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Our Family
Theresa Mitchell, Ani Haines, Sylvia Huq-Mitchell

Theresa Mitchell

I set my alarm clock at 7:40.  That’s the time my daughter Sylvia likes to get up for school.  If I try to wake her earlier, she’ll sleepily remind me that it’s not time yet.  When the alarm goes off, I put my glasses and my nightgown on, and crawl across my spouse.  She affectionately cups my breast with her hand as I pass.  I go to Sylvia’s room and tap on her door.

I get off my work shifts at midnight, but I don’t start until 3:00 p.m., so I choose to take Sylvia to her alternative-pedagogy high school in the morning.  This means I get to see her during waking hours.  “I love you tons,” I tell her.  “I love you infinity percent,” she says.  I love that.  She first said that when she was seven. 

On the way to school we grab a snack.  Sometimes I forget to give her lunch money, and she has to borrow from friends.  I’m sleepy and forgetful in the morning, although I’m less so now, because I take a diazepam before I go to bed.

My doctor prescribed the calmative because I find it hard to sleep well after a night of driving a municipal bus.  It isn’t the bus driving that bothers me, but the number of people who loudly challenge me as a punishment for being a “fucking faggot.”  I have “transitioned” long enough that I pass for most people as a woman, but there are many who hold a grudge.  They remember when my makeup could not hide my beard, when I had a flat chest.  “Hello, SIR,” they snarl as they board the bus, outing me so that they can find allies in their hatred. 

Sometimes I have snappy comebacks, other times I just let them punish me; sometimes the confrontations edge towards violence, and I stop the bus until they grudgingly leave.  I tell these stories to Sylvia.  Maybe I shouldn’t.  Sylvia gets her own share of cluelessness and bigotry: she is Bengali and Caucasian. 

She sympathizes.  She is fiercely supportive.  “God!  I just want to strangle them,” she says.  “Some people are so fucked up.”

Sylvia is fifteen.  She doesn’t believe in God nor in retaliatory violence.  But she wants to help me somehow.  She hugs me when I drop her off at school.  “I love you lots,” she says.

 “I love you too, sweetie.”  I check the mirror to see if my makeup is right, but there’s no need.  Her friends are hip to gender variance and think nothing of me dropping her off.

When I come back, my spouse Ani is up.  She is no stranger to bigoted attacks herself: she is an openly-bi dyke, with a full beard.  She works at the community radio station, where one broadcaster openly snickers that we are “the odd couple.”  We don’t mind.  

Ani and I have been puzzling over what to do when my grandmother’s funeral comes up. Attending would mean going back to Texas.  My grandmother never knew I was transsexual; when I transitioned, I agreed not to mention it to her, simply because she was no longer “all there.”  I doubt many of my other relatives, besides my parents, know “what happened to Steve.”  So I fear that my presence would turn the funeral into an event that would be all about me, but Ani says I should just go.  She hates to see me constrain myself from normal human functioning.

It was hard at first for Ani to see why I wanted to adopt the trappings of traditional feminine appearance.  I wear skirts — even corsets on occasion — along with pantyhose, foundation, mascara, lipstick, and sometimes rouge and eye shadow.  I had to explain: these are the visual cues that I need to display to the gender-binary world.  A woman wants to be perceived as a woman, and I had to struggle against broad shoulders, a sagging gut, facial hair, a low voice, and all the mannerisms that I learned and exaggerated in my decades of passing as a man.  I needed props.

Now it’s easier. The hormones are doing their magic; the body hair is mostly gone. My skin is softer, and even my face has changed.  My voice remains obstinately baritone, but I have learned some of the intonations of a feminine sound. 

I wonder what effect I have on Ani and Sylvia.  They accept me — that much is obvious, and truly we are closer and understand each other better since I have transitioned.  But — doesn’t Sylvia need a masculine father’s approval and appreciation for the sake of her self-image?  Can Ani really adjust once I’ve had surgery to remove my male genitalia?  Is there grief here that is hidden?

I can’t be sure of those things; but I can be certain that my life is rich.

Ani Haines

My family — what’s not to love? At the core I have an adoring partner and a brilliant 15-year-old step-kid.  We strive for honesty, humor, and compassion in our communication and have a deep respect for one another.

In my life, gaining self-knowledge and being true to me is of highest importance.  The first time Theresa  invited me over to her apartment, our conversation turned to the importance of self- knowledge and awareness — a yearning to quest for truth and beauty that we both felt strongly about.  Throughout our relationship, we have challenged and nurtured each other to live up to those values.

Allowing myself to be with Theresa, at first, was a challenge — I knew I was intrigued by her mind.  Our conversations would be spoken at lightning speed in a rush to get all of the ideas we sparked off  each other out on the table, and I thought that getting an adorable 5-year-old to hang out with was a great bonus.  But I had never pictured myself in a long term relationship with a man, and for all intents and purposes, Theresa (then Steve) seemed to be just that.  Still, I would joke with friends that I hadn’t put myself out there as a queer activist to fight for the right to love whomever I want and to love freely just to fetter myself, as the universe enjoys a deeply ironic and wry smile.

But hey, I enjoy a good ironic plot twist myself, so I opened up to the love that was growing between us.  Discussing gender is something that we have always done — as a dyke, I was not used to doling out chores by gender role.  When Theresa and I began living together, assumptions about gender would surface, providing great opportunities to sort out how artificially imposed ideas of gender have a way of worming themselves very deeply into one’s consciousness — even when one has tried hard to unlearn sexism.  This was true for both of us — in three of four relationships with women, I had usually been the person that would keep up on some car maintenance like adding oil and water, inflate tires, etc.; however, I found that within weeks of being with Steve, he began to just do it, and I was very happy to let him — until one day our conversation turned towards encroaching gender role typing. 

