Can I Connect with My Transgender Daughter as I Connected with My Son?

How much will change with the changing of my daughter’s identity?

The hill in Saguaro National Park (photo by author)

Since my child came out as a transgender woman (read more about that here), I have found that my emotional stumbling blocks haven’t come all at once. They have played out over time, revealing themselves like terrain on a newly explored map.

I’m lucky to be married to my best friend. But, until my wife and I got together, the person I was closest to was my daughter. I didn’t consider myself a “buddy parent”; she was just an old soul who had always made being her parent easy.

She was always very much her own person, and her interests opened up new worlds to me. Over the years, we would connect through different things: video games, philosophy, politics, psychology, and music. As she went through different phases, she’d share songs with me.

I have a Spotify playlist that is a stockpile of those songs. I use songs like others use pictures. Each song represents a special period of time. Listening to them wraps me up in incredibly visceral memories.

Hiking was something we both loved, a go-to way to reinforce the bond I felt with her. When her mom and I first split up, my daughter and I would go down into the hills on the weekends and spend hours hiking.

A fun sense of shared exploration and adventure. Some of my best memories were of us hiking in spectacular settings like Arizona, Hawaii, Montana, and Canada.

That was all before her transition.

Since my daughter came out as transgender, I’ve been struggling with what has changed about her and what hasn’t. She most assuredly dresses differently. Her name has changed (a couple of times). Her pronouns have changed.

These are hallmarks of identity. How many of the things we had shared before could still be sources of connection?

She moved out not long after coming out. That added the challenge of a lack of proximity right when I needed to be around her the most.

We used to walk and talk for hours, and she’d share her thoughts, giving me insight and understanding into who she felt she was. But that was all gone when she moved. How was I supposed to understand better who she was now if I wasn’t spending time with her?

My wife and I took a trip to Tucson, Arizona, not long after my daughter announced her transition. It was a fantastic trip with days of hiking and climbing.

One day, we were hiking in Saguaro National Park and came across a large hill high enough to obscure the top. There was no clear path up, but I enjoyed finding my own way. My wife was attacked by a cactus and decided to wait for me at the bottom.

It was a simple thing, not tremendously challenging, but it felt good to find my own way up. As I got to the summit, it hit me that this was something that my son and I would have both savored. It broke my heart to think that something that was such a strong connection between us, with so much history, may be gone.

From the outside, and in retrospect, it may seem shortsighted and/or dumb to think my daughter’s personality might change in that way. Or, even if my child wasn’t transgender, it didn’t mean the love for hiking was guaranteed to stay intact. People do change.

“The only constant is change.”

For me, deep in my own transition, I was seeking to embrace my grieving process while still loving my child. While I was holding space for my pain and confusion, this fear of losing connection seemed a natural and overwhelming concern.

I struggled with how to broach the subject with my daughter. I settled on texting her a picture from the top of the hill and the following, “I really wish you could have been here, particularly today. Went off trail all the way to the top. If you still like hiking in this terrain, then you and I need to come back.”

Her response: “That’s exactly my kind of thing to do. I’ll never lose my love for rocky hikes.”

I cried, mostly from relief but still with a touch of grief.

Thank you for reading my story.