Story transcripts

My Secret Self

Friday, September 4, 2009

Reporter: Liz Hayes
Producer: Stephen Rice

This is a story that at first glance seems quite unbelievable. It's about a little girl called Jazz. She's only eight years old and she was born a boy.

She is probably the youngest transgender child in the world. For years, Jazz felt something was wrong, that somehow she was trapped in the wrong body. So she decided to dress and live as a girl.

And even more controversially, her parents accepted it.

Your natural reaction is how could they? How could someone so young possibly make such a complex decision?

That's certainly what Liz Hayes thought, but why don't you meet this unusual family, then see what you think.

Story contacts:

For more information, please visit the TransKids Purple Rainbow Foundation, set up by Jazz's parents to support research and education about transgender issues.

Full transcript below.

STORY - LIZ HAYES: It's a scene you'll encounter in any happy family home around the world - brothers taking great delight in outdoing their sisters. But in this family there's a difference - the baby girl of the family, 8-year-old Jazz, was born a boy.

RENEE: At first I thought, "Oh, how cute!" "He wants to play with a doll - who cares?", you know? "We're really open-minded." But when it continued on month after month and, like, became year after year and it became stronger, I knew, you know, this wasn't a phase - it's getting more intense.

LIZ HAYES: When Jazz's parents, Scott and Renee, had their fourth child, very early they were bewildered by the way their new son was behaving.

RENEE: When a 2-year-old comes up to you and says, "Mommy, when is the good fairy going to come "with her magic wand "and change my penis into a vagina?", you're like, "This is not typical - "this is not something a normal child would do."

LIZ HAYES: Can you remember the first time, you thought, "I want to be a girl"?

JAZZ: Um, when I was two. I would say, "I want to wear a dress." I'd always say, "I want to play with the Barbies."

LIZ HAYES: And right from a very early age you thought that was what you wanted to be?

JAZZ: Yeah.

SCOTT: She was quite adamant about what her belief was - that she was a girl. And initially, I know from my own perspective, I was in in denial.

LIZ HAYES: Despite their reservations, Scott and Renee have made the courageous decision to let their son live as a girl.

SCOTT: It was difficult for us, but at the same time we knew that was the right thing for our child, whether society was going to accept it or not.

LIZ HAYES: You've got a beautiful dress on. Did you select this?

JAZZ: It was with me and my mom - she's like, "Oh, how 'bout you wear that dress?"

LIZ HAYES: But that's a nice dress.

JAZZ: Thank you.

LIZ HAYES: So you love dressing up, clearly?

JAZZ: Um, yes.

LIZ HAYES: And you love earrings?

JAZZ: Yeah.

LIZ HAYES: Hearts, beautiful.

JAZZ: Yeah, with all pink dots in it.

LIZ HAYES: Jazz is what's known as a transgender child - in her case, born a boy with normal male genitals, but an unmistakably female brain.

LIZ HAYES: Do you know that you're a special girl?

JAZZ: Yes.

IZ HAYES: And why is that?

JAZZ: Because I have a girl brain and a boy body.

LIZ HAYES: And how do you feel about that?

JAZZ: I feel fine. Like, it's OK. Like, it's like a normal life to me, pretty much, 'cause if people are, like, making fun of you just walk away and be friends with people that are nice to you and appreciate you.

LIZ HAYES: Her bedroom is like what you would expect of any little girl and her interests like most, except perhaps her passion for mermaids.

LIZ HAYES: Why do you love mermaids to much?

JAZZ: It's because I don't have to worry about what's around, like, the private area.

LIZ HAYES: OK, so yes, it's... the mermaid could be anybody?

JAZZ: Yeah.

DR MARILYN VOLKER: When I ask children to draw a picture of themself, draw a picture of what they like, many, many trans children will draw mermaids. They have tails - they have no genitalia. They can be beautiful and pretty and you can put sparkly things on them.

LIZ HAYES: Dr Marilyn Volker is a therapist who specialises in sex and gender issues.

LIZ HAYES: What is gender identity disorder? How do you explain that?

DR MARILYN VOLKER: It's literally where the biology between the legs does not match the gender identity between the ears.

LIZ HAYES: We don't know how many transgendered children exist, but chances are there could be hundreds in Australia. Around the world, gender identity disorder is becoming more recognised.

KIM PETRAS: I always knew it, you know? When I was a little kid, I was always wanting pink dresses, Barbie, everything, so, you know, I've never really lived as a boy. I've always wanted to live as a girl. So I really knew exactly who I was.

LIZ HAYES: In Germany last year, 16-year-old Kim Petras - who was born a boy - became the youngest person ever to have sex-change surgery.

KIM PETRAS: Um, I got the rule bent because I had so many psychologists who in the end said that more than two years would not be good for me to wait for the surgery.

LIZ HAYES: Kim was born 'Tim'. Like many transgender children, Kim began taking hormones at the age of 12 to ward off the cruel effects of puberty.

KIM PETRAS: Every day I woke up and I was scared to have a lower voice or suddenly have a beard or anything - Adam's apple or something. I was really so happy when I got the hormones and that's what I've always wanted to feel like.

