Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fill In The Blanks: How the Parent One, Parent Two Decision Makes A Difference

Forms with the blanks, “Mother,” and “Father,” give me a rash.

The “Mother” blank is easy for me. My mom has been one and the same since I was born. She has been my turtleneck-and-jeans-wearing book-toting Mom from Day One.

The “Father” blank is where I pause. Should I put down the Dad from my birth through ten years, David, the one who brought presents from far-flung places and was a sometimes-on-holidays Dad?

Or should I put down the woman who my Dad became, the one with the middle name “Elizabeth,” who sent me care packages at boarding school and made gourmet dinners for me and my boyfriends?

At the doctor’s office recently, my primary care physician wanted to know about my parents’ health.

“Your mother?” she asked. I knew what would come next. The f-word.

Does my father’s gender identity relate to my risk for diabetes, heart disease, and cancer? I decided to tell her, because it’s easier to explain than to use the f-word when it’s not a part of my regular vocabulary. I call my Dad by her chosen name.

At the Social Security Office this fall, I noted my parents’ names at my birth on the form, but still wondered if the official behind the glass would want to know my Dad’s social security number. I would have to explain that all this had changed because of the transition. Because I’m over 18, I didn’t have to provide those details, but I thought of kids filling out the form. Would they have to elaborate a whole family history for a stranger in a blue uniform?

When I heard about the decision to use “Parent One” and “Parent Two” on passport forms, I felt a great relief. I could easily say that Parent One was my biological Mom and Parent Two was my transgender Dad. She’s my “Parent Two.” It made me want to run out and apply for a new passport just so I could fill in the form.

While opposition to the change calls it a wave of political correctness, instead, it is a move towards accuracy. These forms strive for precision, thus it makes perfect sense to no longer list “Mom” and “Dad.” Those tags simply don’t reflect all contemporary families.

Back when my Dad transitioned, she had to apply for a new passport. She appeared at the office with her old passport and all the requisite documents. The man behind the counter shuffled through everything in a cursory way, barely looking up as he processed the forms.

“Reason for the replacement?” he asked in a gruff voice, pen poised over a blank on the form.

“Things have changed,” my Dad said. At the sound of my Dad’s soft-spoken voice, the man looked up, took in all 5’10”, neatly coiffed hair, lipstick and silk scarf. The passport official raised his eyebrows, and said,

“Yes they have.”

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