Parents' Day

Andy took a deep breath as he stepped through the front door of the imposing building. He’d never before done anything even remotely like he was about to, and didn’t mind admitting to himself how nervous he was, even if he tried his best not to show it as he approached the reception desk.

“Can I help you?” The receptionist- a slender woman in her early twenties- asked.

“Hi,” Andy replied. “I’m- I’m Andrew Moore, I’m here for the interview today?”

“Okay,” the receptionist replied. “Do you know who you’re here to see?”

“No, they just said to come to reception and that you’d be expecting me,” Andy replied.

“Can I ask what the interview’s about, please?” The receptionist asked. “We conduct a lot of interviews here every day.” Andy gulped and his cheeks began to flush under the unwanted questioning.

“It’s about-“ Andy said, before lowering his voice to barely above a whisper. “It’s for parents of- of children who are transgendered.”

“Of course,” the receptionist said in a voice barely louder than Andy’s, before handing him a form and an access card. “You’re on the third floor, use the card to go up in the lift and when you get off, turn right, and you’ll be the third door on your left.”

“Thanks,” Andy mumbled, writing his details on the form and heading toward the lift, which ferried him up to the interview area, where he found several people already waiting.

“Hello,” an older man in his late sixties said, slowly standing and shaking Andy’s hand. “Are you here for the interviews too?”

“Umm- yeah,” Andy replied. “I’m Andy, Andy Moore.”

“Raymond Milton,” the older man replied. “This is my wife Catherine, and these are my son’s in-laws Mark and Susan Travis.”

“Nice to meet you all,” Andy said quietly, before being approached by one of the newspaper’s research team.

“Hi, did you say you were Andrew Moore?” the researcher asked.

“Y- yeah, that’s me,” Andy replied.

“Did you bring the photos we asked for?” The researcher asked, making Andy internally sigh as he withdrew two A6-sized photographs from his coat pocket. Both photographs were of the same person- his oldest child- but they couldn’t have been any more different.

The first photograph had been taken in October 2014, when Ashley had just started secondary school, and it showed a healthy, and what Andy had presumed was happy eleven year old boy. Andy had four other children, but Ashley was special. He was his firstborn, a chip off the old block. Andy had been determined to give Ashley all the advantages, all the luck that he himself hadn’t had when he was a child and would have done anything for him… But as he stared at the second photo, Andy felt his heart break. The second photograph had been taken in October 2017, and bore the image of a happy, healthy fourteen year old girl. For just over a year, Ashley had been living her life as a girl, watching chick flicks instead of action films, taking dance lessons instead of playing football and wearing skirts to school instead of trousers. Andy couldn’t deny that, after a few initial ‘teething problems’, Ashley had been much happier as a girl than she had as a boy- but every time Andy saw his son-turned-daughter, whether or was on a photo or in real life, he couldn’t help but feel that he’d lost his future best friend- and that he’d failed as a parent.

“Good looking kid,” Mark said, showing Andy the two photographs he’d brought- one of which was of a shrimpy-looking blonde boy in his early teens, while the other was of the famous model and reality TV star Jamie-Lee Burke- a celebrity that even Andy was familiar of regardless of his daughter’s connection to her.

“Yeah,” Andy replied, quickly handing the researcher his photographs, sitting down by himself in the waiting area and cursing himself for agreeing to attend the interview in the first place.

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“Thanks again for the lift,” Beverly said as she stepped out of her friend’s car.

“Think nothing of it, we’re practically family,” Chris chuckled. “God… This brings back some unpleasant memories.”

“Ah, yeah,” Beverly said with a grimace. “The, umm, the JK thing?”

“Yeah,” Chris replied quietly. “Been almost four years since that… Guess it’s weighing on my mind a lot too, we just passed a year since my dad died.”

“Ah, I’m sorry,” Beverly said softly.

“Thanks,” Chris replied. “I still miss him, despite everything he did to Nikki.”

“He’s your dad, of course you will,” Beverly advised. “What’s important is that you-“

“-I make sure I’m as good a dad as I can be to my girls,” Chris interrupted. “I know, I know. And yes, I do mean all three of my girls.”

“Never doubted it for a second,” Beverly said with a warm smile as she and her friend checked in at reception before heading upstairs and introducing themselves to the men and women in the waiting area.

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“You didn’t need to come with us today,” Malcolm said to the young blonde woman as he and his wife followed her out of the cramped tube station.

“No- trust me, I wanted to,” Jessica said in her soft Baltimore accent. “I mean, we ARE family, right? Well, near enough, anyway.”

“Absolutely we are!” Caroline replied, sharing a quiet giggle with her future daughter-in-law. “It’s just a shame Paige was scheduled to work today, we hardly get any time to see her as it is.”

“I know the feeling,” Jessica sighed.

“Though at least there’s only a few hundred miles of land separating us and not an entire ocean,” Caroline said, making Jessica bite her scarlet-coloured lip.

“Yeah,” the American woman sighed. “We’re not sure yet we’ll be moving to America when we’re married, but with neither of us likely to get promoted at the airline… We’re still weighing up our options.”

“I was thinking more about your poor parents,” Caroline said. “You’ve been living in Europe for what, three years?”

“…Three and a half,” Jessica mumbled. “I do miss them sometimes. But I’m glad I have another set of parents living in the country, even if there is a few hundred miles of land between us!”

“And we’ll never say no to another daughter!” Malcolm chuckled, giving Jessica a gentle pat on the back. “Even if the two that do live close to us are a pain in the neck most of the time!”

“Paige did say she was relieved they were unavailable this weekend,” Jessica giggled as she and her in-laws approached the tall newspaper building.

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“Oh, hi Andy!” A familiar middle-aged woman’s voice said, snapping Andy out of the funk he’d been in. “Had a feeling you’d be here today too!”

“Umm, oh, hi Michelle!” Andy replied, standing up and shaking the hands of the woman and her fiancé. “Hi Sean. Yeah, kinda had my arm twisted, heh.”

“Clare not here too?” Sean asked.

“No,” Andy replied. “She’s, umm, babysitting. And we kinda- kinda need to book a doctor’s appointment too…”

“…Oh,” Michelle said with an awkward grimace. “Okay then…”

“Hi,” the researcher said, breaking the awkward silence before it had a chance to begin. “Are you Laura White’s parents?”

“Yes,” Sean replied with a playful sigh. “Michelle’s got your photos for you, we’ve got a couple of professionally-done headshots as well as the latest school photo if you’d like?”

“Please,” the researcher said, taking the photos from Michelle before returning through the door she’d emerged from.

“…Laura’s getting professional photos done?” Andy asked.

“She’s even been doing some professional modelling work,” Michelle said with a proud smile. “She really is willing to put in the work needed to be a professional actress, or a model, or even an ‘Angel’, heh. No reason why we shouldn’t encourage her dreams.”

“That’s what parents do, after all,” Sean concurred, causing a strange feeling to well up inside Andy. While Sean and Michelle had given Laura unconditional support to be the person she wanted to be, Andy had actively tried to discourage Ashley from exploring her femininity. Andy tried to justify this to himself by reasoning that as her parent he knew what was best for Ashley, but as he saw the sheer pride that Michelle and Sean had for Laura- as well as the pride shown by the other parents in the room- he began to question whether or not he truly did know what was in his daughter’s best interests.

Andy’s introspection was once again interrupted when the door to the waiting area opened to allow a middle-aged man wearing a blue and white striped football shirt to enter.

“Hello Mike!” Chris said, jumping to his feet to shake the newcomer’s hand. “Hoped I’d see you today. Even if you are wearing THAT.”

“Keep crying, Chris,” Mike replied with a laugh as Andy watched on with a smirk. “Yeah, they gave me a call, must’ve got my details from Jacinta, said they wanted to interview me for a follow-up to the article and, well, why not? I figure it’d be a great opportunity to meet other, you know, ‘similar’ parents too, see if there’s anything more I can be doing for Jacinta.”

“You’re definitely in the right place for that!” Chris chuckled. “I’ll introduce you to everyone, but first, there’s someone you DEFINITELY have to meet! Michael Hanley, may I introduce you to Dr Beverly ‘Sarah’s mum’ Phillips!”

“Ah,” Mike said with a grin as he shook the middle-aged woman’s hand. “So you’re the legendary Dr Phillips!”

