Helen Vnuk reviews a must-see documentary.
Imagine this. You’re sitting on the couch with your young son, and he asks you, “How do I become a girl?”
It’s not just a kid’s random, curious question. Your son tells you he’s not happy as a boy. He wants to change his name to a girl’s name. He wants to live life as a girl.
Would you help him start the process of transitioning to a female…at the age of five?
Casey and Eduardo recently found themselves in exactly that situation with their son Sebastian. The couple, who appear in the Louis Theroux documentary Transgender Kids, live in San Francisco, a city where kids are being helped to transition at younger and younger ages.
By the time Theroux meets Casey and Eduardo, they have started calling Sebastian “Camille” and using the pronoun “she” instead of “he”. They only made the change a month earlier, and they both admit they’re finding it difficult and confusing.
“I’m not going to lie,” Casey says. “It’s not an easy road to travel. It’s gut-wrenching, honestly.”
Later, Casey reveals she’s had a falling-out with her father, who insists on still calling his grandchild Sebastian.
But for Camille herself, life looks to be pretty good right now. She is a beautiful child – expressive, full of energy and radiantly happy.
Theroux asks Camille if Sebastian was happy too.
“No,” she says without hesitation. “He was not happy. He wanted to be a girl and then he did not like his name so he changed his name.”
Casey and Eduardo take Camille to see Dr Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist specialising in transgender children, to help make sure they’re taking the best approach. Dr Ehrensaft says she’s seen children even younger than Camille convinced they were born into the wrong body.
Transitioning early means that transgender kids have the chance to create the bodies that feel right for them. They can use blockers to delay puberty, and then later, go on hormones so they can mature in the direction of the gender they identify with. Further down the track, surgery is an option.
Theroux asks Dr Ehrensaft about the risk of getting it wrong. What if a child thinks he or she wants to be a different gender, then changes his or her mind 10 years later?
Watch the trailer for Louis Theroux’s Transgender Kids here. Post continues after clip.
“We have one risk we know about, the risk to youth when we hold them back, and hold back those interventions,” she tells him. “Depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, even successes. There might be a possibility that they’ll change later. But they will be alive to change. So that’s how I weigh it in the scales.”
She’s not exaggerating. A study released last year by UK mental health charity Pace showed that 48 per cent of transgender people under the age of 26 had attempted suicide. There are cases like Leelah Alcorn, the 17-year-old American transgender girl, whose parents refused to accept her female gender identity. Even after she killed herself late last year, they continued to call her Joshua.
That kind of tragic outcome has obviously been playing on the mind of Jerry, another one of the parents interviewed by Theroux for the documentary. Jerry is the father of 14-year-old Nikki who, until a year ago, was known as Nick. Although he admits to being in denial at first, Jerry is now supportive of Nikki’s transition.
“I see it as protecting the life of my child, in a way,” he says.
Nikki’s mother Isabel is also supportive. But even though she knows she’s doing the right thing, she says the name change was “bittersweet”.
“I don’t have my son anymore,” she explains, tearing up.
She says she knows Nikki’s life is going to be a little harder.
“Her future scares me a little bit, I’ll be honest.”
As a parent, I found myself tearing up along with Jerry and Isabel. This couple have put aside any private misgivings to support their child in making a life-changing decision. I was tearing up, too, for all those transgender kids who don’t have parents as supportive as Jerry and Isabel.
But the scene that moved me the most was when Camille went to a shop and tried on a pink and purple dress, then spun around and around in joyful circles.
“That does look great on you,” her dad said with a little smile.
As a parent, is there anything greater you can do for your child than to love them for who they are?
How do you think you’d react? How can we support these children and families?
Here’s a helpful infographic if you’d like to know more:
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