By APARNA BALAKUMAR.
Isabelle is 11. She is an Australian schoolgirl who was born a boy, and her story is the starting point for a startling documentary about transgender children that screens on the ABC tonight.
“If you don’t be yourself,” Isabelle says, “then you’re going to be miserable for your whole life.”
And she’s more than right.
For children like Isabelle, the process of adolescent self-discovery is a complex one. For some, it involves undergoing the process of changing their biologically determined gender– by definition or through medically transitioning.
It was just one year ago that Isabelle revealed the truth to her parents: she might have been born in a boy’s body, but in her heart, she identifies as a girl.
“I just said to my mum that I didn’t want to be a boy. I felt like a girl…I’m sick of living in this body,” Isabelle revealed on an ABC Four Corners report to air tonight.
And Isabelle’s mum, Naomi, is 100 per cent behind her girl’s decision. “We only have one job here,” she says, in a sentiment that should make every parent stand up and cheer, “and that’s to help her create a future that she can live with.”Isabelle, riding her bike.
Despite Isabelle and her family’s certainty of her transgender status, current laws ensure that accessing medical transgender treatment– should she seek it–will be anything but a simple process.
Currently, children wishing to change gender must wait until they are 16 to apply for irreversible cross-changing hormones from the Family Court. The court will assess whether they have the capacity to consent to treatment – to basically prove they have the maturity to make such a decision – known as the Gillick competent.
Chief Justice Diana Bryant of the Family Court says the Gillick’s component helps courts ensure a child is “psychologically in a position where they could make these decisions.”
But many families and doctors are unhappy about the various legal loopholes and costs associated with this process, believing the decision to transition can be left in the hands of children, their families and medical professionals.
“I don’t think going back to court is a good thing at all. I don’t think it is necessary to be honest,” Dr Telfer says.
Dr Telfer is a paediatrician at the gender clinic at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and one of Isabelle’s doctors.
She has observed an increase in patient referrals to her department from one in 2003 to a hundred new ones over the past year.Isabelle and Dr Michelle Telfer, Paediatrician at RCH.
In her experience, children are usually already assessed by up to five medical professionals, including psychiatrists, adolescent physicians, and endocrinologists, before being able to access round one of medical treatments– puberty blockers.