“That’s me!” Beverly said with a bashful chuckle. “And you’re the equally legendary Mike Hanley, the man who casually shrugged off his daughter coming out… Twice, from what I understand?”

“Yep,” Mike replied with a nonchalant shrug that made Chris and Beverly chuckle. “Well- it’s her life, isn’t it? I’m not going to dictate to Jacinta how she should live her life, same as you won’t for Nikki or Sarah. Though if you saw how hungover Jacinta was on Sunday, sometimes I wish you’d try a bit.”

“Not every day you turn 21,” Chris shrugged. “God, just scary that I actually HAVE a 21 year old child, heh.”

“Thanks for reminding me that I have a twenty-TWO year old kid!” Mike said with a snort of laughter.

“Just wait until your kids turn thirty and you get grandkids!” Raymond said with a chuckle as he approached the trio. “Raymond Milton, Stuart’s dad- well, Stuart, Emma and Becca’s dad- and this is my wife Catherine.”

“Nice to meet you,” Mike said as he exchanged handshakes with the Miltons. “Don’t think I’ll be worrying about grandkids anytime soon though- Jacinta’s my only child, and she’s sterile now, so, well, yeah.”

“So are Stuart and Jamie,” Catherine retorted. “Doesn’t make Olivia any less our grandchild than our other two.”

“And if Nikki and Sarah ever adopt, their child will be 100% my grandchild,” Beverly interjected. “Though they will thankfully be taking their time there!”

“And correct me if I’m wrong,” Chris said, “but doesn’t Ophelia consider you to be her surrogate father too? So any children she has-“

“Yes, yes, okay, okay,” Mike said with a snort of laughter as the researcher arrived to collect his photographs. “Grandchildren are great, etc. etc.”

“Damn right they are!” Raymond chuckled as he led Mike to where they were sat and introduced him to Mark and Susan.

“Well, I’m happy to just remain a parent for the next several years,” Sean chuckled.

“Even though your stepson will be twenty-FIVE in a few months,” Michelle reminded her fiancé.

“Thanks for the reminder,” Sean snorted. “Are we waiting on anyone else?”

“Couple of people, I think,” Chris replied. “Stephanie Abbott’s parents are gonna be here. Oh, and the grandmother of that Welsh kid, umm, Ian, I think his name was.”

“That’s someone who drew the short straw parents-wise, if what Laura tells me is true,” Michelle sighed. “And I’ve no reason to believe it isn’t, some people just aren’t cut out to be parents, and some people CERTAINLY aren’t cut out to be parents of transgendered children.”

“No, they’re not,” Andy whispered as the knot in his stomach grew ever tighter.

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Pauline took a deep breath to ease her tired muscles as her car pulled into the newspaper office’s car park. It had been a long drive from Cardiff, which was made only worse by the end of the drive being in the congested streets of London. For a woman in her mid-seventies, Pauline was in good shape, and much preferred driving to taking public transport, but even she found herself regretting her decision to make the trip. Her regret faded, though, when she entered the waiting room where the other parents were, and she realised immediately that she was among friends.

“Hello,” Raymond said with a smile as he greeted Pauline with a handshake. “You must be Pauline. I’m Raymond Milton, Stuart’s dad.”

“Oh yes,” the elderly Welsh woman said with a wide, genuine smile of her own. “Your son has been a great help to my Ian over the last few months, make sure you thank him next time you see him!”

“I will,” Raymond chuckled.

“Reminds me that I need to pass on my thanks to you to pass on to Jamie,” Chris said to Mark and Susan, who nodded and smiled appreciatively. “That’s what I love the most about this little ‘family’, the way everyone helps each other out no matter how well-off or how famous they are.”

“You can never have too many friends!” Susan chuckled.

“Nikki’s certainly taken that lesson to heart,” Chris said with a proud smile. “I’ve got to admit, at first- heh, almost five years ago- I was worried about her, worried that she was making a rash decision, that she was going through a phase… Now, I really couldn’t be prouder of her if I tried. She does a lot of work talking with and counselling girls who are going through what she’s been through. I understand your two girls are on that list too, right?”

“Yep!” Michelle replied. “Of course, Laura likes to think that she’s this grown-up, independent woman, but I know she has the occasional chat with Nikki still.”

“Andy?” Sean asked, breaking Andy’s train of thought. “Does Ash chat with Nikki that often?”

“Umm, sometimes, I think,” Andy replied. “I- I don’t check that often.” Or pay that much attention, Andy thought to himself, his shame levels rising.

“If Nikki only helps one girl, it’d be worth it,” Chris said. “She’s even been helping out a girl from America in recent months!”

“Not sure whether or not I should regret answering that email from Debbie,” Beverly chuckled. “Guess we’ll find out when they come over next week, heh.”

“And of course, Laura helped Ashley a lot during her first few months,” Michelle said, making Andy’s insides churn again. “Though she has now got a little sister to look after too.”

“So has Nikki,” Chris shrugged. “I want her to be REALLY involved in Jenny’s life.”

“How- how are you going to explain to your youngest about Nikki when she grows up?” Andy asked, immediately regretting his question the second the words left his mouth.

“…Well I would’ve thought you’d have some advice there, Andy!” Chris replied with a chuckle. “Don’t you have three younger children?”

“Four,” Andy replied. “Three girls, one boy. And, um, and Ashley. So five total.”

“Lucky man!” Raymond chuckled. “Especially to have four girls, too.”

“I- I’m a bit surprised to hear you say that, if you don’t mind me saying,” Andy cautiously replied.

“Why do you say that?” Raymond asked.

“Well, you- you had three girls and no boys, right?” Andy asked.

“To begin with, yes,” Raymond replied.

“Didn’t- didn’t you, you know, always want a son?” Andy asked.

“Maybe,” Raymond replied with a shrug. “But I was blessed with three healthy daughters, and only a fool would say no to that.”

“I guess,” Andy said, but before he could process the information, he was interrupted by the arrival of the final people who had been invited.

“Peter! Samantha!” Mark said with a smile, standing up and greeting the newcomers with handshakes. “Nice to see you again.”

“Likewise, Mark!” Peter replied with a chuckle. “Are we the last to arrive?”

“Yep!” Mark replied. “Think they’re going to do the photographs first, then the interviews.”

“Oh- speaking of,” Samantha said, retrieving two small photographs from her purse and smiling at them. “If only we knew then what we know now, eh?”

“You said it,” Mark sighed sadly as the researcher reappeared to collect Samantha’s photographs and lead the group through to the photography studio, where a row of seats had been prepared for them.

Andy grimaced as he was ushered to his seat and handed two picture frames, which contained black and white photocopies of the photographs he’d handed over when he’d arrived. Eventually, all of the people being interviewed were sat on the seats that had been provided and their picture was taken as a group, before being separated and having their pictures taken separately with the images of their children. Andy was the fourth to have his picture taken, and as he sat in front of the camera, he gazed over at Michelle and Sean disappearing into a nearby room, making him dread what was to come next.

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“Hi, thanks for agreeing to this,” the interviewer said as Michelle and Sean sat down opposite her and made themselves comfortable. “If we could just begin please with a little background information about the two of you?”

“Okay,” Michelle said. “My name’s Michelle White, soon to be Michelle Ruddock, I’m forty-five years old, I work part-time in a supermarket and I have three children- Ricky and Laura by my first husband and my stepdaughter Lily, who’s Sean’s daughter.”

“And Laura is the child who’s transgendered, right?” The interviewer asked.

“Yep,” Michelle replied. “I think I always knew from an early age that there was something ‘different’ about her. She always seemed more comfortable when she was around girls, she found ‘traditionally male’ activities like football- well, not just unappealing, she outright hated it. At first I thought it was a way of rebelling against her brother, who is every bit a ‘man’s man’ and did everything he could to ensure that Laura would be the same. But after he moved out to join the army, Laura’s feminine tendencies just seemed to get stronger.”

“As I understand it, it was you who approached Laura about her gender identity, is that right?” The interviewer asked.

“Yep,” Michelle replied. “It was during her last term of her last year of primary school. Hard to believe that was five years ago, heh. I asked her if she wanted to be a boy or a girl, and she said ‘girl’ without hesitation.”

“How did you feel when she gave you that answer?” The interviewer asked.