LIZ HAYES: The experts say that for these children the sooner they begin the transition the better. In Jazz's case, that happened at an extraordinarily young age.

LIZ HAYES: What struck you about Jazz?

DR MARILYN VOLKER: Oh, first of all an extraordinary spirit.

LIZ HAYES: When Dr Volker first saw Jazz she was just three.

DR MARILYN VOLKER: We use pictures and anatomical dolls. Jazz looked at the penis and scrotum, looked at the vagina, and said, "When I'm sicth, the good fairy is going to bring me a bagina." And I don't look at a child and say, "Oh, transgender." I ask them why they would want a vagina.

LIZ HAYES: And what did Jazz say?

DR MARILYN VOLKER: "Because I'm a girl."

LIZ HAYES: At three, Jazz was probably the youngest ever child to be diagnosed as transgender.

LIZ HAYES: You don't mind that you have the girl brain and the boy body?

JAZZ: Yeah, I don't care. I still, like, lived a life like a girl, it's not any different.

LIZ HAYES: What do you like about being a girl?

JAZZ: Like, it's fun - you get to do all, like, makeovers.

LIZ HAYES: There must have been a point where you were resisting, almost trying to change what Jazz was doing?

RENEE: Yeah, and I thought, "If it is a passing phase, it will pass." Scott was a little bit more resistant. He was, you know, at first, like, was not as cool about it.

LIZ HAYES: Well, I guess most dads would probably find this difficult.

SCOTT: Yeah, it was difficult. I wanted to try and have Jazz do more things that were ah intuitively 'boy'.

LIZ HAYES: Do you remember what it was like when you were a little boy at all?

JAZZ: I remember that no-one knew that I had a girl brain. I remember that I was not happy with the clothes I had to wear and with short hair. And, when I was two, when I was a little boy, I remember my parents changed my overalls to, like, a little dress.

LIZ HAYES: And do you remember how you felt when you were allowed to wear a dress?

JAZZ: I was very happy, like right now.

LIZ HAYES: At first, Jazz's preschool wouldn't let her dress as a girl. At one dance recital, she wasn't allowed to wear a tutu like the rest of the girls and was heartbroken. For her parents, it was a turning point.

LIZ HAYES: Do you recall the day that you as parents had to sit down and say, "OK, our boy from this day on is going to be a girl?"

RENEE: By the time she was in her last year of preschool it became very obvious that we weren't going to be able to keep this under the rug much longer. It was the fifth birthday party where she was allowed to wear a girl bathing suit and we had 60, 70 kids here and they all saw her - who was known as 'him' at the time - in this girl bathing suit.

SCOTT: It was really her coming out where she said to the world, "I'm a girl."

LIZ HAYES: From those early years, Jazz was never happy unless she was treated as a girl. And her twin brothers and older sister are very accepting and understanding that they now have a sister.

BROTHER: I'm happy that she's a girl, because that's what she wants to be.

LIZ HAYES: Are you protective of Jazz?

SISTER: Yes, definitely. Because I've seen movies where people like her have been in, like, very bad situations and they've been, like, hurt and I don't want that to happen to her.

LIZ HAYES: And if they were to? If somebody said something unkind to Jazz, what would you say?

BROTHER 1: I'd tell them, "Just don't talk about that stuff," and it's hers to know about not theirs. Because they want to live their own life just like everybody else does.

BROTHER 2: And they're the same kind of people as you are. They live the same kind of life.

SISTER: Unless you make it hard on them.

LIZ HAYES: For a transgender child and their families life throws up some serious and complicated issues. Jazz has not yet had hormone treatment or gender reassignment surgery. Those decisions are all ahead of her.

RENEE: She's got a rough road ahead of her. There's no doubt. And, I know there's a lot of pain around the corner and puberty is still looming out there, and, ah, she's still little, which is great, but I know that eventually her body will betray her.

SCOTT: We've tried to build as much self-esteem as possible going into those future years where we know it could be difficult.

LIZ HAYES: What do you think you'd like to do when you grow up?

JAZZ: Um, a soccer player, an actor, singer and dancer. I like to draw too, so maybe an artist. A lot of things.

LIZ HAYES: These are loving and courageous parents, doing what they believe is best for their child in a country that is still deeply conservative at heart.

RENEE: I get some terrible emails - people that basically say that I am THE worst parent, I am evil, I should be killed, my child should be killed and "What type of parent am I?" and "Your kid's a freak" and...

SCOTT: And we feel like by allowing you into our home, into our lives - and essentially the world into our lives - and seeing Jazz in her environment doing the things that she does on a daily basis, it'll open people's hearts and understanding and it could make the world a better place.

LIZ HAYES: It is a complicated and difficult issue, but, for Jazz, it's very simple.

LIZ HAYES: What is your message to other children who might feel trapped in the wrong body?

JAZZ: I would say, "Don't be afraid, just go tell your parents and then you'll be happy." Like, "You'll like who you are after that."

LIZ HAYES: So you have to be true to yourself to be happy?

JAZZ: I guess.

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