This is an interview I have been working on for several months and is very special to me for obvious reasons. I initially came up with the idea of interviewing my oldest son J because he’s had the unique perspective of knowing me before my transition as his dad, and after transitioning as I became Rebecca, and also because he knows about my career in the Adult Entertainment Industry as Becca Benz. As the interview progressed and we talked about our lives and shared experiences we discovered that it allowed us to see things in a different perspective, and it ended up being a really enlightening experience for both of us and something we really enjoyed.
J and I have been through some very difficult times together that severely tested our relationship. At one point I made the decision that he was no longer welcome to live at home because his behavior was too disruptive for our family. Another time his brother and I sat handcuffed for over six hours while various law enforcement agencies searched our house because of him. Yet we survived and are closer because of it. He and I talk almost every day and he is the one I reach out to when I need someone to talk with or need an opinion on something, and I am the one he calls when he needs to talk or vent. He can get me to talk when I don’t feel like it, and no one makes me laugh like he does. We have a special bond because not only is he my son, he’s also my friend and one of the people I trust most and respect.
There have been numerous transgender themed articles written about parent-child relationships, but it’s usually the child who is transgender, not the parent, so this column is distinctive in that respect. But what really makes this interview unique is that I suspect there have been very few, if any, interviews of a son whose father is now a transgender woman working in adult entertainment industry.
J is 26 years old and lives in the mid-west working as a sub-contractor in the construction industry.
How would you describe me when I lived as a male?
This question brings a flood of memories to mind, but it seems like another lifetime ago. When I think of you before your transition I think of a man who did typical “manly” things. You enjoyed playing and watching sports, and you were great at coaching me and my brother. I always enjoyed hearing you talk about all the cool jobs you held over the years that seemed so much cooler than the jobs my friend’s dads had; and for some reason they all thought you were in law enforcement. The demolition work you did and your love of woodworking played a huge role in the career path I have chosen.
I also remember you were very reserved and kept to yourself; you never went out for a beer with the guys or did social things like that. It seemed like you were never really comfortable in social settings. You also didn’t smile very much and seemed unhappy, like there was some underlying issue that you were struggling with. But you were very family oriented which in many ways made it easier for me to adjust to your transition since we were so close as a family.
For the first 20 years of your life you knew me as dad. Did you ever suspect that I was transgender?
I noticed you started growing your hair out when I was 16 or so and I remember you getting your ears pierced a few years before that, but I never looked at those things individually as signs that you were transgender.
How would you describe me as a parent, both pre- and post-transition?
Supportive. Very supportive of any and every off the wall scheme I can come up with, and there are many. We are a small family but we are very close with one another even when we haven’t seen each other in a long time. We have had many things that we have had to deal with from very early on, things that they don’t tell you how to handle in a book. You have not only managed to raise us to be respectable young men, you did all that while trying to figure out what was going on inside of you. That is something that makes me proud to call you my dad. I have been a handful, even at 26 years old and I know I can call you and vent over something stupid, or bounce an idea off you and you will always be there to listen and never judged me for it. You have been a great parent, better than most get the privilege to have.
How did you perceive trans people before I came out?
I had limited knowledge and experience with trans people so I didn’t really have an opinion one way or another, along with the LGBT community as a whole. If you hadn’t come out I wouldn’t be as passionate as I am now about the treatment of LGBT community and about people in general. It’s made me a lot more open minded.
Coming out to you and your brother in May of 2010 was a huge step for me. Even though we’ve always been close as a family and I knew there was nothing that would ever make you stop loving me, I was still scared. I wrote letters to you and your brother because knew I would be really nervous and have a difficult time focusing. I had you over for dinner, and after we ate we went into the living room where I assured you it wasn’t an illness or anything bad, and then I gave you each the letters. What were your thoughts as I handed you the letter?
It’s almost like the tone of the meeting was very somber, which made me nervous. Our family had a history of not-so-fun discussions after dinner and I knew the signs by that point. I was slightly relieved when you said it wasn’t an illness or anything like that, but that left me very confused about what it was actually about. And that was not a fun thought given how crazy our family is!
