Camille is six. Today she is wearing a dress patterned with strawberries and a pink zip-up sweatshirt with Dance printed across the front in sparkly sequins. Her fingernails are painted alternately pink and blue. She likes playing with Barbies. Her favourite Disney heroines are Elsa from Frozen and Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
Camille was born a boy. For the first few years of her life, she was known by her parents as Sebastian. When you ask Camille if she can remember being physically male, she nods her head. “Everyone was calling me Sebastian, but I was a girl,” she says, placing all the emphasis on the word. “I used to have girl pyjamas with Minnie Mouse on them and I used to sleep in them.”
Camille is one of a growing number of children who experience gender dysphoria – the belief that there is a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity. It is estimated that between 2% and 5% of the population experience some form of this, although statistical analysis is patchy.
In Britain no major government or administrative surveys have included a question where transgender people can choose to identify themselves, but it is thought that there are between 300,000 and 500,000 trans people in the UK.
Camille and California
Camille lives in Napa, California, with her parents Eduardo and Casey Leon, and her story features in Transgender Kids, a BBC2 documentary presented by Louis Theroux, which airs on Sunday night. In the US the treatment of transgender children is arguably more accepted and advanced than it is in the UK. While the NHS does treat transgender children as young as 12 with drug therapies, most GPs will not prescribe hormone blockers to delay the onset of puberty until a patient is 16.
University of California in San Francisco
Camille, by contrast, has spent the last two years being assessed by psychologists at the child and adolescent gender centre at the University of California in San Francisco, where a group of pioneering medical professionals are helping children to begin changing at ever younger ages. Treatment includes psychological counselling, hormone blockers and, eventually, the possibility of sex reassignment surgery.
Does Age Enter into the Picture?
Critics have queried whether these children are too young to make up their own minds and whether, in adulthood, they might wish to reverse the process – by which stage it could be too late. But for Camille’s mom, Casey, 33, that concern is misplaced.
“You spend a day with my child, and tell me I don’t have a little girl,” she says. “She was never Sebastian, she was always Camille … We kind of knew at 18 months. She really loved wearing my shoes, she was into more feminine things. We would put a truck in front of her and she would just not care about that very much.”
Camille as a Boy
At the age of four, Camille began asking if she could become a girl. She wanted to wear girl’s clothes and he parents agreed. This great couple asked the elementary school authorities if they would refer to her as Camille. They used female pronouns at home. There was an enormous change – Camille felt happier. This happiness spilled over into school where she became a good student with creativity output.
The Future for Camille
Although Camille is too young to be considering drugs or surgery, the Leons are in no doubt about the journey that lies ahead. “For me, I just see it [surgery] coming,” says Eduardo, 32. “Because the way she acts whenever she gets undressed and gets into the shower, it’s like she hates it [her penis]. She hides it. She doesn’t want us to see it. She’s embarrassed of it.”
Do they miss the idea of their son? “I don’t think so,” says Eduardo. “I love my kid, no matter what. The only thing that kind of makes me sad is that she didn’t play soccer.”
And what about Camille? Does she think she will ever change her mind about being a girl and want to go back to being a boy? Camille shakes her head and removes a dangling necklace from her mother’s neck. She slips it over her head and starts playing with the silver charm. “No,” she replies firmly.
Nicki is Also From California
Nikki is fourteen years of age and has been on hormone blockers since 2013. She was born male and began to ask to be dressed in female clothes by the age of three. The urge to be female led to Nikki praying to wake up a girl. Her mother overheard Nikki speaking out loud. What parent would not be reduced to tears and love.
Documentaries on gay or transgendered children are essential for their self-esteem and personal acceptance. When Nikki was twelve she watched a documentary on transgendered children. It had such an impact and it offered hope. It was possible to change into who you are – and not what birth decided.
Difficulties In Many Areas
The hormone blockers have led to mood swings. She lost some friends and she was teased and called names at school. There were problems at home. Her younger sister, Danielle, was having problems adjusting to an older brother who was changing gender. She had wanted to be the first to wear makeup.
And yet, despite the trauma she faced, not once did Nikki question her decision. She was “excited” about starting her transition, she says, rather than scared.
Things are Getting Better
Nikki has a better relationship with Danielle and they share girl ideas and items.
Does Nikki want surgery in the future? “Yeah, I really do. I’m not in a huge rush for the sex reassignment surgery, but I know I want to do it, maybe some time in college or after that … I won’t be able to have biological children, but I want to be married, I want to have kids.”
Nikki’s parents, Isabel, 47, and Jerry, 45, are supportive of their daughter’s journey. This is important because in the United Kingdom as high as 48% of transgendered people under the age of 26 have considered suicide.
Research from the US and the Netherlands suggests that up to a fifth of patients regret the change, but such statistics are hard to quantify or monitor.
Nikki’s parents are supportive, but emotions do come into play from time to time. Isabel, Nikki’s mother remembers the day that Nikki’s sex was altered on her birth certificate.
“I have a lot of memories of her as my baby boy,” says Isabel. “It was a grieving process for me. I was sad.” She wells up. “And sometimes I’m still sad.”
Nikki, however, is completely sure of what she is doing. What would she reply to someone who asked how she could accurately know her own mind at 14?
She squints, giving a shy half-smile. “How would I not know my own mind?” she says. “I’ve been like this for a couple of years and I love it. I would never change back. If I had stayed as a boy, I honestly wouldn’t even know what I would do. I wouldn’t even go out. I don’t think I would make it.”
We wish Camille and Nikki