The journey begins…
It was an exciting time when I discovered that I was pregnant with my first child. I had always wanted to be a mother and loved children. The fact that I suffered from morning sickness (all day long) throughout most of my pregnancy couldn’t even impact on my euphoric feelings of pending motherhood. My husband John, was ‘over the moon’ and we enjoyed the pregnancy together with much anticipation at the prospect of becoming parents.
At last I gave birth on a beautiful morning in 2000. A gorgeous baby boy (so we were told…) Ashley was born. I was overjoyed with being a mother and felt ecstatically grateful to have this precious being in my arms finally.
Our child slept virtually throughout the night and was an extremely peaceful child. Life was wonderful.
Oh, what a cute “phase”
It was long before Kindergarten and actually prior to Ashley even talking and communicating with us clearly that we noticed an obsession with dress ups… dresses in particular. It was the day care centre that pointed out to us their intentions to remove the dress up box altogether for a while as Ashley was increasingly, and in their opinion, unhealthily excessive about it. This was not a shock for us as we had already been witnessing such behaviours for some time and although at times we may have been a little uncomfortable about it, we were assured that this was common and “just a phase”… Before long Ashley gravitated to everything “girl” from clothing to wigs (or anything that would replicate long swishy hair, like a scarf for example) to toys to movies etc. When he would play he would ALWAYS assume the female role with his peers. ALWAYS, EVERYTIME!! When he would have his face painted he wanted the fairy or the butterfly. He wanted us to paint his room pink, and he wanted a beautiful pink quilt set to match. He obsessively wanted the pink or girlie ANYTHING – and looking back now I can see that there was a little girl inside crying out desperately to be recognised and acknowledged.
Another interesting thing is that Ashley always sat down on the toilet and never wanted to stand up, despite his Dad’s constant attempts to convert. Furthermore, Ashley only ever wanted to play with other girls and never connected with boys, unless coerced to play with them. If a play date with a boy had been organised from Kindy or School he would end up playing with their sisters or their Mothers. One day we organised a play with Kingston from Kindy and when I went to pick him up he was dressed in Kingston’s sister’s ballet costume with his face painted as a fairy, and Kingston was out the backyard swinging from the clothes line left to his own games!
Our family grows…
A few years later Leila was born, a most anticipated playmate for Ashley. I was aware of the possible adjustments Ashley may need to make with the arrival of a new sibling. However, that was never an issue, even as Leila was showered in the traditional “pink for girls” stuff. Ashley couldn’t have been more proud and doting. However there had been a noticeable increase in Ashley’s night time prayers to the angels to “turn me into a girl please” at times accompanied with great tears and sadness. Hearing this night after night was heart breaking.
When the time came for schooling we decided to send Ashley to an all boys’ school. We made this decision after much deliberation and consultation with a psychologist; taking the advice that maybe he just needed “a little bit of boy time “so he could learn to speak “boy language”. I didn’t know what this meant, however to me all the more reason why he needed to learn it, as I certainly didn’t know what this was!! This decision couldn’t have been more wrong. School was murderous for him. Ashley despised the uniform and had absolutely no interest in the boys that went there. They would sometimes play in the mornings on the playground and I would listen to them as they would all argue over who would be Spiderman or Batman and Ashley would innocently announce that he was Mary Jane Watson, Invisible Girl or Cat Woman!!
Growing concern over “the phase”…
Ashley’s teacher called us into the school one day not long into his first year of schooling to alert us to the fact that, when asked to draw himself, he always drew himself as a girl. Again this was something that he always did at home, and we never saw it as an issue. When the teacher made quite a deal about it, we began to grow a little concerned. Again we sought advice from numerous professionals such as psychologists, counsellors, doctors and psychiatrists. We even tried to gain insight from a clairvoyant/medium. Interestingly, he was quite confident that Ashley was in fact a girl and said that nothing really needed to be “fixed” here! The appointment with him was so much more pleasant and reassuring than any of the appointments with the “medical profession” who (in their admittance) had very little understanding of or knowledge in this area of diversity.
