Kelly, 40, is mum to Adam, nine and Evie, seven, who transitioned to live as a girl 2015. Here Kelly, who is married to Andrew, 46, explains how Mermaids have helped her family. -
“From the age of two we started to notice that Evie didn’t quite fit in. I thought that my son was going to be gay, but it became apparent that there was something more than that.
“Evie always wanted to play with dolls, and never had any interest in traditional boys toys, like cars or dinosaurs. We had an older son and the two could not have been more different.
“Evie loved bracelets and constantly wanted to wear one, and when I bought the children Guess Who? to play she unclipped all the female faces and put them in a handbag to carry around with her.
“Evie would look longingly at other little girls who were wearing dresses or skirts, and every time I picked her up from the childminder she would be have raided the dressing up box for a princess costume. She would come to the door to meet me in a sparkly pink dress and a tiara with a big smile on her face.
“At other children’s houses she would love putting on the princess outfits, and would have a meltdown when she had to take them off as it was time to leave.
“I wasn’t sure how to cope with how Evie was behaving. Some family members said I should try and make her be a boy, get her to play with boys’ toys and dress her in boys’ clothes, but it became a daily battle. Every time we went to the supermarket she would make a beeline for the aisle with all the dolls and girls toys and get very upset when I told her they weren’t for her.
“I told myself it was a phase but the longer it went on, the more I realised that this wasn’t a temporary thing, it’s who Evie is.
“I didn’t know anything about trans children but I spent hours researching online. I found YouTube videos featuring trans children in America, and cried as I watched them. As a parent you don’t want your child to be trans, as you know the path ahead of them will be so much harder. They may well be bullied at school and discriminated against as they grow older, and they may need life-changing surgery to feel at home in their body. You worry about their future as other people may judge them and find them difficult to understand.
“From the age of four we started to let Evie bring girls’ clothes and toys into the house, and when she was five she told me her biggest dream in the world was to own a dress, so I bought her one and she barely took it off.
“It was around this time that I found Mermaids, and they were an incredible source of information and support. Suddenly, instead of being at a loss as to what to do I was in daily contact with other parents around the country who were in the same situation, who shared my worries and fears. But they also provided amazing support, and I know we are lucky that Evie identified as trans so young.
“Families who have teenagers who have just come out as trans face the trauma of puberty, but thankfully that is years away for Evie. We started seeing the specialist staff at the Tavistock just as Evie turned five, so hopefully the right treatment will be available if she decides to go down that road in the future.
“Mermaids have also helped Evie to meet other trans children by organising meet-ups in our area, and it’s been brilliant for her to see other kids who are going through the same things she is.
“As time went on Evie began to identify more and more strongly as a girl. By the time she was six she would come home from school, take off her boys’ uniform and put her dress on. You could see her visibly relax as she clearly felt happier and better in herself when she was wearing it. Soon after she told me she was a girl, and by May 2015 she asked if she could begin living as a girl.
“We informed school, who were slow to start with and struggled to get their heads around what was going on, but have been really good since then. Evie wears a skirt, uses the girls’ toilets and goes swimming with the girls. They all get changed in private so that hasn’t been a problem.
“Her classmates don’t have any issue with Evie, she’s always been one of the girls as far as they are concerned and now that’s just been formalised.
“This is just who Evie is, she’s my child, I love her and I’m so proud of her. I feel she was born trans, that it’s something that happens in the womb and no-one has any control over it. This isn’t something me or my husband can simply tell her to stop doing, as although she was born physically male, her gender identity is clearly female and that’s who she is.
“If she does change her mind and wants to go back to living as a boy in a few years then that would be great, as it would save her a lot of hardship. But as it stands I cannot imagine how that would ever happen.
“I know the future may be difficult for Evie, but I also know that someone from Mermaids will have been there before us, got through it and will help us to get through it too. Their support is so essential for families like ours. Mermaids mean we are never on our own.”
Jane, 40, is mum to Tom, nine. Tom was born female but began to identify as a male from the age of three. Jane lives with husband Martin, 40, and their daughter Emily, ten. Here she explains how Mermaids have helped her family. -
“I’ve never brought my children up to particularly conform to gender stereotypes, so when Tom developed an obsession for Fireman Sam at the age of three I didn’t have a problem with it. He never wanted to wear a dress and rejected anything that was pink or flowery.
“But as Tom got older and became more verbal I began to think this might be more than just a little girl who was a tomboy.
