My Beautiful Father

My Beautiful Father

A coming-out is kind of like a reverse surprise party: the invitation is an ambush, and once you receive it, you’re at the party. I sat at the same table that I once spilled baby food on, the same one where I used to doodle dinosaurs on my math homework two decades ago, and I waited for my parents to react to the longer hair that barely tickled my earlobes, the eyeliner and mascara I had applied with a shaky hand, the dress that might look so strange to them on my body.

I wasn’t nervous about my mother, who was a soft touch. When I was a teenager, I was able to get her on board with my rampant weed smoking because I insisted it made me happy. But my father was a different story: for my whole life, he’s been very invested in the idea that he and I were locked in the quintessential masculine competition between father and son, that the son’s drive to defeat the father is what propelled him to grow into a man, and the father’s desire to stave off the son kept him from growing old and weak.

First he taught me chess, and then read a hundred chess books so I would never defeat him unless I grasped the full nuances of the Trompowsky opening. He practiced putting for an hour a day so, at the mini golf course, he could bounce the ball off a rock across the lazy river and into the hole while I was banging mine into the windmill’s blade over and over again. One evening, I remember watching him jump onto the top of a two-foot high box and wondering what my silly father was doing, only to find out the next day when he dunked on me during a game of one-on-one basketball. When it was my turn to shoot, he blocked everything hard enough that the smack of the ball echoed in our little concrete driveway, and told me to “get that weak shit out of here.” I was seven.

It didn’t stop when I got older. In high school, he would make deals with the teachers for copies of the tests I took, so he could get better grades than me. When I ran track, he timed all my races on a stopwatch and, once the sunset reduced the white lines on the track to a dull brown and the bleachers were cleared, he’d run all the same races as me, at least a second faster every time. He was beloved among my group of friends because he bought them booze and weed to show them how much cooler than me he was, and the only reason he didn’t go to my prom with a more beautiful date than mine is that my mom would have divorced him over it.

So I was concerned how he’d react to me telling him that he doesn’t have a son at all, but a daughter. The silence eventually broke, by way of a few noncommittal noises out of my mother, and then my father slammed his fists on the table, and stormed out of the room. I waited a couple hours, at my mother’s reassurance, but he outlasted my patience– a victory of emotional endurance– and I went home.


For six months, any time I reached out I got either silence, or my mother’s mournful insistence that my father “wasn’t ready yet.” That strange insistence parents have on grieving a child that still sits right in front of them. A year later, when I finally received word that my father was ready to see me, I sat at that same dining room table, picking at a piece of toast my mother offered me and enjoying our usual, silent rapport when my dad walked in. The beard that used to hide his face–grown when my first scraggly mustache hairs emerged– was gone. His close-cut black hair was replaced by flowing locks that glowed in the soft yellow light. A low cut dress hugged his body, and showed off more cleavage than I’d managed to get in a year on hormones.

“What do you think?” My father’s voice was still deep, but the resonance had changed, and now it sounded like she was a woman who’d earned a husky voice from a pack of cigarettes every day. My father opened her arms and invited me in for a hug. I was so confused, yet so happy. I hugged her tight as I could, and she whispered in my ear, “I will always win.”

In the aftermath, I slapped her in the face, and she threw a glass of water in mine. Another victory for her: a more feminine form of aggression. It would’ve been easy to just cut her out of my life after that, but it felt strange to do it when she was, if anything, being too supportive. More than that, I was sick of these games. My father was just competing, but I was actually trans, and I was going to put and end to it all.

The next few years were hard. I had a cashier call me ma’am, my father got one to ask her on a date. I posted a picture of a cute eyeliner wing, my father started a makeup blog and got a sponsorship deal with NYX. I got a few transphobes in my mentions on twitter, my father gets gang-stalked in real life by a whole crew of them. No matter what skills I picked up, or what milestones I reached, she was always, always a step ahead of me.

But I wasn’t going to give up. I plucked my eyebrows into a perfect arch, I figured out how to make my hair lustrous without it getting greasy, my breasts… well, my cups didn’t runneth over, but I did fine. Surgeons did their work on me, and as the years went by I became more and more the woman I had imagined when I took that first pill. Then I got a boyfriend, and after that every time I got on Instagram, I flinched, I winced, I covered my eyes and peeked at the app through my fingers to brace myself for whatever male model or billionaire she’d attach herself to. But the other shoe never dropped.

And then I remembered prom. I realized this was my chance: my father couldn’t get a boyfriend without destroying her marriage. So I dumped my boyfriend for a much more handsome man and then I invited my father to a bar in the city to meet him. My father said she was sitting in a booth in the back but when I got there, I couldn’t even see the back. The bar was packed with early twenties heavy drinkers and played silent black and white movie clips on the walls. The crowd was so dense that my boyfriend had to clear a path for us, so he saw my father before I did, and stopped dead in his tracks. He was sweating, and stammering a little. Peeking out from behind his muscular frame, I set eyes on my father in person for the first time since that afternoon in the kitchen.

She looked like a fucking fertility goddess. Her hair stretched down the middle of her back, lively as a jungle, and her plump body– with curve upon curve upon curve– was so soft that I could have fallen asleep in her embrace. She greeted my date, who almost collapsed when she hugged him, and while the two of them exchanged pleasantries, his eyes travelled all over her, up until my father asked, “Are you taking care of her?”

“Dad, come on.”

My boyfriend waved me off and said, “No, it’s alright. I try, but your daughter is so self-sufficient. You did an incredible job raising her.”

“Oh, that was her mother, I’m sure. Stay vigilant, look out for her. Remember, that’s your job.” My father said this with a sultriness in her eyes, as if she was wondering if she could, in another life, acquire him. But still, he was mine, and I smiled as wide as my face could stand for the entire conversation. Maybe I was smug, but I didn’t care. This was supposed to be my victory, and after some small talk, I asked my date go get the car to give us some time alone.

“This is it, dad. Did you see him? How handsome he is? Admit it. I finally won.”

“These competitions…” She looked past me, wistfully up in the air as if that’s where memory lived. “Is this the way a mother and daughter should treat each other? I’m so proud of you, you’ve created such a wonderful life for yourself, and you’ve become such an incredible young woman.”

She pulled me in for a hug, and with my face pressed into her soft shoulder, I started to cry. She was my mother and I was her daughter, and the grip of the past on the future had finally loosened. After all this time, she’d laid down that last remnant of manhood that had tormented us both for so long. I was so happy, so relieved, that I didn’t feel her lean down, didn’t notice her face curling up into a grin, noticed nothing, nothing, nothing that would have prepared me for when she whispered into my ear.


About the Author

Two years ago, June Martin declared herself the world's greatest writer and, since then, no one has attempted to challenge her for the title. Her short fiction has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Blood Knife, and New Session. Follow her work at


Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash