We are a fairly ordinary, suburban Australian family. My husband and I both work. We earn an average income between us. We follow the football, watch the news, help out at school, enjoy our friends and family, go to the movies and love music. We would like to take more holidays but can’t afford to. We are very proud of our children.
When I was pregnant with our twins, I was regularly reminded by just about everyone that I was having a “high risk” pregnancy. This was true technically speaking. Twins do increase the risk of all sorts of distressing things happening. But I took that on board, looked after myself and let myself off the hook as far as wanting this kind of labour or that. All I wanted were two healthy babies. With twins, you have scans throughout the pregnancy, so there were many opportunities to ask the sex of these two little floating universes. I never asked. I didn’t mind what combination of sex I had. I didn’t care about nursery décor or what cute little outfit I would buy. It just wasn’t important to me. So when we were blessed with two healthy boys, we couldn’t have been happier or prouder. I wheeled around my two babies in the hospital like a queen, sitting in the nursery feeding my twins myself, feeling the eyes of the other Mums on me. I’m sure as they nursed their little ones they might have been thinking they were glad they only had one to deal with. Maybe they felt a bit sorry for me. I was having the time of my life! I have loved being a mother from the moment they came into my life. I’m not saying having twins isn’t hard. I’ve never been so bone tired, so totally and completely happily pooped. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life!!! But it has been for me the most rewarding experience. Even now, looking back on the hardships over the last five years or so, I wouldn’t change a thing.
One night, when my boys were about three years old, I was drying them both off after bath time. Bill was chatting away and very brightly said to me “Mummy, I don’t want a penis, I want a vagina.” We had taught the boys the proper names for parts of the human body, but I just blinked at him thinking I had misheard. He looked back at me. “But Bill, you have a penis. You’re a boy,” I said. He finished drying off and life went on. But that was the first moment I made a connection that something might be different about our Bill. It feels so awkward to refer to Kate as Bill, and as “he” now. But for the purposes of our story I will, until the time Bill was able to affirm his sex as female and make a full social transition. Bill had even at a very young age been into “girls things”. We never bought him or Jim his twin, “girl stuff”, but Bill would turn a truck into a girl truck or a Buzz Lightyear costume into a Mira Nova costume or a towel into long hair. At the toy library he would always choose the girl dress ups or the Bellville Lego. My husband and I thought we had a little boy who was very creative, playful and carefree. You could say we were alert, but not alarmed at that stage. So what if he liked to play with the kitchenette instead of the lawnmower! He asked to start ballet classes and Jim said he would like to go along too. All right. We took them along and Bill was in ecstasy but Jim was in a kind of living hell! Bill, tiptoeing around with all the little girls and his coloured ribbons dancing and floating like a butterfly and Jim looked like he was in physical pain. He couldn’t bear it. So that was that. Jim didn’t have to go any more, but Bill continued for about three years. This is really how it was for Bill for the next five years. He never stopped wanting to express himself as female. He went to kinder and dressed up as a girl in the dress-up corner every day. He began school, had friends, wore the boy’s uniform but always played the girl in their adventures and games. But school was really the beginning of the end for Bill. It was there he realised he was stuck as a boy. Boys think and behave in ways that he didn’t know how to. Jim could. Jim was action man! Bill began to show signs of real distress around the age 6-7. He would say to me, “Mum, it’s so hard trying to be a boy” and “I have to go to school disguised as a boy”. He wouldn’t use the boy’s toilet, would hold on all day and once or twice had accidents on the way home. He wasn’t achieving well at school. He had very good friends but was being bullied by older kids. He would come home upset, angry and say, “You don’t understand! I wish I was dead.” These words hit hard when you hear them. That my beloved child should be suffering this much, when he had been so happy and carefree in the past, made me feel such pain and guilt for not taking action sooner. We had tried to reinforce his masculinity. But the truth is, when you have to try to convince your son he is a boy, you have a problem. We thought/hoped it was a phase that would pass in time, or that he might be gay, which was just not an issue for us. The realization that this young person was in such pain by being forced to be a boy that he would rather be dead was shattering. My husband and I decided we needed to seek professional help and we found it at The Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne where they have a Gender Centre there. The relief for Bill was instantaneous. To be able to express his feelings openly without judgement was such a big help. As parents we were relieved as well that we were not blamed for our child experiencing this. Bill attended a child psychiatrist for several months before we were given a formal diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder (GID- transsexual type). Whilst this was the diagnosis we feared the most, it was a relief to know what we were dealing with and that Bill would have the very best care available. We were referred onto an endocrinologist at the hospital who examined Bill and confirmed he was genetically male and was not Intersex (with both male and female internal and or external sex organs). After a couple of years of counselling and ongoing exploration of all Bill’s options we decided as a family that for Bill it was essential he become the she that we all knew she was. She had been telling us for years that she was a girl. It wasn’t the fancy of a confused or over indulged child. It wasn’t that I had secretly wanted a daughter and was forcing my son into the role. It wasn’t that we were too liberal as parents and had filled the kids with weird new age notions of gender fluidity. And these were claims made against her and us at the time. We thought we had a son and now after much heartache, resistance and hard work to understand, we accepted we had a beautiful, happy, fully expressed, intelligent, wise and amazing daughter. Kate. Our journey has been slow, meticulous and with the benefit of wonderful doctors who are highly skilled and knowledgeable, we have been able to educate ourselves, our families and friends, the kid’s school and work colleagues about our gorgeous daughter. We changed schools so that Kate could use the female toilets and be known exclusively as a girl. The school is amazing and have supported both our kids so well. Only the staff directly involved with our daughter know her circumstances and that has worked very well. None of her friends know her history and this has been wonderful for Kate. She is accepted as everyone else is, at face value. She can just get on and be herself and she is shining. Her academic achievements have been especially pleasing. From an underachieving student to a very high achieving. It proves to us that we chose the right course of action for her.
It is impossible to describe to you every twist and turn of our story. How my heart has ached for my child, how relationships with family have been tested almost to breaking point. How you learn to share with some and not with others your truth. How you fight battles for your child because you know if you do, your child will see they are worth fighting for.
When Kate reached puberty, our specialists agreed with her and us that she was suitable for puberty suppressing treatment. Having never shown any signs of male identification, nor any sign or desire from Kate that she would “change her mind”, we embarked on the next big challenge. Australia is the only country in the world where parents of children receiving treatment for GID are required by law to make an application to the Family Court of Australia on behalf of their child to gain court authority to proceed with ongoing treatment. Our child was granted the use of puberty suppressing hormones and has avoided the development of any secondary male characteristics which would have caused her terrible distress and made her life unbearable. Her voice hasn’t broken, she has no facial hair or Adam’s Apple and she remains a very confident young person.
The unsung hero in this story is my son Jim. He has always understood his twin. He has displayed unconditional love and acceptance beyond his years. He has stood up for his twin in the play ground many times. He has been overlooked while our family struggled to find answers and were grappling with going to court and the stress and worry of it all. He has been jealous of the attention Kate has received and been brave enough to say so. He has kept achieving at school. He has kept his wild sense of humour and his cheeky handsome smile. My love knows no bounds. What I enjoy so much right now is watching my boy develop rapidly into a young man. Moustache, Adam’s Apple, deep voice. It’s lovely. We are so proud of you Jim.
So life has taken on a much steadier pace. We’ve been able to give Jim the focus that he so needed and deserves. We’ve taken a holiday. Life is on a much more even keel. IT DOES GET BETTER! My children are happy, healthy, interested in life, have great friends, lots of ambition and dreams to look forward to in the years ahead.
With love and best wishes to you and your family.