Jazz Jennings shares story of her triumphs and struggles as a transgender child in ‘I Am Jazz’

Jazz Jennings shares story of her triumphs, struggles as a transgender child in ‘I Am Jazz’

By Maggie Galehouse

September 12, 2014             | Updated: September 12, 2014 6:00pm

            

    

 

 

A groundbreaking new picture book for children explains in clear, direct language what it means – and how it feels – to be transgender.

“I Am Jazz” is based on the true story of Jazz Jennings, who was born a boy but has always identified as a girl.

“I have a girl brain but a boy body,” Jazz says in the book. “This is called transgender. I was born this way!”

The story and illustrations document Jazz’s real-life journey, including the conversation with a doctor who confirmed what Jazz had always felt, the confusion among Jazz’s teachers, Jazz’s struggle to be allowed to use the girls’ restroom at school and the soccer league that let Jazz practice with the girls’ team but would not allow her to play in the games.

The real-life Jazz will be 14 next month. One of the most significant days of her life, she says, was her fifth birthday, when she was allowed to wear a shiny rainbow one-piece girl’s bathing suit to her party.

“It was the first time in public that I could be a girl,” says the eighth-grader, on the phone from her Florida home. “It was the first step in becoming the real me.”

Jazz knew she wanted to be a girl at age 2.

“Pretending I was a boy felt like telling a lie,” is how Jazz explains it in the book.

She started kindergarten as a girl and has never looked back.

Jessica Herthel, a family friend and director of the Stonewall National Education Project, wrote “I Am Jazz” with Jazz’s help.

“This is the first book for little kids that expressly uses the word transgender and tries to define it,” says Herthel, whose organization strives to integrate lesbian, gay, bi and transgender history into schools and culture at large. “Jazz is a kid who expressed a transgender identity from such a young age. She was consistent, persistent and insistent about it, and those are the three bells that need to ring. If you have a child that meets that criteria, you might say to yourself, ‘Maybe this is bigger than just a phase.’?”

Jazz’s mother hopes that the book will show children and parents there’s nothing to fear with trans kids.

“Trans kids are like other kids,” Jeanette Jennings says. “But a lot of times Jazz sits at lunch in school and people move away from her. She’s still a human being. I’m hoping kids will embrace that. Let’s get to them before they hear the negativity, and it won’t be a big deal. Nobody says it’s wrong to be autistic. It isn’t wrong to be transgender. Being unique is pretty cool.”

There are take-aways for parents, too, Herthel adds.

“If we can get the message out that it is possible for a child to identify as transgender from a very young age, that would be great,” she says. “Part of the pushback we get is parents saying these children are too young to make this decision. I’m here to say to all parents of children 2 to 4 years old, this is not an act of rebellion. There’s nothing political here. This is children looking in the mirror and telling parents who they see looking back.”

Jazz Jennings has become the public face of transgender children.

In 2007, Jazz and her family filmed a “20/20″ special with Barbara Walters called “My Secret Self.” Jazz was 6 at the time, the youngest transgender person ever to appear on television.

In 2009, the family shared their story with Australia on that nation’s version of “60 Minutes.” Jazz was also the subject of a documentary film, “I Am Jazz: A Family in Transition,” which aired on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

All the proceeds from the book will go to the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation (transkidspurplerainbow.org), which Jazz’s mother and father, Greg, started in 2007 to support trans children and challenge discrimination against them.

The stars have aligned for “I Am Jazz,” Herthel says.

“The fact that Laverne Cox – the transgender actress from ‘Orange Is the New Black’ – is on the cover of Time magazine has really raised the visibility of the transgender community,” Herthel says. “And to get an Emmy nomination – she’s pulling the other end of the train. She’s the adult face of the transgender community.”

As director of the Stonewall National Education Project, Herthel chairs an annual conference that brings together the movers and shakers of the country’s biggest school districts. Her publisher, Dial Books for Young Readers (a division of Penguin), has given her copies of “I Am Jazz” to pass out to the districts.

