My father is not Caitlyn Jenner. In fact, she was a bit shocked by Jenner’s coming out party. It wasn’t just that Bruce had been so masculine, my father was too, but that he — I mean she! — was so public about it.
My dad is old fashioned. Eighty-five years old and a former, high-powered executive who exiled himself from family and friends to become herself. When she had her sex change, no one wanted to talk to her — not her children, her ex-wife, or the rest of her family. No one wanted to interview her on the TV and Vanity Fair never asked if she would put on a corset for the cover. She wouldn’t have: Dad is not a corset kind of gal. She prefers tight-laced collars and a flowery skirt.
Dad is not a corset kind of gal. She prefers tight-laced collars and a flowery skirt
Looking at Caitlyn, who is the same age as my father was when he had transgender, re-identification surgery back in 1986, I am torn between laughing and crying. In fact, I’m almost as shocked as my aging trans parent. The world my father came out in did not look at her as brave or heroic — she was an embarrassment. I lost friends (not real friends, of course) and was laughed at; I hid our family secret under a guise of dysfunctional-family syndrome. But all those years of suffering are now moot.
During the 1990s, literary agents and publishers rejected my memoir saying no one would ever be interested in transpeople. It was too weird and too gross. I was an anomaly, like my father. I was the punchline of an elite literary nucleus and one of Frank McCourt’s favorite jokes: “Ah, to be sure, your father’s the woman.” Frank always loved a good joke.
When she had to have emergency brain surgery after a skiing accident, she didn’t want the nurses in the hospital knowing she had to shave every morning. I didn’t know she had to shave every day either, but she was more concerned about the nurses knowing. I reminded her that the nurses administered her hormone supplements every day and had to know, but dutifully snuck her shaver to her anyway.
She was also afraid that volunteers at the hospital who were in her ski club would gossip. “They don’t know about me,” she fretted.
“Dad, you live in Provincetown. Everybody knows. Nobody cares. Isn’t that why you moved here?” I said.
“Some of the ski club folks live in Orleans,” said dad.
Dad thinks she passes and sometimes she does. When she and I were renovating my house, we would go to the building-supply store where she would have lucid conversations about tools and what weight nails to use, while tittering and flirting with the men behind the counter. They called us “ladies.” Dad loves that.
The only way one can guess that she was once a six-foot, 180 pound Chrysler executive — who jumped out of helicopters to ski powder, had a pilot’s license and raced hobby cars — are her large hands and feet. Caitlyn will have the same problem, but of course Caitlyn is a celebrity so she has a lot more problems being recognized than just her hands and feet.
I am a little disappointed that my dad, as a former vice president at Chrysler, was never considered "Vanity Fair" material. Her coming out was not celebrated. In fact, it was a surprise party. She returned to Detroit to have her yearly check up with her psychiatrist and trade in her car. She was in the Chrysler garage, when 20 of her men came down to see him and found her. It was 1987 — even "Vanity Fair" wasn’t on that bandwagon.
Her coming out was not celebrated. In fact, it was a surprise party
So while the news cycle is bringing out every transfamily in America, I thank god my family isn’t among them. My dad is not going to make the talk-show circuit or grant interviews and why should she? She’s a woman. She’s been one for almost 30 years, and though there are times when she still acts like a bull-headed egotistical male, she is 85. She is the only transgender artist to have her work accepted and exhibited in the Museum of Women Artists in Washington, DC. That is reason enough to be proud of my old man — lady.
Bottom line is, I’m jealous. There should have been, a father-daughter cover of my dad and me in corsets back in the 1980s. We would have topped Caitlyn’s cover and we wouldn’t have been airbrushed.