‘I’m the girl with the ladydad’

Posted on 18 February 2012

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What happens when your dad becomes a woman? Mainly, Natasha Ozimek tells Maureen Paton, you end up disapproving of his makeup and clothes

Maureen Paton
The Guardian, Saturday 18 February 2012

Jane Fae (formerly John) and Tash: ‘He’s still Dad, just with a different outer layer.’ Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

Natasha Ozimek was 16, and two days away from sitting her physics AS-level, when her father John told her he was planning to change sex; a process known as transitioning. “It was awful when I found out. My throat was doing a wobbly and then I just burst into tears. Dad was trying to hug me and I was having none of it. I think I blanked out in shock a little bit, and spent that night in the conservatory in my pyjamas until four in the morning, just crying,” recalls Natasha, now 18. “It’s the last thing you expect your dad to do – the one male figure in your life.”

Gradually, people in their small town of Deeping St James, Lincolnshire, got to hear the news. “I didn’t talk to any of my friends at school for about three weeks,” says Tash, as she is known. “Then my best friend, Nina, came up to me and said she knew. Dad had contacted her mum to say, ‘I think Tash is having a bit of a hard time because of this …’ And then Nina and I told other people together. It was a bit like us against the world; we weren’t going to be ashamed or frightened.

“A few of the ‘laddie’ lads at school were joking, until I went off at them a bit and said, ‘It’s not my decision, it’s my dad’s decision. Don’t be judging me with that.’ This boy I liked a lot stopped talking to me for about two weeks, but mostly people were saying that me and Dad were so brave; I even got a hug off one of my teachers. Yet I was thinking, ‘Dad’s really brave, I’ve just had it inflicted.’ There was nothing I could do about it, even if I didn’t want it to happen.”


At the time, Tash was living at home with her dad, his partner Andrea and her 16-year-old daughter Megan, and John and Andrea’s five-year-old son Rafe. “Dad and I didn’t talk for a while after he told me; I would stay over a lot with friends,” says Tash. “The family situation was not great anyway: it was a bit of a crowded house, with two teenage daughters, a little boy, someone transitioning and a stepmum. It was all going a bit crazy. But as soon as I got over the shock, I wasn’t against it – I’ve never been against it. Although sometimes it still shocks me – I’m the girl with the ladydad.”

As for the exams, Tash could not concentrate and flunked them. She left school for college, to do an art and design course, which she likes much better than the academic subjects she had pursued mainly to please her Oxford-educated father, an IT consultant and journalist. “I’m happy that it’s happened because I’ve grown up a lot emotionally,” she says. “If I had got all my grades and this hadn’t happened, I would probably be at uni doing something I didn’t want to do.”

Most importantly, says Tash, her father, now known as Jane Fae, is much happier following his sex change. “I’ve always loved Dad unconditionally, but I like him more now. He’s so much more confident and nicer to be around, so I enjoy his company more,” admits Tash, who lives in a flat nearby, popping back to stay at the family home from time to time. “Before the change, he wasn’t interested in life or what he was doing because he was obviously in the wrong body. He was like a mole, all hunched up, quiet, and in the dark, going to the office and coming back for dinner and not talking. We used to go swimming together when I was a child, but otherwise he always seemed to be working and didn’t have any friends. Now he smiles a lot, he goes to Zumba and yoga and has lots of female friends.”

Now legally recognised as a medical condition, gender dysmorphia (also known as dysphoria) is a deep discomfort with the gender you were born with. According to consultant surgeon Philip Thomas, of the Nuffield hospital, Brighton, and Charing Cross hospital, London, the condition can lead to severe depression, which can in turn make some people suicidal.

Last July, Jane had gender-reassignment surgery to remove her male organs. Hormone therapy with oestrogen followed to feminise her body. “I used to get so riled up when I saw someone giving Dad a look in the supermarket because he was wearing a skirt, when he was still a man. It was more embarrassing when he was half and half. But now he looks normal in women’s clothes,” says Tash of her 6ft 3in father. “Well, tall and normal,” she adds with a wry smile.