She hopes schools will include “I Am Jazz” in their libraries.

Today, Jazz is a busy teenager. She plays soccer, shares her transgender story with groups and organizations worldwide, and crafts and sells rubber mermaid tails for her own company, Rainbow Tails. (Mermaids are popular with trans kids, says Jeanette Jennings, because mermaids have no genitalia.)

As Jazz has gotten older, she and her parents have struggled with big decisions about her body and her future.

“Jazz won’t go through male puberty,” her mother says. “She won’t grow a beard. She’ll never have to worry about that.”

There are no reliable statistics about the number of transgender boys and girls, in part because young children don’t have the language to express themselves.

Jazz knows that some of them are “stealth,” or living in secret.

By sharing her story, she hopes other children like her won’t feel so alone. She hears from kids regularly who tell her she has changed – or saved – their lives.

“I tell kids to be positive and stay true to themselves,” Jazz says. “If their parents aren’t supportive I tell them to find a friend or adult who will help them through their process. Sometimes I want to say to their parents, would you rather have a dead son or a living daughter?”

 

‘I Am Jazz’

By Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings

Dial Books for Young Readers, 32 pp., $17.99

Will I be wet after sex change this October

September 14, 2014

Good morning Dr. Reed,

Am scheduled to have surgery with you this October.  Will I be wet?

Natalie

September 14, 2014

Good morning Natalie,

Most likely yes.  We have sent a survey out of 18 patients who had vaginal deepening procedures and well over 50% report adequate lubrication.  There are estrogen receptors in your penile and scrotal skin (learned about this a few years ago) and these tissues when implanted in the pelvis will exude lubrication as do natal vaginal tissues.  This could be in response to oral, topical, or injected estrogens, or the intravaginal application with Estrace or Premarin creams.  (Use only as directed by your doctor).

I have been noting in adult films 70% of ladies place their fingers in their mouth prior to masturbation or acceptance of intromission.  Surely some natal women get wet panties just upon stroking the clothed vulva and labia.

Most gynecologists will apply some KY jelly to the speculum before exam unless cytology study is being done.

Plan on wet sex and wet sheets. Lots of caressing, cuddling, and then cleanup.

Harold M. Reed, M.D. FICS
Senior Member of the American Urological Association
Member Society of Genito-Urinary Reconstructive Surgeons
Founding Member and Treasurer of American Academy of Phalloplasty Surgeons
Founding Member Sexual Society of North America

305-865-2000

Am 22 MTF, pretty, no qualms, family support, ready for sex change surgery

September 14, 2014

Dear Dr. Reed,

Call me Tiffany.  I am 22, well adjusted as female for the past 6 years and need
a MTF sex change.  A few support groups from the state of Washington have
mentioned your facility.  Have deposit funds ready.  Hopefully this November.
or late December  Enrolled in grad college as a girl.  (No problems) My mother will be here as well
to cheer me on.  You’ll like her, she’s an LPN.

This have been a long cherished dream of both myself and family, which may surprise you.  If you could see me, you’d understand way.

Sorry to bother you on a Sunday, but I am so excited. Thank you for answering the phone, am an early jogger.

Tiffany

September 14, 2014

Good morning Tiffany,

Today is Sunday, but tomorrow please call Anne at he office for a compassionate price quote.

Our fees may be slightly lower in that we own our facility, but that should not be your foremost consideration.  In our office Anne our amiable manager is the brains behind pa and the maker of deals.  She has my full encouragement without conferring with me to be extremely generous.

Please review the attached “Mallory” to be sure you are a surgical candidate.

With best wishes for a
complete fulfillment of your goals,

Harold M. Reed, M.D. FICS
Senior Member of the American Urological Association
Member Society of Genito-Urinary Reconstructive Surgeons
Founding Member and Treasurer of American Academy of Phalloplasty Surgeons
Founding Member Sexual Society of North America

305-865-2000

P.S. Please also consider joining a very stimulating
new discussion group with posted topics that could
be of interest http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MTF-SRS-FTM/

We hope you’ll join us!