Upon our searching for answers, we came across an organisation in our state that dealt with gender related issues. They comprised of two psychiatrists who evidently were the people whose approval was required in order to obtain sex affirmation surgery. Wonderful we thought. These are the people who can help us. I decided to give them a call. This didn’t go so well. When I called to make an appointment, they stumbled nervously for a moment when I answered their question as to how old my child was. Initially we were refused and told that they do not see people “that young”. Embarrassed, I hung up the phone and fell into a momentary state of devastation at having met another dead end. However this time, within moments, I decided to get angry. I called them back (albeit still a blubbering mess) and argued that they “had” to see us. We simply had nowhere else to go. I told them my child was showing signs of severe depression (as was truly the case) and I was desperate for assistance. The secretary told me she would see what could be organised and within an hour or so I received a phone call saying that the female psychiatrist had agreed to see us. I am omitting names here, but I was hoping to see the main psychiatrist – the one that made the ultimate decisions regarding treatment, yet he refused, and again we were told he had said Ashley was too young to be considered for assessment!!!
The appointment day came and John and I eagerly went along. As was always the way, we did not take Ashley as we were steadfast in our need to vet people first. We needed to make sure that we were on the same page, for we would never risk our child being made to feel like he was in any way defective. When we finally sat down and spoke with Ms XXXXX we began our emotional account of Ashley’s life thus far. She listened sympathetically and said very little. Toward the end she explained that she had, in her 20 something years of working in this area, only “diagnosed” one child as being “transgender”. She told us she was reluctant to “diagnose” this type of thing in children as they mostly “grow out of it”. She spoke of another little “boy who wanted to be a girl” and said that it was a most difficult and delicate situation, but definitely the only one she had ever encountered. We asked her if she was ready to meet her “number two”!
She agreed that she should meet Ashley and gave us some advice about their organisation’s belief that it is always best avoid stereotypical gender toys (duh?), try and find “gender neutral” hobbies and toys to encourage (hello??) and that they strongly recommend trying to “conform” the child with such confusion and this is usually best done by sending them to a same sex school… (Yeah well that didn’t work!!). We could not believe it. John and I were flabbergasted! This was the organisation that headed up the “support group” for transsexualism in our state. What hope was there with such ignorance and narrow-mindedness as our only saviour?
After much evaluating following that appointment we decided to fly solo without the assistance of the “professionals” and continue parenting Ashley as we felt we felt best. That is, allowing him to express himself as he wished. Needless to say we did not return to that place and were most relieved we had not taken Ashley with us.
Ashley remained in the boys’ school for 1 year and a month or so into the second year before we pulled him out. Ashley constantly begged to go to a school with other girls. One day on the way to school Ashley said “Mummy everyday I go to school with a smile on my face but inside my heart is crying”. With that, I pulled a U-turn and headed home in search of a school system that would fit Ashley. Surely there would be a school out there that would understand and accept Ashley for Ashley?
A few days later we enrolled Ashley in a co-educational public school. He was much happier in this school and we had little troubles for a while – aside from a persistent Ashley wanting to wear the girls’ school uniform.
Things were relatively easier for a while and usual patterns were followed again – boys requesting play dates – Ashley not wanting to – a constant stream of play dates and birthday parties with only girls. Things got a little tricky with a few birthday parties with dress up themes. The first one was a fairies and pirates party – needless to say Ashley went as a fairy – a beautiful Tinkerbell to be precise complete with green stockings, a magnificent tutu and beautiful ribbons with a variety of other hair decorations. Initially there were a few giggles from the children and nervous asides from parents, but I stayed at the party that day and stood beside him in full support and pretty quickly people got over it. Actually, if the truth be known, I was a bundle of nerves and worried about what people would say and think – mainly of me as a parent “allowing” such a thing! As I watched my child unabashedly skipping and flitting around the party as happy as I had ever seen him, I was reassured that this was what I wanted most – for him to be a happy little 6 year old enjoying life to the fullest.
It was at this time that I painfully remember certain surrender and beginning to face the fact that I had to let go of the boy I birthed, to make way for my daughter to blossom and grow. I had a dreadful time as I finally realised it was pointless hanging on to the ‘boys” clothing that Ashley was never going to wear, and the “boys” toys that I had hung on to. A few people continued to hand down boys clothing that I knew he was not going to wear and people also continued to give “boys” toys that Ashley politely thanked them for, but we knew had no place in Ashley’s possession. And so I piled up the very last remnants of the testosterone in Ashley’s bedroom and gave it away. There were few pieces of clothing actually left in his wardrobe.
