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

ARTICLE: 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.