1111 Kane Concourse, Suite # 311
Bay Harbor Islands, Florida 33154
305-865-2000

TransTech Offers Employment Solutions for Aspiring Transgender Coders

WATCH: TransTech Offers Employment Solutions for Aspiring Transgender Coders

BY Mitch Kellaway

September 11 2014 6:07 AM ET

‘It is my mission to make TransTech the Apple of the nonprofit industry,’ says Angelica Ross, transgender entrepreneur and founder of the new job-training nonprofit.

Angelica Ross — the dynamic entrepreneur who recently founded Chicago-based nonprofit TransTech — has personally seen the best and worst of what a transgender person can face on the job market.

That’s why she started TransTech, which will offer a training academy and apprenticeships for aspiring trans web developers and graphic designers this Fall.

“TransTech emerged from my story, [which] is the same story for so many trans women of color,” Ross tells The Advocate. “When I began my transition, I was fired from my job, estranged from my family, and introduced to sex work and the adult industry.”

Soon the technologically-inclined Ross decided to teach herself web coding and graphic design, and was able to become successfully self-employed as a freelancer.

“Over the course of 10 years … I discovered technology as a path to independence for trans people. I no longer had to face on-the-job discrimination and harassment if I didn’t want to,” she explained. “I could log-in and make money without people caring about what I look or sound like.”

Her experiences with Internet freelancing, as an Apple employee, and a stint in beauty school planted the seed for TransTech, which is now becoming a reality through help from an Indiegogo fundraiser.

“It is my mission to make TransTech the Apple of the nonprofit industry!” Ross says.

More specifically, the project’s ultimate goal is to empower trans attendees to become self-employed independent contractors in the tech industry. Apprentices will accomplish this by practicing their skills in a training setting, similar to beauty school students. Customers will pay an affordable rate for web and graphic design, and apprentices will be able to earn income; any extra profit will be used by TransTech to continue the next cycle of apprenticeships.

Ross says tht the program’s unique setup came to her after she began observing other employment programs in Chicago. “[They] were focusing heavily on training people for food service jobs or manual labor jobs,” she recalls. “The attitude was that tech skills would be over-the-heads of the populations typically served by social services. But I knew for a fact this wasn’t true, and I set out to prove it.”

Tech skills are, Ross believes, going to be increasingly in-demand in our tech-savvy world. She hopes TransTech will set its participants up for “economic improvement,” and help ease the “extreme levels of poverty, discrimination, harassment, and violence towards the trans community, especially trans women of color.”

She refers to this approach as “social enterprise:” the maximization of both individual and community well-being, rather than profit. In the video below, she beams with confidence at how needed a program like TransTech is at a time like this. Trans community advocates — including Trans*H4CK founder Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler, coder Naomi Ceder, and GLAAD Media Strategist Tiq Milan — have agreed, coming out on social media in vocal support of the nonprofit.

Ross’ only lament so far, she says, is her inability to do more. “We have received roughly 30 applications and they are still pouring in; my email and phone are bombarded by hopeful apprentices,” she tells The Advocate. “But we can only afford to enroll 2 people [in the first session], which breaks my heart.”

“That’s why,” she concludes, “even though we are only looking to raise $15,000 to get us through the first 12-week apprenticeship, I am hoping the rest of the community understands how much of a difference TransTech can make in the lives of trans people and the LGBT community as a whole.”

“The more money we raise, the more trans people we can enroll, pay, and set on the path to independence.”

To learn more about TransTech, watch the fundraising video below.