What was your reaction after you had read enough to realize what I was telling you?
I was thinking “that’s it?” I felt relief, that this wasn’t a problem, just something new to adjust to. This was going to be a big change in our lives and I was thinking about how we could make the transition for you as easy as possible and what I could do to help.
It was agonizing for me while you and your brother were reading the letters, praying you would accept me for who I was. You and I were sitting next to each other on the couch and you reached over and held my hand, which brought out a flood of emotions and lots of tears. Even after all these years it still brings tears to my eyes. That simple gesture meant more to me than you’ll ever know and made me realize that things were going to be okay. What prompted you to reach over and take my hand?
I don’t know the specific thoughts going through my head, there were many, but I do know that it never crossed my mind to be anything other than supportive and as helpful as I could be throughout this process. As you said earlier I have put you and my brother through some shit and made some interesting choices in life and you never left me standing alone, and I never worried that I didn’t have your love or support. That’s why I have strength and support tattooed on my chest, these are things you taught us growing up and it wasn’t going to change just because you are a transgender woman.
The whole coming out thing was almost anti-climactic after I’d stressed about it for so long. I felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders. But mostly I felt thankful that we have such a strong relationship and that I didn’t lose you or your brother. After you went home and had time to think about it, what were your thoughts?
I wanted to know as much as I could about being transgender and transitioning. I knew next to nothing about it so I spent that night reading all the packets of information you gave to us, which was very helpful for anyone wanting to come out to family who may not know much about trans people. I talked with my girlfriend and she also had a lot questions about it, even more than I did.
After I came out you were very protective of me, to the point where you would not hesitate to confront someone if they were rude or disrespectful to me. Was it difficult for you to witness the way trans people get treated?
Very much so. I am not religious and I’m a firm believer that this is my one shot at life, so I want it to be the best it can be. I think everyone deserves that opportunity and I get very angry when I see people treat others like they are less than human.
I really had no idea how trans people were treated and the discrimination they faced. I’m very protective of my family and I don’t hesitate to get in someone’s face if they’re not being respectful to me or my family, like correcting someone if they called you sir. I remember the time we were at the grocery store when you first started your transition and there was some guy openly staring at you with a look of disgust, so I went over and asked him he’s ever seen a trans woman before and told him he better be more respectful and to stop staring. I have no patience for rude people like that, especially when it concerns my family.
Can you tell us how your view of trans people has evolved over the past six years?
I have a deeper understanding of what it means to be transgender. I get to see from the inside the struggles of being a transgender woman in today’s society, and that has made me much more open and understanding of others facing similar treatment from people. I have also gotten a chance to see the things that you don’t necessarily see yourself; I get to see you learning who you truly are in life for the first time. Not many kids get to see their parents find themselves, it’s a cool thing to see.
Were you uncomfortable about your friends knowing I was trans, and did you try to make sure they didn’t find out? Has it ever caused an issue between you and your friends?
At first I was a little uncomfortable, but I’m not sure why. I never went out of my way to hide it. It would sometimes come up over time and now most of the people I am close with know about it. It has never been an issue that anyone has made me aware of. If my friends have questions I see it as an opportunity to help them understand about trans issues, so I always answer questions. I haven’t had any negative experience with any of my friends, it’s been very positive and enlightening. I just tell people this is my dad who is trans and if you don’t like it, fuck you.
I avoid telling the people I work with because they can sometimes be kind of close-minded, so it’s easier to just not talk about it or elaborate if it does come up. Which is sad that I feel that way.
Because we have always been close and talk so often, you knew all about my struggles with depression in the years following the loss of my job at the university. What was it like for you seeing me so depressed and struggling so much?
It was hard. You were the one who helped me when it was difficult for me to deal with mom’s mental health issues, so when things got hard for you I didn’t feel like it would be fair to put my stresses on you, so I ended up getting more reclusive for short periods of time, something I still do. It also motivated me to press harder for success any way I could. You had just gotten to start out as your true self and I didn’t want you to not be able to enjoy it. I wanted you to know that if you couldn’t get a job because of it I could cover you. I hated that you had to deal with depression at the same time you were starting out as Rebecca and trying figure out who Rebecca was. That was the worst part for me.
