A woman named Tanya Quaife, now grown and working at nonprofit for LGBT homeless youth in Los Angeles, tells the complicated story of her father on Salon in a piece rife with bitterness, sensationalism (sentences like "The detective told me my father's penis had shrunk to the size of a seahorse," a number of disgusted commenters insisting this story belongs in the National Enquirer, etc.), long-held grudges and brief moments of clarity.
A 6'7" man* who owned a tree removal company and drove a cab at night, Quaife describes her father's personality as a cross between Anthony Bourdain and Howard Stern. She recalls always being aware of her father's "dress-up times," his evenings of dressing as a woman, but they were always confined to the house. He was physically abusive to young Quaife and her mother—an abuse that she now attributes to deep self-loathing ("what I don't know is which part he despised more: the part that wanted to be a woman, or the part that was born a man")—until she was placed in foster care at age 15, at which point he stopped cross-dressing for several years. And then:
I came back to visit Seattle during the winter break of my sophomore year in college. My father greeted me at the door with a smirk on his face and a tight pink turtleneck that hugged his new breasts. I don't know which made him more proud: having breasts of his own, or so successfully shocking me with them. He was taking hormones.
Around this time, Quaife writes, her father was growing and selling marijuana in the basement to finance a full-fledged sex change operation. Two teens asked him if they could get in on it, and when he said no, they broke in, robbed and shot him on July 7, 1993. The cops discovered $80,000 worth of pot in the house and Quaife and her family were left to pick up the pieces. He would want to be buried as a woman, they figured, and Quaife's mother took the body to a friend's to dress herself; they chose the pink turtleneck he liked, "garish" makeup and a doily on his head.
"We have never seen anything like this in all our days in business," the funeral director told Quaife, then 22, who returned to her life in Seattle shortly afterwards and is still unable to fully forgive her father, though not for the reasons one might think.
I can forgive him for being abusive, but I confess it is harder for me to make peace with his decision to become a woman. Some of my resistance is based purely on appearance: He never looked like a woman, despite the breasts and makeup. But I suspect there is a deeper reason. If I embrace the idea that he was a woman, it would mean I did not have a dad. I would rather have an asshole for a father than no father at all... I am surprised to find how much my heart aches to know that he is gone. The simple truth is this: I miss him.
*author refers to her father as "he" throughout
'My Father, The Woman' [Salon]
Image via Nagy Melinda/Shutterstock.