Transgender Navy SEAL Kristin Beck agrees to powerful documentary

WATCH: Portrait of a Transgender Hero — “Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story”

 

      Sep 8, 2014

featured-ladyvalor-keyart-fix

After coming out as a transgender woman on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360, former U.S. Navy SEAL Kristin Beck agreed to be the subject of this powerful full-length documentary profile about her life and career. The film was broadcast just this past weekend on CNN, bringing her courageous story to viewers across the country. Beck served for over 20 years as a member of the elite special forces Navy SEALs and retired in 2011 with the rank of Senior Chief. Continuing to do high-level clearance work for the Pentagon, she hid her true identity throughout her service. Featuring interviews with Kristin’s family and friends and footage of Chris Beck in training and combat, Lady Valor presents a moving portrait in courage of a community hero who continues to fight new battles — living her life as a transgender woman.

Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story premieres today across all digital platforms including iTunes, WolfeOnDemand and others. Check out the trailer above.

Lady Valor - 2

About WolfeOnDemand.com

Transgender teens become happy, healthy young adults

By  Alan MozesHealthDaySeptember 10, 2014, 11:58 AM

Transgender teens become happy, healthy young adults

Treatment to delay puberty among adolescents struggling with gender identity seems to boost psychological well-being for those who ultimately pursue sex reassignment, new research suggests.

The Dutch study involved 55 transgender young adults who had been diagnosed years earlier with “gender dysphoria,” a condition in which a biological boy strongly identifies as a girl, or vice versa. All underwent a hormone treatment that temporarily blocked puberty and prevented the development of sex characteristics.

The treatment gave them the “opportunity to develop into well-functioning young adults,” according to the study, published online Sept. 8 in the journal Pediatrics. Overall, sexual confusion resolved, and they appeared to be satisfied with their gender-related decisions, the researchers found.

“Since puberty suppression is a fully reversible medical intervention, it provides adolescents and their families with time to explore their gender dysphoric feelings, and [to] make a more definite decision regarding the first steps of actual gender reassignment treatment at a later age,” said study lead author Dr. Annelou de Vries.

By delaying the onset of puberty, those children who go on to gender reassignment “have the lifelong advantage of a body that matches their gender identities without the irreversible body changes of a low voice or beard growth or breasts, for example,” added De Vries, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Center of Expertise on Gender Dysphoria with the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam.

The study participants underwent puberty suppression at an average age of nearly 14. The group included 22 biological boys, who later transitioned to females, and 33 biological girls who ultimately underwent reassignment to live as men

By young adulthood, anxiety, emotional distress and body image concerns were no more prevalent among the transgender group than among the general public, the researchers determined. Also, quality of life and happiness levels were on par with their peers, gender dysphoria was no longer an issue, and no patients expressed regret about the transition process, including puberty delay.

De Vries nevertheless cautioned that the findings need to be confirmed by further research, and added that her study didn’t set out to assess the side effects of puberty suppression.

Guidelines outlined by the Endocrine Society and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health recommend that teens who choose to undergo gender reassignment not begin hormone treatments before age 16. Surgical intervention is not advised before the age of 18.

“But children usually go into puberty much earlier than that,” said Susan Maasch, director of the Trans Youth Equality Foundation in Portland, Maine. “And you can imagine the anxiety and depression and overwhelming fear that a young child might experience when they are about to go into puberty while feeling an insistent mismatch between their biological gender and their actual gender identity.”

Puberty suppression acknowledges that there is no cure for transgender, Maasch said. “There’s no way to make the child not feel the way they do. So the goal should be to help them be less afraid… Treating them with a safe, well-known hormone to temporarily prevent puberty has become a standard of care because it buys these children time and a measure of relief. And if gender reassignment surgery does happen, it will be a much easier, much less tough process.”

Dr. Jack Drescher, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y., said the findings “seem to confirm the idea that puberty suppression is a generally good idea.”

The treatment has only been done for about 15 years, “but so far it does seem to be a relatively safe and benign intervention,” he said. “And this thoughtful and careful study suggests that it can be very helpful at relieving psychological distress seen among those children who experience panic when facing the onset of puberty.”

Drescher added that not all teens who undergo puberty suppression will pursue gender reassignment. “But those who do will face an easier time of it,” he said.