“At the age of five on a trip out with his grandma Tom told her that he couldn’t wait till he was older and could grow a beard, because then he would know he was a boy. Then he told me he knew he wouldn’t grow boobs and that he would get a willy when he was bigger. When I gently explained that wouldn’t happen he just said ‘of course it will’.
“For Tom, the realisation he was transgender dawned gradually, and I too started to gradually realise that this wasn’t a phase he would grow out of. I began to do a lot of online research into trans children and I talked to friends and colleagues about what Tom was experiencing. The vast majority told me it would go away, but deep down I knew it was more than that.
“Tom didn’t have many friends at school and he was quite solitary. He liked to play very involved, extensive role-play games where he was always the male character.
“By the time he was six and a half he was dressing as a boy and had asked to use the name ‘Tom’ to refer to him.
“He had gorgeous blonde hair which fell in curly ringlets, and he begged me to let him have it cut short, in a boy’s style. I finally agreed and just before the new school term started I took him to the hairdresser, and reassured myself as it fell away that it was only hair, and that it would grow back. But Tom absolutely loved it.
“At that point we were still referring to Tom using female pronouns, and I told him he needed to use the girl’s toilets at school, which he didn’t want to do. He’d always been an easy-going child, but he began to have explosive temper tantrums and became very anxious about going to school.
“It was clear something wasn’t right but I had no idea where to turn. I felt so protective of my child, I just wanted to help him feel better and get him back to his sunny, cheeky self.
“Worrying about Tom affected my every waking moment. I went to my GP but she looked at me like she wanted to vomit when I told her what had been going on. When walked out of the surgery I burst into tears.
“It was my mum who told me about Mermaids, she had found them while searching online. When I first looked at the website I felt conflicting emotions. I almost felt guilty, as if by admitting I needed help and support I was making too big a deal of things and that I was actually encouraging things by simply looking for advice.
“But as soon as I joined the parents’ forum it was as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Other parents were going through this too and there were lots of other children out there like Tom.
“We went on a residential with Mermaids and it was fantastic. There were trans men there who were living successful and fulfilling lives and I saw my child could have a happy future with great prospects. The relief was indescribable.
“Tom was referred to the Tavistock clinic by a school nurse in Easter 2014, and we’ve had four or five appointments so far. I haven’t been overly impressed by their approach, but I see it as being in a system so that hopefully treatment will be made available to Tom once he starts adolescence.
“We began to think about the idea of using male pronouns in early 2015, when Tom was eight. He came up with a plan where we would start on holiday and if it was success we’d do it at home and then at school. By that point he looked and behaved completely like a boy anyway, so it seemed natural to other holidaymakers on our campsite in France that we would refer to him like that. And it soon became second nature to us too.
“When he went back to school in September 2015 Tom returned completely as a boy. He uses the boys toilets and he gets changed with the boys at swimming, although he is allowed to use a cubicle rather than the communal area.
“My daughter Emily has been wonderful and is Tom’s greatest advocate. She summed it up when she told me that before she had a really weird sister, whereas now she has a normal brother. And Tom is a normal little boy. It’s not everyone’s idea of normal, but it’s ours.
“Without Mermaids I have no idea where our family would be now. And although we all know there is a long road ahead, Mermaids has given me hope and optimism that my child can have a happy and successful future.”
Liz, 42, lives with son Jack, 12. She sought help from Mermaids after Jack told her he was transgender in July 2015. Liz, who is divorced, is also mum to Henry, 9. -
“Growing up I’d call Jack the anti-girl, as from being very small he never wanted to do anything that could be classed as at all girly. “I never bought my children gender-specific toys or pink or blue clothes, so the fact Jack loved Bob the Builder didn’t bother me at all. But I remember having to bribe him at the age of four with Bob toys in order to get him to wear a bridesmaid’s dress for my brother’s wedding.
“At pre-school Jack’s best friend was a boy and all he wanted from the corner shop were the same football or space rocket toys as his friend. He never, ever wanted to any girls’ toys or to do any girls’ activities.
“At primary school all Jack’s friends were boys and by the time he got to about seven he gave up trying to be friends or to fit in with the girls, as he just never gelled with any of them. By the time he was 10 he simply played football or got involved with the rough and tumble boys’ games as a matter of course.
“Jack has always had long hair but he refused to do anything with it. He wouldn’t even tie it in a ponytail so it would just hang, getting in his eyes on the football pitch. He wore a polo shirt and trousers as his school uniform and refused to wear any kind of girls’ clothing, even if it was just a plain pair of trousers or a plain t-shirt that I’d bought from the girls’ section.