“Relieved, if I’m honest,” Michelle replied. “It was almost like- I always knew there was something about Laura that I couldn’t put my finger on. That gave me the answer I needed, we then went to a doctor who referred us to a counsellor who was able to confirm that she had GID and we were able to proceed from there.”

“Though the first year didn’t go entirely smoothly, I understand?” The interviewer asked, causing the middle-aged woman’s face to pale.

“Those were probably the worst few days of my entire life,” Michelle said coldly. “When Laura was- was taken from me. It didn’t even hurt that much when my dad died. I didn’t sleep at all until Laura was returned to me, and even then I’d have nightmares. I- I’m sorry, I’d rather not talk about this, can- can you give me a minute, please?”

“Of course,” the interviewer said softly as Michelle took several deep breaths to calm herself down. “Sean, I do have a few questions for you, if you don’t mind?”

“Shoot,” Sean said as he gave his fiancées hand a comforting squeeze.

“What’s it like as a stepparent, coming into a family with a transgendered child?” The interviewer asked.

“…Well,” Sean sighed, his eyes widening as he tried to marshal his thoughts. “That’s definitely a broad question. I don’t- don’t really think it’d be any different than becoming a stepparent in any other circumstances. Laura was already very deeply, well, in her female life, I already had a daughter I was raising by myself… If anything, I had a harder time settling in with Michelle’s older child, her son, maybe because there’s only 15 years age difference. I know that Lily absolutely loves having Laura as a big sister.”

“Laura feels the same way about Lily,” Michelle whispered with a smile.

“But how did it make you feel,” the interviewer asked, “knowing that you’d have a hand in raising someone who’d changed their gender?”

“If I’m honest,” Sean said, “it sort-of gave me an extra feeling of responsibility. Like, if there was anything extra I needed to know or to take into consideration with regards to Laura. But as for personal feelings- nope. Laura being transgendered doesn’t affect me, doesn’t affect me at all. Even where I work, the other guys just see it as one of those things.”

“You work in a garage, don’t you?” The interviewer asked.

“Yeah, I do van MOTs,” Sean replied. “I know, I know, there’s this stereotype that we’re all Britain First-supporting Neanderthals or something. Nah. It’s 2018. Some people need to live their lives as a different gender to the one they were born into. Laura’s one of those people. Don’t see why it needs to be any more complicated than that.”

“Not everybody in Laura’s life sees it that way, though,” the interviewer asked. “I won’t ask anymore about the thing you don’t want me to ask about, but if I could go back to Laura’s first year at school, I understand that not everything went smoothly?”

“…There was some trouble with bullying,” Michelle said. “Some of the other children, they- well, it wasn’t just the children, sometimes it seemed the parents were worse than the children. There’s this belief that you can ‘catch gay’ or ‘catch being transgendered’ which is just ridiculous. Laura is who she is, other children are who they are.”

“But Laura has faced hostility from other children?” The interviewer asked.

“Occasionally,” Michelle replied quietly.

“How does that make you feel as a parent?” The interviewer asked.

“How would it make any parent feel, knowing your child’s being bullied?” Michelle replied with a snort. “The ironic thing is that the ‘head’ bully from Laura’s first year is now one of her best friends. And came out as gay herself not long ago. Part of me wonders whether or not she’d ever have had the courage to do that if not for Laura.”

“But do you feel, despite the bullying, that Laura’s life is better for having transitioned?” The interviewer asked.

“Definitely,” Michelle replied instantly. “Without question. I look at her I forget that she was ever a boy. And I think she sometimes forgets too, and she’s never happier than on those occasions.”

“Thank you,” the interviewer said with a smile as she moved onto the next question on her clipboard.

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“Are you heading back tonight, Pauline?” Susan asked the elderly Welsh woman as they helped themselves to the refreshments that had been provided by the newspaper.

“I’m planning to, yes,” Pauline replied. “It’s always a long drive, but better to do it tonight and rest up tomorrow. Plus, I know that if I don’t, Ian will get up to god knows what with that young lady of his!”

“Ah,” Susan said. “Boys- heh, I was going to say ‘boys will be boys’ there, doesn’t seem entirely appropriate somehow.”

“In Ian’s case, it certainly is,” Pauline said with a snort of laughter. “He’d probably take it as a compliment if you said that to him, as well he should do.”

“You did a great thing when you took him in,” Susan said quietly. “I don’t know the whole story, but his- did his parents kick him out?”

“Only in as much as they made it impossible for Ian to live there anymore,” Pauline replied. “It was his choice to leave them, I was happy to let him live with me.”

“I see,” Susan mumbled.

“What’s wrong?” Pauline asked, sensing the younger woman’s discomfort.

“It’s just-“ Susan said, before letting out a long sigh. “With Jamie, it was the other way round, we- Mark and I booted her out when she was sixteen. Heh, and when ‘she’ was still a ‘he’.”

“For being transgendered?” Pauline asked, surprised by Susan’s revelation.

“Jamie, she- she fell in with a bad crowd at school,” Susan explained. “They forced her to store drugs at our house, we blamed Jamie for this, said she should’ve stood up to them more… The reality is that we’re the ones who should’ve done more to help her. We were never even trying to have a child, but it just happened, and- ugh. I really don’t think we were cut out to be parents.”

“Few people are,” Pauline said reassuringly. “You do what you think’s best for your children. But you sometimes make mistakes. I know I made mistakes with my daughter too, I spoiled her when she was young and that gave her a sense of entitlement, and that in turn threatened to ruin Ian’s life.”

“I just hope Jamie’s a better mother than I was,” Susan sighed. “Though every time I see her with Olivia, I’m reassured that she will be. It was her first birthday last month and Jamie threw a great party for her with all her friends…”

“It’s nice being a grandmother, isn’t it?” Pauline asked with a grin.

“It takes some getting used to,” Susan replied. “But I’ve definitely enjoyed it so far!”

“It will only get better,” Pauline said with a grin. “And from what I know of your daughter, you don’t have anything to worry about. Ian sometimes shows me images she posts online of her and her daughter, and it’s clear that she puts Olivia’s interests first and foremost.”

“As any decent parent should,” Susan said, not noticing Andy approaching the refreshment table with a contemplative look on his face.

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“I’m Malcolm Robertson,” Malcolm said as the interviewer switched on her recorder. “This is my wife Caroline, together we run a guest house in Dumbarton and we’ve got three daughters- twin girls called Nina and Trisha, who are 31, and Paige, who’s 23. I’m assuming that Paige is the one you’re interested in today!”

“She is, yes,” the interviewer replied with a smile. “Specifically, what it’s like to know that your child is undergoing such a comprehensive change when she lives so far away from home.”

“…It’s not easy, that’s for sure,” Malcolm replied.

“It was worse when Paige was living in Paris,” Caroline explained.

“As I understand,” the interviewer asked, “at first, you weren’t aware that Paige had begun to transition, is that right?”

“That’s right,” Malcolm said. “Paige- well, ‘Paul’ said that she’d moved to Paris for work but didn’t go into any details, and whenever we spoke to her ‘she’ always sounded masculine.”

“But we were able to put two and two together when she mentioned Jessica,” Caroline continued. “We had a look on Facebook and found Jessica’s profile, and then, well, found ‘Paige’s too.”

“That must have come as a shock to you,” the interviewer asked.

“To put it mildly,” Malcolm replied with a snort of laughter. “At first I simply didn’t believe what I was seeing. I mean, my only son, living and working full-time as a woman?”

“Did it make you angry when you saw the pictures?” The interview asked.

“At first,” Malcolm said. “But the anger only lasted a short time, then I was more disappointed than anything.”

“Disappointed in Paige?” The interviewer asked.

“Yes, but not for why you think we were,” Malcolm said.

“We were disappointed that she felt she couldn’t confide in us,” Caroline continued. “That she felt she needed to hide who she really was from us. I mean, we’re her parents, and what parents are we if our own child can’t trust us?”

“It was really hard, with her living hundreds of miles away,” Malcolm sighed. “But we came to the conclusion that next time we saw Paige, we’d… Well, not so much ‘confront’ her but try to encourage her to confide in us, so that she wouldn’t need to hide anymore and we’d be able to help her whenever she needed it.”

“That was over two years ago, almost three,” Caroline continued. “Now it’s like she’s always been a woman. Sometimes I even find myself thinking back on her childhood and it’s like she was a girl even back then.”