                                        Copyright © 2014 HealthDay. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Employer loans money for sex-change and will make all efforts to promote new name for new man on board

CEO stuns employee with heartwarming letter, post sex-change operation

                    By Varun Singh |Posted 07-Sep-2014
 3872 3684 122 0 1

The employee, Siddhant, sent a letter to his colleagues, including the CEO, about the operation

The CEO of a company, Mark, was, recently, the recipient of a letter that requested something unique. The letter, by an employee who recently underwent a sex change operation, asked Mark and other colleagues to refer to him by his new name, Siddhant.

The pictures of Siddhant before and after the sex-change operation The pictures of Siddhant before and after the sex-change operation
“It may take some time for us to get used to the idea of calling you Siddhant, and we may also refer to you in the feminine gender. Please do not take offence. With time, we will all get used to the new name,” read Mark’s reply. The CEO’s letter meant everything to Siddhant who has worked in the company for 13 years.
The firm had even loaned him money for the surgery. “I can’t understand Siddhant, as no one can understand what he is going through. But yes, we can accept him the way he is and support him, and that is what we did. I have known him for more than 12 years now and our relationship remains the same,” Mark told sunday mid-day.
‘They all accepted me’ “I always felt I was a man in the body of a woman. I decided to go for a sex change and in May 2012, I got the testosterone shots. In a few years, the whole procedure will be complete,” said 36-year-old Siddhant, who was called Sonal earlier.

“A few colleagues noticed my facial hair, but I dismissed their questions. However, I asked my boss whether I should reveal the secret to everyone. He was more than comfortable with it. I sent the e-mail, with a copy marked to my CEO, and his reply was nothing less than a gift for me,” said Siddhant, adding that he is in the middle of changing his name formally. “I came out to the people who matter to me, my family, my boss and so on. They all accepted me,” he added.

- See more at: http://www.mid-day.com/articles/ceo-stuns-employee-with-heartwarming-letter-post-sex-change-operation/15582199#sthash.uIkku76K.dpuf

Groundbreaking Gender ‘Self-Determination’ Law

Denmark Passes Groundbreaking Gender ‘Self-Determination’ Law

This week, Denmark became the first country to allow a legal gender change without a medical statement — but advocates say the law isn’t perfect.

BY Mitch Kellaway

September 03 2014 1:56 PM ET

The abolishment of restrictive Danish laws around updating gender on identification records for transgender citizens — which were originally repealed by Denmark’s Parliament in June — went into effect this week, reports the Guardian.

Before the requirements were scrapped, Danish trans people had to become sterilized before the government would allow them to update identifying documents to accurately reflect their gender.

Under the new changes, trans people over the age of 18 can update their passports, birth certificates, social security cards, and other documents after undergoing a six-month “reflection period.”

Trans rights advocates have pointed out that the updated policies free trans people from relying on medical institutions to determine their gender. Many countries — including the U.S.’s social security card policy — still maintain requirements calling for a doctor’s written confirmation that a patient is undergoing a clinical transition (often through hormone therapy or non-sterilizing gender-affirming surgeries) before documents can be changed, despite no longer explicitly requiring specific surgeries on the person’s reproductive organs.

However, some have pointed out potential issues in the new law’s requirements, notes Slate. Advocacy group Transgender Europe has spoken out against the six-month waiting period and minimum age requirements.

“The imposed delay in the procedure prevents trans people from changing their documents quickly when necessary — for example, when applying for a job, traveling internationally, or enrolling in education,” the group said in a statement.  ”Furthermore … the waiting period may also perpetuate misconceptions of trans people as being ‘confused’ about their gender[.]”

Despite these ongoing concerns, activists are hailing Denmark’s approval of “gender self-determination” as a precedent-setting step forward in human rights for trans people.

Mt. Holyoke admits first female transgender students

WATCH: Mt. Holyoke Becomes First ‘Seven Sisters’ School to Admit Trans Women

‘We must acknowledge that gender identity is not reducible to the body,’ say Mt. Holyoke College officials of their historic decision to welcome applications from all trans students.

