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    Transsexual father tells his side

    From the stand, Michael Kantaras describes his devotion to his children and the sometimes painful scenes from his disintegrating marriage.

    By ALICIA CALDWELL, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 31, 2002
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    photo
    [Times photo: Fred Victorin]
    Much of Michael Kantaras' time on the stand Wedneday was spent on mundane questions appropriate ot any custody dispute.
    CLEARWATER -- If given the chance, this is how Michael Kantaras would have told his children about his sex change operation:

    "I may have been born in one body, but my mind and my soul and my heart is that of a male," Kantaras testified Wednesday in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court. "You don't need certain body parts to be a good person and a good parent."

    But he didn't have that chance, he said, because his estranged wife chose to tell their then 7-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son the news in what he considers an insensitive fashion:

    First she told the children he was not their biological father, Kantaras said. Then she told them he was born a female.

    Michael Kantaras, a transsexual locked in a custody battle with estranged wife Linda Kantaras, spent all day Wednesday on the witness stand. He said she repeatedly denied him visitation with the children, handed him every household bill and said hateful things that hurt the children.

    He related this exchange, which he said happened in the driveway of their Holiday home:

    "She said she had asked God to forgive her for being a lesbian and I needed to ask God to forgive me as well," said Kantaras, 42, a bakery manager.

    "She made this statement in the driveway?" asked Circuit Judge Gerard S. O'Brien Jr. "What about the neighbors?"

    Said Michael Kantaras: "I don't think that Linda has any problem letting the neighbors know about our personal issues."

    Or the rest of the world, for that matter. The custody battle is being fought on national television. Court TV has been broadcasting segments of the trial live.

    The linchpin of the case, said Michael Kantaras' lead lawyer Collin Vause, is a legal determination of whether Michael Kantaras remains a woman, and therefore married illegally under Florida law.

    Michael Kantaras adopted the oldest child, whom Linda conceived in a previous relationship, and was named the father of the younger child, who was conceived through artificial insemination with donor sperm from Michael's brother.

    Vause said during a break in the proceedings that much of the titillating testimony has been geared toward proving Kantaras is a man. Opposing counsel has challenged it at every turn.

    photo
    Linda Kantaras
    "Their basic premise is that if they can get the court to declare that he is not male, then all the other dominoes will fall," said Vause, a Clearwater lawyer. "The judge is keenly aware of that. That is why he has asked so many questions of the different expert witnesses."

    The judge has asked detailed questions about the various surgeries and hormone therapy that Michael Kantaras underwent before marrying Linda Kantaras in 1989.

    But much of the testimony has revolved around issues that would come up in more typical custody disputes: visitation and monetary support. Kantaras testified that he has spent most of his income supporting Linda and the children since she kicked him out of the marital home in 1998.

    He told the judge he lived with his parents nearby and did odd jobs, such as cutting grass, to make ends meet. Why did he do it?

    "I love my children," he said. "I would never ever want my children to feel that I would ever abandon them. I could not live with that."

    Michael Kantaras' lawyers will continue questioning him today, and then the lawyer for his wife will get a turn.

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