“In a few weeks, she’ll be going in for her final operation,” Malcolm said with a proud smile.

“How does that make you feel, as parents?” The interviewer asked. “Knowing that your child will be permanently altering their body?”

“It’s their body, it’s their choice,” Malcolm shrugged. “I know what you might be expecting me to say, that it feels like I’m losing a son. Except I haven’t lost him. ‘He’s just become a ‘she’, that’s all. I don’t love her any less and I’d like to think the reverse is true.”

“There are a lot of parents who aren’t as open-minded as you, though,” the interviewer said. “Do you have any advice for them?”

“If your child- especially your grown-up child- says to you that they feel the need to change their gender, first of all, listen to them,” Malcolm said. “Because it’s not going to be a decision they’ll have made overnight.”

“And above all else, never stop loving them,” Caroline said with a confident nod of her head.

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“So then,” Peter said with a grin as he sat down next to Mark. “I hear you’re enjoying a life of luxury while the rest of us still have to work for a living?”

“Damn right I am,” Mark replied with a satisfied chuckle. “You’re Steph’s dad, right?”

“Technically dad AND granddad to a ‘Steph’, yep!” Peter replied with a smug grin of his own. “But that’s why I feel sort-of envious, you getting to spend time with your grandchild whenever you want…”

“Are you far from retirement yourself?” Mark asked.

“Not THAT far,” Peter replied. “Got the big six-oh next year, but with the NHS the way it is, I’d kinda feel guilty if I retired now. Though it’s not just my granddaughter I want to spend time with- sometimes I feel like I’ve barely had the chance to get to know my new daughter.”

“It’s hard, having to share your child with the rest of the country,” Mark agreed. “Though what you said about ‘getting to know your daughter’… I barely knew my ‘son’ in the first place, heh.”

“It’s not easy,” Peter commented. “Working and being a parent. Especially if you work shifts, heh. And especially when everything you thought you knew about your child suddenly turns out to be wrong.”

“You got THAT right,” Mark sighed. “Do you ever have any regrets? About your kids, I mean, whether or not there was anything you could’ve done differently, now that you know what you know?”

“Plenty,” Peter sighed. “But there’s no sense in dwelling in the past. I see enough in my job to convince me that life’s too short for regrets or grudges.”

“I guess,” Mark said quietly. “Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to make up for your mistakes, though?”

“I suppose not,” Peter replied. “But every parent makes mistakes. You just try to make sure that your kids don’t make the same mistakes that you did.”

“No danger of that!” Mark replied with a proud grin.

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“I’m Michael Hanley,” Mike said as the interviewer switched on her recorder. “I’m 49, I'm the deputy manager of an electronics store in Brighton and I have one child, a daughter named Jacinta. Who, yes, was a son named Jason when she was born.”

“Thanks for agreeing to this interview,” the interviewer said. “I know it’s quite a long way to come.”

“Not as far as the people who’ve come from Scotland and Wales,” Mike retorted. “Gives me a chance to see Jacinta this way.”

“A lot of these questions may be sensitive,” the interviewer explained, “as a lot of them are centred on raising a transgendered child as a lone parent.”

“…Okay,” Mike said with a nod as his emotions began to wobble at the memory of his late wife. “Ask away.”

“What was your first reaction when your daughter first came out to you?” The interviewer asked.

“Well it was something I’d kind-of been able to prepare for,” Mike replied. “When Jacinta was sixteen, and still living as a boy, ‘he’ came out as gay- by which I mean ‘attracted to men’. And the clues really were always there, ‘Jason’ had always been effeminate, growing up she only ever had female friends at school, she was always interested in things like fashion…”

“But how did it make you feel to learn that your son was going to be your daughter?” The interviewer asked.

“Honestly?” Mike replied. “I felt happy. I genuinely did feel happy for Jacinta. She’s much more comfortable, much happier as a girl than she ever was as a boy. As a boy, she was always sort-of anxious, sort-of on edge. It was only by becoming a girl that she seemed to be who she really was all along.”

“Have you ever thought about how your wife- Jacinta’s mother- would have reacted to her child coming out?” The interviewer asked, making Mike frown and bite his lip.

“…All the time,” Mike confessed. “Amelia- my wife- was the most warm-hearted and loving person I know and she adored Jac- well, ‘Jason’, so I have no doubt that she’d adore Jacinta as well, but I still wonder just exactly how she’d react to the news, whether she’d be excited, whether she’d be concerned… I do know though that wherever Amelia is, she’s looking down on Jacinta and smiling. Even if she does occasionally drink a bit too much.”

“Do you ever wish that you’d had help raising Jacinta, though?” The interviewer asked.

“Sometimes,” Mike replied. “The only help I ever wanted, though, was Amelia’s. And the times I had with Jacinta? They were pretty good as they were. Other than that, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change a thing.”

----------

“Are you two heading back to Scotland now?” Sean asked Malcolm and Caroline as they got themselves a drink and took a seat, tired from their grilling.

“No, we’re sticking around for another day,” Malcolm replied.

“We rarely get to see Paige as it is,” Caroline explained. “Not going to waste this opportunity while we’ve got it!”

“Very understandable,” Michelle said. “When my oldest was in the Army I’d make the most of every second he was on leave. Well, when he wasn’t tormenting Laura, anyway…”

“Yeah, our eldest two used to tease Paige a lot when she was younger,” Malcolm said, before grimacing as Michelle’s face fell into a deep frown. “…Though I get the impression that your oldest went a bit beyond harmless teasing.”

“Winding Laura up to the point of hysteria for his own twisted amusement isn’t what I’d call ‘harmless’,” Michelle said in a low growl.

“Now that Laura’s sixteen, she’s able to handle it a bit better,” Sean explained. “But now he’s taken to picking on Lily as well… Fortunately, Laura’s a much better big sister than he is a big brother.”

“Ricky’s dad was around until Ricky was ten,” Michelle said. “I sometimes think that’s partly to blame. But I can’t help but think that I did a much better job with Laura than I did with him.”

“Even despite the, you know, ‘change’?” Caroline asked.

“Because of the ‘change’,” Michelle replied, before sighing and letting out a tired chuckle. “I dunno. Maybe I just worry too much, heh.”

“You never stop worrying,” Caroline reassured the younger woman. “That’s what makes a mother a great mother.”

“Our oldest two are over thirty and we still panic about them if they wait too long between phone calls,” Malcolm chuckled. “And they live only a few miles from us and don’t jet off to all corners of the world for work!”

“I think I’d have a panic attack if Laura ever got on a train by herself, let alone a plane,” Michelle chuckled.

“You’d have every right to, what you went through,” Sean said. “…Though I’d feel the same way about Lily, heh. Doesn’t help that she’s found your daughter and her friends’ Instagram accounts and now she reckons she wants to be a stewardess, heh.”

“Oh, well, we could always introduce her to Paige and her fiancée, get them to show her the tricks of the trade maybe?” Malcolm offered.

“…Probably no point, Lily will probably want to be something else this time next week,” Sean chuckled. “She’s deep in the middle of the dreaded ‘ballerina phase’ at the moment too, heh.”

“Aye, I remember that one from our older two all too well!” Malcolm chuckled.

“And our younger one on a weekly basis if her Facebook’s to be believed!” Caroline said with a giggle.

“And Laura too, though it’s less a ‘phase’ and more ‘prospective career’, heh,” Michelle said. “Though she DOES work hard at it, heh.”

“If you want the ultimate in ‘ballerina phases’, though,” Sean said, chuckling as he gestured toward Andy, who gave a surprised stare as he was suddenly brought into the conversation. “…Your daughter? The one who’s obsessed with dancing?”

“Ashley- Ashley isn’t…” Andy mumbled, before a look of realisation spread across his face. “Oh, oh you mean Cassie, right?”

“…You’ve got four daughters, I think we can let off that one,” Sean chuckled. “We were wondering if Cassie’s still in a ‘ballerina phase’?”

“Doubt she’ll ever not be,” Andy replied with a snort of laughter. “Doubt Ashley won’t be, either…” Sean, Michelle and the older Scottish couple all grimaced as a dark look fell over Andy’s face.

“Didn’t- didn’t I hear that Ashley was interested in become a stew- umm, a flight attendant when she’s older?” Sean asked.

