Custody Case Turns to Anatomy
Custody Case Turns to Anatomy
By: Alicia Caldwell
Date: January 26, 2002
Source: Caldwell, Alicia. "Custody Case Turns to Anatomy." St. Petersburg Times (January 29, 2002).
About the Author: Alicia Caldwell is a reporter for the Associated Press.
Since the first successful gender reassignment surgery in Germany in 1931, transsexuals—people who choose to modify their bodies through surgery, hormones, or both, to become the opposite sex—have been a small, but growing, portion of Western society.
In many cultures, some form of transsexuality has been documented. In India, the Hijra, boys of the lower caste who choose to be castrated before puberty and live life as a woman, are a small sector of society that defies gender dichotomy. In the 1600s, Europeans came in contact with male Illini Indians in North America who dressed as women and openly acted out the role of women in their culture. Most recently in Western society, transsexuals undergo extensive psychiatric testing, surgical sexual reassignment surgery, and hormone treatments to accomplish the conversion from the body of the sex into which they were born to the body of the opposite sex.
Many transsexuals are parents long before deciding to undergo a surgical change from one sex to the other. When a mother or a father makes the decision to change his or her gender, the impact on the transsexual's partner and children can be complicated and challenging. If the partner is heterosexual, will the transsexual's change make the partner "gay"? How do children deal with having Mommy become a male, both biologically and legally? If the transsexual person decides to change his or her name, how do children handle the change in identity or the parent's birth name?
Current law, both at the state and federal level, was not designed to handle sex changes. Family law courts have had to face questions about adoptions and custody issues, addressing questions such as: Is transsexuality itself a sign of psychological disturbance? If so, should children be placed in the care of transsexuals? If a child was adopted by a man and a woman in a U.S. state where gay adoption is illegal (such as Florida), and one partner undergoes sexual reassignment surgery, is the adoption invalid?
The following article addresses the child custody battle between Michael Kantaras and Linda Kantaras for legal custody of their two children. Michael Kantaras, born Margo Kantaras, was a female-to-male transsexual. He underwent gender reassignment surgery before meeting Linda and Linda knew about his transsexuality before marrying him.
CLEARWATER —The issue would seem to have little relevance in a child custody dispute: The definition of masculinity.
But it was a central topic in hours of testimony Monday as transsexual Michael Kantaras continued his battle in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court to get custody of his two children from his ex-wife, Linda Kantaras.
It was a day filled with explicit testimony about the anatomy of people who have undergone sexual reassignment surgery and the resulting sexual and psychological function. No question, it seemed, was too intrusive.
"It is horrifying to us to have to delve into this level of detail about Michael's treatment," said Shannon Minter, a lawyer from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who is serving on Michael Kantaras' legal team. "The only reason we are doing so is because we have to protect his relationship with his children. She (Linda Kantaras) is forcing him to prove he is male. It is very embarrassing."
Michael Kantaras, 42, of Holiday, began life as Margo Kantaras, but was overwhelmed with feelings that she ought to be a man. In 1986, she underwent sexual reassignment surgery: surgeons removed her breasts and reproductive organs and prescribed hormone therapy to help in the transition from Margo to Michael. The resulting physique, and the effect of the absence of a penis, was something Claudia Wheeler, Linda Kantaras' lawyer, asked numerous questions about.
"This is a world where a lot of things aren't perfect," said Collier Cole, a psychologist from Galveston, Texas, who treated Michael Kantaras before and after surgery. "It doesn't make anybody less of a parent."
Cole said in his years of treating people who have undergone sexual reassignment surgery, he has seen many transsexuals go on to have productive lives with partners, marrying and raising children. The children involved in the dispute are a 10-year-old girl the couple conceived through artificial insemination with sperm from Michael Kantaras' brother, and a 12-year-old boy whom Linda Kantaras conceived in another relationship, but whom Michael Kantaras adopted shortly after birth.
Linda and Michael Kantaras separated in 1998 after Michael became attracted to another woman and had an affair.
Part of the focus of the Kantaras' custody dispute became Michael Kantaras' sexuality and the effect it had on his ability to parent in a psychologically healthy fashion. In traditional child custody conflicts between the legal parents of minor children, the psychological health of the parents can be used in court as a mitigating factor in examining which parent is best suited to act as primary guardian for the children. At times in family court and custody issues, sexuality can come into play as well, in terms of the romantic partners a parent may choose to have enter into their children's lives.
As experts from gay rights organizations such as the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Human Rights Campaign note, when transsexuals are involved in child custody hearings, the transsexual's choice to undergo gender reassignment surgery itself is often used against the transsexual. Gender identity disorder is considered to be a diagnosable psychiatric condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV, the manual used by psychiatrists and psychologists to diagnose mental illness. Lawyers for the opposing parent, like Linda Kantaras' lawyer, can use the transsexual's choice to make surgical and hormonal changes to convert to the opposite sex against the transsexual.
The Kantaras' custody battle, however, involved more than Michael Kantaras' transsexualism. Under Florida state law, same-sex marriage is illegal. Linda Kantaras' lawyers argued that Michael Kantaras was a woman, in spite of his sex change operation. In court, the lawyers used detailed evidence and asked intimate questions about Michael Kantaras' anatomy and his sex life with Linda to prove that he was not fully male and therefore the marriage was between two women rather than between a man and a woman. Adoption by gay partners is illegal under Florida law; therefore, had Linda Kantaras' lawyers been successful in their claim that Michael was not a man, the marriage would have potentially been invalid, as well as his adoption of the two children. Linda Kantaras, as the biological mother of the two children, would have been granted custody.
The Kantaras' case garnered headlines, was the subject of talk shows such as Dr. Phil and brought the subject of transsexualism and parenting into the media spotlight. In 2001, Michael Kantaras was granted temporary custody of the children; the judge stated that Linda Kantaras had unfairly used Michael Kantaras' transsexuality as a wedge between her children and their father. In February 2003, a Florida judge granted Michael Kantaras primary custody. In the ruling, the judge said that Michael Kantaras' sexual self-identity as a man, as well as the surgical and hormonal changes Kantaras went through, were sufficient for him to be considered a man according to the law, therefore making the Kantaras' marriage and Michael Kantaras' adoption of the children legal.
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