“But as Jack got towards the end of primary school he began to be teased, and other pupils began to call him names. He was desperate to have his hair cut short but the school advised waiting until the summer holidays as he’d been having these issues. Jack was literally counting the days, and once it had been cut off he donated it to the Princess Trust, who make wigs for children going through chemotherapy.
“I was really proud of him, but I knew it was the end of an era. During his last year at primary school Jack began to ask me what transgender was, and if you were transgender could you be a real man? I tried to give a vague answer and change the subject as I didn’t know where these kind of questions would lead, but he didn’t give up.
“Then in July 2015 both children went to stay with their dad during the summer holidays, and Jack texted asking if he could talk to me when he got home. I was worried and told him to tell me what was wrong, so he texted back and told me he was transgender. We had the whole conversation via text and he was eloquent and well thought-out. It was clear he’d thought a lot about it and I was very proud of him for being so brave.
“But I found it very hard to deal with at first. I’d always wanted a daughter and I had a girl’s name picked out before I’d even got pregnant. When Jack was a baby I dreamed of how I’d have the same close relationship with my little girl when she grew up as I have with my own mum, but suddenly all that was ripped away.
“Although I now had a son I still grieved for the daughter I had lost, and all the hopes and expectations I had lost too. I also felt silly, like I had no right to be upset as my child hadn’t died. He was still here, just different. “I found Mermaids through Google, as I threw myself into researching anything I could about transgender children. It was a huge relief to join the parents’ forum as it reassured me not only that what Jack was feeling was normal, but my reaction was too.
“The first conversation I had with anyone from Mermaids took place as I sat in my car, parked on the drive, sobbing as I didn’t want the children to see how upset I was. Mermaids has been invaluable to me as I know that whatever we’re going through, there will be a parent who has gone through it before me, ready with advice and support.
“They have also arranged for Jack to be mentored via Skype with a trans man who is happy, settled and with a good career and future prospects, and who is an invaluable role model for him.
“Since he came out as trans I have had to have conversations with Jack that no mum should have with a 12-year-old. Conversations about fertility and sexuality and the various potential outcomes of life-changing surgery.
And while we have now begun use a male name and male pronouns for Jack at home, he has yet to transition at school. We are on the waiting list to go to the Tavistock and Jack is keen to start with hormone blockers before female puberty starts to change his body.
“But whatever happens in the future I feel privileged and proud to have such an intelligent and brave child - and I feel a huge sense of relief and gratitude that Mermaids is there to support families like ours.
Denise, 47 and Paul, 49, are parents to Sally, 14 who came out as transgender in 2014 and Liam, 12. -
Here Denise explains how Mermaids have helped her family.
“We didn’t notice Sally having any particular problems or issues as she was growing up, but her primary school was very small and the classes were mixed together in infants, so there was no real distinction between boys and girls or age groups.
“But looking back I can see there were pointers. Sally always wanted to play with the dressing up box, and she always wanted to be a princess. She always wanted long hair too.
“When she got to the final year of primary school a natural split started to happen. Boys would sit on one side of the classroom and the girls on the other, and Sally began to be more aware that she didn’t feel like a boy and she didn’t want to sit with the boys or play with them.
“Things got worse when Sally moved up to secondary school. She began to self harm in year eight, and then took an overdose. Paul and I didn’t know what to do, and she couldn’t bring herself to tell us what was wrong. I worried that she was depressed for some reason, I just couldn’t understand what was happening or how to help.
“Sally eventually confided in a counsellor that she felt she was the wrong gender, and in a way it was a relief. At least now I knew what the problem was I could look for ways to help and support her, but this was not something I had ever come across before. I had seen and heard about trans people in the media but never in anyone so young.
“I found Mermaids after searching online and suddenly I had information at my fingertips, and advice and support. I realised we weren’t the only ones out there dealing with this, and we would get through it.
“Attending a Mermaids residential has also been really beneficial, especially for Sally to meet other trans children and for us to speak to their parents. It is amazing how many families are going through this, despite us having little idea of what it meant to have a trans child when we started looking for help for Sally and us.
“In May 2015 we started using female pronouns and Sally’s new female name, then five months later she made the transition at school. The school have been brilliant and Sally was involved with how she made the transition all the way through - she has been the leader in this, not us. The disabled toilets have been changed to a unisex toilet which Sally uses, and she also uses the disabled changing rooms.
“The school also have a zero tolerance bullying policy and Sally has a close group of friends, so although there were a few comments from other pupils who didn’t understand what was going on at first, that all seems to have died down now.