“It’s something she- it’s something Ashley’s thinking of doing, yes,” Sean replied. “Ashley’s getting good grades in French and German at school, so, umm, yeah…”

“I’ll have to ask Paige if she can give your daughter some pointers then,” Malcolm shrugged, grimacing awkwardly as Andy quietly nodded. “It’s- it’s not a bad career…”

“Yep,” Andy said, before standing up and trying his hardest not to fidget. “Umm, excuse me, I just- I just need to, umm, find a toilet…”

“…What was that all about?” Malcolm asked after the younger man had left earshot.

“Andy, he…” Michelle replied, before letting out a long sigh. “He and Ash haven’t exactly… Had the smoothest time since she came out to him. And that’s putting it mildly, believe me.”

“Ashley a bit of a troublemaker, then?” Caroline asked.

“No,” Michelle replied. “Trust me, it’s not her that’s the problem…”

----------

“I’m Chris Thomas,” the middle-aged man said as he got comfortable in his seat. “I’m forty-six, I’m a self-employed taxi driver, I’m married and me and my wife have two children, Nikki, who’s twenty-one, and Jenny, who’s three. Well, three children if you include Nikki’s wife Sarah. Which me and my wife do.”

“From what I understand, Nikki’s been transitioning since she was sixteen,” the interviewer asked, continuing after Chris nodded in agreement. “How did it feel as a parent to hear your child- at the time, your only child- make that kind of announcement?”

“If I’m honest,” Chris replied with a sigh, “it blindsided me. I’d never even considered that Nikki- well, ‘Nick’ as she was back then- was anything other than 100%, well, ‘normal’ if you’ll forgive me using that word. The fact that she’d been going out with her girlfriend- now her wife- for over a year just reinforced that.”

“So were you upset when Nikki came out?” The interviewer asked.

“At first,” Chris replied. “I didn’t know what to think, but when I thought it through, and saw how much happier Nikki was as a girl, I realised that it was for the best. And more than that, it was what she wanted for her life. And it was HER life. I’ve always thought that a parent’s job is to guide and support their child, not control them. I could’ve forced Nikki to stop being a girl, but what kind of father would I be if I did that?”

“And now Nikki is post-operative, right?” The interviewer asked.

“Yep,” Chris replied with a sigh.

“How did that make you feel?” The interviewer asked. “Knowing that your child has made irreversible changes to their body?”

“I see it as the irreversible change having happened when Nikki took her first hormone pill,” Chris shrugged. “She may have been 16 at the time but she knew what she was doing and she knew that she needed to do this. And as I said, my job is to support, not to control or to judge or anything like that.”

“Not every member of your family agreed with you though, did they?” The interviewer asked, making Chris frown and sigh.

“Not everyone, no,” Chris mumbled. “My- my dad reacted VERY badly. Threatened to cut off contact with us…”

“How did that make you feel?” The interviewer asked.

“Really, really bad,” Chris sighed. “I love- well, loved my dad. Sure, he was old-fashioned, but I always thought that I got all my values from him, things like common decency, that sort of thing, and it made me question for the first time, you know? For the first time I didn’t look up to my dad as, like, ‘the boss’.”

“Did you have a close relationship with your father up to that point?” The interviewer asked.

“Pretty close,” Chris shrugged. “We used to go to Hammers games together when I was younger, he taught me how to drive- hell, he was the one I turned to for advice when Nikki was born.”

“Do you blame Nikki for your relationship with your father deteriorating?” The interviewer asked.

“No, absolutely not,” Chris replied. “Nikki can’t help being transgendered, nobody can. But you can help the way you act toward people who are transgendered. It’s like the old saying, no one chooses to be black but you do choose to be racist, you know? And did come round in the end, before he passed away.”

“You said you had a younger child as well?” The interviewer asked.

“Yeah, a little girl called Jenny,” Chris replied with a smile. “Just turned three in January. Nikki absolutely spoils her rotten, heh.”

“Have you thought about how’ll you explain to her when she’s older that her older sister used to be a boy?” The interviewer asked.

“A few times,” Chris replied. “It’s the sort of thing where you say ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’. It’s kinda like the whole ‘Santa’ thing, I remember explaining to Nikki when she was nine that Santa wasn’t real and she just took it in her stride, like she always knew. I reckon when we explain to Jenny about her sister she’ll be the same. I hope she will, anyway.”

“And if she isn’t?” The interviewer asked.

“…Then we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Chris said confidently.

----------

“So then, have you been grilled yet?” Mike asked Beverly as they met at the refreshments table.

“Not yet,” the middle-aged woman replied. “They said they only wanted me for a ‘professional eye’, might ask some questions about having a transgendered daughter-in-law if there’s time. I set aside the whole morning to come here, though.”

“Do you have that many clients?” Mike asked.

“Enough that I have a waiting list,” Beverly replied, smirking as Mike’s eyes went wide with surprise.

“I guessed you might,” Mike chuckled. “I did do some reading up after Jacinta came out, on ‘statistics’ as well as more practical ways to help her.”

“Jacinta’s said that yes,” Beverly confirmed.

“…Aren’t you breaking doctor-patient confidentiality by telling me that?” Mike teased, smirking as Beverly let out a quiet giggle.

“It’s hardly a secret that Jacinta thinks highly of you, and is grateful for everything you’ve done for her,” Beverly replied. “And from what I’ve heard, she should be. You’d be depressed by the amount of young men and women I talk to who are simply discarded by their parents simply for being who they want to be. Even if they don’t kick their kids out, they sometimes coerce them, even emotionally blackmail them. And why? Because they feel they’re failures just because their child is transgendered?”

“It’s just my humble opinion,” Mike shrugged, “but if you give your child unconditional love and support when they transition, then that’s what makes you a success.”

“You won’t get any argument from me,” Beverly said with a smile. “When- when are you heading back to Brighton?”

“Probably later this afternoon,” Mike replied. “Want to check in on Jacinta first, also see if Ophelia’s okay.”

“Ah, of course,” Beverly said with a smile. “Your ‘other daughter’.”

“And new ‘other son-in-law’,” Mike chuckled.

“Have you met Telemachus yet?” Beverly asked.

“Just once, at Christmas,” Mike replied. “Enough to get a first impression but nothing more.”

“Well if it helps, Sarah thinks he’s alright,” Beverly said, before biting her lip and carefully considering her next words. “Ophelia’s lucky to have a surrogate father like you.”

“I’m lucky to have a surrogate daughter like Ophelia,” Mike said with a smile. “Guess that’s the thing about being a single parent, you have to love your children twice as much, you ‘d think there wouldn’t be any left over but the opposite’s the truth.”

“I can definitely agree with that,” Beverly said with a smile. “So did- did you never meet anyone else, then? I mean after-“

“No one could ever come close,” Mike replied. “And I had Jacinta to think about first and foremost. You?”

“Oh, plenty of men would’ve been better than my husband,” Beverly snorted. “But yes, I had to think of Sarah first and foremost too. I did ‘look’ for a bit, but couldn’t find anyone, you know.”

“Yeah,” Mike said with a smile. “Don’t think I’d ever find anyone like my Amelia. Though knowing her, I’m sure she wouldn’t want me to be alone the rest of my life, especially now that Jacinta’s moved out…”

“Yeah,” Beverly said, leading to an awkward silence between the two.

“Umm…” Mike said hesitantly. “Do- do you want, umm, to get- to get some lunch after we get out of here? I mean-“

“That’d be nice,” Beverly replied with a smile as she and Mike headed back to the seating area.

Meanwhile, unnoticed by either Mike or Beverly, Andy stood and pondered the older man’s words, specifically his comments about what made a successful parent…

----------

“I’m Pete Abbott, this is my wife Samantha,” Peter said to the interviewer. “We both work for the NHS, I’m an ambulance driver, my wife’s a nurse, and we have three children: Thomas, Daniel and Stephanie.”

“Stephanie of course being a member of Out of Heaven,” the interviewer said, smiling as the two proud parents nodded. “If I understand the timeline of events, Stephanie joined Out of Heaven before she began to fully transition, and while she was still living with you, right?”

“Right,” Samantha replied. “It’s all quite complicated, how the whole thing started.”

“It’s also well-documented,” the interviewer said. “What I’m most interested in today is the two of you, how you, as Stephanie’s parents, coped with everything, with the responsibility of having a child who’s not just transitioning, but transitioning in such a public way?”

