She got a ‘Mr. Incredible’ shirt for Father’s Day. It secretly broke her heart.

Penny Sterling of Rochester, New York, recently shared photos of herself online rocking new shoes and a "Mr. Incredible" shirt.

Photo courtesy of Penny Sterling.

"Casual Monday look, with my new cute Chucks!!!" she wrote on Twitter. But the cute selfies carried a much deeper message, too.


"Cool story about the shirt," Sterling continued in a series of tweets following the photos. "I got this shirt for Father's Day 2014."

That was a particularly pivotal Father's Day for her: The holiday marked seven weeks since she'd truly accepted herself as a trans woman — but it took six months before she was able to come out to her children.

Sterling (right) and two of her children, Fred and Zoe, apple picking in 2017. Photo courtesy of Penny Sterling.

"They were so excited about giving me this shirt," Sterling wrote. "'The Incredibles' has long been one of my family's favorite films."

"Drop any notable line from the movie in front of my kids, and if they're in the mood for it, you'll get the next five minutes of dialogue delivered to you. Or more," she continued.

But for Sterling, the lovely and well-intentioned gift also reflected a heartbreaking reality in how her kids saw her. "I was their Mr. Incredible," she wrote. "The strong, flawed father who would stop at nothing to help them."

She wore the shirt many times — but it secretly tore her apart to do it.  

"I put it away and it migrated to the bottom of my dresser," Sterling wrote. "It just wasn't me. It would be a lie to wear it."

Sterling's gift shows how Father's Day or Mother's Day can come with complicated feelings and experiences for many trans parents.

The day can feel especially worth celebrating to some — a moment when they finally feel seen by loved ones as the person they truly are.

Sam, a trans dad, told The Advocate in 2014 that the first Father's Day he celebrated after coming out sparked a powerful moment. "My own mother made a point of saying to me, 'This is your first Dad's Day,' with a smile," he noted. "That seemed to make a big difference. I kind of like [Father's Day], as it makes me feel special."

Sterling (left) at her son Fred's graduation in May 2018. Photo courtesy of Penny Sterling.

But Mother's or Father's Day can also highlight how our society still grapples with (and fails at) understanding the nuance and complexities of gender and identity.

"Every year since [transitioning] has made Father’s Day a source of discomfort," Brynn Tannehill wrote for Salon. She's a trans woman whose kids decided to refer to her as "maddy" — a combination of "mom" and "daddy" — after she came out.

To her, a day like Father's Day reflects our world's failure to recognize the experiences associated with being a parent who's trans: "I continue to exist in a gray space where our language and culture just can’t wrap itself around the whole notion of being transgender."

For trans moms, dads, "maddies," and everyone else, Mother's or Father's Day may be a day like any other. Or it could mean a morning they get to eat breakfast in bed. Or it could bring about painful reminders of why they're seen as different by our world.

We need to get better at seeing and respecting transgender people and the range of their unique experiences for what they are.

When Sterling came across her "Mr. Incredible" shirt again — about four years after first receiving it as a gift — she felt comfortable putting it on.

"I thought, what the hell," she wrote.

"I may not be MISTER Incredible, but I'm still fairly spectacular," she continued. "And I've got incredible kids."

Sterling and her daughter, Zoe, in Zoe's dorm in September 2017. Photo courtesy of Penny Sterling.

"The thing to remember about life-altering decisions is that not everything gets altered. Even things you have to give up will come back, if they're important enough," she said. "The T-shirt's not really an important thing. The love that comes with it is. Love always comes back."

More
Photo by Alfons Morales on Unsplash

Last month, the Chicago Public Library system became the largest in the country to eliminate late fees thanks to Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot.

While the move, which was implemented October 1, was intended to "remove unfair barriers to basic library access, especially for youth and low-income patrons," it had another positive outcome. Since the removal of overdue fees, along with the elimination of any outstanding charges on people's accounts, libraries across the city saw a surge in the return of overdue books over the last several weeks.

"The amount of books returned has increased by 240 percent…We're very, very happy to have that. … Those books have a value and cost money to buy. We want those assets back. We also want the patron to come back," Library Commissioner Andrea Telli said at a City Council budget hearing, the Chicago-Sun Times reports.

According to a press release from Lightfoot, late fees rarely have the impact they're intended to. "Research from other fine-free systems has indicated that fines do not increase return rates, and further that the cost of collecting and maintaining overdue fees often outweighs the revenue generated by them."

Keep Reading Show less
popular
via The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon / YouTube

Actress Kristen Bell and "The Tonight Show" host Jimmy Fallon showed off their vocal and comedic chops on Tuesday night when the performed a medley of 17 Disney songs, spanning nine decades, in just five minutes.

The duo started with 1940's "When You Wish Upon a Star" and ended with 2013's "Let it Go" from "Frozen."

Bell will reprise her role as Anna in Disney's upcoming "Frozen 2."

Keep Reading Show less
popular

We all know that social media can be a cesspool of trolly negativity, but sometimes a story comes along that totally restores your faith in the whole thing. Enter the KFC proposal that started off being mocked and ended up with a swarm of support from individuals and companies who united to give the couple an experience to remember.

Facebook user Tae Spears shared the story with screenshots from Twitter, and the response has been overwhelming.

Keep Reading Show less
popular
via Twitter / ESPN

Madison Square Garden in New York City is known for having hosted some legendary performances. George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh in '71, Billy Joel's 12 sellouts in '06, and Carmelo Anthony's 62 points in a 2014 victory against the Charlotte Bobcats, just to name a few.

But it's hard to imagine one person holding the legendary arena in the palm of their hand quite like Pete DuPré, better known as "Harmonica Pete," did on Veterans Day.

Keep Reading Show less
popular