Identity: Girl, aged 7, Channel Islands
"I find it baffling when people say that parents of transgender children must have “wanted a child of the opposite sex” and that this desire caused our children to change to please us. It is my hope that by telling our story, people can begin to understand the unlikeliness of such a scenario and that children like my feisty, beautiful, stubborn daughter would never change who they are for anyone.
Our journey began when Jacob was two years old and at preschool. When I arrived to collect him in the afternoons, he would be reluctant to change from his favourite fancy dress outfit, the policewoman’s dress, into his regular clothes. This seemed like the usual toddler stubbornness, and I thought little of it when he and his older brother Sam became obsessed with Frozen, singing, dancing, and twirling happily in matching Elsa dresses. I have many photos and videos as it was wonderful to see them expressing themselves freely without the constraints of gender norms. The Disney phase continued, and we collected more dresses, but as Sam outgrew the phase Jacob became more obsessed. By the time Jacob was four years old he wore nothing but princess dresses at home and begged me to get him a “proper everyday dress” so that he had something to wear out as well as at home. A friend gave me a pink spotty dress her daughter had outgrown, and Jacob wore it every day. He had huge tantrums whenever I washed it and I quickly realised I needed to get a couple of alternative outfits. At this point I still thought nothing of it, my sweet little boy liked to dress up and of course there is nothing wrong with that.
When Jacob started school, he quickly observed the difference in uniform between the boys and the girls. In the first term there was a medieval event and while all the other reception boys wore king or knight costumes Jacob refused to wear the knight costume I had bought and decided to wear his Snow-White dress. Similarly, when he was invited to a friend’s superhero themed birthday party, he wore his Elsa dress because she was his hero. By his second term at school Jacob started referring to himself as Maddie and asked if he could wear dresses to school. We talked about it several times and decided that if he wanted to wear the school uniform dresses, he should be able to wear them. I started to realise that this might be more than simply dressing up and chatted to Jacob regularly about how he was feeling, but he was still quite happy to be a boy in a dress.
Difficulties began when I contacted the class teacher to let them know that Jacob would be wearing school dresses. The teacher was fantastic and saw no reason why he could not, but as the teacher was new to the school, he said they would have to check the school policy with the head teacher, who then contacted me directly. She told me that Jacob would have to be reviewed by CAMHS (Child and Adult Mental Health Services) and that if he came to school in the girl’s uniform it would confuse the other children. I contacted Liberate for advice as I did not agree with the school’s position. Liberate were able to direct me to the local guidance for schools which clearly stated that children should be able to wear whichever uniform they wish. When Jacob returned to school that term, it was in a summer dress.
Things settled down at school but a few months later, when Jacob was five, he became moody and sad. I talked to him one evening when we had some quiet time on our own and he broke down in terrible wracking sobs against my chest. Through his tears he asked me why I hadn’t made him a girl when he was in my tummy. He was angry because he believed it was my fault, we cuddled, and I gently explained that I didn’t get to choose whether my babies were born girls or boys. Jacob accepted that but was still confused so I did some research into books to explain gender identity to
children. I found one that was well worded and age appropriate to read to both of my children together. When we came to the part about boys Sam was pleased and said, “that’s me, I’m a boy!”. Jacob was quiet and sullen. When we got to the section about nonbinary people, they were both interested to hear that people could be both genders or neither. As we read the pages about transgender children Jacob’s face lit up and his eyes were bright. “That’s me mummy, I’m a girl with a boy’s body”. I was surprised at her certainty but from that day on she has never wavered, she happily tells people that she has a “girl brain in a boy’s body”. She laughs now and tells me how silly I was to think she was a boy when she was born, as she was a girl all along!
Jacob decided that she wanted to change her name, Maddie was a name she had used temporarily but it belonged to a girl in her class, she wanted her own name. It was hard for me to let go of a name I had chosen with love, but I realised that my daughter considered the name Jacob too masculine for her, and she needed the change to move forward. She chose Maya and at the end of the Easter holidays she went back to school with her new name and pronouns. I had discussed the changes with the teacher in advance, and everything went more smoothly than I could have expected, most of the children in her class accepted the changes easily.
Some people have said to me that Maya is too young to know who she is and that I may be damaging her psychologically by allowing her to be free in her choices. I do not agree. Should I have refused to let her wear dresses and told her she could not be a princess? Her favourite colour is pink, should I tell her that is a girl colour, and she must pick blue? Clothing and colours do not have genders, I could have dressed her in typical “boy clothes” and she would still be who she is. The difference is that she would not be happy and as a parent I refuse to be the reason for my child’s misery.
I must admit I have moments of anxiety and I worry about the difficulties Maya could face in the future. The media is full of examples of the lack of understanding for transgender children and their parents. I shield my daughter as much as I can from people with negative attitudes, she is lucky to have a big brother who is her fierce protector and will not tolerate other children saying things to dim her brightly shining light. We are also lucky to have a supportive network of family and friends both in person and online through organisations such as Mermaids and more locally Liberate.
Whatever the future holds for Maya, the most important thing is that she always feels loved, accepted, and supported. She has taught me so much about self-acceptance and how much it affects our happiness and wellbeing. I am so proud of my inspiring fierce daughter; I am certain that with her determination and spirit she will achieve great things."