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With change, acceptance is key

Two brothers share how they coped with their dad's decision to become a woman.

By LANE DEGREGORY
Published April 15, 2007


You're 13 years old, and you love your dad. You love fishing with him, scuba diving with him, riding in his Jeep.

Sure, sometimes your dad gets annoying, and distant. So do you.

You're 13. Almost a man. Like your dad.

One day after school, he drags you away from your computer game and says he has something to tell you.

He looks you in the eye and says: "I want to be a woman."

Largo City Manager Steve Stanton told the whole world about those plans in February and ended up losing his job. During the hearings about his fate at City Hall, many people expressed concern for his son, Travis.

What would this be like for Travis, especially at the tricky age of 13?

Travis' parents have kept him out of the spotlight, so nobody knows what he is going through.

Except maybe two young men who went through a similar situation when they were about the same age.

* * *

Jonathan and David Beyer are brothers, three years apart. Jonathan was 13 and David 16 when their dad told them he was about to become a woman.

Like Stanton, Wayne Beyer had spent years suppressing what he considered his true self. He wasn't desperate enough to change his gender until he'd divorced his sons' mom, remarried, and turned 50.

He wanted to wait until David finished high school. He couldn't. At graduation, he said, his son would either have a dead dad or a new mom.

Wayne was an ophthalmologist then, living in Maryland. Jonathan had just moved in with him and his second wife. David was in boarding school at Andover.

So Wayne told his boys separately. Their responses surprised him.

Jonathan is 19 now, working toward a degree in fire protection engineering at the University of Maryland. David is 22, studying premed at Brown University. They both spend holidays at home with Dana, who used to be their dad.

They agreed to share their stories to help Travis, other kids of transgender people, and anyone else who wonders what it's like to have a dad who becomes a woman.

Jonathan's story

At some point when I was little, my dad had told me that he liked girl stuff. So when I was 4, I remember looking in a store window and telling my dad, "That's a pretty dress. I'm going to buy you that for your birthday." I didn't know anything was wrong with that.

When I was 12, my friend's mother had a best friend who was transgender. So I knew what that was. I mean, I'd met someone who was. But I never knew that's what my dad was. Until he told me.

We sat at the kitchen table, just me and my dad, and he told me what was going on. I was sort of into medical stuff at the time, so I wanted to know the process. How do you do that, make a man into a woman?

Here, Jonathan switched to the female pronoun to describe his dad, who became Dana. She didn't tell me not to tell anyone. She spoke with my best friend's mom. I never really went to therapy or support groups about it. I told a few of my close friends, ones I knew would be okay with it. A few select teachers knew.

The first time I went out with Dana, it was to temple, a synagogue service. No one even seemed to notice. To most people, she passes.

I still go home most weekends to stay with Dana. I call her Mom sometimes. She makes me dinner, helps me with my organic chemistry homework. We ran the Marine Corps Marathon. She's happier now, that's the biggest change.

I've never really talked to other kids of transgender people. But if Travis wanted to talk, I'd be glad to. He needs to understand that his dad isn't really his dad. His dad has always been his mom, with a different facade.

I'd tell him to imagine an egg. You have this outside shell, the hard part, the part you crack and throw away. But the inside part is who we are. People's shells and yolks don't always match. What's inside is what's important.

I'd tell him not to worry about what to tell his friends. If people have a problem with it, they weren't his real friends. And he doesn't have to worry it'll happen to him. If he was transgender, he'd already know it. He shouldn't be afraid.

Travis will get through fine. He'll just have to adjust to the change in what his dad looks like in the next family photo.

Of course, my brother had a much harder time with it.

David's story

I sort of knew there was something different about my dad at age 8 or 9. I don't know what it was. Nothing to do with gender or sexuality. I was told something was different, too. But I never understood what was going on.

In the beginning of my senior year in high school, he told me. I was away at school. I heard it on the phone. I was shocked. It certainly wasn't something I wanted to happen.

All my friends knew within a week of me knowing. I was matter-of-fact about it. People were like, "Oh. Wow. Okay." Every family has their thing. It's just another thing in another family.

I never talked to a counselor or teacher about it. I was mostly distant from the whole process, so it was sort of abstract. In a way, my brother had an advantage because he got to live with it incrementally. I just got the full, final effect.

The first time I saw Dana was at my high school graduation. It was pretty difficult. (He paused.) It was difficult. That's all I'll say about that.

But I got through it. Then I went and packed my stuff, and we drove home.

Within a week, it got easier. It was just the shock of the initial change. Once I got over that, the only permanent difference I noticed in my life was that Dana seemed happier.

If there were faults about how it was handled, it would have been me coming to terms with it better and more quickly. It was very difficult for a while.

Travis is going to go through a really rough time. But unless he wants to run away from it, he has to accept it, talk it through with his parents. That's what helped me just . . . come to terms with it.

What else can you do?

Lane DeGregory can be reached at (727) 893-8825 or degregory@sptimes.com.

ON THE WEBThe Stanton storyTo read the St. Petersburg Times' coverage of Steve Stanton, please click on links.tampabay.com.