Every parent has time for this new documentary on Netflix. And if you’re a parent of a trans child, the urgency of this film will be apparent. The Dads is a new 10-minute documentary on Netflix that every parent in America should be watching. Because at this minute, politicians across the country are fighting to take away trans kids’ rights — and in many cases, succeeding. And these dads of trans kids are trying to stop them.
But, The Dads isn’t about advocacy or politics. It’s about a handful of fathers who once felt lost finding community and connection. Because even though they might be the only dad in their small town helping a trans child through their transition, there are hundreds of thousands of dads across the country going through the same struggles — finding a school where their child can be safe, fighting for their right to use the bathroom in public, and losing friends and family because of their unconditional love for their child.
The documentary follows six dads — five fathers of trans kids, plus Dennis Shepard, who has been advocating for LGBTQ+ kids since his gay son Matthew was killed in a hate crime 25 years ago — on a fishing trip in rural Oklahoma. Most of the dads knew each other before the trip in one way or another, from previous efforts to find other men who could relate to them, but some were total strangers. And even though the dads were different in many ways — different backgrounds, races, geographies — they clicked immediately. “They even wondered, was there going to be some ice-breaking exercises?” says director Luchina Fisher. “But they just dived right in. It was like they just saw each other, and there was a hunger there to have these conversations.”
“I didn’t know them, but man, we were like brothers within a half hour,” one of the dads, Wayne Maines, says about the two dads he didn’t know before the trip. Maines is the father of three children, including his transgender daughter Nicole, who became the first person to portray a trans superhero on TV through her role in The CW’s Supergirl. “I love those guys, and we need to reach out to more of those men in America that are struggling.”
The path to accepting their trans child wasn’t straightforward for these dads. It took time. The professionals didn’t always help. A pediatric psychiatrist implied to one dad and a therapist told another that it was their own fault that their child was trans — the latter that his child was acting this way because his own profession wasn’t masculine enough. That dad, Peter Betz, said in the film, “The life-changing moment was meeting Wayne — being able to talk to another parent, particularly another father.”
Wayne didn’t tread that road easily either. Although he acted supportive of his trans daughter, he wasn’t there emotionally, even as his wife was leading the charge in a court case fighting for Nicole’s right to use the girls’ bathroom at school. One day, in distress, after his family lost their case in the superior courts, he went out to chop down a tree and clear his head — his family works in logging, and he has a degree in forestry. But Maines wasn’t thinking straight, and a wrong move caused a branch to fall, nearly killing him.
If we could talk about it and have those hard conversations, we can usually come to some agreement that they’re just kids.
“I knew I did something stupid, and I sat down and I said, ‘I got to get my head on straight.’ I had to ask myself what I was afraid of,” he says. “I came to the realization that I was ashamed, because I was a poor kid from the other side of the tracks, and I got to the other side. It seemed like it was a reflection on me — and it had nothing to do with me. It was my problem, not hers. I decided I’m not doing this anymore. I’ve got to let her be who she needs to be.”
“When you have an experience like that, it changes you. And I’ve been fighting for her ever since.”
The same question that Maines asked himself, he now asks people who don’t understand trans kids and their fight for civil rights. “I ask them, what are you afraid of? If we could talk about it and have those hard conversations, we can usually come to some agreement that they’re just kids. They’re just trying to be like everybody else.”
Because all these dads want for their kids: For their children to be able to live normal lives. To be able to take them camping, to take them on fishing trips. One of the dads, Frank Gonzales, said in the film, “I think back to some of the outdoor experiences that I’ve had with my dad. This is what I want to pass on to my kids: respecting nature, loving nature. But it’s not safe for us all the time.”
The director of the short film, Luchina Fisher, is the mother of a trans child herself. But she wanted to focus the documentary on dads because they don’t often get recognized in the same way that moms advocating for their trans kids do with organizations like Mama Bears and films like Fisher’s Mama Gloria. “There are dads out there who are speaking up, who are showing up, and they need to be seen and heard in the way that mothers are,” she says.
“I hope that other dads see the importance of not just going through things in an isolated way, but to build community and the importance of having other men, brothers, people from different geographies, experiences, and races to connect with around your children. That you shouldn’t have to go through such experiences alone, and that by building community, there’s strength there.”