Should I still call her Dad The girl whose oh-so average father decided to become a woman
08:40 GMT, 15 March 2012
Tash Ozimek was 16 years old when her father John sat her down one evening and pointedly asked: ‘What is the most embarrassing thing I could ever do to you’ She was stumped, because, like most teenagers, she found all dads embarrassing.
So, after racking her brains for a few minutes, she flippantly replied: ‘Probably if you dressed up as a woman in front of all my friends.’ Tash’s joke was greeted by a long, awkward silence, broken only when her father started to explain, very gently, that this was exactly what he had in mind.
He told his daughter that he’d always felt his true gender was female, that he was desperately unhappy as a man, and that he wanted to change sex. Before he’d finished speaking, Tash, now 18, fled the room in tears. ‘It was pure shock,’ she says. ‘I remember crying for a very long time.’
Closer than ever: Tash and her dad Jane, who has had gender re-assignment surgery
In fact, Tash was too upset to go to bed, and sat in the conservatory in her pyjamas, weeping until 4am. ‘Dad tried to talk to me about it but I wasn’t having any of it,’ she says. ‘I didn’t want to talk at all. I just wanted to blank it out. It’s the last thing you ever expect your dad to do.
‘The thing is, I hadn’t had a clue that this was how he was feeling. If I had, I’d never have made that remark about dressing up as a woman.
‘My dad had never been effeminate. He wore jeans and sweaters. He didn’t care about his appearance at all. He was nerdy, intellectual and liked Sudoku. He used to talk about politics and current affairs to my friends.’
That conversation two years ago came as a huge shock to Tash, who moved in with her father John at the age of eight after the break-up of her parents’ marriage.
But soon after that bombshell news, writer and IT and marketing consultant John, 54 — an Oxford graduate and former Lib Dem parliamentary candidate — became Jane Fae and started living as a woman.
Last July, he underwent gender re-assignment surgery — paid for privately — followed by oestrogen hormone therapy to feminise his body, soften his facial features and create breasts.
'Dad is still the same person inside and
that's what I've called her for so many years, it's just getting the
Today, Jane says she has no regrets about becoming a woman. For the first time in her life, she feels comfortable in her own skin; happy with her identity. ‘There is a sense of ‘rightness,’ she says. But where does that leave the family who loved John
Before John became Jane, he and Tash were living with his partner Andrea Fletcher, their son Rafe — now aged seven — and Andrea’s daughter from a previous relationship, also now 18. The couple have stayed together but their relationship is, according to Jane, a ‘work in progress’.
For Tash, too, there have been many challenges — not least what to call her father now that he is a woman.
‘I still call her Dad because the word represents a role to us, not a gender,’ she explains. ‘Jane is not my mum and I’m not going to invent a new word, because I haven’t lost my dad.’
Art and design student Tash even bought Jane a Father’s Day card last year. ‘Dad is still the same person inside and that’s what I’ve called her for so many years, it’s just getting the pronouns right. It’s difficult swapping “she” for “he” after so many years.
‘Calling her Dad comes naturally and I don’t think she minds. If we got rid of the word “Dad” altogether it would feel as if the relationship was off and it isn’t. I still love my dad.’
When I meet Jane and Tash at a hotel near the family home in Peterborough, they appear happy and relaxed in each other’s company, but there is no hiding that it took huge adjustment on both their parts to reach this stage.
No regrets: John before the sex change, left, and now as Jane
Jane admits she was ‘absolutely terrified’ Tash would reject her and is moved to tears when she listens to her daughter talking about how she still loves her dad.
‘I was under no illusions that it was an enormous thing for her to cope with and that she might find it very difficult,’ says Jane. ‘I think for every person involved with another who is in transition between genders, there is a sense of loss.
‘For my children, it was a choice between having a conventional parent who is unhappy and an unconventional parent who is at one with themselves. As well as loss, there will be gain.
‘I feel constantly responsible for my decision, both the good and the bad. I’m very much aware of the hurt that decision has caused. That upsets me, but to have stayed a man would have been disastrous for me.’
Of all the children, it was Tash who initially found her father’s decision hardest to come to terms with. She says: ‘We told Rafe, “some dads like to wear skirts, and Dad wants to be a lady”. He just accepted it as a case of “that’s how it is”.’
'Dad was going through such a hard time,
coming out and being so brave, why should I get in a fluster about being
a little bit embarrassed'
Unlike his big sister, Rafe calls his father ‘Jane’ and last year bought her a Mother’s Day card.
‘It was me who had the biggest wobble over it,’ admits Tash. The product of a brief marriage, she was two when her parents split up.
Aged eight, Tash — who has a close but fiery relationship with her Italian mother — went to live with her father in Suffolk.
A devoted single parent, her father later met Andrea, a teaching assistant, and Tash became part of a new family.
Her childhood memories of her dad are of a big, comforting, if slightly quiet presence. He mopped her brow when she was ill, cooked her meals and helped her with her maths homework. They were very close.
So his decision to change sex was a bolt from the blue — and Tash shows a remarkable maturity in her acceptance. ‘I knew Dad well enough to know that when he said something he meant it. He wasn’t going to do something just for a whim. You don’t go that far just for a mid-life crisis,’ she says.
‘At first I was very upset. I internalised it all and for two or three weeks I hardly spoke to anyone at school because I was terrified of people finding out.
‘Then my dad emailed my best friend Nina’s mum to tell her what was going on, because Dad thought I was having some trouble getting over it. One day Nina came up to me at school, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “I know”.
