I’ve been telling people for weeks I already have this year’s Christmas present, that I don’t need a single other thing. In fact, I’m actually good for the rest of my life; I won’t want anything else, ever.
What gift could be so incredible?
That gift is my twenty-four-year-old daughter, Emily. In October, she came back into my life after years of estrangement.
Those familiar with my story know that I have two daughters, Emily, and her younger sister, Lily. (Note: I always use pseudonyms when I write about my daughters.) They grew up in Cedar Rapids living a perfect life that included me as a hard-charging trial lawyer dad, a loving and devoted mother/my beautiful wife, a big house in the best neighborhood, Catholic school uniforms, and a hyperactive golden retriever named “Sam.”
A clump of words—“Dad’s moving out,” “Divorce,” “Transgender”—started a new life for me but ended my family’s perfect life. Seared into my memory is how Emily ran from hearing those words; moments later, she was on her bed in a fetal position, sobbing uncontrollably, clutching her favorite stuffed animal. Her tears, echoing throughout the big house, burned through five layers of my soul.
It’s a moment I will never be able to forget.
What followed were months of unreturned phone calls, refused visits, and painful silence at family gatherings. I wrote Emily letter after letter, email after email, and card after card, apologizing, pleading, and hoping for a second chance. I explained that I had done everything humanly possible to stay living as a man, to remain the dad she’d grown up with.
Emily eventually resumed contact, but things were never close to what had been. When I began to live as a woman in 2009, Emily refused to see me in person. Our relationship was reduced to terse phone conversations that occurred months apart.
It didn’t help that my youngest daughter, Lily, was more accepting. Emily saw this, which piled guilt and shame on top of gigantic loss.
Throughout everything, I was haunted by a photograph of Emily and me taken when we visited the Iowa State Fair on one incredible golden August afternoon. The photo shows me, a crew-cut dude in shorts, T-shirt, and baseball cap, kneeling next to a three-year-old Emily; she’s wearing an adorable pink sundress and smiling, ecstatic to have a day alone with her dad. There it was, unmistakable proof that love would forever bond us.
I had believed that nothing—not even me leaving our family to discover my true self as a woman—could break that bond.
After I so hurt Emily and others, there were times when I wondered, Did I try my best to stay a man? Sometimes I beat myself up: How could you have ever been so selfish and hurt those you love?
With much hard work, I came to understand the painful truth that being true to one’s self and living authentically take precedence over broken hearts. I could only hope that Emily would someday similarly understand this.
My plan: I would stay open and wait for Emily to come around, even if waiting meant the rest of my life. I wasn’t about to let the pain of Emily’s rejection slam shut the door to my heart.
Then something happened. For privacy reasons, I can disclose only that for the first time in her life, Emily discovered what it meant to truly struggle as a human. That helped her to become more understanding about me; now she saw that my transitioning genders wasn’t a choice.
Thus we started down the reconciliation road with baby steps—telephone calls, emails, and texts. That led to an overnight visit in St. Louis, where Emily was living. Soon later, I visited for three days. Incredibly, Emily then decided to live with me in Minneapolis, something that I had thought was utterly impossible even just a few months ago.
While many who come out as GLBT lose others in their lives, we transgender folk seem to lose people to a greater degree and quality. For some Ts, the loss is just too much to humanly bear, which in part explains why it’s the Ts who have the highest rates of depression, addictions, and suicides.
To those who have lost someone because of coming out as the real you, please take heart. Emily’s gift of reconciliation is proof that people can change. Those who have gone missing sometimes realize that life is so incredibly short; they then come back to us, to those they had rejected for simply being authentic.
I urge you to always remain open to the people you’ve lost. Keep the door to your heart wide open, not bolted shut.
My gender journey, which began with words that hurt Emily, has taught me so very much. It has been an amazing process of losses, challenges, rewards, and resiliency.
Yet, there’s one thing that I’ve learned above all else: the power of love. From that flows something equally powerful—immense gratitude.
Thank you, my beloved Emily, for coming back to me, for finally understanding.
For loving me, your dad, regardless of my gender.
For being the best Christmas gift, ever.
Ellie Krug is the author of Getting to Ellen: A Memoir about Love, Honesty and Gender Change. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org