The reality of being transgender wasn’t something that ever occurred to me growing up. I was dealing with being a self-aware gay child and the stresses of being openly gay as a teenager, so the fact there were kids going through something even more challenging wasn’t in my consciousness. I think it’s only been in the last decade or so that transgender and gender identity issues have come into the broader public consciousness, and we still have a long way to go.
At age five, Shamai was a boy in a little girl’s body. He remembers demanding a short haircut and when a lady on the street “mistook” him for a boy, turning to his mother and saying: “This lady knows better than you. She knows I’m a boy.”
In her first recollection that something was wrong, Samantha had this vague sense it didn’t feel right to be in a boy’s body. “I didn’t know what it was. I prayed for a while for things to work out.” She was four years old.
James was three years old -and a girl on the outside -when he blurted out to his family: “I was a boy before. What happened?” For years it was a family joke.
They are transgender youth, all in their 20s now, from different backgrounds but with stories that are similar: moments of childhood clarity when they realized they weren’t who they appeared to be.
National statistics are impossible to find, but counsellors and doctors say they’ve been seeing a steady increase over the last five years in the number of young people seeking advocacy groups, hormone therapy and finally surgery for maleto-female (MTF) or female-tomale (FTM) changes.
That increase is attributed in part to greater awareness and support within the community, and better access to sex reassignment surgery. B.C., Saskatchewan, Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and Newfoundland cover costs of the procedure, which is most often performed in Montreal at the Centre Metropolitain de Chirurgie Plastique.
While some professionals continue to see gender identity issues as psychological, ongoing research is moving toward the hypothesis of biological changes that take place in the womb rather than environmental influences.