“It was difficult,” Samantha confessed. “You want to do everything you can to help your child, but-“ Samantha let out a long, tired sigh as her husband took over for her.

“But Stephanie, bless her, didn’t exactly make life easy for herself,” Peter sighed. “Especially during the time she disappeared for months on end.”

“It does sometimes feel like we only find things out about our own daughter by seeing them written about her on the internet,” Samantha said.

“How did you react when you first found out about Stephanie?” The interviewer asked.

“When we first found out that she was living as a woman?” Peter asked. “We were sort-of prepared for it.”

“Stephanie- well, ‘Steve’- was always different from her brothers,” Samantha said. “Tom is a man’s man, a former squaddie, Danny was always the ‘class clown’, but Steph was different, quieter. More interested in staying in her room, listening to her music than going out and having fun like Tom and Danny.”

“And yes, in hindsight, it’s obvious she wasn’t just listening to music,” Peter said.

“But what was the single biggest emotion you felt when you learned that your son was going to be your daughter?” The interviewer asked.

“…Shock,” Peter confessed. “It’s not something I’d ever thought would happen to us. But once we’d accepted that it had happened to us, we were able to move on and deal with it.”

“And how did you deal with it?” The Interviewer asked.

“By accepting our new daughter,” Samantha replied. “It doesn’t matter if she wears trousers or a skirt, she’s still our child, and we will love her regardless.”

“Though our life did get a lot less quiet from then on,” Peter confessed. “You’re hardly the first people to have asked us for interviews, normally we just turn you down without even considering the interview.”

“We only did this one as other parents would be here too,” Samantha clarified. “And because you didn’t ask the usual questions we get asked: ‘did you threaten to disown Stephanie’ and so forth.”

“But the story put out was that you HAD disowned Stephanie,” the interviewer reminded the older couple. “At least, when the band was first founded.”

“And that hurt us more than anything,” Samantha said. “Stephanie being ‘creative with the truth’. Believing that our love for her is conditional on her being a particular gender when it isn’t.”

“It was almost like she was scared of telling us,” Peter said with a frown. “No child should ever be scared of their parents.”

“Especially not someone who can sing on stage in front of twenty thousand people!” Samantha said. “Or appear on TV in front of millions. If she can do that, but can’t trust us with the truth… It says a lot.”

“In truth, we’d always wanted a girl,” Peter said. “We were in our late thirties when Stephanie was born and already had two rowdy boys.”

“Not that we’re saying that Stephanie is our favourite child,” Samantha said. “We love all three equally, even when they’re falling out.”

“Was there much falling out after Stephanie came out?” The interviewer asked. “In her blog and interviews she’s done, she talks about some initial friction with her brothers but doesn’t go into detail about it.”

“And neither will we,” Peter said firmly. “Stephanie chose to be a public figure, Tom and Danny didn’t and, as I hope we’ve already established, neither have we. We’re happy to answer questions about her but not our other children.”

“I understand,” the interviewer said.

“What’s most important is that Stephanie will never stop being our child,” Samantha said firmly. “And we will never stop loving her, no matter what some people might think.”

----------

“Your turn next, Andy?” Sean asked as Andy returned to the waiting area following his comfort break.

“Hopefully,” Andy sighed. “Really don’t feel comfortable being here.”

“You’re among friends, aren’t you?” Sean shrugged. “Okay, you’re probably the youngest person here, but you’re only a few years younger than me, and everyone else is-“

“That’s not why I’m uncomfortable,” Andy said, making Sean and Michelle frown and fidget in their seats.

“I see,” Michelle whispered. “Couldn’t Clare have come today instead?”

“She’s busy looking after Eddy,” Andy replied. “And she, umm… We think she might be pregnant again.”

“Oh- oh, really?” Michelle asked, a smile instantly spreading across her face.

“Oh, well done, mate!” Sean said with a grin as he shook Andy’s hand. “Know any details yet? Due date?”

“December, probably,” Andy replied. “Assuming it’s not, you know, a false alarm… After five kids, you know…”

“Can imagine,” Sean chuckled. “You and Clare never thought about having, you know, ‘permanent precautions’ done?”

“…No,” Andy said darkly. “Having one man in my family being neutered is enough.”

“What other man do you-“ Michelle said, before frowning as she realised who Andy was referring to. “Oh. You mean Ashley, right?”

“Yeah,” Andy replied, before cringing at the disapproving looks on his friends’ faces and the awkward silence that suddenly filled the room.

“…If you want to go home, I’m sure the interviewers would understand,” Michelle said, barely disguising the judgemental tone of her voice. “If talking about your child makes you feel uncomfortable.”

“I know if I had five, potentially six children, I’d never stop talking about them,” Sean said, before sighing. “We should get going now, I’ve got to be at work this afternoon. See you ‘round, Andy.”

“Yeah, bye,” Andy mumbled as he felt the sting of Sean’s words inside his chest.

Andy had always stated that he’d considered his children to be a blessing, and he’d always believed that he believed that, but doubt was quickly growing in his mind. When Ashley had been born, he’d been overjoyed to have a son, and when his next three children turned out to be girls, he thought he’d been as happy as he’d been with Ashley. However, when his fifth child was born, another boy, Andy had been ecstatic, and in hindsight, he had to admit to himself that he’d been happier than he’d been for any of his three daughters. Andy had initially thought that it was only natural for a father to be more enthusiastic about having a son than a daughter, but he was forced to face the possibility that that might not be the case- just as he was forced to face the possibility that he may not have treated Ashley as well as he should.

When Ashley had come out to her family, Andy had been heartbroken. He’d had countless plans for things he and Ashley would do as father and son- going to football matches together, teaching Ashley how to shave, teaching him how to drive, giving fatherly advice ahead of his first date- all of which had been cruelly snatched away. Andy would have to wait another twelve years before he could enjoy the father-son activities with his second son, which caused him to believe that Ashley was the most selfish person in the world. After spending the morning speaking with the other parents, and hearing about their unconditional pride in their children, he began to wonder whether or not he was the selfish one…

----------

“My name is Pauline Jones,” the elderly Welsh woman said into the tape recorder. “I’m retired, and I live in Cardiff along with my only grandchild Ian.”

“How long has Ian been living with you?” The interviewer asked.

“Just over eighteen months,” Pauline replied. “Ian was originally living with his parents in London, but came to live with me before starting college.”

“Because he’s transgendered?” The interviewer asked, causing Pauline to ponder for a second.

“…If you’re putting it simply, then yes,” Pauline answered. “Ian’s only realistic choices were to live at home with his parents, but live as a girl, or come to live with me and be able to live as a boy. He chose the second option.”

“Do you feel that was the best choice for Ian?” The interviewer asked.

“Yes, without any doubt,” Pauline replied. “Even if he had been allowed to transition he would not have had a good life if he had stayed with his parents.”

“What makes you say that?” The interviewer asked, diverting from her prepared questions at the unexpected information.

“Ian’s parents were not fit to raise children,” Pauline said candidly. “Ian’s father, if you can call him that, has less spine than a jellyfish, and his mother- my daughter- is an overbearing ‘stage mother’ who sees Ian more as a pension plan than as a child.”

“So Ian’s childhood wasn’t a happy one?” The interviewed probed. “Even before being forced to live life as the wrong gender?”

“That’s right,” Pauline replied. “I refuse to go into details but I will say that Ian was regularly depressed as a child.”

“But did you think when Ian was a child, that his depression was a result of gender identity issues?” The interviewer asked.

“…I will admit, that thought had not crossed my mind,” Pauline replied. “At first, I put it down to simply being a teenager, but in the months before Ian began to transition, there were an increasing number of clues.”

“Such as?” The interviewer asked.

“When Ian cut his hair short,” Pauline replied. “You could say it was just the action of a rebellious teenager, but most teenagers regret their actions like that. Ian seemed much happier the less feminine he was, so when he came to me and explained that he wanted to transition, it didn’t come as a total shock.”

"So what was your main feeling when Ian announced that he wanted to transition?" The interviewer asked.

"My main feeling was 'how am I going to support my grandchild through this?'," Pauline replied. "There was no sense in being offended by it, it was Ian's decision and I had to decide how I would support him through this, especially as it became clear that no one else was going to support him."

