A reader writes: “My dad has asked me to visit him, and despite the poor state of our relationship, I have some reasons for seriously considering going. He recently moved, and I don’t really know any people where he currently lives.
“My concern is that he will have told his new friends all about his daughter using my old name, and will then (no matter how much I ask him not to) introduce me to his friends as his daughter and with my old name.
“These days I’m almost always perceived as male, so it’ll either out me as trans or they’ll think my dad has dementia or something. But he’ll have old photos and such if he wants to back up his story, and I wouldn’t put it past him to do that. I also don’t think his friends will be very aware of or open-minded about trans people.
“My dad would not be sympathetic if I ask him to change/correct his story for my safety. He’d have a ‘You brought this upon yourself’ kind of mindset. Most likely, I’ll just not visit, but I really do have some good reasons for wanting to go. Any advice for how to handle this?”
Although I (and probably several readers) would agree with you that you might just want to cancel your visit based on what you’ve said, I’m going to operate from the assumption that you are going to go. Based on that, here are some of my thoughts. I know readers will have more, and some of them may have even experienced this, so be sure to check the comments for some good input.
> You say that your dad has “asked” you to visit. That means he wants you there, and he might want you there more than you want to be there. That gives you some bargaining power. I’m not a fan of manipulation, but I am a fan of respecting a person you want something from.
He wants something from you – your presence. You are in a position to propose a compromise or lay down an ultimatum (very gently). You could say, “Dad, I would love to come see you, but I can only do so under certain circumstances. I’m living as a man, as who I truly am, and I need to have that respected. The only way that I can come is if you can agree to that. I know it’s going to be difficult for you and that you might slip up on occasion. But I need to have you agree to try.”
See what he says. If he refuses to respect your wishes, and you still want to go, then he becomes the one with the power. You will then have to decide if you can go under his terms.
> If he’s not sympathetic to your safety (“You brought this on yourself”), maybe he’ll be sympathetic about his own reputation in his new conservative community. Does he really want his new friends to think that he’s losing his grip on reality when he introduces a woman and they see a man? Does he want his new friends to know that he has a trans child? Does he want to have to explain to his new friends why his “daughter” looks like a man?
If he hasn’t seen you lately, send him a current photo. Say, “Dad, this is what I look like. Don’t you think it will make more sense for you to introduce me as Sam than Sara?” (Names are made up here.) If he says, “Well, I’ve already told them about my daughter, Sara,” you can say, “Then just introduce me as Sam, a relative. Or just say to them, ‘I haven’t told you about my son, Sam. Here he is.'”
(Note: It bothers me that your father is not concerned about your safety. Perhaps he doesn’t realize the extent of the danger he might be putting you in by outing you as trans, and that might be a good topic for discussion prior to your visit.)
> You say that your dad has photos to “back up his story.” This already sounds like a “he said, he said” competition – that your dad will try to use old photos to “prove” to his friends that you’re really who he says you are, not who you say you are.
Somebody has to be the adult here, and if your father is going to haul out old photos in an attempt to discredit you or prove himself “right,” then it’s not him. In that case, you could say, “Dad, if you feel that you can’t have me there without outing me as trans, then I am going to out myself before you get the chance. I will introduce myself to your friends as your son Sam who used to be your daughter Sara. Then you can explain it to them.”
The problem with all of this is that it really sets up a hostile situation before you even arrive. It sets up an “I’ll tell them” “No, I’ll tell them first” kind of scenario. It wouldn’t make for a pleasant visit.
> You say that you have a poor relationship with your dad. Maybe now’s the time to try to remedy that, and to reach some sort of compromise with regard to your visit. Maybe now’s the time to say, “Dad, look, I really want to come see you, but we’ve got some things to talk about before that. I would like to tell you all my concerns, you can tell me yours, and let’s see how we can work this out before I come.”
He might not be open to a drawn-out discussion, and you might not be, either. But it might prove to be worth it in the long run. Don’t make assumptions about how he might respond. Just try it. He might surprise you. He might disappoint you. Either way, you will know exactly what you are getting into when you go on this visit. Again, somebody needs to be the adult here, and it might as well be you.
Readers, thoughts and experiences? I know you have some. Thanks in advance for your input.
(I have recently gotten a ton of Ask Matt questions, so stay tuned. And, as always, keep them coming!)