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  • Most of My Dream Fathers Are Women
  • Jennifer Tseng and Amanda Tseng

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[End Page 54]

When a girl’s love is not self-sacrificing then she is not a woman but a man.

—Søren Kierkegaard, Repetition, translation by M. G. Piety

My memory of men is never lit up and illuminated like my memory of women.

—Marguerite Duras, The Lover, translation by Barbara Bray

. . . s /he’s just a human in love . . .

—TC Tolbert


My obsession with my father is so pronounced that when I sit down to write about the women I’ve loved, I begin with a line about him. My memory of others is never lit up and illuminated like my memory of him. This is an old thought, the way a dream is an old thought, born in the mind and prone to illusions. Although his skeleton is underground, our relationship is ongoing. My father is a force from which I draw my power. He is everywhere resurrected—alive in smells, alive in tastes, alive in places, alive in words, alive in others, alive in me. As long as I live, he lives.

Anyone who loves me must contend with him. I have some pity for them. There are those whose power can never compare to his, lovers I find it hard to take seriously. There are those who stimulate a nearly identical part of me, for whom my appetite is insatiable. I pity them most of all. I pity least the dream fathers, those who, instead of replacing my father, fulfill a desire I have for another kind of father entirely.

Most of my dream fathers are women. It’s easier to love a female father, or a child father who carries his DNA. It’s easier to love a dream. Germanic in origin, love is a word our father never used, perhaps least of all with our German American mother. To be haunted is to be frequented by a ghost. To be loved by my father, the very same. Insofar as he persists in inhabiting bodies of all genders, my father is trans. A trans ghost. To say trans fathers are the best of both worlds is an understatement. “No such a thing!” he yells, as soon as I have the thought. [End Page 55]

Most of my dream fathers are women. Alma is a mixed-race Chicanx dyke bearing lavish tattoos. A biker wallet hangs on a chain from the belt loop of her Dickies. Sometimes a shaved head, sometimes a pompadour, styled with fancy pomade. In her carefully selected white ribbed undershirt and black corduroy slippers, she resembles a fat patriarcha. She instructs me to call her Daddy, the effect of which produces in me a thrill so deep and electrifying, I could never have imagined or prepared for it. Alma gives me every pleasure I desire and a few I’ve never known I wanted.

Our love is an open secret, enclosed within an open marriage. Photographs of the two of us are forbidden. I tell everyone I know, even my father. He is nonplussed. I am euphoric. I’ve always wanted a secret father. When, throughout childhood, our father told the story of fishing my small, stinking body out of a garbage can, I dreamed of the day my real father would return to claim me. It takes twenty-seven years, but she finds me at Old Wives’ Tales Bookstore on Valencia Street. We belong to each other as only a father and daughter can.

She and my sister watch old episodes of My So-Called Life while I study Chinese; they play backgammon and crazy eights, munch on Takis and shrimp chips. Perhaps Alma is my sister’s dream father too, the sort who plays games with her, watches TV with her, lets her eat junk food—the opposite of our father. Or perhaps the two are siblings.

From Alma I learn the fine line between father and little boy, little girl and mother. Daddy likes her back rubbed when she’s sad, likes her meat cut into little-boy-size pieces. Someday she’ll be a bearded man...


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pp. 54-61
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