Transitioning with 'Dad': transgender in northern Michigan
This is a story about love and family.
Trisha Shattuck is transgender. Her spouse, Marcia, chose to stay with her as Trisha transitioned from a masculine to more feminine presentation. But the transition was a challenge for Trisha’s family. Their story is captured in a recent documentary, "From This Day Forward," the making of which helped the family talk more openly with each other.
When Trisha was young, she was called Michael and wore boys' clothes.
"I think I was just a little crew cut, freckle-face, skinny kid," Trisha says. As she grew up, she began wearing women’s clothes in private. She didn’t tell anyone.
Then in her 20’s - still going by Michael and dressed like a man - Trisha met her future spouse, Marcia. On their second date, Trisha said to Marcia, "I have something I need to tell you."
“I asked her to wait for me as I went back and put on my girl stuff," says Trisha. "And I came out, and she didn’t jump up and head to the door."
Marcia was the first person Trisha came out to.
"I thought it was a little bit weird," says Marcia, "but I also thought she was really nice and a really good person. So I thought well, ‘Ok, I guess I’ll see what happens with this.’ Because I really thought it was like maybe a little hobby or something you did on the side. I didn’t really have a clue."
Trisha and Marcia fell in love and got married. They had two daughters, Sharon and Laura.
There’s this picture of Trisha and Marcia around that time. They’re both smiling. Happy. Trisha with a bushy beard and long, hippy hair.
But shortly after that time, Trisha got so low, suicidal even, and it became imperative she come out. Trisha changed her body, and she changed her clothes. She and Marcia moved to northern Michigan.
It was all a big adjustment for Marcia. She’s attracted to men. She married a man, and now she was walking down the street holding a transgender woman’s hand.
"It was really hard," Marcia says. "I was very distressed by it. I felt, I guess, embarrassed by it on the one hand because of this public change, and also I felt guilty because there was a part of me that just wanted to stuff Trish back in the closet and not let her be who she wanted to be."
Marcia says sometimes she was angry. She wasn’t always kind to Trisha. She has regrets about this, but she also just didn’t know any better.
"And I felt a lot of times just really sad," says Marcia, "because there’s a sense of loss in a way where you feel like you’re losing a person that you knew. I mean they’re still there, but you feel like you’re losing who they were and what your relationship at that time was. And it just becomes, 'can you still appreciate them as a human being and as a caring person?' Is that possible to do?”
For Trisha and Marcia, it was possible. They talked about divorce, but neither of them wanted to go through with it. They stayed together.
Learning to adapt
As her daughters were growing up and figuring out who they were, Trisha was also figuring out who she was.
Trisha's daughters say Trisha was wearing a lot of transparent blouses and short tennis skirts around their hometown in northern Michigan. It was freeing; it made her happy. But seeing their father dressed in women’s clothes made Trisha’s daughters embarrassed. Trisha’s daughter, Sharon, worked at a local outfitter store in high school.
"Sometimes Trisha would come into the store," Sharon says, "and I would tell my boss that Trisha was my aunt. And my boss totally knew that Trisha was my dad. But for some reason I thought I was slipping one over and nobody knew."
It was around that time in 1998, that Trisha legally changed her name. She’s an oil painter, and she marked the date with a painting. She called it, “Into the Stubble Before the Storm.”
Making the documentary
Now, almost two decades later, things are a lot easier. The family is talking about things more and working out some remaining confusion. This is partially because of the recent documentary about the family, made by daughter Sharon.
In the documentary, Sharon asks Trisha, "Would you just prefer me to go all the way and say ... she and not Dad?"
"I told you girls years ago that Dad was always ok," Trisha responds. "Dad doesn't really bother me, but I'd prefer feminine pronouns because that gives me the opportunity to get off the fence."
There’s a lot of this sort of dialogue between Trisha and Sharon in the documentary. There's also this tension in the film around whether Trisha will wear a dress to Sharon's wedding.
Trisha says there was a moment before the wedding where she showed Marcia the dress she was hoping to wear, but she watched a cloud pass over Marcia’s face. Marcia says she didn’t realize it, but in that moment Trisha chose to wear a tuxedo instead of a dress to the wedding.
"I think at one point I was kind of sad about that," says Marcia, "because I felt like it was my fault that Trish didn’t get to fully express herself. But I don’t know, I guess as Trish later said, there’s enough people in dresses, and they look very beautiful. I don’t need to compete with that.”
Marcia says they have learned each other’s limits over the years.
But Trisha's choice to wear a tuxedo upset Sharon.
"I wanted you to wear what you wanted to wear. It feels to me like you made a sacrifice at my wedding. I kind of feel a bit sad," Sharon says to Trisha in the film.
"Ok, well let me tell you," Trisha responds. "When I put on the tux, and when Marcia and I were like this side by side, I felt good. It was ok. And when we were with you, that moment and the wedding, it was the happiest day of my life so far."
Trisha may feel clear on why she wore a tux, but she still has bigger identity questions.
"Most days I feel this constant question in my head like, ‘why?'" Trisha says. "It just doesn’t make sense. And about the only thing that helps me is hormones and estrogen. It’s the oddest thing."
Mostly Trisha says she’s happy. She lives a simple life in a beautiful place with the woman she loves. She paints. And she plants trees in neighbors yards ... sometimes secretly.