“How it feel to have to defend your grandson against your own daughter?” The interviewer asked.

“Honestly?” Pauline replied. “I felt ashamed. Not of my daughter, and certainly not of Ian, but of myself. I had thought that I had raised Angela to be more accepting, more tolerant. As it turned out, I had made her spoiled and entitled. She believed that she had the right to dictate to Ian how he should live his life. That is not how any parent should think.”

“How did it feel to suddenly have responsibility for a child again at your time of life?” The interviewer asked.

“…Well it’s not like Ian’s a baby,” Pauline replied. “He was sixteen when he came to live with me and was already a very independent young man. If anything, he helps me around the house.”

“Do you feel that Ian’s parents have abandoned their parental responsibility by refusing at accept Ian as he is?” The interviewer asked.

“Absolutely,” Pauline replied firmly. “A child is not a possession, not a pet to be trained to do tricks or to sit in a corner being quiet and looking pretty. They must be allowed to find their own way. Guiding is alright, but never forcing and especially never telling them that you love them less simply because they are gay or transgendered.”

----------

“Ah, wondered when you’d show up!” Peter said to his oldest son as he arrived with his fiancée and infant daughter.

“Yeah, sorry,” Tom chuckled. “You know how the traffic is. You been interviewed yet?”

“Just got out,” Samantha said as she scooped her granddaughter up in her arms and gave her a gentle cuddle. “Ahh… Been looking forward to this all week!”

“Hope you can spare a hug for the ‘other’ Stephanie?” Peter and Samantha’s daughter asked, giggling as she exchanged a hug with both of her parents (and a gentle cuddle with her niece).

“Steph!” Peter said with a grin. “What are you doing here? I thought you were recording today?”

“It helps to know the boss!” A loud, booming African voice announced as he walked through the door and made a beeline for Peter. “Joshua Benedict. I believe we have met before?”

“A couple of times, yes!” Peter chuckled as he shook the dark-skinned businessman’s hand. “Why are you here today?”

“To take you all to lunch, of course!” Joshua laughed. “I couldn’t not take the opportunity to celebrate such amazing men and women who have done so much for their children. Especially with Mothering Sunday this weekend! Speaking of which, where are Jamie’s parents?”

“Being interviewed now,” Samantha replied. “This is very generous of you, Mr. Benedict.”

“Please, call me Joshua!” The tall man replied with a booming laugh. “And it is the least I could do. Sometimes I feel you do not get enough credit! A lunch shall go some small way to rectifying that.”

“…I’m not going to say no to a free meal!” Peter replied with a chuckle. “Thank you for your offer, we accept.”

“Excellent!” Joshua laughed. “We shall wait for Jamie’s parents then we shall leave and eat. Is anyone due to be interviewed after Jamie’s parents?”

“I think Stuart’s parents are in there at the same time,” Peter replied. “And there’s one more after them, but I don’t think he’d be too interested in coming with us.”

----------

“I’m Mark Travis, this is my wife Susan,” Mark said as the interviewer’s recorder started. “I’m retired and we have one child, a daughter called Jamie, and one grandchild called Olivia.”

“I’m Raymond Milton,” Raymond said once his friend had stopped talking. “This is my wife Catherine, I’m also retired and we have three children, two girls named Emma and Rebecca and a boy named Stuart, and three grandchildren- one of whom is the same Olivia that Mark mentioned.”

“And, of course, Jamie and Stuart- Olivia’s parents- are both post-operative transsexuals,” Mark said with a tired chuckle. “Though I doubt there are many people in the UK who DON’T know that by this point.”

“Your children have also been transitioning for longer than anyone else we’ve spoken to today,” the interviewer said. “I believe that Jamie started transitioning aged 19, and is now 26, and Stuart started aged 16 and is now 27?”

“28,” Catherine corrected the interviewer. “It was his birthday last week.”

“And their daughter is one, right?” The interviewer asked, smirking as all four grandparents beamed proud smiles.

“They’re a great family,” Susan said with a smile.

“How did it feel to see your children become parents themselves?” The interviewer asked. “Specifically, how did it feel to see someone you raised as a son become a mother, and someone you raised as a daughter become a father?”

“No different than when our other grandchildren were born,” Raymond replied. “The only difference is that Olivia was adopted, but even that difference is trivial.”

“We’re concerned for them, of course,” Susan said. “Becoming a new parent is a big change, the biggest change- possibly even bigger than their, well, ‘other changes’. I think Jamie herself said the same thing once. But we’re confident that they’ll be the best possible parents for that little girl.”

“You have to understand that Stuart has been our son for twelve years now,” Catherine explained. “That’s almost half of his life. The notion that he’d be anything other than a father is the strange one to us.”

“It’s the same for Jamie,” Mark confirmed.

“That brings me onto my next question,” the interviewer said, “looking back on when your children first came out, how have your feelings changed regarding their transition?”

“…That’s a tricky one,” Mark said. “Six years is a long time, especially as we- umm…”

“We hadn’t had much contact with Jamie in the three years before she began transitioning,” Susan said in a quiet, almost ashamed voice.

“And we didn’t react as well as we could have at first,” Mark confessed. “But Jamie had always had a… A troubled childhood. We’d never really thought about having children, so when Jamie came along, we weren’t exactly prepared.”

“We actually get on better with ‘Jamie’ than we ever did with ‘James’,” Susan explained. “But the thing is, it’s got nothing really to do with the difference between ‘male’ and ‘female’ but rather the difference between ‘child’ and ‘adult’.”

“It was like we were meeting a whole new person,” Mark explained. “Especially after our, umm, estrangement… I tried to rationalise it at first that Jamie was different person than my son had been- not just effectively, but literally- but as I got to know Jamie again, I realised that she was a genuinely good person, and someone I’d be proud to call my child. The fact that she’d changed her gender was shocking at first- maybe even offensive when I was first confronted with it- but over time, that fact has grown less and less important. Nowadays it barely even registers.”

“We feel the same way about Stuart,” Catherine said. “Most of the time I find it hard to, for want of a better way of wording it, to reconcile the fact that our son is the same person we’d raised as our daughter for the first sixteen years of her life.”

“He’d always been a tomboy,” Raymond agreed. “But there’s a difference between ‘tomboy’ and ‘boy’. And it’s perfectly obvious that male is the gender he was always meant to be. Male is his ‘real’ gender as far as we’re concerned.”

“Sometimes when I remember Stuart’s childhood,” Catherine said, “I actually remember him as a little boy, rather than a girl.”

“…Sorry, think we might have ‘over-answered’ your question there,” Mark chuckled.

“On the contrary, the more detail, the better!” The interviewer giggled. “Was there a specific moment when things ‘switched’ in your brain, when their chosen genders became their ‘real’ ones?”

“Not really,” Raymond replied. “Like I said, Stuart was always a tomboy. His first coming out, on his sixteenth birthday, was abrupt, but it didn’t seem too, well, ‘jarring’.”

“Stuart still attended school as a girl, but as a girl wearing trousers instead of a skirt,” Catherine explained. “Then over summer, he changed his name, began taking the hormone replacement treatments…”

“I suppose maybe his first surgery,” Raymond said. “On his chest. That was the first real indicator, if anything. The first real indicator that it wasn’t just a phase he was going through but something he was 100% committed to.”

“With Jamie, it was different,” Mark said. “Because the last thing we knew was that we had a son, then when we were reconciled, she’d already been transitioning for months… Like I was said, it was like meeting a whole new person, a stranger, almost. But over time, we realised that this woman really was our child.”

“We’d been given a second chance,” Susan confirmed. “We weren’t going to waste it.”

“So many parents are willing to simply discard their children when they do something they don’t like,” Mark said in a cold voice. “We were among them. And it was the worst mistake we ever made.”

“We were lucky Jamie was willing to give us a second chance,” Susan said. “Some parents might not be so lucky.”

----------

“…How many people did you invite, Joshua?” Peter asked as he and most of the people who had been invited to the newspaper’s offices exited the lift to be greeted by a crowd of familiar faces.

“The more the merrier!” Joshua cheered, before making a beeline for where his wife was stood along with their adopted son, his wife and his infant daughter. “Hello Destiny, you beautiful birthday girl!” Joshua giggled happily as the baby girl grinned at the sight of her granddad- and the sound of his very uncharacteristically soft voice.

