By Taylor de Lench WITH DAVID FILIPOV, GLOBE STAFF JUNE 18, 2016
The first time I saw my dad as a woman was at my grandfather’s funeral in the fall of 2002.
When my family used to visit my grandparents, we would see them waiting behind the screen door when we drove up. Only this time, there was my grandmother behind the screen door along with this 6-foot-1-inch tall stranger in a black dress, standing beside her.
I remember my dad came outside, and I could not look at her.
At one point my brothers and I, 19-year-old triplets, tried to get away. My dad began walking toward us, and we just took off.
“Stop! You’re my sons. I love you,” my dad called after us.
But we kept running. This was a woman that I didn’t know. I’d had this long, great relationship with my dad, and this person was unrecognizable. Or vaguely recognizable in a way that was disturbing.
I had to run from that person.
I was born Taylor Straus, and I was really close with my dad, Charles “Terry” Straus. He was a really encouraging, really supportive father. He got me into reading at an early age. He taught me to play his 1970 Martin D18 guitar. He taught me how to edit my own papers. We watched Sox games together most nights of the season, and because my dad had season tickets through his law firm, we went to enough games that I got to know the people who sat around us.
Everything started to change on my dad’s 50th birthday, in June 2001. I was about to turn 18, a rising senior. We all went out to a sushi place. In the middle of this meal my mom and dad said they had an announcement. It was pretty vague. My dad said, “In the next year there’s going to be some significant changes.” My brothers and I asked them to be clearer, and they said we’d find out in due time. I figured they were going to get divorced. They were, at the time, living in separate rooms.
That summer, I went into my dad’s room. I opened his drawer and found women’s underwear. I looked around and saw a lot of other stuff, too. Out in the open were about 50 makeup bottles, perfume. I looked inside my dad’s closet and found dresses and wigs. Then I found these strap-on silicon breasts.
My dad had raised us to be very open minded and non-judgmental of people’s differences. I was thinking, “Ok, my dad’s a cross-dresser, I can deal with this.”
A week later, I was sitting with my mom, and she reiterated that there were going to be some big changes. “Is this about dad being a cross-dresser?,” I asked. My mom’s jaw dropped, and she said, “How do you know?” My brother Hunter looked kind of shocked. She said it was true, and that there was a bit more to it than that.
At the time, my brothers and I had no idea that he was transitioning to a woman. I had my own life, my own friends, and I wasn’t spending a whole lot of time at home. But finally, around Christmas, we had a big family blow-up and everything came out. I remember my dad was pretty upset, and crying.
My dad moved out the day after Christmas. I got through that semester of high school, but at that point, the house our family rented basically devolved into a party house. At any given time, there were eight cars in the driveway that belonged to other kids from high school. We were just partying.My mom spent a lot of time alone downstairs.
I managed, in spite of it all, to maintain my grades, and got into Skidmore College. When I graduated high school, my dad wasn’t there. The next day, the rent was due — money was tight even before my dad left, and with him gone, we couldn’t afford the place. We had to move out, but we had nowhere to go and a lot of stuff in our house. We rented a dumpster and threw out our entire lives. All my baseball trophies, my dad’s record collection, family videos, everything. We basically destroyed and threw out everything we owned.
That summer my mom said that we could change our names, in case we wanted to distance ourselves from our dad. I took hers, and became Taylor de Lench. My grandparents weren’t too happy about that. My brother Spencer kept my dad’s name. He never accepted my dad’s transition, but he liked the sound of Spencer Straus. My brother Hunter took my mom’s name but spells it withouth the space — deLench.
I went off to college, still not talking to my dad. I had a significant scholarship, and my dad’s parents helped cover the rest. I wanted so little to do with my dad, not because of the transgender thing, but because I blamed him for leaving my family. I didn’t know and I didn’t care whether it was his choice.
I felt like I was a million miles away from this during my freshman year. Then I got a call from my mom saying that my grandfather — my dad’s father — was probably in his last days, and asking if I would like to go see him because he wanted to see me. I said no. I loved him — he was my grandfather. I said no because I didn’t want anything to do with my family. That’s the biggest regret of my life. I did go to his funeral, and it was there that my brothers and I first encountered our dad as a woman, and fled from him.
Afterward, I went back to school, and I didn’t talk to my dad that year or the next — until 2004, when the Red Sox were in the American League Championship Series. I was watching in a room full of Yankee fans. I got a call, and it was my dad. She was full-on screaming in a man’s voice. My dad initially took on an extreme falsetto voice, but when she gets excited, or laughs, she goes back to a guy’s voice. We were screaming out the play-by-play over the phone.
When I graduated from Skidmore, my dad was there. I had mentioned my plans to travel after graduation. My dad gave me a video camera, saying “You remember you used to make great films in high school? Why don’t you give this a try?”
It meant a lot to me. I traveled for about a year — to New Zealand, South Africa, all of the United States. I had a lot of jobs — as a janitor, in a liquor store. But I did a lot a video work and made a documentary about rock climbing. Now I’m a professional videographer for The Boston Globe.
In 2011, I had my dad recite the Apache creed at my wedding. It begins, “Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other.” On Father’s Day, I don’t always go see my dad, but I call and we talk, or I send something. My dad likes flowers, any sort of slightly gaudy arrangement.
My dad and my mom have become close friends. Last year, we had our first family Christmas together since the transition. My brother Hunter, who plays golf with my dad all the time, was there. So was Spencer.
Through all of this, my dad never changed inside. My dad didn’t become my mom. Just because my dad’s gender has changed doesn’t mean that the role of father changed; it doesn’t mean that my dad isn’t the exact same person.
And I suppose that’s the best thing I can tell you about Father’s Day.