“Sally wears a girls uniform of trousers and a cardigan, and she likes to have a headband for her hair. It’s only her shoes which are a problem as we can’t find any girls ones to fit her.
“After a funding battle with our local authority we have been accepted onto the Tavistock list and we’re now waiting for our first appointment. That is our main concern for Sally now, as if she doesn’t get the hormone blockers soon her body will start to go through even more irreversible male puberty changes.
“Getting used to using a different name and different pronouns was hard at first, and I was so used to saying ‘come on boys’ to the children. But now, for most of the time, I feel I have a son and a daughter. “It’s a long road that Sally will be going down and there will be even more changes and challenges ahead. But since we found Mermaids we know we won’t be going down it alone.”
Caroline, 46, lives with husband Mark, 47 and sons Will, 14 and Jacob, 11. Will came out as transgender when he was 11. Here Caroline explains the difference Mermaids has made to her family. -
“There was always something not quite right for Will, and from a very young age he didn’t really fit in. He was never a girly girl at all, and when I insisted he wore a dress to a family event when he was about eight he became hysterical at the prospect. I knew this wasn’t just a tantrum, he was genuinely distressed but wasn’t old enough to be able to tell me why it felt so wrong.
As he got older, to around 10, he began to get very anxious. He had long hair but would pull it out when he was stressed, leaving little bald patches all over his scalp. He was depressed and unhappy, and by the time he started secondary school aged 11 he would barely come out of his room.
Mark and I were at a loss to explain what was wrong. Mark was working away a lot at the time so we put it down to that, but when Will got his first period and his reaction was one of absolute horror and revulsion, that’s when he says he knew without doubt he was transgender. “Puberty had made his body work against him, and he told Mark that he was male, and really always had been.
“As parents we had never come across anything like this before. I knew about trans people but only in the context of adults, not in someone so young. There had been very little in the press at that point, and I had no idea where to turn.
“Will wanted to start attending school as a male as soon as possible, but he went to a Catholic secondary and they were not at all supportive of our situation. When Will’s teacher told me the school would not allow him to transition, and would not ‘promote being gay or trans’ I walked out of the meeting and we never went back. How could I tell my son I supported him 100 per cent and then send him to a school every day which didn’t? “Our educational authority insisted we put Will on a ‘fresh start’ panel to find him a new school, alongside pupils who had been excluded for violence and drug problems. Will is a quiet, generous and kind child who had never been in any kind of trouble at school, but the council had no idea what else to do.
“Instead we home schooled Will for a term, and then Mark and I remortgaged our house and asked our family for financial help, and we enrolled Will into private school the next academic year. “He started as a male and apart from two teachers, no-one there has any idea he was born or ever lived as a female. It was exactly the fresh start Will was desperate for, and he has settled in well. He doesn’t do PE due to his severe body dysphoria, and as the toilets are cubicles anyway he uses the male ones.
“Around the same time we were going through the problems at school a friend who worked in a children’s centre gave me a leaflet for Mermaids. I looked up their website and my first reaction was one of utter hope and absolute relief. There were other families going through this and we weren’t on our own. “It was through Mermaids that I found out about the Tavistock Centre, and it was another Mermaids parent who advised me on how to get a Tavistock referral when we were faced with a very unsympathetic GP. “Before we started down this road I had no experience in challenging the authority of schools or doctors, and without Mermaids I would not have had the confidence or the knowledge of how to get the best possible services for my son. Being able to speak to other parents in our situation has been so important for our family, I cannot imagine where we would be without them.
“After months of waiting Will was prescribed hormone blockers in January 2014 which halted his female puberty from changing his body any further. It was a relief for Will that his body would not change any more, but over the next 18 months his mental health deteriorated. He had extreme gender dysphoria and felt trapped in a body which wasn’t his. He felt helpless, and hopeless.
“In summer 2015 Will had a severe self harm incident where he cut his wrists, and we also found out he had made plans to take his own life. I was just devastated. Seeing my child go through this anguish was unbearable, and there seemed to be nothing I could do. “Will told me he wanted to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital, he felt it was the only way he could cope, but we were told the only available bed was at the other end of the country. “Instead he was given regular appointments with a dedicated young people’s mental health worker which has made a big difference.
“Throughout this period Mermaids have been an incredible support to me. Going on residentials, chatting to other parents in similar situations and hearing talks and presentations by trans men who are happy, in good jobs and with bright futures gives me massive reassurance that Will can achieve his goal of going to university. “And through Mermaids I have helped to set up a parents’ support group for people living in the same area as us. I live in a rural area and it can be difficult to access help and support when you’re not local to a big town or city.
