All in the Trans Family

We Grossly Underestimate the Power of Cultural Domination

The top-rated TV show in the early 1970s was All in the Family, which opened with the song, "Those Were the Days":

Boy, the way Glenn Miller played

Songs that made the hit parade

Guys like me we had it made

Those were the days

Didn't need no welfare state

Everybody pulled his weight

Gee, our old LaSalle ran great

Those were the days

And you knew who you were then

Girls were girls and men were men

Mister we could use a man like Herbert Hoover again

The song is about the 1930s and 40s, with Archie and Edith Bunker singing about a perceived normalcy they once could count on. Like Archie says, "Guys like me we had it made." At eight years of age, I loved that show, though I hardly understood (at first) the issues with which the show grappled.

How could anyone not know whether they were a boy or girl?

For instance, what the hell was a LaSalle? I knew about Glenn Miller and Herbert Hoover (the latter of which I couldn't understand why anyone would want back). Welfare state? That stuff was for people who were poor, who needed help. Made sense to me. But knowing who you were back then? How could anyone not know whether they were a boy or girl?

The show wasn't about the 30s or 40s. It was about the 1970s, the decade I was growing up in. People wonder how I didn't know my trans identity till age 54. My answer? It was all in my family … and the culture that family was steeped in.

Men Are Men. Girls? Myeh.

Dad was certainly not the bigoted, Trump-like Archie Bunker. Nor was Mom the cringing "dingbat" that Archie called Edith. Both my parents worked, a rarity in those days. Both were college-/professional-school educated. Both laughed at and loved the show, especially the comeuppances it delivered to the obnoxiously racist Archie.

My family never instructed me on knowing that girls were girls, and men were men. It was implicit in my family's roles. My dad didn't cook dinner or clean the house. My mom wasn't the primary breadwinner. My older brother and I knew Dad was the fun one, who played baseball, taught us to hit, showed us the Stooges and W.C. Fields and spaghetti westerns.

To be female was a step down.

Girls were, after all, girls—an infantilizing, patronizing moniker in comparison to men being men. None of us questioned that. We felt bad for Edith being verbally abused by Archie, but, hey, he was the man of the house, and my brother and I knew what that was about


To be female was a step down. I knew that so thoroughly and implicitly that I worked hard to always be a man, which was an exhausting, full-time job. I knew no alternative. Just like Archie knew what kept him having it made. To question that hegemony was to question the basis of a civilization built on it …

… which is exactly what was happening in the 1970s, enough that those who perceived themselves as benefiting from it dug in their heels, like Archie. Like me.

I held my ground against any hint that the feminine was something to be desired beyond using women to gratify sexual desire. My dad had affairs that my mom was tight-lipped about even when she left us for one herself, because she could take no more of the double standard. I only knew that she'd abandoned me, my brother, and Dad, the hard-working, upstanding community leader.

I didn't dare come out of the circus tent, even to myself, because to do so would've been a living death

This Is Not for You

But the part of the All in the Family theme song that rang terrifyingly true for me—and still does to this day for all trans people—were the lyrics that didn't air in prime time:

People seemed to be content

Fifty dollars paid the rent

Freaks were in a circus tent

Those were the days

I didn't dare come out of the circus tent, even to myself, because to do so would've been a living death that also might assure assault and battery, not to mention physical death.

Privilege was not for me unless I played the game so thoroughly, I didn't know my true self. It could never be for me. So I became a community-leading breadwinner like Dad and a United Methodist minister, raised three kids, grew a hefty beard, told dad jokes. Anything else wasn't for me.

Those Never Were the Days

I don't ask forgiveness for saying those were never the days. And I won't apologize for getting in the face of those who want to maintain their "having it made" by crushing young persons with bathroom laws, supportive parents of trans kids with accusations of child abuse, and demands that we "get back" to family values. If we truly valued family in the 1970s, mine would've never dissolved. If keeping it together meant living that hideous double standard, I finally decided, by age 54, that enough was enough.

Pam & I have a theme song—"Love Is Love Is Love"

So, I write. I speak out. I live as my true self and look fabulous doing it. I don't want those old ways to be anybody's days. Let's work hard to craft days in which people can be who they are. Where everybody can have it made without having to be a dude or a dingbat or a bro or a family-values bible-thumper.

Let's make every day a set of days we'll one-day not sing about. Because they won't be past. They'll be present and future.