It was in talking through gender and our feelings about gender that about four years into the relationship, I began  very strongly to get the idea that Steve was transgendered.  It has taken a lot of encouragement from me and many other close friends and family members to allow Theresa to emerge.  And she is precious. 

I feel very fortunate to have gone through such an intimate process with a partner — that we both had the courage to stick together and nurture each other through this transitioning.  And as if that wasn’t enough, Sylvia has been very accepting and supportive throughout this time as well (Theresa came out to Sylvia when she was about 10 as a transgendered person, but none of us were quite sure what that would eventually come to mean).  The process is ongoing, with Theresa living, breathing and being Theresa 24/7 for the last three years. 

We have many of the challenges that most couples face — conflicting schedules mean we don’t see very much of each other lately, who will take out the trash, who will do the dishes, and why won’t I scoop dog poop every day like I promised.  Those challenges are pretty common, I suppose, and we talk through them to work things out. 

But then we have some other challenges....external challenges.  We took the fabulous Sylvia and her friend, Rachel, camping on the Oregon coast last year.  Syl and Rachel were fast becoming livid, having seen many, many folks sneer or do the exaggerated triple take before hitting their friend to get their attention and point at us.  Seeing the indignation in Sylvia and Rachel made me stop to think for a bit — I have carefully learned not to look at people who are being jerks to me (since I have been a bearded woman for 10 years, I believe that this is a survival tactic).  Seeing it fresh through their eyes, well, it hurt.  I want them to really believe that it isn’t about how you look, it is about who you are inside that makes you a good and worthy person.  I want them to know that most people are good and decent folks, and that we need to find ways to understand each other.  But instead, they see for themselves the obvious effects of bigotry, and they feel the need to defend us against people who would ignorantly humiliate us.  As a co-mom to Sylvia, I think that this is what frustrates me the most — I am supposed to be there for her, to support her and to care for her — she should not have to feel the need to protect or defend her dad and me.  But she is loving, and understandably horrified when she witnesses people who would not think twice about hurting us.

But what can you do?  To be committed to be ourselves comes with some cost — society has always enforced conformity to cut down on the chances of families like ours, whose existence validates the notion that it is love that makes a family, not the composition of 1 man, 1 woman, 2.4 children, and a golden retriever.   

Sylvia Huq-Mitchell

Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly provocative, I like to tell people that I have three moms. My true “Mom” is Irene, my biological mother, who is Bengali and a converted Reform Jew. I have known my stepmom Ani since I was five, when she began courting my father, Theresa, after Theresa (then Steve) and Irene separated. If the definition of a mother is a woman who acts as a parent to a child, then all three of these people are mothers, and I don’t have a dad. But I do, and I still call Theresa “Daddy”.

People I meet have a really hard time with this. “But ‘Dad’ is a male pronoun,” they tell me. “How can you believe your father is a woman if you still call him ‘Daddy’?” I don’t see what the problem is. “Daddy” is just a name, not a role. And Theresa still fulfills her “roles” as a father — she just wears a skirt while doing it. It seems to me that when someone comes out as another gender in this culture, common protocol is to dump all past identification and become a completely new person. I think that it has to do with the definition of gender in our culture. You recognize a woman by her made- up face and her breasts. A man has chest hair and a deep voice. I was raised to reject these definitions, and so I was shocked when my Dad decided that she needed to wear makeup and have larger breasts in order to be feminine. As far as I could tell, so was Ani. “Why would you do that to yourself?” we asked her. “Why succumb to those ideas of what a woman is?”

I understand now how hard it is for my father. She works five days a week as a bus driver, mingling with all sorts, including homophobes. I nurse the idea that these jerks are simply stupid, and that’s why they feel the need to point out Theresa’s “faults.” But really they are working as hard as they can to suppress her, to enforce her role as a ‘man.’ These people must seek others out, searching for what they see as abnormalities. Maybe they are closeted and projecting their self-hatred. Maybe they are conspirators, at the ready to crush gender variance wherever it raises its head. The reason may not matter in the long run, but the effect bothers me. I worry about Theresa.

I go to an alternative K-12 school, and within my group of friends, my Dad isn’t really a source of much speculation. They all refer to her as “she” and “Sylvia’s Dad.” I have had some trouble in the past with teachers, but I have so little patience for adult ignorance that I end up shouting over them, going over their head to the Principal or counselor. All of the staff at my school are great. Some of the younger students (freshman and middle school kids) have given me crap before, and I respond either with militancy or explanations, depending. I try to be accommodating, but sometimes my emotions overrule my thoughts. I’m sick of having to constantly fight for my family. Throughout my life I’ve either gotten trouble for my Mom having dark skin, my Dad being a woman, or my stepmom having a beard. I am tired of it! Why on Earth can’t some people accept variety? Why is it that so many are so afraid of queers? Are we really that scary? I swear, the next time I see that girl on the corner with the immaculate hair and brand-name book bag sneer at my family, I’m going to put on a Halloween mask and scream bloody murder in her face! I’m going to dance in a circle and sing They Might Be Giants tunes! I’m going to talk about armpit hair and I’m going to DROOL! And then I’m going to take off the mask and reveal my waves of neat hair and my store-bought shoulder bag. I’ll show them weird. (I’ve got to stop referring to the world as us and them.... it’s just so difficult when the world does that to you....)

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