“Throughout our journey so far we have been driven by Will’s huge desire to do this, and we will continue to support him as much as we possibly can. But I want other parents who might be in a similar situation to realise there is hope, and with the help of Mermaids you will make it through.
“Three years ago I had a child who suffered from extreme anxiety and depression and barely left his room, but last week we all got on our bikes and cycled through the park together, and we felt like a family again. And that gives me great hope for the future.”
A post by a non mermaids parent -
(Permission has been given to share)
Yesterday, I read an article by Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling, whose work I have read and respected for a long time, in the Boston Review. But this time, she was writing about me. And she was writing about my child.
At one time or another, all of my children have been obsessed with something. My youngest, just 3, told me the other day that she wants to grow up to be a cat. I asked her if she wanted to grow a tail. We laughed at the shared joke.
When my middle child was 3, she told us she wanted to grow up to be a mommy. We laughed. But we were wrong. This was never a joke.
I used to think I had a little boy. A lovely, sweet, feminine little boy who loved to wear skirts and dresses and twirl around the living room. Sometimes he would even ask us to call him a girl. Just pretending, we figured. How cute.
I was 100% comfortable with having a feminine son. He could play with what he wanted, wear what he wanted. We’re not into gender stereotypes. Clothes are clothes, toys are toys.
Not that it was easy. Parenting a pink boy takes a lot of courage. The world is still so binary, and a boy in a skirt is a target. But we were determined that if the binary wasn’t a good fit, we were not going to force our child into it.
Then, as our child got closer to 4, we slowly started to realize that there was something more profound going on. Our happy little child was starting to withdraw into a deep dark place that no child should ever have to live through. Her eyes were closing over. We tried to talk to her about what was bothering her, but she would hide her face away from us. She couldn’t, or wouldn’t, express it to us. I started to worry.
One day, my quiet, complacent child just burst. As her grandfather was leaving one day, he said, “Goodbye, little man!” Her face went dark, stony. She would not move. As he left, she burst into tears… long, aching, sobbing, shaking tears. I picked her up in my arms and asked her what was wrong. She refused to tell me.
Finally, my own heart pounding, I asked her if she didn’t like what her grandfather had said. Hands still covering her face, she shook her head “no.” “I’m not his little man! I’m his little girl!”
I struggled to understand. “Do you mean sometimes you feel like a boy, and sometimes you feel like a girl?”
In frustration, she shouted, “No, mommy! I really AM a girl!” She sobbed and sobbed and sobbed. And I just held her, the whole world I thought I knew crumbling around me.
I’m queer, I read queer theory, I always thought of gender as just a role given to us by society, nothing more. This, what my child was telling me, was something I had no experience to understand. I was so confused - I wasn’t forcing my child into a masculine role. “He” could do anything a girl could do, “he” could wear or play with whatever “he” wanted. What difference could it possibly make to be called “he” or “she”?
I didn’t understand how any of this could be.
But what I did understand, at a deep instinctual level, was that my child was in immense pain.
Please, please try to understand the difference it made, that one pronoun… it was everything. It was the difference between life and death.
I hear people talk about transition as if it is something a parent ‘does’ to a child. This was not our experience. I know it’s so hard to understand if you haven’t been through it. But the best way I can describe it is that our daughter just kept living her life, and we stopped putting obstacles in her way.
Two years have passed since that day. Our little girl is happy, healthy, and living her life. The misery that was overtaking her disappeared as soon as she knew she didn’t have to hide from us anymore.
Our daughter is not confused. She is not ill. She does not have a psychopathology. She is not a stereotype of femininity. She rarely plays with dolls and loves trucks. She knows she doesn’t have to be anything but herself.
I don’t know what the future will bring, and I will support her no matter how she identifies. No matter what happens, she will know that we love her for who she is.
Reading articles like the one Dr. Fausto-Sterling wrote - like Jesse Singal writes, like Alice Dreger writes…. it hurts. It hurts profoundly.
To the writers of these articles: You don’t know my daughter. You don’t know me. You don’t know the parents I have met on this journey - parents who are scared, whose neighbours shun them, whose own parents disown them, who live every day trying to shut down that all-encompassing fear of what our children are going to have to face in this godawful transphobic world.
Our friends, our families, our children's teachers... they all read these articles too. I know it isn't the intention of any of these writers, but all of these articles add to the hate and fear and misunderstanding of our children and of us. And they make the world a harder and a harsher place for my little girl to try to survive.
Radio Wolfgang with a Mermaids parent - Radio Wolfgang with a Mermaids parent