‘When do I get to be a boy?’ an 11-year-old’s struggle with gender identity
Published Monday, June 17, 2013 4:19PM MDT
Last Updated Wednesday, June 19, 2013 10:23AM MDT
He was born as Renna, a little girl - but at an early age, Wren Kauffman began grappling with the realization that he did not feel at home in his own body.
Now, the 11-year-old has been living as a boy for two years, and it’s a drastic change he admits he wouldn’t be able to have without the unconditional love and support from his family.
“I knew, when I was two, and I think I knew because I didn’t feel right, I wanted to be a boy but I didn’t have the parts,” Wren said.
Wren’s mother Wen said their little girl was barely out of her toddler years when she started to ask unusual questions of her parents.
“Probably around the age of two or three he would start saying things like ‘when do I get to be a boy?’ We would laugh and say that’s cute and funny,” Wen said.
It didn’t take long for the cute incidents to become more alarming.
“He would cry and be mad,” Wen said. “Sometimes out of the blue he would ask of he could go back inside and come out the right way.”
As a child, Renna insisted on wearing boy’s clothes – even though Wen and her husband Greg tried to get their little girl to wear dresses.
These days, the couple is often asked the question: when did they realize Renna’s behavior wasn’t pre-school ‘nonsense’.
For that, a fight over a costume based off of characters in a popular family movie strikes the couple as the first time they began to understand the state their daughter was in.
At the time, Renna demanded to dress up as Dash, the little boy in the movie – while her parents tried to have her dress up as Violet, Dash’s big sister.
“It was back and forth, and I thought, ‘man, she’s really digging her heels in on this,’” Greg said.
Finally, when she was nine, Renna reached her breaking point and told her parents how unhappy she truly was.
“He started to cry, and he said ‘I know I am different, I feel different every day,’” Wen said. “’I can’t do this, I can’t be a girl and be happy, I am not happy’,
“There were lots of tears, when I think about it, I did my best for what I knew, I said ‘I don’t care if you are a boy or a girl, I love Wren.’”
Later that night, Greg turned to Google, asking ‘What to do if I think my child is transgendered’ – Dr. Kristopher Wells, from the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, came up in the search.
The family contacted Dr. Wells, and met with him to find out more.
“I remember meeting at the back of a coffee shop, a family on a quest, a family that you could see that they loved their child unconditionally,” Dr. Wells said.
Wells has worked with children as young as 7 who transition into a different gender – a very rare occurrence.
“Over 90 percent of children who cross gender are not transgendered but they end up gay or lesbian,” Dr. Wells said. “There’s only a minority of kids who see a persistent cross identification.”
What followed was a number of meetings, doctors’ visits – and finally, halfway through Grade 5, Renna transformed into Wren.
The clothes changed along with the pronouns – it was a change Wren’s extended family wasn’t as sure about.
“They were a little more questioning, they were worried – like we all are – is this real, is this right?” Wen said.
While some wondered if Wren’s change was simply a phase, asking the young boy himself prompts a confident answer.
“No, I don’t think this is a phase,” Wren said. “I’ve stuck with it for 11 years, most phases with me don’t stick around that long – it’s probably not a phase.”
On the slim chance that it is a phase, all of the changes Wren has gone through are reversible – at 11-years-old, he’s taking a hormone blocker to stop him going through puberty.
“They helped me not going through puberty as a girl, but then I have to wait until I’m 16 to get testosterone shots,” Wren said.
Putting a pause on puberty in such a way is giving the family time to ensure this is what’s best for Wren, and prevents the emotional trauma that comes when a child who identifies as the opposite gender, starts changing.
“There are much higher rates of suicide, much higher rates of sexual violence perpetrated against them, if that’s the result of not taking the medicine, then why would you not take the medicine?” Greg said.
In five years, when Wren is 16, he could start taking testosterone, which would start his change into a man – the next step; sex change surgery is only available in Canada once a Wren turns 18.
Whatever Wren decides to do, he knows his family will be behind him.
“So I’m trans, if my family didn’t support me, then I would be sad and depressed, I would not be very happy,” Wren said.
It’s a huge support system Dr. Wells said is an important part of the transition for youth dealing with those changes.
“The one thing the child needs to know the most, that they are loved by their parents,” Wells said. “Without that love, life gets a lot harder from there.”
With files from Stacey Brotzel
In Part II of this series, airing on CTV News at Six on Tuesday, June 18 – Stacey Brotzel will talk to Wren’s classmates, and find out why his parents never thought they would become advocates for the transgendered community.