BY Mitch Kellaway

September 03 2014 12:11 PM ET

On Tuesday, Mount Holyoke College’s president Lynn Pasquerella announced during an opening Convocation ceremony that the school will explicitly accept applications from all transgender people.

Prior to this policy change, the school’s stance towards transgender women, in particular, had remained unarticulated.

In previous years, trans women who had not updated the gender on their legal identification documents were not considered for admission to the school. However, over the years, many transgender men have attended Mount Holyoke.

According to Kate Winick, a Mount Holyoke alum who now writes for Elle, the school has long adhered to an “informal” policy whereby trans men who were admitted with a “female” gender listed on their applications were “fully supported” in undergoing their transitions on-campus.

As of yesterday, Mount Holyoke’s admissions office aims to be “proactive” in clarifying the school’s stance, stating on its website that the Massachusetts college “welcomes applications for our undergraduate program from any qualified student who is female or identifies as a woman.”

The policy also clarifies the school’s stance towards transgender men, stating that anyone who is “Biologically born female [and] identifies as a man” can be allowed admission. Only cisgender men — those “Biologically born male [who] identif[y] as a man” — are disqualified from consideration.

It is worth noting that this wording does not mean transgender men are actually female, but instead appears to be an attempt to validate the various iterations of gender identity which potential applicants may embody.

In accepting both transgender men and women, as well as all people with nonbinary genders, Mount Holyoke’s trans-inclusion extends beyond even that of Oakland, Calif.’s Mills College which, earlier this month, became the first single-gender school in the country to explicitly open admissions to trans women and nonbinary people assigned “female” at birth.

Mount Holyoke’s admissions site addresses numerous questions the institution expects to receive about its stance, including a fraught one that has kept other Seven Sisters — including, most publicly, Smith College — from admitting trans women:

“Is Mount Holyoke College changing the fundamental nature of its missions as a women’s college by admitting transgender students?” asks a question on the new policy’s FAQ page.

“Traditional binaries around who counts as a man or woman are being challenged by those whose gender identity does not conform to their biology,” reads the response. “Just as early feminists argued that the reduction of women to their biological functions was a foundation for women’s oppression, we must acknowledge that gender identity is not reducible to the body.”

Among the other traditional “Seven Sisters” schools — which also include Barnard College, Bryn Mawr College, Smith College, Wellesley College, Radcliffe College, and Vassar College — several remain vague in their stances towards trans female applicants. Vassar and Radcliffe (which merged with Harvard in 1972) are now co-educational institutions.

Smith College, in particular, came under criticism last year when it denied an application from trans student Calliope Wong because she was not legally recognized as female in her home state of Connecticut.

After a Change.org petition gathered 4,000 signatures in support of Wong, Smith’s dean of admissions, Debra Shaver, announced in May that a committee would begin meeting this September to discuss the needs of prospective trans students. In the meantime, Smith officials say they have temporarily stopped rejecting applications from trans women.

Still, this step is far from those of Mount Holyoke, which proudly states on its admissions site, “As a leader in higher education for women, we choose to be proactive. We choose to define membership in a women’s college expansively to be as inclusive as we can with respect to gender identity[.]”

Watch college president Pasquerella announce the historic policy change in the video below (beginning at the 39-minute mark).

Pennsylvania Doctor helps transgender teen

Bala Cynwyd doctor helps transgender teen gain her true identity

 

Sherman Leis, who performed Aly Bradley's sex reassigment surgery at Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol, gives her a hug in his office.
Sherman Leis, who performed Aly Bradley’s sex reassigment surgery at Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol, gives her a hug in his office.
By Gloria Hochman, For The Inquirer

Posted: September 08, 2014

 

What would you do if your 10-year-old son told you that God had made a mistake, that he had been born into the wrong body, that he is and always was a girl?

Bob Bradley believes he had only one choice: To listen. “I loved my child unconditionally, and more than anything, I wanted him to be happy and healthy. If that could happen only if he lived as a girl, my wife, Debbie, and I would support him with love.”

