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The story of a transgender father: ‘I had to risk losing my family’

The life and times of Lindsey Straus. Two firsthand accounts from Lindsey and his son, Taylor de Lench.
The life and times of Lindsey Straus. Two firsthand accounts from Lindsey and his son, Taylor de Lench.

To read the story of one of Lindsey’s sons, click here.

My son and I started talking again on Oct. 18, 2004. How, you may ask, can I be so precise about the date?

How could I forget? It was the day after Game 4 of the American League Championship Series. The day after Dave Roberts stole second in the ninth inning to begin the greatest comeback in baseball history.

Like a lot of fans, I had gone to bed that night before the Sox comeback, not wanting to subject myself to the pain of seeing the Yankees crush our post-season hopes yet again.

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The next day, out of the blue, I received a call from my son Taylor. He wanted to talk about the game. For the next two weeks we were on the phone constantly, savoring each of the seven straight victories that followed.

Just a father and son talking baseball, as we had ever since he was a little boy.

We hadn’t spoken for two years.

The last time I had seen Taylor was another day I’ll never forget. It was the day I buried my father, and the first time my three sons saw me as a woman.

It was November 2002. I remember trying to talk to Taylor and his brothers, who were 19 at the time, when relatives and friends gathered at my parents’ house after the memorial.

But the boys would have none of it. They fled outside, down towards the millpond on the edge of the property, to avoid having to deal with me.

It was the outcome I had feared as I faced the choice between continuing to live as a man and denying my true self, and transitioning to a woman and risking losing my sons forever. As strong as my relationship with Taylor and his brothers had been, I was staring into the abyss, not knowing whether those bonds would be strong enough to survive the change.

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I remember the day the triplets (all 20 pounds, 6 ounces of them!) were born, as if it were yesterday. The day I became their father was then, and remains today, the happiest of my life.

 Taylor DeLench (left), with his dad, Lindsey Straus, in her bedroom at her home before she sang in the choir at The First Parish of Brewster Sunday morning service.
Taylor DeLench (left), with his dad, Lindsey Straus, in her bedroom at her home before she sang in the choir at The First Parish of Brewster Sunday morning service.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

I loved being their father. I was home for family dinners nearly every night (even if it meant that I was resigned to a “daddy track” at my law firm). I was at nearly every one of Taylor’s baseball, soccer, and lacrosse games, and coached his Little League and soccer teams. I helped him with his homework, and taught his Sunday school classes from kindergarten to seventh grade. I taught him how to play my 1970 Martin D-18 guitar, and I took him to many Sox games.

For all Taylor and his brothers and the rest of the world knew, I was the prototypical father.

But what no one knew – except for my wife at the time, my therapist, and a few friends – was that I was transgender: Although I was born a male, my gender identity – my internal sense of self – was female.

I had been aware of my female self, and the need to express it, since childhood. That need became more and more compelling the older I got. I had not chosen to be transgender, any more than I chose to have hazel eyes or be left-handed. No rational person would make such a choice.

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In May 2001, as I was nearing my 50th birthday, I faced the dilemma most transgender people must confront, sooner or later. We celebrated my birthday in a private room at a sushi restaurant. My wife at the time, the boys’ mother, told Taylor and his brothers about “big changes” that were about to take place, but did not go into details.

Regrettably, I could not summon the courage to explain to Taylor and his brothers then, nor in the months to come, why I felt the way I felt and why I had to do this. Instead, I quietly began undergoing electrolysis to remove my facial hair (a painful process I never fully completed). An endocrinologist prescribed estrogen and a testosterone blocker. I let my hair grow. I went on a diet.

The changes were gradual. If Taylor and his brothers noticed anything different about me they did not say, but I am sure they were puzzled as to what was going on.

It all came to a head in December 2001. I will never forget sitting at home waiting for them to return from seeing a gender therapist who had sought to explain what my transition was all about. I’m not sure what she told them. I know now that I should have told them myself. All I remember was the somber looks on their faces and the awkward, painful silence between us when they came back.

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By the time we celebrated – if that’s the right word – Christmas, Taylor and his brothers knew that I would be moving out of the family home into a tiny room in a dilapidated rooming house in Worcester.

My wife didn’t want to live with me anymore as a transgender person. I knew it was going to be unbelievably disruptive for my family if I stayed.

I was the sole breadwinner, and I was giving up everything I was earning to support my family. We all were struggling financially.

In an instant, I went from being Taylor’s primary male role model and mentor to being, for a time, in exile, persona non grata in my own household.

A long-planned family trip to the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City was made without me. When Taylor graduated from high school in June 2002, I was not there to share in that special moment. When he and his brothers left for college that fall, I was not there to see them off. It hurt beyond measure.

But I also knew deep down in my soul that, eventually, we would find a way to bridge the emotional chasm between us, even if it took a lifetime.

Charles 'Terry' Straus III and son Taylor DeLench during a visit with grandparents.
Charles 'Terry' Straus III and son Taylor DeLench during a visit with grandparents.Family handout/family handout

After two years of almost total estrangement, our mutual love of the Sox helped break the ice. Taylor and I set out to forge a new father-son relationship — one grounded in the deep, abiding love we had and still have for each other, different in some ways, but in so many other ways the same.

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Over the next two years, Taylor invited me to visit him at college in upstate New York several times. When my mother (who had accepted me as transgender from the very moment I came out to her and my father) died in 2005, I sat with Taylor, his brothers, and their mom at her memorial.

I wish that other family members had been as understanding; the price for being able to attend Taylor’s college graduation in 2006 with them was that I present myself as a man. It is painful to even look at the photographs from that day.

But with that pain came joy. Before he embarked on a three-month-long rock climbing trip to New Zealand in 2007, I bought Taylor his first HD video camera.

Just as I cheered him on at baseball, soccer, and lacrosse games, I have been there to support him every step of the way since on his journey to becoming the Emmy-winning video journalist he is today -- on the staff of the Boston Globe.

When he was married at the Mount Washington Hotel in October 2011, he invited me to give an Apache blessing during the ceremony. This time, thankfully, Taylor made it clear to the rest of the family that I would be presenting as myself, not as a man.

So, what is the state of our relationship as we celebrate Father’s Day 2016? Excellent. We talk on the phone all the time. We watch movies and television shows, sprinkling our conversations with classic lines from “Caddyshack,” “The Simpsons,” or “Seinfeld.” We enjoy home-cooked meals together, and spend holidays with his brothers and their mom.

I know that Taylor has come to understand that, while my gender presentation has changed, I am still the person he has always known and called “Dad.”

In the end, the love we continue to have for one another has, as they say, conquered all, and is cause for celebration, not just on Father’s Day, but every day of the year.

Lindsey Straus straightened her hair in her bedroom at home as she got ready for the Sunday morning church.
Lindsey Straus straightened her hair in her bedroom at home as she got ready for the Sunday morning church. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Read the story of Lindsey’s son.

Photos: The new life of Lindsey

Video: A day in the life of Lindsey, as shot by Taylor