The dilemma of transgender – Britain’s youngest transgender children
Posted by: Sue Atkins
I was interviewed recently on LBC Radio here in London about Mia Cowley who is your usual happy little girl, running around her garden with twin brother Moses.
But the six-year-old in the flowery dress hasn’t always been this way.
For Mia only truly arrived into the world at Easter – until then she was Max.
Now, as one of Britain’s youngest transgender children, she grins from behind her purple glasses and says simply: “God just made me muddled up.”
The youngster’s family are speaking out to help others who may be going through the same situation and not know what to do.
Mum Kizzy said: “It is normal, it is alright. If your kid says, ‘I think I want to be a boy or a girl’ and it doesn’t quite sit, there’s advice out there and it is OK.”
Moses sums it up matter-of-factly, too. He said: “I was nervous about meeting her but my brother has just become my sister.”
This week, as millions of children returned to school, Moses went in wearing trousers while Mia was in her dress and cardigan. Looking like any other mixed twins.
Just a year earlier they had gone to school as brothers.
Kizzy said it was a major moment in her transformation – and admitted to being a little apprehensive
Speaking of the moment she told school staff Max was now Mia, she said: “I was an emotional wreck. I got the deputy head and her teacher together and they must have thought she had cancer because of the state I was in. I said Max is transgender and I don’t know what to do. They didn’t either.”
But strong-willed Mia did – and she had no trouble announcing herself. Kizzy said: “At the end of the first day they do show and tell. Mia stood up and showed her hair clip. A boy in her class said, ‘That’s a girl’s hair clip’ and she went ‘Yes, I know, I’m a girl now. My name is Mia’.
“The day she came out of school after everyone had been told I was anxious and asked her how it went.
“She said, ‘I feel like sunshine inside, Mummy’ because she was being recognised as who she wanted to be.
“The school told all their classes. One reception boy said, ‘So she has always been Mia but we just got her name wrong.’”
Mia, who now shares a bedroom with twin sisters Matilda and Florence, three, told how she started wanting to be a girl at the age of two.
While the small-knit community on the Isle of Wight where she lives fully support the family, it has not been an easy ride. From an early age, as Max, she didn’t involve herself in the football or rough and tumble with Moses and older brother George, eight. The first Christmas list she wrote, at two, asked for My Little Pony and Barbie. She got Action Man.
Kizzy said: “She was sat on the sofa and the boys had opened all their presents and she was genuinely unhappy. My mum heard what she wanted and, being a liberal family, got her a doll from a pound shop. That was the best thing to her. She ran around with it all Christmas.” Soon Max was picking out the sparkliest shoes for his first school pair, developing a taste for dresses and raiding mum’s jewellery box.
Dad Sam believed his boy was “just a flamboyant cross-dresser”. And Kizzy thought she’d have a gay son to one day go shopping with.
Farmer Sam, 35, said: “His dress would’ve been inappropriate most of the time if he were a drag queen… full-length leopard skin fur coat, muff, frilliest dress you’ve ever seen, sparkly shoes, big earrings. Everyone knew Max as an over-the-top kid.”
But when Max asked for Barbie’s Dream Boat for his fifth birthday, concerned Kizzy contacted specialists. She said: “I was worried that by getting her these things, she would get to 15 and be like, ‘You’ve really f***** me up, buying me all that girl’s stuff when I was little, what have you done to me?’”
But the more Max fought society’s gender conforms, the happier he was. Sam said: “She would ask me at three, ‘Can I be a girl?’ I’d say ‘No, don’t be so silly, you’ve got a willy.’
“It was a natural reaction, I hadn’t thought what was behind that question or that I was denying her her freedom.”
But after watching a Louis Theroux TV documentary on transgender children, the penny dropped that maybe Max wasn’t just pining for attention. And this year, the family took the decision to let him be Mia. Sam said: “We sat on the sofa and I said to her ‘If you want to be a boy, be a boy. If you want to be a girl, be a girl.’
“She would always say, ‘I’m not a boy, I’m not a girl, I’m just Max’. An hour later she said, ‘I want to be a big sister, dad.’ Speaking about the decision, Mia added: “I was a bit nervous, excited and sad as we wouldn’t be twin boys anymore. I just felt it inside me. I wasn’t happy as Max.” Sam added: “There was no real meeting of Mia for the first time. She had always been there really. It was a goodbye to Max. It wasn’t a huge thing.”
But saying bye to Max was hard for Kizzy, who admitted: “I did a lot of crying because I’d lost one of my little boys.
“We had a mourning period for Max. I was sad I’d lost him. I still am.”
The family are now waiting on an appointment at London’s Tavistock and Portman Centre, the only NHS base that specialises in child gender issues. Mia will be examined by specialists and the options considered. They include hormones to block puberty and start her physical transformation and the potential for surgery later in life.
Mia with twin brother MosesMia with twin brother Moses
Whatever path they take will be Mia’s decision, her parents insist, not theirs. But Kizzy can’t help worrying.
She said: “I worry about the future for her. About breasts and boyfriends and everything. Even though we have a happy family and beautiful kids who are really well grounded, it is still going to be really hard road for Mia.”
Mia is already thinking about growing up, marrying and adopting kids. She wants two sets of non-identical twins, one set of identical twins and a set of conjoined twins. Sam said: “As soon as Mia had the ability to voice her opinions they were female. It was only us suppressing them, through naivety, that stopped her transitioning earlier.
“We said we either deal with it now or come 15 we might not have a child to deal with because the suicide rate among unsupported transgender teens is astronomical.
“Society states if you are born with penis you are boy. You can’t change that. But today we live in a more loving and acceptable society and allow people to express and be themselves.”
A charity that works with transgender children and their parents has had a 70% surge in people seeking support this year.
Mermaids founder Susan Green said that with people such as Kellie Maloney and Caitlyn Jenner in the spotlight recently, attitudes are changing – but parents should not suffer in silence and need to understand how to back their children.
She said: “The difference between a properly supported child and one who isn’t is massive. Those who feel they don’t have their parents’ support are much more likely to self-harm and attempt suicide.
“Telling a child what they are wearing is wrong tells them they are wrong, which can knock their self-esteem. The most important message a parent can give is it doesn’t matter how they define themselves, they will love them anyway.”
Susan will give evidence to Parliament next week on the treatment of trans people.
Mermaids deals with children from as young as five. For advice or support, visit mermaidsuk.org.uk or gires.org.uk, or call 020 81234819.