Aly is a pretty 17-year-old who talks easily about being transgender. It is impossible to guess that she was born male; her facial expressions and the grace with which she moves are typically female.

“I knew, as early as when I was three or four, that I was a girl,” says Aly, who changed her name from Luke seven years ago when she “outed” herself to family, friends, and classmates. “Even when I was a toddler, I played with Barbies and pushed around a toy vacuum sweeper. I’d watch television and always picture myself as the princess or the queen.”

Luke went to school in jeans and plaid shirts like the other boys, but played only with the girls. The minute he got home, he exchanged the pants for his favorite outfit – a purple party dress with sparkly sequins. His brother, Billy, two years older, insouciantly explained to his friends, “My little brother likes to dress up in girls’ clothes.”

“They didn’t pay much attention,” Aly says now.

Shortly before entering fourth grade in Stratham, N.H., Luke confided to his parents that he was not male, could no longer pretend, and declared that he would not continue to go to school as a boy.

Aly is one of a growing population of children – some as young as three – who insist that they have been sabotaged by the bodies they were given. No one knows if the numbers are rising because there are more transgender youth or whether increased media attention and shifting attitudes have made transgender people more willing to reveal themselves.

An annual survey by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network found that 8.3 percent of LGBT youth identified as transgender in 2011, up from 3.2 percent a decade earlier. Endocrinologist Norman P. Spack, head of the transgender clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital, believed to be the first in the country, suggests that one in 1,000 children and adolescents may be transgender.

“We are shocked by the growth of our organization,” says Kim Pearson, director of training for TransYouth Family Allies, an internet support and educational group she helped found in 2007 when her son Shawn, now 22, who was born female, told his mother that he was transgender. Allies started with 15 families; today, there are nearly 500 nationwide.

On the other hand, the number of teens and young adults who participate in a weekly transgender support group at the Attic, an LGBT youth center in Philadelphia, has remained a constant 15 to 20 for years.

“Even in a support group, it is difficult for many of them to feel safe and comfortable,” Attic executive director Carrie Jacobs says. “Some of our kids change their clothes when they get here, then change back again before they leave. They may be hiding who they are from their parents or from their communities where they wouldn’t feel safe walking around in the gender they believe they are.”

In January, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia opened a Gender & Sexuality Development Clinic, one of several dozen across the country. About 50 children ages six to 21 who identify as transgender have been seen for psychological and medical assessment and support. Most are accompanied by parents; some over 18 come on their own. Clinic codirectors Nadia Dowshen, a physician who specializes in adolescent medicine, and Linda Hawkins, a counselor and gender specialist, believe that children are identifying as transgender at younger ages.

“In the past, they may have presented with depression and anxiety, but couldn’t identify what was causing those symptoms,” Hawkins says. “Now the children tell us, ‘I don’t know why God gave me this body’ or ‘When people look at me, why don’t they see that I’m really a girl?’ It is so genuine, so from the heart. Their words are pure to who they are.”

Being transgender is not the same as being gay, lesbian, or bisexual, terms that refer to sexual orientation (transgender people may be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight). Transgender people feel that the gender with which they identify does not match their sex at birth.

Their transition usually is gradual. Some, such as Aly, receive hormones to suppress puberty; others take them later to reverse male or female characteristics. During transition, most dress as the opposite gender. Some go on to have sex reassignment surgery.

Spack says that being transgender has something to do with the wiring in the brain. It could be a gene that comes into play at a certain stage of fetal development, or hormones that became scrambled during gestation.

When Luke was five or six, before he or his parents could put a name to what he was feeling, they saw a therapist. “I used to think that one day I would wake up and I would be a girl,” Aly recalls. “When that didn’t happen, I began to get night terrors. I kept dreaming that someday I would become a grown man with facial hair and an Adam’s apple. It scared me.”

