We speak to one Co Down mum whose daughter became her son after going through a full transition aged
At least 10 school children in Northern Ireland have been identified as transgender, Belfast Live can reveal.
It means the youngsters who have been brought up as girls from birth plan to transition to male as they move towards adulthood, and those born apparently male will become openly female. They will be able to change their gender on their birth certificate after the age of 18 and the change will be recognised in law.
A confidential NHS support service called KOI – Knowing Our Identity – dealing with transgender children under 18 was established in Belfast in August 2014 and received 30 referrals in its first year. Lynda, from Co Down, said:
“When I first realised what was going on, I worried that perhaps I’d done something during pregnancy to have made this happen. Like all mums, I just wanted the best and easiest, happiest life for the person I’d always assumed was my daughter. “How would she get through this, what would happen to her body, what would she have to go through and how difficult was this going to be for her? How could she really become a he? “What I didn’t fully understand was that my child was already a he, already a male and he was stuck in a female body, trapped in a female life. There had been the childhood clothes, some of the toys and even an all-girls’ school which was my child’s decision at the time and not ours. “It was such an emotional subject for everyone involved and there were many questions that needed to be considered.
“I’ve watched as some of my child’s friends fell away, I’ve seen people turn on my son when we least expected it. But he had to be true to himself and he is happy and healthy and living a good life.”
At 24, Lynda gave birth to a baby she named Ciara, a little daughter she had loved even before she was born. Lynda explained: “I was shocked but not surprised. There were times when Ciara and I would be together and I’d get the feeling she was struggling with something but was unable to explain what it was. When my child told me three years ago what had been going on, everything fell into place, all those little uncomfortable moments when I thought there was an issue but wasn’t privy to what it was. “People wonder how we have coped with losing our daughter Ciara, but there was no grief, there was no mourning because we still have the same person, except we have a happier person, a content and fully rounded son.
“When my son told me he’d rather be honest about the situation in his 20s than stumble into his 40s after three or four suicide attempts I understood. This was not Conor’s choice, this was Conor’s life. “But in the beginning I wasn’t prepared for it. I was so emotionally distraught and worried that it affected my intellectual understanding that everything was actually OK. And at the start I wasn’t able to support my child in the way I would like to have been able to and that saddens me. At the time there was very little help available to us and our GP had never heard of it. But today things are changing and I hope our story will help other families.
Born Pauline, he transitioned to his true male identity after years struggling to live as a female. Being true to your identity is life changing “Being transgender is about having your very being trapped in the wrong body, it’s about being treated as someone you are not, it involves having the wrong assumptions being made about you all the time. Feeling blue “My hope is that instead of people being vilified for being born transgender, they should be nurtured and loved as they make the transition to their true identity.”
The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust said referrals over the period included 47 children aged five or under, and two children aged three.Most parents sought help after children became deeply distressed about their gender. “The preferred route of referral to KOI is through a local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. Other professionals working “KOI sees children and young people who are experiencing difficulties in the development of their gender identity. We work with young “Some children and young people we see might be unhappy with their biological gender, and others might be unhappy with the expectations people have for them to ‘act like a boy’ or ‘act like a girl’.people are understood and supported by those around them – for example families, schools, clubs and activities.” A spokesman for the Belfast Trust, said: “We have close links with the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and they provide consultation to our KOI team twice per year and on a case by case basis if required.”BelfastLiveOnline
- Help and support for people in Northern Ireland who are transgender and their families is available at The Focus Identity Trust and in the UK, go to GIRES or Mermaids . Click on the highlighted links.
- A spokesman for the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said: “No child under 18 within the Belfast Trust has undergone any surgery related to transgender procedures.”
- “At KOI we provide specialist intervention to young people and their families to help with gender related difficulties, and ensure young
- people along with their families, and others who are important to them.
- with a young person such as in Health, Social Services or Education, as well as young people and their families, can also contact the service directly to discuss a possible referral.
- Knowing Our Identity’s on-line information states: “This service is for children and adolescents up to the age of 18 across Northern Ireland who are experiencing distress in relation to their gender identity development.
- The trust, the UK’s only centre specialising in gender issues in under 18s said that in total, the number of under 11s referred to the unit has risen from 19 in 2009-10 to 77 in 2014-15.
- Across the UK the number of children aged 10 or under referred to the NHS because of transgender feelings has more than quadrupled in five years.
- “There’s still a taboo in Northern Ireland about people who are transgender but we hope it will change. It’s not a mater of choice, it’s a matter of living a true life and it’s something society is going to have to face because it’s here and it happens.
- “It’s there all the time, in your face, in everything you do and see until the day you can transition to your true self. This is simply a medical condition that can literally affect anyone.
- “This is not about little girls being tomboys, or little boys being effeminate – that’s gender expression.
- He said: “It’s like living in a box of ignorance. This is a medical condition yet we are punished by society for having it. We are mocked, bullied and ridiculed, underestimated and so much that is assumed of us is wrong. We are no more likely to be gay than any other person, we are not cross dressers or drag queens.
- Paul, 32, told Belfast Live that being transgender in Northern Ireland was a nightmare for him.
- Life is tough for people who are transgender
- “What I have realised is that although we’ve had a challenge to face, my grown up child is and always was male. Living as a woman would have been the disaster. I wanted the best life for my child and thankfully today he has that, but the journey wasn’t an easy one because of other people’s fears and prejudices.
- “And now I look at Conor and wonder how I hadn’t known from the start. He is the kindest, strongest, most handsome, wonderful young man and his dad and I love him more than we can ever explain.
- Twenty years on she was to become mum to a son, Conor, and say farewell to her girl while dealing with the puzzle that they were one and the same person.
- Society can be hard on people who are transgender
- “For me personally, there was a lot of guilt because I thought I might somehow have created this situation and it was causing my child distress.
- “As time went on, the clothes became baggier and less gender relevant, but to be honest there was little else I could put my finger on until we had the conversation and by that stage my son had done enough research that he was able to explain to me what was happening.
- Many transgender people undergo a full physical transition to their true identity
- “But now this beautiful person was standing in front of me telling me that in fact I had a son and my mind went into overdrive.
- And today Lynda, 47, the mother of a son who was born a girl, speaks out to break the taboo surrounding the issue in Northern Ireland and explains how her family coped.
- The 10 pupils attend eight schools, with two second level schools educating two transgender children in different year groups.
- Each of the young people are expected to change their name and undergo medical intervention to help match their external body to their true internal identity.
- The majority of them are aged over 11 but as many as four who are being helped with their identity issues are primary school pupils.
- Picture posed