My Dad is a Woman, a new documentary for ITV1, explores the emotional trials and tribulations when the man of the house decides to change sex.
With intimate access to two families, this documentary from Wild Pictures, makers of the acclaimed ITV1 documentaries Strangeways and Fraud Squad, follows the dilemmas two transwomen face as they take the ultimate step to change their lives forever.
There are an estimated 6,000 transsexuals in the UK, the majority of whom are transwomen – male to female transsexuals. Many are married with children. The film looks at how their families cope when they drop the bombshell.
About 150 gender reassignment operations are performed a year. The number has tripled over the last ten years following a landmark ruling which recognised gender dysphoria as a legitimate condition.
Phil Thomas, a Consultant Urological Surgeon says:
“The most important thing for the patients is that they’re living in the wrong body with anatomy that they abhor, they can’t stand looking at themselves. It’s vital and important to them that they no longer have to suffer that.”
Michelle and Jane have both been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, a medical condition where men or women feel their true gender is at odds with their physical body. Although the exact causes of gender dysphoria remain unclear, latest research suggests it may be caused by an imbalance of hormones while babies are developing in the womb, which results in a female inside a male body.
Michelle had wanted to be a girl since she was six years old, but feared being bullied if she told anyone. So she tried to bury her feelings and get on with being a boy.
She met her partner Julie when they were both teenagers and Michelle was Michael. They’ve been married for 26 years and have two sons.
Michael had tried to suppress his feelings of wanting to be a woman, but they never went away. When his sons grew up he felt he could finally become Michelle. He started living as a woman three years ago.
Michelle says: “I was still trying to come to terms with it for me, trying really hard to be a man. I told Julie little bits but I was also very scared that she would probably leave.
Some men dress as a woman and get sexual pleasure from it, it’s never been like that for me. I always felt I should wear women’s clothes because I always felt I was a woman.”
Michelle’s parents Joe and Sue had no idea about their son’s longing to be a woman. On a surprise visit to see Michael, Joe found him dressed as a woman. Michelle broke down in tears and blurted out the truth to her dad.
Joe says: “I was really dumbfounded but my main concern was for him to be happy. That’s what I’ve always wanted for my children
“We saw Michael become a very unhappy man. It’s explained everything. It’s all clear now.That’s why I just wish he’d done it years ago so he could have been the happy daughter and we could have done the mother daughter thing.”
“I felt that I’d let her down, why didn’t I know? You do blame yourself, you think I should have known, you should have seen something. What I will say is that from that day to this day to watch her grow as a woman has been lovely.She’s just become a beautiful woman, who I’m proud to call my daughter, really she’s beautiful.”
Transition is a huge undertaking. It involves everything from changing your appearance, taking hormones to encourage breast growth, speech therapy to feminise the voice and electrolysis to remove unwanted hair.
Patients also have to live full time in their chosen gender for at least a year before surgery; a period known as real life experience. This helps to gauge how they cope with work, family, friends and relationships, and is a further check against inappropriate sex change.
Michelle has completed her real life experience and undergone extensive psychotherapy. She has now been accepted for surgery and her operation will go ahead at the end of March.
She says: “I’m so ready now to have it sorted out and finished and get on with my life as being Michelle. You know, you can have pieces of paper and certificates to say you’re a woman, and there are laws to protect you but until you’ve had the surgery a lot of people will still see me as man.”
Jane, who used to be John, is a 53 year old Oxbridge educated journalist and consultant. She began living as a woman more than two years ago. Jane lives in Lincolnshire with her partner Andrea, Jane’s 17 year old daughter Tash, and Jane and Andrea’s six year old son Rafe.
After completing all the necessary assessments Jane is ready for gender reassignment surgery.
The film follows Jane as she goes ahead with the operation which will change her life.
Jane says: “It makes it very real and very serious. It’s a big thing to do, to have bits of you cut off, particularly if you’re a bloke because society tells you that you don’t have that bit cut off. Going ahead and having the operation, it’s bringing my body closer to the way it feels as though it needs to be.”
Having a parent who is transitioning brings practical as well as emotional challenges. Jane’s daughter Tash explains the dilemmas she’s faced since her dad broke the news that he wanted to be a woman:
“It’s the last thing you’d think about your parent. For my dad to do it, who I’ve known as a man my whole life, who’s been wearing jeans and jumpers and not really ever showing to me any feminine habits, it was just really strange.
“I’d never suspected it, ever. I was just crying and all shocked. I didn’t tell anyone for about four weeks. I didn’t realise but people ended up being quite worried about me.
“Last year I didn’t get a Father’s Day card. I didn’t know what to do to be fair, just a bit confused. I thought do I get a Mother’s Day one? And I was like, no. He is still my dad. They don’t really have a card for trans-gender dads.
“I still call him a him, it’s not that can’t bring myself to say Jane, but…it’s Jane and my dad. Being a dad is a role not a gender. If I keep saying dad, it’s like yes, remember me, I’m here, this is your daughter.”
“I’ve always loved my dad, always have and always will. He’s still the person that looked after me when I was little and poorly. It is weird because dad is my dad, and mostly been a man until quite recently. Now he is Jane. It’s just I’ve got a dad that is a woman and there is a woman that is my dad.”
My Dad Is A Woman is produced and directed by Kim Duke, and the executive producers are Paul Hamann and Emma Goddard.
Kim Duke says: “There are no self-help manuals for wives and children when a husband or dad transitions. During our research for the documentary, many families told us they felt alone and didn’t know where to turn for help. These two families let us into their lives at a critical time and shared their emotional journeys in the hope that it might help others going through the same thing.”
Thursday, 1 March 2012, 10:35PM – 11:35PM