Dealt with it: Tash was initially shocked by her Dad's transformation but now she's happy he's happy
‘Half of me was like: “Oh my God, it’s come out!” But then I just felt relief. Nina gave me the courage to speak out about it. She said, “Right, we’re going to talk about it sensibly. We are not going to dramatise it, because if you think about it, it’s not such a massive thing. It’s happened, and we just have to deal with it in a calm way”.’
‘Word did spread very quickly, not in a malicious way, but more as in, “Is it really true” ’
She adds: ‘There were a few lads at school who were mocking it, but before I could say anything I’d hear someone stick up for me and say, “If it happened to you, you wouldn’t be making fun.”
‘I’ve had a lot more support than I thought I would receive. Basically, Dad’s transition forced me to grow up. I’d felt very nervous about other’s people’s reactions, but I realised that my embarrassment was nothing compared with what Dad was going through.
‘Dad was going through such a hard time, coming out and being so brave, why should I get in a fluster about being a little bit embarrassed when I knew it was so much harder for Dad walking out feeling so vulnerable
‘I never once said to him: “I want you to stay the way you are.” You wouldn’t dream of telling someone you love not to do something that is going to make them happy.’
The hardest part of Jane’s transition for the whole family was the period before the sex change operation. For three months, Jane had to live as a woman and undergo therapy before she was allowed to begin hormone treatment in April 2010.
At 6ft 3in tall, with receding hair and size 11 feet, Jane was an obvious target for ridicule and was sometimes threatened with violence — once at a leisure centre when she tried to use the female changing rooms.
Before she could undergo surgery, she needed the approval of her specialist and a psychiatrist to confirm she was a genuine case of gender dysphoria — a deep discomfort with the gender you are born with — who merited sex reversal surgery.
'At first it was so weird seeing my dad
in women's clothes… there were a few times when she got it wrong and I
had to have a word'
A reported 150 sex change operations are now performed on the NHS each year, not counting those — like Jane — who pay privately in Britain or have the operation abroad. The number has tripled in the past ten years following a landmark ruling which recognised gender dysphoria as a legitimate medical condition.
Six weeks before the operation, Jane had to come off hormone therapy because it can raise the risk of heart problems during surgery.
Coming off them resulted in, Jane says, ‘sweats, palpitations, flushes and moods all over the place.’
Tash says: ‘Dad started dressing as a woman gradually. A bit of nail varnish first, then a skirt, so we had time to get accustomed to it
‘At first it was so weird seeing my dad in women’s clothes because this wasn’t how he’d ever been. This isn’t how most dads are. There were a few times when Dad got it wrong and I had to have a word.
‘Dad wants to look quite bright and there’s quite a fine line between looking bright and nice and bright and a bit tacky. Sometimes I will say, “Dad, you can’t put those together”. She likes a lot of matching colours. I remember one day she was totally in purple and I said, “Dad, you look like a grape.”
‘We didn’t really talk about our feelings at all. It was more talking about clothes and hair instead. Dad totally knows what she feels and I can’t relate to that in any way really.’ Tash made no attempt to dissuade her father from sex change surgery, although there were many others who kept asking, “Are you sure”
‘I was a little bit worried about the surgery, because Dad has a long-standing heart condition,’ says Tash, who recently left the family home for her own flat, partly, she admits, to find some ‘space’ to come to terms with tumultuous events of the past two years.
‘I told Dad: “I’m happy for you, I will support you going into it, but I don’t want to hear the details.” No teenage girl wants to talk about her father’s body.
‘I wasn’t worried Dad might regret it the surgery. You have got to want it, to go through so much.’
Evolved relationship: Tash and Jane now share fashion and beauty tips
Jane admits that in the early days of transition she looked like a ‘bloke in a dress’, but that is not the case now. Her hair is longer, her face has been softened by the female hormones and she is considerably slimmer.
Jane has learned to wear clothes that suit her, showing off her best features — her long legs — and, surprisingly, no one bats an eyelid as she walks into the room with Tash.
‘Dad likes leggings and nice tops. The amount of weight Dad has lost is massive, so she likes to show off her long legs. She likes to buy nice shoes. She likes silvery greys and the cool colours,’ says Tash. ‘My friends’ parents said to me recently, ‘I think I met your Dad in the pub the other day, but I wasn’t quite sure. She looked really convincing.’ I go, “Yes!”, every time someone says that.
It's estimated one in 4,000 people in the UK is receiving help for gender dysphoria – when a person feels they are the wrong sex
‘Given the choice, I wouldn’t want my
old Dad back. Never, because, Dad now talks to everyone, smiles at
everyone, goes swimming and to Zumba classes. We have a much better
relationship, because when someone is happy they want to talk to you and
as John, Dad was so quiet and unhappy.
‘Now I couldn’t imagine seeing Dad any other way. When you see someone you love so happy, it doesn’t really matter what they are doing to make themselves happy.’
But surely Tash must sometimes yearn for John, the father she adored for 16 years Even Jane can see that, for her loved ones, the loss of John must sometimes feel as acute as bereavement.
Tash admits: ‘I have a slight nostalgic yearning when I see old pictures of me and Dad, but not greatly because it’s only the outside that’s changed. The underlying personality is the same.
‘It’s like there are two separate people: John and Jane. You wouldn’t have put them together, but then once you get talking they are the same person. I loved John and now I love Jane, because she’s still my dad. That will never change.’