Buying clothing was a nightmare. If we shopped in the boys section it was rare that we would find something that could pass as neutral clothing, much less find anything Ashley would be slightly interested in owning. Predominantly in the boys section you would find skull and cross bones, skate boards, surf boards, negative logos i.e.: here comes trouble etc. So we began shopping in the girls section for Ashley. This was so much easier as Ashley would want pretty much anything there and of course leaned toward the VERY girlie stuff. Occasionally I would cave in a buy the pink frilly, way over-the-top number. However mostly I would search for endless hours for something in-between. This was not an easy task.
Transformation, a beautiful butterfly appears….
More often now strangers referred to Ashley as a little girl. Vividly I recall an elderly lady asking Ashley (whilst in the girls clothing section of Target) “what do you like as I am buying my granddaughter something for her birthday and you look like you have good taste sweetheart – what you think? Thank you for your help… your daughter is gorgeous” she said. I felt like I was harbouring this massive secret from people… should I correct her? Should I tell? I learnt pretty quickly to let it go. This was to happen a lot more often from now on.
Still, at this time, we kept explaining to family, friends and school etc that Ashley was simply “a boy who wanted to be a girl”. Sometimes we would say “Ashley is a tomgirl”. All the while Ashley was insistent in saying “I AM A GIRL”. We were persistent in gently reaffirming Ashley that he was not. Eventually Ashley came up with an explanation of his own… “I was born with the body of a boy – but the heart of a girl”. Yep – we got that! It still didn’t make life, and parenting Ashley any easier. His one and only wish was to be a girl He wished for it at birthdays, prayed to the angels, fairies and God but no-one seemed to listen. Even Santa didn’t get it. There were tears and genuine sadness surrounding Ashley’s days and nights that tore me apart.
As life went on, we continued our search for a group of people that could offer advice in order to make life easier for Ashley. The thought of puberty and adolescence was totally overwhelming for me. I needed answers; I needed to know there was a way that I could possibly give some light for Ashley’s constant questions and fears about “becoming a man”. He was coming into an age of understanding a little about puberty. He was so frightened about his body changing and solidifying a male gender. He begged us to not let his voice turn into a man’s. He was repulsed at the idea of having hair, or fluff as he called it, grow on his body. One evening he said to us that he was so scared because he knew that he could “pull it off” as a girl for now – but when these changes happened it wouldn’t work anymore. He began asking questions about operations to have boy’s “things” removed that he had heard about from children at school. Despite our use of the correct words when referring to body parts (i.e. penis/vagina) he did not use the word penis for his anatomy. He would point to it almost in revulsion and say “that thing”.
I made contact with adults that I knew of within my circles who were living with transsexualism or who had transitioned into their affirmed sex. This was great in one sense as we were then able to ascertain personal accounts of those further into their journeys. Yet even so, there was little solace in the fact that even these wonderful people were unable to offer direction for our child given his young age.
For some time, we had been on the waiting list for a school we believed would be more understanding of Ashley’s difference. Finally, we had been accepted and decided to make the move to a new town. We were relieved as this was what we were desperate to secure for Ashley. This was to be a critical move for our family indeed, for we were to develop a deeper understanding for, and acceptance of, Ashley for who SHE really is.
Ashley began first year at the new school and was introduced to the class as a boy. Since then several parents have admitted to me that they always thought Ashley was a girl and felt embarrassed when they learned they were wrong. We had already been encouraging Ashley to grow his hair as this really seemed a necessary thing for his self-expression. Ashley loved this environment and quickly made wonderful friends and did all the stuff of normal little children.
Our first challenge at this school came with a school celebration. It was announced that the boys were to wear dark pants and white shirts and girls were to wear colourful dresses. This sparked a huge protest on Ashley’s part. Actually he didn’t own dark pants or a shirt of any kind. He did, however, have an assortment of dresses to choose from! Ashley was steadfast in his protests and was to go to the celebration in a dress. I was full of nerves and worry; however the whole episode was a non event. No-one seemed to particularly care and the joy on our child’s face was priceless.
Even though Ashley wore the dress on that occasion, I was discouraging wearing skirts or dresses to regular school days. I felt that we wouldn’t be there to keep him safe. Yet Ashley’s ever growing long hair and ever increasing portrayal of all things feminine made the wearing of a dress or skirt inconsequential to his being recognised as a girl. He just looked like a girl, all the time.