Aly was lucky. Although her parents struggled to make sense of what they describe as their “incredibly difficult and unusual situation,” they respected and supported their younger child right from the start.

“I’m a mellow guy,” says Bob Bradley, a sales manager for a gasoline distributor who has a close relationship with his daughter. “I never said, kicking and screaming, ‘No child of mine is going to be transgender.’ ”

In December 2007, he and his wife, who passed away four years ago, wrote a letter to their friends and relatives:

. . . We realize that many of you will find this news shocking and confusing. . . . Luke has been diagnosed with gender identity disorder, a devastating condition that can turn the life of a child upside down. Biologically, Luke is a boy. But in every other sense, she is a girl. . . . We now call her Aly.

We recognize that this change will take time to get used to. What we’re asking from you is compassion for something you may never understand.

The administration at Luke’s elementary school had just sent a Thanksgiving letter to parents explaining that a boy in the school would be presenting as a girl. When Aly returned to school after the holiday break, dressed in capris and a pink shirt, almost all her classmates were welcoming, even excited. And while at first she was not able to use the girls’ restroom, the unlabeled bathroom in the nurse’s office was available. She was bullied by only one girl who kept insisting, “You’re not a girl. Why are you in girls’ clothes? You look stupid.” Aly says she followed her mother’s advice – she walked down the hall, looking straight ahead and ignored her mean-spirited classmate.

Aly was one of the first children to be seen by Norman Spack in Boston. “I have this image of Aly as a little girl,” Spack remembers, “a round face, just adorable.”

After thorough evaluations and consultations with the pediatrician confirmed that the 10-year-old was, indeed, transgender, not just going through a phase, Spack started puberty-suppressing hormones. “We put a pump in her upper left arm just under the skin which continuously released small amounts of the appropriate hormones,” Spack says. “Within a couple of weeks, her pubertal hormones were totally suppressed and she never experienced the dreaded trauma of puberty in a gender she rejected.

“These kids can’t even look at the genitals they were given,” Spack says. “When I’m doing a complete exam, almost without exception those who are born female but identify as male are wearing boxer shorts. The boys who see themselves as girls are almost always in girls’ underwear – often those that are printed with the day of the week. No one else sees that, but it is important to these kids.”

Aly had sex reassignment surgery six weeks ago at Lower Bucks Hospital in Bristol. “Dr. Spack brought me to this part of my life,” she said softly six days later, tucked under the covers in the bed where she was recovering nearby. “He did everything to help me be a girl.”

Sherman Leis, a Bala Cynwyd surgeon, has performed more than 3,500 operations on transgender patients, including facial feminization procedures, breast removal or augmentation, and sex reassignment surgery. Aly was his second-youngest patient, on the verge of 17.

“I was excited about the surgery and couldn’t wait to have it. But the morning I was scheduled, I put on the hospital gown and began freaking out,” she says. “Once they gave me anesthesia, I remember nothing until I woke up and asked my dad, ‘Is it over?’ ”

Aly says she was reassured because she could leave the hospital three days later and recuperate in comfortable private quarters arranged by Leis.

She is recovering well but is restless, eager to return to swimming and hiking, and happy to be back in high school, where her favorite subject is English.

“Today, it’s hard for me to even picture Aly when she was a boy,” her father says. “She is much more in place as a girl.”

Aly says she feels as though a new life is opening up to her, but she is not expecting magic to happen.

“Most of us who are trans have issues with our appearance,” she says. “You constantly wonder if someone can tell, if you are passable as the gender you identify as. I think – I hope – that now that I’ve had the surgery, everyone will accept me fully as a girl. But that’s not likely to happen. You have to have the surgery for yourself, not just to fit in.

“I know the operation was expensive,” Aly says (it was not covered by insurance), “but it’s made me feel whole.” She smiles and glances at her father, who nods his head. “Twenty thousand for a happy life! It’s so worth it!”

"I was excited about the surgery and couldn't wait to have it," says Aly Bradley, taking a walk in Bala Cynwyd with her father.

 


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