As figures reveal a massive rise in Lancashire children referred to gender identity clinics, in the first day of our series Trapped In The Wrong Body, AASMA DAY talks to a mum whose child doesn’t identify with their birth gender.
“MUMMY - why did God give me a boy’s brain and a girl’s body? What was he playing at?”
Why did God give me a boy’s brain and a girl’s body
Maud can still vividly remember the moment her child, who was born a girl, first revealed he felt like a boy at the age of just three.
Now aged 10, the youngster lives as a boy and Maud sees him as her son, not daughter.
Maud, 43, a mum-of-five who lives in rural East Lancashire, recalls: “He was playing with his Lego when he suddenly came out with this.
“He wasn’t angry - just matter of fact and asking a genuine question. He completely pulled the rug from under my feet. It was like he’d shot a tranquilising dart at me. My immediate response was: ‘I don’t know. Why, is that what you have?’
“He then turned his attention back to building his Lego.
“I scurried to the end of the yard and took some deep breaths. The world seemed to slow down.
“Things suddenly started clicking and falling into place.”
That evening, Maud told her child: ‘What you said this morning, it’s fine to have a girl’s body and a boy’s brain if that’s what you think.’
She explains: “I didn’t think: ‘This child is gay or this child is transgender.’ I didn’t assign that to a three-year-old. I just thought: ‘This child is different.’
“My thinking was he was transgender or somewhere in the middle and didn’t understand enough about himself.
“I decided there was nothing I was going to do as a parent to influence his gender identity. It all had to come from him.
“I decided to let him be and see what happened.”
Maud, a single mum, says her son was given the first name of Laura at birth but had a middle name Alex which could be used by both sexes.
As time went by, Alex dropped his female first name and at the age of 10, now looks physically just like a boy.
“Although it became apparent when Alex was three, in retrospect, I realise there were clear signs before this.
“As a family, we didn’t have gender specific toys and I never dressed my children in frilly girly things.
“There is only a year between Alex and his younger sibling and she identifies completely as a female and loves sparkles and tutus. For the first time, there is female centred stuff in our household.
“As well as a feminine younger sister, Alex has a feminine older sister, a sporty older brother and an academic brother so had all sorts of influences.
“The first indications with Alex came before there were any traditional girls objects in our house. He wasn’t rejecting them. They simply weren’t there.
“Alex was into fantasy games, dinosaurs, dragons and animals - things he didn’t see as having any gender.
“He loved drills and his dad gave him his first drill at two-and-a-half and it was his prize toy.
“But we didn’t think this was a gender issue. We thought it was just what he liked doing as every child is different.
“Alex preferred trousers but this was because he liked the practicality and comfort.
“When he started talking, I realised he was describing himself as a boy rather than a girl and he struggled with people’s genders.
“Even after he finally clicked when it came to others, he still referred to himself as ‘he’ instead of ‘she’.
“At this point, we were correcting him as we thought he was getting his pronouns mixed up.
“I now realise he was just describing the gender he was identifying with.
“Alex then became quite hesitant about using any pronouns to describe himself.
“He became more focused on role play and loved dressing up or playing at being a dog or dragon - roles which weren’t gender specific in his mind.”
Maud told Alex’s dad about his saying he had “a boys’s brain in a girl’s body” and asked if he’d seen any examples.
“His reaction was to sidestep it and say: ‘She’s just a kid. She’s just a tomboy.’
“Alex’s dad has really struggled with things. He had never come across anyone transgender and in his mind, he had no problem with it.
“But faced with it in his own child was another matter.
“Alex is now 10 and it is only in the last six months that his dad has started getting his name and pronouns right.
“His dad is now more on board and realises it would be far more damaging to leave Alex and do nothing.
“As Alex was only three-and-a-half, I thought: ‘Thank goodness he’s been able to tell me now so he doesn’t feel forced into a box that doesn’t fit him.’”
Things came to a head when Alex started primary school and wore a pinafore for uniform.
Maud says: “Alex looked around and asked: ‘Can I have some trousers?’ He just felt more comfortable in them.
“It was around this time he expressed he wanted his hair cut short.
“Alex had really long hair which went all the way to his backside. He disliked it immensely and found it an inconvenience.
“However, his dad was against him getting it cut and said: ‘You have beautiful hair. Let’s leave it. When you’re older, you can choose.’”
However, at the age of five, Alex took matters into his own hands, sneaked the kitchen scissors into his room and hacked chunks off his hair.
Maud says: “I was angry Alex had taken the kitchen scissors because it was dangerous.
“I would happily have marched him to the hairdressers to get his hair cut, but it was difficult because we were co-parenting.
“It looked a right mess as his fringe was chopped to the roots and big chunks were missing.
“I told him as a punishment for taking the scissors, he’d have to walk around with his hair like that until his fringe was long enough to get his hair cut properly.
“Alex was unrepentent and said: ‘It still looks better than when it was long.’”
“He was much happier and in control. His identity was more visible to others. As a mum, seeing his happiness made me realise whatever else we had to face would be worth it.”
Maud soon realised Alex’s assigned gender and his identity were clashing and causing him anxiety. He became aware society puts people into male and female boxes.
Maud explains: “Alex realised he wasn’t one of the girls, but biologically, he wasn’t one of the boys either.
“He became more vocal about dressing male and asked to drop his female first name.