I often find it most interesting that of all of the people within our circle of friends and family, the men are usually the most accepting of Ashley’s diversity, in spite of the fact that their respective partners assume that they will not be able to cope with it. I do not believe that our prejudices or societal influences favour any sex. There have been many surprises for us, where we have found respect and understanding in the most unsuspecting places.
Certainly worth noting is the fact that John has been totally supportive of Ashley throughout this entire journey. There were numerous times where I had big concerns about him going “out in public” in a dress, whereas John would proudly walk beside him in full support and truly never cared what anyone thought, so long as Ashley was happy within himself. For this and more I feel so fortunate and very grateful. Ashley could not have chosen a better father.
Our family grows again…
In the year of 2007 Ashley’s baby brother Alex was born. Again this was another much awaited arrival and I was quietly amused as all the “blue for boys” stuff rolled in. Knowing what we know now, it was so interesting observing everyone’s interest in the boy or girl division i.e. “What are you having? What did you have? Are you happy you got a boy?” etc. It is quite remarkable how brainwashed society can be with these things. We were just glad to have a baby!
It was in the year of Alex’s birth that Ashley began Ice Skating lessons privately tutored by a friend of ours. We thought Ashley may enjoy this sport and might also find he could be graceful and find some happiness in his biological sex. Almost instantly we were corrected, for when he picked out his skates he chose the white ones. In the skating world, white skates are for girls and black skates are for boys. Ashley competed in his first competition in a beautiful sequined leotard. I think what Ashley loved most about Ice Skating (and indeed the ballet lessons that went with it) was the fact that he was known as a girl there. During Ashley’s time at Ice Skating I ticked my first Female box on an enrolment form and from here on in began to do this more often.
Problems began to arise in the school toilets. Ashley feared going to the toilet and would wait and only go if no-one was around (and always used the cubicles). Often I would pick him up from school and he would be jumping up and down busting to go as he had held on all day. He became sad and angry that children at school were asking him if he was a boy or a girl. Eventually Ashley began to show obvious signs of distress (i.e.: bedwetting, depression) and so we pulled him out of school temporarily. We home schooled for a term and all was okay for a time. Ashley expressed he missed his friends and actually wanted to go back. We met with the school and came up with a solution for Ashley to use the staff toilets in the Administration building. Ashley was never comfortable with this decision.
Once again we endeavoured to find advice from a professional. I had been referred to someone this time that came very highly recommended. I was told she worked in the education system and helped bridge problems concerning children and their schooling environment. I had to go alone that day to meet her and this was to be the most dreadful experience I had encountered to date. As I sat in her office and proceeded to roll out my, now routine, heartfelt account of Ashley’s life, I noticed a very sudden shift in her demeanour. She began twisting her face at me awkwardly and almost in disgust told me to stop. She asked me what we were doing. She accused us of abusing our child by allowing this nonsense. She blurted that clearly Ashley was going to be gay and that would be that. She told me to tell him that he just cannot behave this way and reinforce to him that he is a boy and that will never change. I was so confused and shamed that I truly doubted for a moment what we were doing to our child. Maybe we were really bad parents…? However, once I grounded myself and regained my sense of balance I realised that I had absolutely no intention of seeing this woman ever again.
And so Ashley returned to school and continued to use the boys’ toilets when no-one was around. This continued until the school year was over. The following year was to bring big changes.
The butterfly’s resistance
2008, the year that somewhere in the second term of school I would see Ashley defiantly tell me he was wearing a dress to school and that was that. I tried so hard to persuade him otherwise. I called my husband at work and John told me that this is Ashley’s journey and just let him go. Reluctantly I drove him to school that day and cried helplessly as he got out of the car told me he didn’t need to be walked down to class and “I’ll be okay Mum”. With a beaming smile and absolute love and excitement in his heart he skipped down the hill to the classroom. When I picked Ashley up from school that day all was well and there seemed to be no problems. From now on Ashley would wear dresses, skirts and anything else other girls wear to school.
I had to remind myself that Ashley was a very strong person and has always had the capabilities of standing up to and dealing with people’s ignorance. Often when I feared him going out into the world alone it was my own fears I needed to look at.