Given how badly I struggled in the years following my transition, did you ever wish I hadn’t transitioned?
Never once. I feel like you struggled and got depressed because you couldn’t find a job. That was made difficult by the fact that you are trans, and that’s a problem with the businesses hiring people and society, not you.
You and your brother were the reason I kept going when I felt hopeless and wanted to end my life. Did you ever fear I would give up and attempt to kill myself?
I had moments when I wasn’t sure what you would do; I saw how bad things got but I also knew how it had been hard before and we have always pulled through. But I could understand why you would think that was an option and the only way out. And I also figured that you wouldn’t kill yourself after having seen how mom’s struggle with her depression affected me and my brother.
My mom recently made the comment that she occasionally misses the male me, which I completely understand because in some ways she lost her son. Do you ever miss having me as your dad, the way I used to be, before I transitioned?
Sometimes, but in all honesty I feel selfish when I do and I feel like my relationship with you now is stronger than it was when you were male. You transitioning has been something we have connected over and it helped give me a better understanding of the male you were before. As George you were a strange individual and no one knew why. There was nothing to explain it until you came out and then everything made sense.
When you transitioned to Rebecca I had to relearn who you were, and that gave us a good foundation to build on after some difficult times. It was a new start. I don’t see it as you being gone; you’re not really gone, just different. So no, I don’t think I miss him.
At the beginning I was a little worried because mom has her issues and needs us to parent her, which I’m fine with doing. But I was concerned about having two completely insane parents. I didn’t want to lose the one stable parent I had.
So no, there has never been a time that I wished you hadn’t transitioned.
You still call me dad, which probably seems odd to most people. I’m fine with it because in my mind I will always be your dad, regardless of what gender I am. But can you talk about why you still call me dad? Was it just being uncomfortable with using my female name, or is there more to it?
Part of it started out being a little uncomfortable calling you anything other than dad, because you were always dad to me. But more than that, I have a mom and I have a dad, and when I think of my mom she pops into my head. When I hear the word dad I think of you. And calling you dad never seemed like it bothered you. If it had I absolutely would have called you Rebecca. This is the thing I get asked about the most by people when they first learn about you.
And basically, I can call you whatever the fuck I want and if anyone has a problem with it then oh well.
Another part of it was that being able to call you dad was the one thing that was consistent and I wanted to hold onto that. It was like still being able to hold onto a piece of my dad. Dads are a very important part of a boy’s life and I didn’t want to lose that.
You raised us and I know you better. The connection with mom was distant because it was mostly through phone calls and letters; the connection we had was close because you were there with us every day. It would have been easier to call mom dad if she was the one who transitioned, but calling you mom just didn’t seem right. I have a shit ton of many memories of us with you as my dad. Calling you mom would have meant all those memories were associated with a whole different person. Like thinking of memories of someone who passed. Calling you dad was the string holding the two people together and I don’t want to lose that, it was a way to keep the two parts of you together.
And I’ve always thought it was disrespectful for kids to call parents by the first name, and I never would have called you George, you were just dad.
You were the first person in our family I told about my porn career. I made the decision to tell you about it early on because I needed your support and to be able to talk with you about it, and I knew you would be okay with it because you trusted my judgment. But it still must have been a shock to you when I told you. Prior to that revelation from me, what was your perception of the adult entertainment industry?
It was definitely a shock. I told you for years and years to think outside the box, and when you did you went way outside the box, much further than I expected! I hadn’t thought much about the porn industry other than the occasional conversations with friends about how that would be the best job ever.
I’m not judgmental, especially since I’ve made some interesting career choices, and any job is better than no job. I was surprised, but happy you had work. You’re an adult and are capable of making your own decisions and I trust you. You seemed excited so I was happy
I have friends who know you’re in the porn industry but they don’t know who you are exactly or what you do. It doesn’t come up too often since it’s kind of awkward conversation for them to talk to me about. And some know you have an adult themed blog, but not like it’s something they’ll ever read.
