY, D!" would have worked much better for young teen me than "HEY, Bunny!"

It seems like not being able to call you "dad" anymore has the potential to feel like one of a series of losses for your kids as you transition. Loss is not inherently a bad thing--and having loving parents there to help the kids through loss is a much better way for them to experience it than others, I imagine. I appreciate that you want to work with your kids on this and am glad you want to support them. I say, if they want to keep calling you dad, maybe consider the importance of that. But if being called dad would make you unsafe--then by all means, be the parent and make that difficult call.
posted by soundproof at 6:38 PM on January 17, 2012

Deedee - sounds a little like "Daddy", and a little like a female name. I think it could work just fine in any situation. I remember hearing kids use "Deddy" a lot growing up in the south (it's a product of certain southern accents); this could be a variation of that.

Likewise, Baba, suggested above, sounds a little like "Papa" and a little like a female name.

Poppy also works as both "Pop" + y (a normal ending to add) or a girl's name, Poppy.
posted by amtho at 7:07 PM on January 17, 2012

Why not just call you Dad, backwards? (daD) Make it an in joke for your family.

Or, let me assume your female name is Josephine. What about something like Jo-Pa? Or if your name is Nancy, Nan-pa?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:10 PM on January 17, 2012

Mod note: Folks, this absolutely can't be the place for larger transgender debates. I am sorry. Please restrict answers to ones that address the OP and don't call other commenters names. MetaTalk is available for you if you need it.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:22 PM on January 17, 2012

If they're comfortable with the situation--and it seems they are--they should be able to adapt to the ongoing process. As long as you respect the notion that perhaps one day one of your kids will you want you to call them "Nosepicking Cokehead Who Flatulates Loudly and Longly All Over Hippie Liberal Campus Number Ten" I don't think it's unfair to you to suggest different naming schemes to your kids in turn as you progress in your own transition. They may not like what you suggest, but most importantly you've included them in the process and in a way that seems completley natural and unthreatening to them.

That is the way to love, acceptance, and understanding all the way around. The only constant is change and the only way to adapt to change is the love of the people you have around you. You're well on your way. Kudos to you and your family!!!
posted by PapaLobo at 1:16 AM on January 24, 2012

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