In the latter part of 2008, Ashley began using the girls’ toilets – full time. He just took the plunge and decided on that himself. We were unaware of this at first. However I must say this seemed pretty straight forward to us anyway considering Ashley (everywhere except school) had always used the girls’ toilets. Secondly, looking at Ashley it seemed odd that he would ever enter a boys’ toilet – she was clearly a girl.
Nevertheless this was not allowed to happen. We did really try to convince Ashley to use the staff toilets in order to finish the school year. We asked her why she refused to use the staff toilets and her reply was “I already feel weird enough; I don’t want to stand out anymore”. We accepted this without further discussion.
The butterfly is released… true colours shine
The single most significant thing that happened in our family in 2008 was the switch to using female pronouns from now on i.e.: she/her. Upon officially acknowledging Ashley’s status as a girl, not only has she bloomed and settled into her life with much happiness, but life for all of us has become much easier. Once the initial discussions with family and friends had taken place and we were free to exercise this practise it was a relief.
I believe it would have taken us a lot longer to adapt to Ashley’s affirmed female sex had we not made contact with other families going through similar experiences.
Necessary legal stuff…
As a result of this we have made significant advances in our understanding of the experience of transsexualism and how to go about the procedures necessary in order to facilitate Ashley’s needs best. Ashley has been diagnosed as having Gender Identity Disorder of the male-female transsexual type by psychiatrists, psychologists and endocrinologists – all requirements at this stage for support for what we think will be needed for her treatment in later years. Early and recurring documentation by these people will ensure Ashley’s needs be met. Currently these are legal requirements.
I cannot say that for me it was or has ever been easy. But I can assure others that a better understanding of transsexualism and, most importantly acquiring a support network has helped immensely. For a long time I definitely felt a very deep sense of grief letting go of the son I birthed. However by changing the way I viewed this I enjoyed a newfound excitement in embracing the daughter that I had gained and am now so truly grateful for. We can finally parent our daughter through life in her affirmed gender as a young girl. My only regret is that we didn’t embrace this sooner.
Help at school…
Ashley did not attend most of the last term of school in her second year as we were unable to come to an agreement with the use of the toilets. The school required confirmation and recommendation from professionals to ensure that when Ashley returned to school and used the female toilets they would be legally covered should anybody make a complaint.
Thankfully we gathered documents supporting Ashley’s status as female. These came from a lawyer, psychologist and psychiatrist and were promptly accepted by the school without delay. This was such a celebrated milestone. With all the available resources and persistence from these brilliant children, changes are occurring and all for the better.
Beginning 2009, Ashley returned to school once we had presented the requested documentation. From here on in she would be recognised, acknowledged and treated as female. The school has been wonderfully supportive and is committed to working with us to educate the school community in diversity. They are even preparing a policy statement to be included in the schools’ policy.
We have finally reached the stage where we need to validate our daughter’s affirmed gender as female and will no longer tolerate any less. Somehow we will find ways, through whatever challenges that may present, to afford our daughter the basic rights of any man/woman/boy/girl or in between.
Where do we sit today?
It’s 2012, and Ashley will soon turn 12. The road can be bumpy; however it is so much smoother than I remember it being in the early days of discovering our daughter. Considerations for high school are upon us and a little daunting – as they are for many parents I am sure. For the last two years Ashley has attended a school where she has enjoyed complete anonymity. School life for her, in an environment where everyone knew her history became too difficult. So this has been a lovely break for her and she is doing so very well in all areas of her life.
What does the future hold for our daughter… who knows? For now she is a regular 11 year old. With puberty looming we have plans in place in conjunction with specialists who regularly monitor her and we feel comfortable in knowing that there are options for Ashley that will pave the way for her to move forward with her fabulous life.
All we know is that we will do whatever it takes to nurture all of our children, to guide them through their chosen paths, allowing them the freedom to be who they need to be. There is an amazing gift in diversity and many a thing to be learned. Ashley has taught us so many lessons and certainly held a mirror to me on many occasions so that I may see my own prejudices and socialised views on gender roles. For that, and the many things that our colourful little girl brings, I am grateful.
Mother of three children, perfect and unrepeatable human beings, just the way they are.
P.S. It was necessary to refer to my daughter with male pronouns in order to tell this story. I found this uncomfortable and difficult. Conversely, not so long ago I found it hard using female pronouns. This only lasted a short while and was the single most important thing I needed to do so as to really and truly receive my daughter.