Growing up is tough enough, but for some children there’s additional stress.
Seven-year-old A.J. is comfortable in her home wearing princess dresses and roller skates and playing with pretty figurines. A.J. is not her real name.
“We’ve had some pretty nasty things said about us,” says her dad.
We aren’t showing A.J.’s face or using her family’s last name to protect their privacy.
“My concern is protecting her so she’s safe.”
A.J. was born a boy. At age three and a half, things changed. He didn’t want short hair. His mom, Debi, said of trying to cut A.J.’s hair he “screamed and fought and I got out the clippers and got one cut down the side … there were tears… like torture.”
At that young age he longed to wear dresses and jewelry. His parents refused at first. Then it became much more than wanting to wear dresses.
A.J.’s dad said, “When she was about four we were going to the bathroom in Target and I was holding her hand and we were walking toward the boy’s bathroom. This was when she lived as a boy. She stopped about two feet from the bathroom and was like, Dad, I can’t go into the boys' bathroom. I’m a girl.”
A.J. wore his dresses to school. He was teased. It was hard, but he was adamant. He was a girl.
“When I first, in the fourth grade, cut my hair they called me he-she," A.J. said.
Growing up in the same town is a boy. He’s a little older. We’ll call him Sean. Sean was born a girl but knew he didn’t feel like one. His mom was the first to know.
“I didn’t directly tell her. She just kind of found out,” said Sean, who's mom is accepting. His dad is not. “He was always getting mad at me for trying to tell him.”
We asked what he would say? “Tell me I’m a girl. I need to deal with it.”
Sean doesn’t see his dad anymore.
Caroline Gibbs is a counselor and founder of the Transgender Institute .
“The youngest kid I have currently is three and the oldest is 83.”
Gibbs counsels anyone interested in transitioning, the term used for living outwardly as the gender they feel inside.
“If I have people walk into my clinic what we find astoundingly is that all the people, including kids, will not only say the same things, they’ll say the same words. They use the same words."
She says they have horrible anxiety and depression because they feel they are leading two lives and no one understands.
Dr. Jill Jacobson hopes to change that.
“We have started seeing patients with transgenderism," she said.
Dr. Jacobson is a pediatric endocrinologist. She is searching for possible explanations and causes for transgenderism. She has 36 patients, twenty-two are female to male transgender children meaning they were born female but identify as male. More than half of those children are producing an elevated level of testosterone in their bodies.
“When we are able to explain that to families it’s sometimes helpful to them to understand how their child is feeling and helpful for them to explain to other family members," she said.
Dr. Jacobson has not found any similar findings for boys who identify with being a girl.
For now, options for transgender children and their families are to start puberty blockers as soon as possible, then usually at age 16 the kids can start taking hormones for the gender they identify with - testosterone for girls who identify as boys, and estrogen for boys who identify as girls.
When it comes to growing up transgender, A.J.’s dad said, “It’s not something we asked for. It’s not something we wanted. It just happened. My thought process all along is I would rather have a happy, healthy little girl than a suicidal, dead son.”