Everyone in the growing crowd cooed happily as Tom and Amanda brought their infant daughter toward Destiny, before sighing as the two baby girls waved at each other. The sighs became even more pronounced when Destiny and baby Stephanie were joined by another infant girl.

“Say hi to your friends, Olivia!” Jamie cooed, before giving the tiny girl a gentle kiss on the top of her head.

“Ahh, the cuteness is too much!” Becca squeaked, excitedly bouncing up and down as a fourth baby girl joined the group.

“Say hi, Maria!” Krystie giggled.

“She’s only six months old, give her some time!” Riley protested.

“Okay then,” Krystie said, “blow a raspberry at your uncle instead! And if you won’t, I will!” Everyone watching- including the six month old girl- giggled as Krystie followed through with her threat and blew a long, playful raspberry at her younger brother.

“Are mum and dad done up there yet?” Stuart asked as his wife passed the giggling Olivia to him.

“Should be soon,” Peter replied, before laughing as his granddaughter continued to wave at the other babies. “How long d’you reckon before everyone wants to interview them, then?”

“Not for another 17 ½ years, hopefully!” Krystie replied with a giggle. “Hopefully they’ll get the chance to actually be kids first.”

“Yeah, well two words,” Jamie retorted. “Laura. White. Sometimes I think that girl would move to Hollywood tomorrow if given the chance.”

“There is nothing wrong with ambition,” Joshua said softly. “As long as your goals are realistic and you do not hurt anyone meeting those goals.”

“...No argument here,” Jamie said with a chuckle. “Though I have a feeling I’ll have a hard time keeping my little one OUT of the limelight, hehe!”

“And rightly so!” Mark chuckled as he exited the lift, greeting his daughter with a hug, his son-in-law with a firm handshake and his granddaughter with a gentle kiss on her forehead. “Though I know her parents will always do what’s best for her. Because that’s what parents should do.”

“Are we all here, then?” Jonathan asked. “We’re gonna pack out that restaurant, heh!”

“There’s-“ Chris said, before shaking his head. “Never mind. Come on, I’m hungry!”

The crowd cheered as they exited the offices and got into their waiting cars, eager to head to the meal that had been generously provided for them. Meanwhile, several floors above them, one final interview was being conducted with a man who was growing tenser and tenser with every passing second.

“My name is Andrew Moore,” Andy said into the microphone. “I’m thirty-seven years old, I work as a part-time Uber driver and I have five children, three- four, umm, four girls and one boy, named Ashley, Bryony, Cassidy, Dorothy and Eddy.”

“Ashley is your oldest child, right?” The interviewer asked.

“Yep,” Andy replied. “He- she, umm, is also the transgendered one.”

“How did it make you feel when Ashley came out at such a young age?” The interviewer asked, grimacing as Andy’s face fell into a deep, angry frown.

“…I felt-“ Andy said, before taking a deep breath. “It was- it was difficult to accept. Ashley was my only son- my youngest isn’t even two yet, and Ashley’s fourteen, so to lose my only son like that…”

“Did you view it as a loss?” The interviewer asked.

“Absolutely,” Andy replied. “There were so many things I wanted to do with Ashley- as father and son, I mean, the same way me and my dad did when I was younger.”

“Were there any signs that Ashley might lean more toward being female, though?” The interviewer asked.

“No, none,” Andy replied, before sighing. “Well, I suppose there were a few, he- she only had female friends at school, was only interested in dance and performing arts and not sport, always seemed more sensitive…”

“But it still came as a surprise?” The interviewer asked.

“In hindsight, I guess it shouldn’t have,” Andy mumbled. “But- but things like this don’t just happen, you know?” Apart from to everyone else who’s been interviewed today, Andy was forced to admit to himself.

“How has it been different raising Ashley as a girl compared to raising her as a boy?” The interviewer asked.

“It-“ Andy replied, before pausing again as was forced to admit to himself that since Ashley’s coming out, he hadn’t been nearly as involved in actually raising her as he had been before she came out. “Umm… It’s very, very different.”

“Could you be more specific?” The interviewer asked.

“Umm… Not really,” Andy replied. “Sorry.”

“That’s okay,” the interviewer said softly. “I understand that Ashley was the victim of an assault shortly after she came out. How did that feel as a parent, knowing that your child was being bullied for something they couldn’t help?”

“Umm… Bad,” Andy replied, biting his lip as the final few words of the question resonated in his brain. ‘Something they couldn’t help’.

As much as Andy instinctively believed that Ashley’s transition was a personal attack at him, rationally he was forced to admit that no matter what, Ashley would still be transgendered. If he had raised Ashley alone, they would be transgendered. If his wife had raised her alone, the same would be true- and if Ashley had been raised by anyone else, the same would still be true. Some families would have been almost brutal in their treatment of Ashley if she’d been raised by them and had announced she wished to transition. Andy had heard horror stories of so-called ‘conversion therapy’ and had always consoled himself that he’d never been as extreme as those parents, but for the first time, he was beginning to question whether or not he was as bad as them, in his own way.

“You mentioned that you had four younger children,” the interviewer asked, sensing Andy’s discomfort. “How did you explain to them that their brother was going to be their sister, and how did they react?”

“…They were fine about it,” Andy said, mentally adding ‘better than I was’. “Bryony is very clever and mature for her age. Cassie- heh, Cassie doesn’t have a mean cell in her body. Dorothy and Eddy were too young to really know their brother…”

“And finally, do you have any advice for parents who suspect that their children might be transgendered?” The interviewer asked, visibly growing as uncomfortable as Andy and eager to wrap up the interview as fast as possible.

“I-“ Andy said, before pausing as he realised that he genuinely didn’t have any advice to give. “I, umm, I dunno. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay,” the interviewer whispered. “Thank you for coming today, Mr. Moore.”

“Thanks,” Andy mumbled, before standing up and leaving the room.

As Andy entered the small waiting area, he let out a heavy sigh when he found it completely deserted. Everyone else had left without saying goodbye to him, and he felt empty, like he had been ostracised… And within seconds, it struck him that it was almost certainly how Ashley felt every time she was sneered at my someone at school, or teased for something she couldn’t help- or treated badly by her own father…

Andy tried to console himself with the fact that Ashley had a group of friends, genuine friends who cared about her, but it just drove home the fact that while there were seven people who had unconditionally accepted Ashley, there were several more who hadn’t, and who in all likelihood, would never accept her. Andy was reminded of the time he’d told Ashley in no uncertain terms that he would never accept her as his daughter, and he suddenly felt nauseated. For there was no guarantee that Ashley would never disown him- and there was no such guarantee from any of his other children either, especially considering how close they all were to Ashley.

Raymond had told Andy that he was lucky to have five healthy, beautiful children, and he had been right. And it wasn't like Ashley hadn't been trying to reach out to Andy, either- moments such as the one at Disneyland Paris when Ashley had interacted with the Star Wars characters showed that Ashley and her sisters were willing to show an interest in Andy's interests, and again Andy was forced to concede that it was far more effort than he'd made on his part. However, Andy was determined that the damage was not irreparable. He took his phone out of his pocket and dialled his wife's number, smiling as the call was answered before the third ring.

"Hey you!" Clare said with a grin. "How was the interview?"

"Never mind that," Andy replied with a smirk. "How was the doctor's?"

"...It was positive," Clare replied, making Andy giggle excitedly. "Yeah, let's chuckle about another mouth to feed, then?"

"As long as that mouth has a smile on it at the end of the day," Andy replied, heading to the counter where he'd earlier left the photograph of his eldest child.

"You're in a good mood!" Clare chuckled. "The interview went well, then?"

"Total disaster," Andy replied. "You about to head out to pick the girls up?"

"Yeah, in about ten minutes," Clare replied.

"You put your feet up," Andy said. "I've got my car, I'll pick them up."

"Are you sure?" Clare asked.

"What?" Andy protested. "Why wouldn't I want to spend time with my daughters? All- all four of them?"

"...Okay then," Clare said, audibly sniffing back a tear of happiness. "See you when you get home."

"See you," Andy said, taking a deep breath before heading out to his car. He was determined not to let his relationship with his eldest child be ruined forever. He just hoped that his determination would survive seeing Ashley slide onto the passenger seat of his car while wearing her short school skirt…



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