If someone asked me if that was your dad, I’d just say why yes it is and it’s none of your fucking concern.
Has your understanding of the porn industry changed since we’ve talked so much about it?
Absolutely. I have a deeper understanding of how business-like it really is. It’s an interesting industry for sure.
This is another one of those times where my prior work history and your acceptance of it doesn’t really allow me to be upset or embarrassed about it. A job is a job and I’m very proud of the fact that you have finally started to use what I have tried to show you for years and made it work for you.
It’s easy to slam people who do porn and to be judgmental, but the industry is driven by demand and a lot of the people who are doing the judging are the same people who fuel the industry.
Now I look at people as just regular people and not just as pornstars. It’s much easier to see them and realize they are also parents, someone’s kids, brothers and sisters, instead of just thinking of them as objects. People are people.
I look at you and how empowering it has been for you to feel good about your body and your sexuality. Too often people get beaten down because of who they are, and porn is a way to take the power back. And look at all the doors it has opened for you; you have your own column and blog, and you’re doing something you like. It’s cool to see how quickly things blossomed from you working in porn industry.
What is the major difference you see in me now compared to when I was living as a male?
You are a million times more social than I remember you being. You go do things and have a group of friends as well as a handful of what seem like really good close friends.
It’s also empowered you in the workforce. You have the confidence in your ability to land a job and now you try for more out of the box type jobs. You have so much more confidence now in all aspects of life. You’re still not on my level, but you’re getting there! Haha
It’s like once you transitioned it took you a while to get comfortable in your own skin, and it got worse before it got better. We had many, many talks about your voice and not worrying about what others think. I know you still have some issues with your voice from time to time but it doesn’t come up near as often now.
You’re also more open to listening to my opinion. You used to tell me all the time “I know more because I’ve lived longer” which drove me fucking nuts, but you don’t do that nearly as often now. It’s cool that it’s a two way street and you take my advice and listen, and seeing you change into who you’re becoming.
We can both relate to finding ourselves and becoming someone different. Because of Drug Court I couldn’t be “J the drug dealer” so I had to figure out how to be someone different and how to make it work. We had lots and lots of conversations about figuring out who we were.
Lots of these little things have bonded us closer together. I don’t think we’d be as close if you weren’t trans. You and my brother had so many common interests and were always doing things together, but we just butted heads. Things got better after you transitioned and it made us much closer. No one should transition alone; it’s a huge life changing thing that will make or break a relationship. You have two sons and you’ve had to experience both ends of the spectrum on that.
What is something you think people would be surprised to know about me?
The wide variety of jobs you have had over the years. Talking to people about your job history is like me talking about my criminal history; people find that very intriguing. Always a good story!
And how much more your sense of humor shines through now. Back then people just thought of you as that quiet guy and didn’t expect the sense of humor.
Given my life now and how much different I look, is it odd for you when you look at family photos that show me as a male?
I have a couple of pictures right here of when I was a baby, and one of me with you and mom. It is weird, but not in a bad way. It is strange to think that the same person in the picture is the same person you are now, that two totally separate people are the same person.
I store most of the photos at my house but I never look at them. It has nothing to do with it being weird that you aren’t the same person pictured in them and everything to do with the fact that I’m not the same person. Like I said earlier I’ve lived two lifetimes already I feel like and I’m too excited to see what the future holds to dwell in the past.
Thank you for agreeing to do this interview and for being so open and honest with your answers. I always love taking with you and this gave us a chance to talk more in depth about my transitioning and things we hadn’t really touched on too often. It was interesting to hear your perspective and I learned a lot more about you, and about myself. It made me think a lot about myself and you and about our relationship. I think our discussion about why you still call me dad helped us both to understand that a lot better than we had before. I was deeply moved by many of the things you said and I love you even more.
Thanks, I’m really glad we did this interview too, because talking about all these questions made me think about a lot about myself and why I’ve handled things the way I have. Not just about you being trans but about everything. But I’m still stuck on the dad thing so I have to give that more thought.
These are really good questions and I can’t wait to see the responses from people who read it. I’m curious what else they want to know, and I’ve love to do another interview.