Will They See Me as a Son, a Daughter or a Stranger?


I followed her gaze but couldn’t see the rectangles.

“Stand here,” she said. “Look.”

It took me a minute to see what she saw: light from the skylights above us bouncing off the window glass and forming rectangular reflections, which appeared to her to be outside.

Difficulties with spatial relationships and depth perception are common among people with Alzheimer’s. My parents have the other typical symptoms also: memory loss, confusion about where they are or what time it is, inability to hold a conversation, moodiness, paranoia. And, in my father’s case, increasing difficulty with walking and eating.

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These changes are upsetting to us in different ways. My parents were trained as journalists and worked as writers. Now they are frustrated by their inability to use language in ways that used to feel so natural. My father rarely speaks, and my mother can only form sentences on good days. Even then, she calls keys “stuff that goes with my car.”

This, and the slow erosion of their independence, starting with the cancellation of their drivers’ licenses and the opening of their home to round-the-clock care, has them feeling defeated. As a child of parents with a terminal illness, I am obviously upset, too. Unexpected, however, is the sense that my identities as a man, husband and father — all predicated on my gender transition — seem to be falling away, too, as their dementia progresses and they forget who I am.

My gender shift was just the start of many changes: a year after I began my transition, a mutual friend introduced me, via email, to a bold woman with a big personality and irreverent sense of humor. We didn’t meet in person until two months later when I picked her up at the airport on a Friday night. We got married that Sunday.

In the years since, we adopted two boys from foster care when each was 9: our first in 2012 and his younger brother three years later. Then, in a manner of months after the November 2016 presidential election, the four of us left our home, jobs and friends in the United States and emigrated to Canada.



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