A BARBARA WALTERS REPORT: LIVING AS � AND WITH � A TRANSGENDER KID, ON ABC NEWS' "20/20," FRIDAY, APRIL 27
From the moment we are born, our gender identity is no secret � we are either boys or girls. As we grow up, most of us naturally fit into our gender roles. But for some children, it's not so simple� they insist they were born into the wrong bodies. Barbara Walters reports on some of the youngest transgender kids, including a six-year-old girl who was born a boy, a 10-year-old boy who lives as a girl and a 16-year-old-boy who was born a girl. Walters talks to these transgender children, all diagnosed with gender identity disorder (GID), as well as to their parents, who are allowing their children to live in the gender they identify with in order to save them from a future of heartache and pain. They are sharing their personal stories to increase future understanding of transgender children. But how can someone so young really know his/her true gender identity? Walters' eye-opening report airs on "20/20," FRIDAY, APRIL 27 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network.
JAZZ, 6 -- On the surface, Scott and Renee and their four children are a typical American family. But their youngest, Jazz, is a six-year-old transgender girl, one of the youngest documented cases of an early transition from male to female. At only 15 months, Jazz would unsnap his onesies to make it look like a dress, and at two he asked his mom when he would become a girl. He was only three when their pediatrician told them Jazz had a serious problem. When he was diagnosed with GID, the Jennings wanted to do everything possible to avoid having their child suffer. They let their then five-year-old biological boy begin living fulltime as a girl � Jazz grew her hair out, pierced her ears, and now wears dresses everywhere, even to kindergarten. "We felt that it would be a good time for her to come out of the closet. Because she's starting a new school, doesn't know anybody in her class, and this is a perfect opportunity for her to switch the pronoun," says Renee.
RILEY, 10 -- "She has a birth defect. And we call it that.... She talks about the day she'll have a baby. That's not in her future," Stephanie says about her transgender child, Riley, who was born a twin boy named Richard. From the beginning, the twins were different � Richard wanted to be just like his twin sister, Allie. For years he secretly dressed up in her clothes. In 2004, at age seven, Richard's parents allowed him to transition from a boy to a girl. He -- now she -- eventually changed her name legally to Riley. But living as a girl has brought on other problems, including taunting and teasing at school. Riley is now on the cusp of puberty, a difficult time for a transgender child who wants to identify with the opposite sex.
JEREMY, 16 -- On December 19, 2004, 14-year-old Rebecca wrote a startling letter to her parents. By the end, she was no longer "Rebecca" but "Jeremy." After years of struggling silently, Jeremy, with his parent's consent, began to transition into a boy. He cut his hair short, bought male clothing and began wearing a lycra vest that painfully flattened his breasts. Jeremy was generally accepted by his classmates, but beneath his clothing, Jeremy was a girl in puberty. "From the time that I found out what it meant to be transgendered, I knew that there were physical changes that I could make� and I also knew that there were surgeries that could be done," Jeremy tells Walters.
But Jeremy's parents were cautious. They allowed him to dress as a boy, but refused to let him start injecting testosterone. Without the male hormone, Jeremy felt trapped between genders. A year after coming out, he started to physically hurt himself when he discovered that his mother still hoped for her daughter to return. For his parents, the threat of losing their child crystallized the urgency Jeremy felt to masculinize his body and last year, Jeremy, then 16, began injecting testosterone.
The report also features interviews with sex and gender experts, including the therapist who confirmed Jazz's diagnoses and the doctor who is treating Jeremy. Experts are divided about when to start hormone therapy treatment, which is not without risk, as well as the question of whether and when to have sex reassignment surgery; some fear that gender non-conforming children could change their minds about their gender identity later in life. Walters reports on the first study to quantify the harmful effects rejection has on gender non-conforming young people: Researchers found that youths who were highly pressured by their families to conform to gender expectations were nearly four times as likely to attempt suicide and use illegal drugs, and twice as likely to be at high risk for HIV infection. But for those accepted by their parents, these risks were dramatically reduced.
These parents also talk about the importance of the unconditional love they have for their children. "I've talked to many adult transgender people� And they said �if only my mother or father had done what you're doing, my life would have been completely different.'� The bottom line is you want a happy, healthy child to enjoy life," says Renee. "This is not easy�it would be the last thing I would wish on anyone. But the first thing I'd say that people should stand up and recognize is your child's right to be who they are," says Stephanie.
Why are these families exposing something so personal on national television? "I want to pave the way for a better life for her (Jazz), and any trans kids. They didn't ask to be born this way," Renee tells Walters. "I want Riley to have a good life... and for more people to understand the way she is. And that it's no fault of her own, or anyone else's," Riley's father, Neal, tells Walters. His wife, Stephanie, adds: "We have to support her -- but we don't walk in her shoes. And people who look at her and know her... will, I hope, realize what it takes for her to be her every single day."
Please note: some of the names have been changed for the broadcast and promotional purposes.
David Sloan is the executive producer. Alan B. Goldberg is the producer.