We will give our 12-year-old son drugs to help him change... from school­boy to school­girl

The Mail on Sunday - - News - By Sanchez Man­ning SO­CIAL AF­FAIRS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

SMIL­ING sweetly, with a flo­ral head­band keep­ing her shoul­der­length hair in place, Zoey Mid­dle­ton looks like any other school­girl.

But what may not be i mme­di­ately ob­vi­ous is that this 12-year-old from Der­byshire was ac­tu­ally born a male called Kian.

By t he age of f our, ac­cord­ing to her mother Caren, she started wanting to wear girls’ clothes and be­gan dress­ing up as ‘a brides­maid’.

Then l ast year, j ust months af­ter start­ing sec­ondary school, Zoey t old her par­ents t hat she wanted to live full­time as a girl and wear a skirt rather than trousers for school.

Now, in a move that will shock some par­ents, her mother and fa­ther are hop­ing that the NHS will put her on a course

‘It’s not ideal, but her hap­pi­ness is what mat­ters’

of pow­er­ful pu­berty-halt­ing drugs that could change her life for ever.

In the next few weeks, they are hop­ing the Tav­i­s­tock Gen­der Iden­tity De­vel­op­ment Clinic in Lon­don, which treats un­der-18s who be­lieve they were born the wrong sex, will as­sess their daugh­ter and be­gin this con­tro­ver­sial treat­ment.

The monthly hor­mone in­jec­tions will stop the on­set of pu­berty, slow­ing the de­vel­op­ment of sex or­gans and body hair and de­lay­ing other changes, such as her voice break­ing. The treat­ment is of­ten the first stage to­wards a full sex change.

Ear­lier this year The Mail on Sun­day re­vealed that 800 chil­dren in Eng­land – some as young as ten – are re­ceiv­ing the drugs, known as ‘pu­berty-block­ers’.

But their use has sparked fu­ri­ous de­bate, with crit­ics brand­ing the NHS as ‘ un­eth­i­cal’ for pre­scrib­ing such life-chang­ing drugs to young chil­dren.

Some doc­tors are warn­ing that the in­jec­tions are still ‘ex­per­i­men- tal’ as lit­tle is known about their long-term ef­fects. Oth­ers ar­gue, how­ever, that the treat­ment is es­sen­tial to save trans­gen­der chil­dren from go­ing through the agony of chang­ing into the ‘wrong’ sex.

Caren, and Zoey’s fa­ther David, are aware of the wider con­tro­versy, but say their pri­or­ity is their child’s hap­pi­ness. And if this means tak­ing in­jec­tions to stop her turn­ing into a young man, then that is what they think should hap­pen.

Speak­ing at the fam­ily’s £200,000 three-bed­room home in Ch­ester­field, Caren, 44, said: ‘We do want Zoey to start the block­ers be­cause I think pu­berty will re­ally af­fect her.

‘Her voice is quite girly at the mo­ment. She likes her voice, she’s al­ways singing and peo­ple think she’s a girl any­way. So it will seri- ously af­fect her if she hits pu­berty and things change. It’s a big worry. We’d like her to start the drugs as soon as pos­si­ble.

‘She’s 12, but nearly turn­ing 13, so it’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore she starts pu­berty. If tak­ing the drugs is the way it’s got to be for her to be her­self, then so be it. It’s not ideal, but her hap­pi­ness is what mat­ters.’

David has, by his own ad­mis­sion, wres­tled with his child’s de­ci­sion much more than her mother. ‘I strug­gled at first,’ the 47-year-old en­gi­neer con­fessed. ‘ I was just wor­ried about bul­ly­ing at school. Schools are not al­ways the nicest places. I tried to get her into foot­ball and dads’ and lads’ stuff but she’s never been in­ter­ested.’

But now David says he is fully be­hind Zoey’s tran­si­tion, in­clud-

i ng the prospect of her tak­ing pu­berty-block­ers.

He said: ‘As long as she is happy that’s all I care about. If [tak­ing the block­ers] is what she wants, I’m 100 per cent be­hind her.’

Af­ter be­ing as­sessed by psy­chol­o­gists at the Tav­i­s­tock clinic, Zoey will be passed to the ser­vice’s med­i­cal de­part­ment where she can then be pre­scribed the drugs.