When I meet Tash and Jane in a hotel near their home, a nearby group of businesswomen don’t even give Jane a second glance when she enters the lounge. A rangy figure in velveteen leggings and long boots, the 54-year-old has a floral scarf round her neck, and wears pink eyeshadow with matching nail polish. The thinning hair she had as a man is now much longer and thicker, and she already has breasts. “I’m hoping to go up a further cup size with hormone treatment as well as acquiring hips,” she says.

Tash thinks Jane overdoes the eyeshadow; but her objections are aesthetic rather than gender-censorious. In that, she is just like any teenager embarrassed by what she sees as an OTT middle-aged parent. (And although Andrea has fully accepted her partner’s situation, like Tash, she thinks Jane overdoes the makeup.)

“I get on very well with Dad, pretty much,” continues Tash, “though sometimes his endless conversations about clothes drive me up the wall. But I try to be tolerant. For me, it’s not a novelty any more, but it’s all new and exciting to Dad, so I’ve got to be nice.”

“And I’m sure he said the same to me when I was younger, experimenting with makeup and clothes and going to school dressed like an idiot. He’s still Dad, just with a different outer layer.”

Jane, who has a longstanding heart condition, lost four and a half stone to ensure she was a healthy weight before her operation. That has allowed her to create a new look that has eased her gender transition in a tangible way. As Tash says: “She has a different face now, so it’s easier to separate the two identities.”

Only the pronoun problem, it seems, is still proving tricky. “Dad likes to be known as ‘she’, but it’s hard to break the habit: it was 16 years of ‘he’ and now suddenly it’s ‘she’,” says Tash.

Does Jane’s sex-change mean that she is now attracted to men? “No, I’m a lesbian now,” she says. “I was diagnosed in 2009 with gender dysphoria that had been repressed. Although I was always sexually attracted to women, I was never particularly happy with all that penetrative stuff. There was a little bit of cross-dressing in my teens, but it was more around wanting to change my shape. I always hated the camp sort of transvestite drag thing,” she says.

“I did have a serious concern about telling Tash, and I probably did derail her first AS-level because it was a large chunk of trauma for her. But there was never going to be a right time, because with every month passing I was almost daily being driven bonkers by this issue. I was getting older and everything was getting more difficult, so it had to be let out – otherwise I thought I would detest myself and hate everyone around me. But I’m proud of the way Tash has adapted and adjusted – even if she did get me a Father’s Day card,” she says. Rafe, now seven, is going to buy her a Mother’s Day card instead, she thinks: “Because he says I’m a girl. And Dad is a role as opposed to a gender.”

Jane’s sex-change seems to have subtly changed the family dynamic between father and daughter. Tash now seems the protective one, loyally advising on Dad’s fashion disasters and other challenges, as Jane explores the new world of womanhood. “It feels like I’m talking like a parent,” Tash says.

It has been a big emotional arc to follow in one’s teenage years. Tash has been forced to grow up more quickly than many of her contemporaries, but she has found that Jane’s journey has been therapeutic for her as well. As she says: “It makes you feel a bit safer when you know someone’s happy.”

It is also clear that she is now repaying her father for having been a good parent. She says poignantly: “He’s still the person who looked after me when I was little and poorly.”

Jane and her former wife Miranda, Tash’s mother, split up when Tash was two. For seven years they lived near to one another, sharing the childcare between them, but when Tash was nine her father moved more than 100 miles away to Lincolnshire, with his new partner, Andrea. Tash went to live with them.

“I love Mum to bits, but we’re too similar, and on the fourth day together we want a break from each other,” Tash says, rolling her eyes. “When I told my mum about Dad’s transitioning, I had to work up the courage because she’s quite a fiery lady. At first she felt a bit betrayed, I think, but settled down and said, ‘I’m really happy that John is happy now.’

“He must have been so unhappy as a man,” says Tash. “He writes a blog now, under his new name, and I read it a bit. Sometimes I find it interesting, but – and I know it sounds awful – I’m not into the politics of it all, so I don’t make a big deal of it. I just think, my dad has changed.” She smiles and shrugs philosophically. “It’s just one of those things that’s happened.”

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2012/feb/18/gender-dysmorphia-daughter-dad-woman