My identical twins are girl/boy... now
Written anonymously for the AMBA Magazine, September 2015
Given that I’m writing this for AMBA Magazine I’m guessing that by now parents of multiples would have picked up that there is something odd about my story – perhaps you think I’m confused about the difference between identical twins and fraternal? Because you can’t have boy/girl identical twins, can you? Identical multiples are always the same gender, right?
I’m the proud mother of identical twins. My son and daughter made their arrival 11 years ago prematurely, as expected, due to having twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome – a condition experienced by identical twins (or higher-order multiple gestations) where, in this case, their common placenta was shared unequally, which resulted in my daughter being significantly smaller than her brother.
When I brought my babies home from hospital, I was in no doubt I had two identical sons and their birth certificates listed them as male. For the first three or four years of their lives, they were my ‘lads’ – they dressed in similar jeans and jumpers, and enjoyed pulling on their gumboots to go play in the mud on our little farm. Then one of them started showing an interest in all things ‘girly’ and I was okay with that. It was just a phase, I thought. So teddy bears, Barbies, and playing with my clothes and jewellery became ‘his’ thing.
“For the first three or four years, they were my ‘lads’.”
At playgroup one of the twins was always in the sandpit with the trucks, the other in the dress-up corner wanting to wear the tutus. At about six years of age my child first told me he was going to be a girl when he grew up, that he would have a sex-change operation. I have to be honest, it scared me so much to hear that. Not because I loved my child any less, or thought that something was ‘wrong’ with my child, but because I feared how others would perceive and treat my precious child. Like most parents I want my child to grow up to be safe, have opportunities, be loved and cared for, and in that moment, all I could imagine was a very difficult life that I didn’t want for my child.
At this stage, if I had taken my child to a psychologist or psychiatrist to be evaluated, I have no doubt my child would have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria (she has been diagnosed more recently), which is a medical term for having significant discontent with the sex and gender a person was assigned at birth. Most prepubescent children who have gender dysphoria don’t continue to have it as they get older, while about 25 percent persist and are consistent in their identification as the opposite gender into puberty and adulthood.
For the next five years, my child lived a double life, dressing in preferred feminine clothes at home and as a boy when outside the home. Both twins were doing really well at school and had lots of positive childhood experiences, but their interests were very different – and their friendship groups were markedly different. One had all male friends and the other all female friends. I guess we were still waiting for the phase to end... but it didn’t.
“One of the twins was always in the sandpit... the other in the dress-up corner.”
Last year my child became more insistent and outspoken about her desire to be recognised as a girl. She has always been very clear on who she is and never shy to be her true self. I have a great admiration for her capacity to be honest and open with others about how she sees things. She can be very determined and has a keen sense of what is just and unjust, which has resulted in her recently announcing she would be acting as her brother’s ‘lawyer’ in all future family disputes. Quite a daunting proposition for this mum, but her brother is delighted.
As a parent it was an incredibly difficult decision to make, whether to allow her to exist in the world as the girl she knows herself to be, or force her to remain closeted about her identity beyond the safety of our home. Those same fears and concerns that I had when she was six and dreaming of being a girl were present, but in the meantime I’d done enough research on gender identity issues to now know that the risks associated with not supporting her were significant.
More than 40 per cent of unsupported transgender people attempt suicide. At age 11 it was also necessary to consider the difficulties she would face with the imminent onset of puberty, as just the thought of experiencing the physical changes of male puberty were very distressing to my child. Many of those physical changes might require surgery or other interventions later in life if my child later transitioned to female. Her twin brother supported her fully. He said to me: “Mum, she’s always been a girl on the inside, now she’s going to be a girl on the outside too.” So, last Christmas, my child got the best present I could give her: the freedom to be herself. With full support from our family and friends, we changed her name, started using female pronouns, let her wear her girl’s clothes, and she got her ears pierced (the icing on the cake!).
She returned to her school this year as a girl and she’s so happy. The biggest issue we have is that she loves it so much she never wants to miss a day, even when she’s sick. Our school and community have been outstanding in their support of my daughter, and her fellow students open and accepting. I don’t think it was a radical change for anyone as she had been so feminine before. For most of the kids, it seems to make sense to them that she’s a girl now.
My daughter is now receiving treatment at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne which has a Gender Clinic for children and adolescents. She is currently being monitored to identify when she reaches the appropriate stage of puberty (Tanner Stage 2) to start medication, which will basically stall her body from going into male puberty. This treatment is completely reversible should she decide not to continue at any stage. It effectively buys her time before making any more radical choices later in life, such as taking hormones or perhaps even surgery.
“I feared how others would perceive and treat my precious child.”
There are so many surprises and unexpected lessons you learn while being a parent. Perhaps the one lesson that would have been good for me to learn early on, when I held my beautiful identical baby boys in my arms and imagined their future, is to never assume anything about what will happen next. Life has all sorts of unexpected curveballs ready to be thrown. Unconditional love is the key to facing them. I sometimes wish I had a crystal ball that would show me where this journey will lead us so I could avoid potential mistakes and protect my child better. I’m very clear that my role in this is to smooth the way for my daughter so that she grows up in a world that has a better awareness of the issues for gender-variant people, which is why I am happy to share our story.
We are certainly not the only family experiencing this and, as awareness increases, more people are seeking help and support for their children. The RCH Gender Clinic has seen its patient numbers increase from two in 2003 to 104 in 2014, and they expect even more in 2015. If you or your child needs support there is information and links to resources available at www.genderhelpforparents.com.au.
*The author has asked to remain anonymous to protect the privacy of her children.