For Caren and David it’s been a long and some­times con­fus­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. ‘When she was younger and role-play­ing, I al­ways thought she’d grow out of it,’ Caren re­called. ‘But she was al­ways so fem­i­nine and I thought, “She’s in the wrong body.” She al­ways has been, re­ally.

‘When she was four she started to want to dress up in girls’ clothes as if she was a brides­maid. She wouldn’t want to wear boys’ clothes

‘She would watch a TV pro­gramme called Di­nosaur King and started say­ing “Can you call me Zoey?” af­ter one of the main char­ac­ters.’ By the time she was aged nine, she was at­tend­ing school dis­cos wear­ing girls’ shorts, tights and plas­tic heels. She started wear­ing dresses at about the same time – but only in the house for fear of be­ing teased if she went out­side, Caren said.

The ma­jor turn­ing point came dur­ing her first term at sec­ondary school, when she asked her par­ents if she could wear a girls’ school uni­form rather than a boys’ one.

Meet­ings f ol l owed with t he head­teacher, who not only let her come to school in her cho­sen uni­form but also let her change her name from Kian to Zoey on the school reg­is­ter.

Zoey’s school al­ready had gen­derneu­tral toi­lets but it has al­lowed her to have a sep­a­rate chang­ing room so she doesn’t have to change with the boys or the girls for PE – a class she takes with the girls.

Zoey said she loves her new girls’ wardrobe, which is full of flow­ery dresses and bright-coloured leg- gings. She said: ‘I’m much hap­pier and more con­fi­dent now the way I am. And I just so happy that no one at school has ever been mean to me or asked me any funny ques­tions.’

Her par­ents ad­mit that see­ing their child go to school dressed fully as a girl was dif­fi­cult to get used to.

‘I wasn’t sur­prised, but I felt as if I was griev­ing be­cause I’m los­ing a son,’ Caren said. ‘But as long as she’s happy, I love her what­ever. I al­ways en­cour­aged her to be who she wanted to be, but in the back of my mind I al­ways thought she would be older be­fore she tran­si­tioned.’

Gen­der dys­pho­ria is a com­plex is­sue and those di­ag­nosed with it are of­ten judged by the med­i­cal pro­fes­sion to be at higher risk of de­pres­sion, self-harm and sui­cide.

In Au­gust this year, an in­quest heard how 15-year-old Leo Etheri ng­ton, who was born fe­male, had hanged him­self in his bed­room in High Wy­combe, Buck­ing­ham- shire. The teenager had been the first young per­son to pub­licly re­veal at the age of 12 that he had started re­ceiv­ing pu­berty block­ing in­jec­tions.

At the in­quest his fa­ther told how Leo, who was pre­vi­ously called Louise, was ‘an­gry’ with his school af­ter staff re­port­edly re­fused him per­mis­sion to change his name un­til he was 16, though the school de­nied this. Last month in Aus­tralia, an­other teen named Pa­trick, who had be­gun tak­ing pu­berty block­ers, said he had ceased tak­ing the drugs af­ter chang­ing his mind and de­cid­ing to re­main male.

Pre­vi­ously, US psy­chi­a­try pro­fes­sor Paul McHugh has warned that pre­scrib­ing pu­berty-block­ers for young peo­ple with gen­der dys­pho­ria is an ‘ex­per­i­men­tal’ treat­ment, un­sup­ported by ‘ rig­or­ous sci­en­tific ev­i­dence’.

But Pro­fes­sor Gary But­ler, from Uni­ver­sity Col­lege Hospi­tal Lon­don, said the hor­mone in­jec­tions ‘stop pu­berty go­ing for­ward like a pause but­ton.

‘They are de­signed to treat the very rare sit­u­a­tion of a young child de­vel­op­ing sex­ual changes. We think they are safe and re­pro­duc­tive changes re­versible, but the drug can cause poly­cys­tic ovaries in women.’

How­ever, for Zoey the process has gone well so far, and Caren says: ‘I don’t think she’ll ever go back to be­ing Kian. She is so happy. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong in ten years’ time, but I would be very shocked.’

SUP­PORT­IVE: Zoey with par­ents Caren and David and, left, in boys’ and girls’ school uni­forms

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