For many people, Pride is a month-long celebration that promotes awareness, support, and love to everyone who is part of the LGBTQ+ community. But for some, the thought of coming out is a nerve-wracking experience for fear of being judged by loved ones. However, content creator and trans dad, Jesse Sullivan, was met with acceptance and love after coming out to his now 12-year-old daughter, Arlo-both times.
"I have a pretty unique experience in that I've come out twice," he explains. "When [my daughter] was really young, I came out as lesbian, and shortly before the pandemic, I came out as transgender." After when he told her, Sullivan says her only request was if she could still call him mom. "It wasn't an issue for her," he says. "There were no questions like, 'What's going to change,' 'What does this mean,' or 'Are you sure?' It was just logistically, 'What can I call you?' And I think that was an amazing and inspiring part about coming out to her."
This experience is one of the many that Sullivan shares on his TikTok, where he creates videos with his daughter Arlo about their life and his transition. The account has gained over one million followers and continues to grow since its first video posted in October 2019.
"It's funny because when I first got TikTok, my daughter already had the app, and she wanted to see who could get more followers by Christmas," he says. By looking at his account, it's obvious he won the competition. But what started out as a fun bet is now a platform he uses to spread awareness and positivity by being transparent about his experiences. From showing parts of his transition process-like taking testosterone and documenting changes in his voice-or highlighting his favorite LGBTQ+ musical artists, he aims to support his community through honest and authentic representation.
In honor of Pride month and Father's Day, we spoke with Sullivan to learn more about his journey as a transgender father, including what made him share his story on social media, tips on raising accepting children, and his plans for Father's Day this year.
HelloGiggles (HG): Has your transition impacted how you parent or how you see yourself as a parent?
Jesse Sullivan (JS): Yes, definitely. Transitioning is like taking off an uncomfortable costume you've been wearing your entire life. For the first time, I feel comfortable in my body, which made me a more calm and centered person and parent. It's also given Arlo first-hand experience as a family member of someone transgender, which has made us both more active in trans activism.
HG: What inspired you to share your story on TikTok?
JS: When I decided to put my life on social media, the purpose behind it was 100% having trans voices out there. And while I was already doing it a little bit when I was out as gay, what pushed me to keep doing it when it got hard was the comments or DMs that I would get from people all over the world of all ages. So, when TikTok started becoming the app that everyone was talking about, I thought it was the perfect place to start showing my transition, the processes, and everything about it.
HG: How did you approach conversations about pronouns with your daughter and family?
JS: The discussion of pronouns with my daughter was super easy. I've raised her to accept, support, and respect all types of people, so she started using 'he' very quickly. It was amazing. We haven't come up with a new name instead of "mom" or "dad" yet, [but] I'm giving her time to adjust. And being called mom doesn't bother me, because I'm a mom who's also a dad! I still vote for pops, though.
HG: What are some tips for raising loving and accepting children?
JS: Man, just love them wholeheartedly, not just for what they do that you approve of, but for all of them. I've always believed in being straightforward with children. I talk to my daughter the same way I talk to any adult. That transparency has made her very aware of the world around her. We stay up late some nights discussing gender and sexuality just for fun. I also believe in showing children the reality of the world, not sheltering. I think it protects them, contrary to popular belief.
HG: What does Father's Day mean to you?
JS: Fatherhood is just being a great parent. I've always had the strong belief that gender roles in regards to parenting aren't necessary. Two people of any gender can be parents. The goal is to guide your child while letting them be who they are.
This will be my second Father's Day after coming out as transgender, so it's exciting. My daughter always gets me a gift, usually something she draws or makes, on Mother's Day and Father's Day. This one feels the most affirming, though, because I'm starting to pass as male publicly, which is a great feeling.
As far as their plans for Father's Day this year, the two plan on putting their phones down, hanging out, and enjoying spending time together.
HG: Any advice for other LGBTQ+ parents who don't know how to open up to their children about their identity?
JS: I'm not going to lie, it can be scary! As a parent, you always worry if you're doing the right thing, but my parenting style is about authentically showing your child who you are, which is more beneficial than detrimental. She was really my inspiration for both of my coming out stories because when she was a baby, I thought if I'm going to raise my daughter, I really want to raise her authentically, and the only way to do that is by being honest with who I am. Children need to grow up seeing their parents express who they really are, so they grow up doing the same. Be yourself, unapologetically, even to your children.