“As he was going into Year Two, I decided he was old enough to have a conversation about gender to find out how he was perceiving things.
“Alex knew who he was. It was a bigger revelation to him that others might not accept that. I explained transgender was a thing and that your body might be one thing, but your mind another. I told him something could be done and there was nothing to stop him presenting socially as a boy.
“There were a few difficult years. Alex didn’t quite understand things or have the confidence to explain to others.
“He is a quieter personality not loud and in your face. He couldn’t put into words what he was feeling other than: ‘My mind is a boy and I want to use my middle name which is a boy’s name.’
“I met with transgender adults to get an understanding. I had a lot of learning to do myself.”
Maud went to the GP with Alex who was dressed as Darth Vader, at the age of six.
She says: “My GP was wonderful and said: ‘There are lots of children who present at this age with similar things. Do what you feel is best.’
Alex socially transitioned at home and looks physically like a boy to the outside world.
Maud says: “To look at him, you’d never recognise Alex wasn’t born a boy.
“He is tall and broad and has a masculine face. We are out in our community. People quickly for got the little girl with long beautiful hair and accepted the little boy before them.
“Alex isn’t a typical boy. He isn’t into sports or football. He isn’t boisterous, but is a quieter boy. He quickly had this male identity that wasn’t connected to stereotypical maleness.
“It is just his mind that is a boy’s.”
Maud realised conversations with school were needed and meetings were held and the headteacher agreed they would use Alex’s male middle name.
Maud says: “It is a Catholic school, but the faith isn’t against diversity. It took time but as understanding increased, the school got more behind us.”
However, this year, Alex faced challenges from other children.
Maud explains: “When Alex was younger, children were just dismissive of him. As he got older, name calling and teasing began. Then earlier this year, Alex was physically attacked by two boys, pushed to the ground punched, kicked and subjected to horrendous name calling.
“The school was very apologetic and mortified - particularly when a similar thing happened the following day.
“The school came down like a tonne of bricks on these children and all staff have received training to learn what it’s like to be transgender.
“The headteacher has learned about transgender policies and spoken to all the classes and parents.
“The turning point was horrendous but the school have been brilliant ever since - and they weren’t bad before.
“If I could find an award to put them forward for, I would.”
With high school imminent, Maud and Alex know there will be more challenges ahead. However, the headteacher of the primary school will work directly with Alex’s future high school.
After counselling, Alex was referred to the NHS Tavistock and Portman Clinic in Leeds for gender identity services and had his first appointment in June.
Maud says: “Socially, Alex has transitioned since he was seven and now wants the physical transition through the medical route. It is a long process but with Alex being on the cusp of puberty, we are hoping for hormone blockers to stop female puberty and then cross sex hormones at 16 so he can begin male puberty.
“Unfortunately for Alex, his breasts are already starting to grow and he is now wearing a binder to restrict and hide the appearance of his chest.
“It is uncomfortable and a constant reminder his female body is growing. Alex says if he can’t stop the breasts from developing, he wants them off.
“The idea of surgery to construct a penis is only an inkling in his mind as he is only 10 and at the start of his journey.
“I know he has a hard time ahead, but I will support him whatever he decides.”
Maud adds: “The statistics for trans children who aren’t accepted by their parents or society make grim reading.
“Around half of trans teenagers attempt suicide and around 60 per cent self harm because of this body that’s alien to them.
“I want an alive and happy child who reaches adulthood and thrives.
“If that means Alex living the identity in his mind, that’s fine. Even if this changes in the future, that’s OK. I am fine with my child being a boy, a girl or in the middle. I just want him to live authentically and be happy.”
Names have been changed to protect identities.
More support than ever
Carolyn Mercer, chairman of trustees at Lancashire LGBT says: “Young trans people now have greater access to information, advice and support than ever before.
“Online communities and an increasingly visible media presence are giving young trans people a far better understanding of gender identities and what it means to be transgender and/or non-binary.
“Lancashire LGBT works closely with schools across the county who are supporting young people ndergoing gender transition as well as providing support for the parents and families of those young people.”
• If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article or if you wish to find out more about the work of Lancashire LGBT contact them on 01772 717461 or visit their website at www.lancslgbt.org.uk
Social transition is the first stage
THE Gender Identity Development Service run by The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust sees young people up to the age of 18.
While most referrals come from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, the service has also received referrals from GPs, paediatricians and schools.
The trust, which has clinics in London and Leeds, works with children and young people who are experiencing difficulties in the development of their gender. This includes people who are unhappy with their biological sex.
A spokesman for NHS Tavistock and Portman says: “Every child and young person we see here is different and there is no right or wrong way to explore one’s gender or indeed a pre-prescribed age that children transition.
“Social transition is generally the first stage of transition and people experience this in different ways, at different times.
“Younger children are increasingly tending to make earlier social transitions.
“If a young person does decide to start the process of physical transition, the process can be started when the young person is in the early stages of established puberty.
“In the case of younger children, young people and their families take part in a comprehensive psychological and social assessment for a period of about six months before a referral to the dedicated endocrine liaison clinic is considered.
“Cross sex hormones can be prescribed from the age of 16.”
The current caseload the service is seeing is about 800. However, some of these cases are open from referrals in previous years meaning the caseload is higher than the number of annual referrals.
Over the years, there has been an increase in the number of referrals.