He died before you came out—how do you think he would've reacted?
He wouldn't have liked it one bit. He belonged to a certain class of men who, if you have a problem, you keep it to yourself. If someone in the family has a divorce, it's a shame we don't speak of.
What have you learned about women since you've become one?
No one goes from male to female in this culture in order to get a better deal. I immediately noticed downsides—both in terms of little things like not being listened to in the same way, being less of an authority figure in the classroom than I used to me, to feeling vulnerable. I used to be fearless, I would go anywhere. And I've felt threatened by men, especially when I was out with the band, playing at sketchy bars late at night. So I feel more vulnerable in the world. But guess what? All of these problems belong to me. They come with the territory. I won't make light of any of them, but they're a fair price to pay for being yourself.
What about the positives?
I cry freely and I laugh freely. I don't hesitate to express love for people, and I live in a much more emotionally volatile place now. Ninety percent of the time, it's a really good thing.
When you were a father, you were "goofy, feckless"—and now, as their mother, you nag more. Can you talk about the shift?
I wonder whether, to some degree, it's cultural. Whether men have more room to play in. I'm still the goofier of the two parents. But changing genders is a harrowing experience. It left me sobered up in the world. And the older my sons have gotten, the more dangerous the world seems. When they were little, I could protect them by feeding them and holding them. But when they get in an automobile and drive away, there's nothing I can do to save them. In some ways, it's not only gender—it's also the passage of time.
How have you and Deedie negotiated co-parenting?
We had a pretty egalitarian marriage even back in the day. Early in the transition, we were on new ground. We'd both be in the ladies room at the same time—that was weird. Or there'd be two women's blouses in the hamper. But we both cook, both nurture the boys. Deedie was a soccer coach for years. So we were never socked in traditional gender roles. I think that's true of a lot of couples. What it means to be a husband or wife has changed.
You say that part of being a man is "to be silent." Has becoming a woman allowed you to be more open?
Yes. My job as a dad, I felt, was protector. Sometimes you keep your family out of trouble by keeping your mouth shut. A lot of women would disagree, but a lot of men would probably say, "Well yeah." I thought I was protecting my family by not being public about being trans. I carried a lot of sadness around, but thought I was taking the bullet for my family. I'll bear the sadness if it keeps us from having a really weird life. I think our family is more vulnerable now. But we've been mostly really blessed. We've seen how good people can be. Many people I expected to lose when I came out stood by me. I married Deedie because I thought love would "cure" me. And I was cured by love—just not the way I thought. Finally someone loved me enough to stand by me when I went through this.