What Does Transgender Mean? One Semi-Conservative Dad's Perspective

I cannot explain what transgender means to me in a 1,000-word essay, but I can begin to open a dialogue and share a few stories that may help others understand what it means to raise a transgender child. There were many early struggles, and even more for my wife as I was trying to learn my way. But our struggles were small compared with those that both our children faced. I hope to share more than just the painful moments, but also the rewards of watching my beautiful daughter and her amazing brother grow. It is a heartfelt story that I hope will reach communities, schools, churches, political leaders, average families, and anyone who is willing to ask: what does transgender mean?

I answer questions about Nicole at ball games, at the hunting camp, and at the end of my driveway. The unique connections started occurring one father at a time, and they grew to include many others as our story unfolded in a more public way. I hope to help others learn more by sharing some of my most private thoughts. In person, it is easy to get my point across; my feelings, my pain, and my pride are easily recognized. I am not sure I can do the same thing with written words. I hope that by openly sharing some of my struggles, I can encourage people to ask more questions, begin to challenge their beliefs, and move toward accepting new ideas and change.

In the past my essays have been written under an assumed name. It seemed easier to share my deepest fears, feelings, and worries with total strangers -- total strangers who have provided our family with so much positive support. Your praise reminds me that we are on the right path.

I am no longer the stoic, detached dad, trying to maintain an image of control and confidence. I am more likely to show my emotions and tell you that I do not have all of the answers. When asked, I can only share lessons learned through my stories.

Most of the mistakes were made on my own. I have always provided unconditional love for my children, but providing consistent team support was not always the final outcome. That is no longer true.

My transgender daughter Nicole is my mentor. It's tough to put into words what a profound impact this small person has had in changing my core values, but since the young age of 5, she has unknowingly encouraged me to open my eyes and heart to new ideas. I've watched her experience severe emotional pain and physical frustration, but thanks to the support and guidance of our team, I've watched her become a happier, healthier, more confident child. And as she changed, I changed, too.

Much of how I used to define myself as a man was passed on from my father. He offered me guidance like, "Be a man, walk tall, and show no fear." Throughout adolescence and young adulthood, I was confident that these core beliefs made me the type of man who could help my family strive and prosper. I would later learn that there was a great deal of room for improvement.

Together Kelly and I planned a family, bought a house, and started our careers. During the next few years I lived in an unaware bliss, an American dream I hoped would continue until retirement and old age. But Kelly lived in the real world, a world that recognized that one of our children was different. At first she could not put her finger on it, but she knew in her heart and soul that one of our children was special.

What happened next would rock my world, test my marriage, and challenge who I thought I was as a person. My baby, my beautiful son, would begin to teach me that he was really my daughter. Nicole, her brother, their friends, and Kelly showed me that this was no big deal and that change does not have to be hard if you love who you are changing for.

Kelly would also begin to forgive me for the time that I denied the truth to try to protect my fragile family dream. Oddly, those who feared Nicole helped me abandon my vision of a perfect family. People who were not on board with the needs of transgender children taught me that changing people's perception of "normal" was essential, not just for Nicole's safety but for the safety of all children who are perceived as different.

Change itself has not surprised me. What has blown me away is the extreme level of change I've experienced. Difficult soul searching has allowed me to become a real person, a real man, and hopefully a leader who, along with my family and others, can change the world in some small way.

Kelly and the twins taught me that we must live both for our children and through our children. I hope sharing my stories, from a father's perspective, from the eyes of an average guy who still struggles occasionally with how best to protect his daughter, will help others. Maybe one of these stories will make a difference as you begin to learn more about transgender children.

Nicole proudly told her classmates who she was at an early age, and Jonas stood by her to protect her from harm. Their courage and strength under adversity showed me what "walking tall" really represents. I hope that as more people learn about transgender children, they will help their communities understand and accept and provide a better future for Nicole and her friends across the country.

Our family still has some unique challenges, but we also have the same challenges, dreams, and hopeful goals that most families strive to reach. We all want to rear children who have a high level of self-esteem and a strong work ethic, and who will become confident members of their communities and our nation.