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Living with a secret

By Anna Gorman

Amber, a soft-spoken, feminine 12-year-old who loves Hello Kitty and fashion design, lives with a secret. It is a secret most sixth-graders can’t fathom, one she hides behind pink skirts and make-up. It is a secret that led to all her baby pictures being tucked away as though her childhood had never happened.

Amber was born a boy.

When she was 10, she stopped going by her given name, Aaron, and began dressing as a girl. Last year, she started taking medication to keep her from going through puberty.

“I can be who I am,” Amber said. “I can be a girl.”

An increasing number of children like Amber are realizing they are transgender and seeking care at clinics around the nation. Because of their age, the complex and emotional journey is as much their parents’ as their own. Families are forced to make tough decisions about therapy and medication, and about what to tell friends and relatives. They are trying to give their children a normal upbringing with summer camps and sleepovers while protecting them from harm and embarrassment.

“How do you move through society with a gender-variant child?” said Nancy Quay , a psychotherapist in the gender services program at the University of Michigan. “What do you tell your neighbors? How do you keep your child safe?”

For Amber’s parents, Michelle and Jamie, the last few years have been a roller coaster of emotions — guilt for not recognizing earlier that their daughter was transgender, grief over losing Aaron and worries about Amber’s future.

The family’s last name is being withheld at Amber’s request. They all agreed, though, to both a video and photographs. Michelle said their family and others close to them know about Amber’s transition.

Telling their story, she said, “is the right thing to do…. Hopefully it will bring more awareness and help other families.”

Michelle said she believes that letting Amber take the medication and live as she wants is the only real choice. “We are confident this is her authentic self,” she said.

Jamie is supportive but not quite as sure. “This is some pretty serious territory,” he said. “As a parent, you are always second-guessing yourself.”

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  1. June 15, 2012, 6:21 am

    Such a great story. Fantastic that Amber can be who she is from a young age. Congratulations to that whole family.

    By: kansaskansas
  2. June 15, 2012, 8:33 am

    Wow. Love. The parents are focussed singlemindedly on helping their daughter amber have the best possible life. There is no moral reason at all to not let Amber decide for her own self. At the same time, Amber is 10. So the parents also have to not shield Amber from the fact that life will be difficult as a transgender and give her the tools, at a too early age, to cope with what she will encounter . It is unfortunate that this is so.

    By: william1580
  3. June 15, 2012, 9:44 am

    What a beautiful daughter you have!

  4. June 15, 2012, 11:12 am

    What a bunch of lunatics. Kids want to do all sorts of stupid things that make sense to them at that time in their life. Some kids eat glue or sand because they have deficiencies of certain minerals or vitamins, some kids fight on the play ground because they don't have enough love from their parents, some kids are picky eaters because their parents expose them to foods in a myopic way. Some kids are confused about their gender because of the experiences and influences in their life, and for parents to give a child take powerful pharmaceuticals, so powerful that they change your gender, and live a gender lie that becomes more pernicious to the child everyday, is a grave abuse of their power and responsibility as parents. Wake up and see reality.

    If your kids hops around on the ground and ribbit and claims to be a frog, you will tell him over and over NO YOU ARE NOT A FROG. Parents, friends, teachers, also will not give into the child's behavior because it is so obviously ludicrous. However, because of the deranged society we live in if a boy acts like a girl and tell his parents, friends and teachers he is a girl, instead of stating the obvious and say NO YOU ARE NOT A GIRL, they say, ok, fine you can be a girl. This is a tragedy and the fact that it is celebrated as love and openness is a disgustingly sad statement about the blindness of modern society.

    By: realist
  5. June 18, 2012, 6:24 am

    As a women who was such a child, and expressed it explicitly from before my third birthday, 60 years ago, and have never had a second's regret, I can tell you that you are terribly mistaken in your scorn and disbelief.

    By: _oatc_
  6. July 20, 2012, 4:32 pm

    What is not stated in this report is whose idea it was to put the child on these medications, and if anyone has the right to put a child on this type of medication.

    Once the child is an adult, I hope they figure out their best way to be happy and have the freedom to pursue it as they see fit–but to be put on those hormones so young seems irresponsible to me.

    I bet you were not placed on medication 60 years ago, and I wonder if you would be as sane and sure today if you had been placed on strong medication at 10 years old.

    By: Alex
  7. October 11, 2012, 7:44 pm

    Actually, kids aren't given hormones at 10. The most widely accepted treatment is to give them hormone BLOCKERS once they reach puberty (btw, these medications are not new and have been used for a long time to treat other problems). By taking a hormone blocker, the irreversible effects of puberty are simply delayed until the child is older and can decide for him/herself (often around 16 or 17). If the child changes his or her mind, the hormone blockers can be stopped and a normal biological puberty will occur. However, this rarely happens as by the time most children receive treatment, they've been insisting for most of their lives that their biological sex doesn't match the gender they know themselves to be. It isn't like these kids aren't under the care of a physician.

    A little information goes a long way. Besides, I think it is a bit odd that an Internet stranger would presume to know a child's needs better than that child's parents and physicians.

    By: knowledgeispower
  8. April 15, 2013, 6:31 am

    This obviously isn't a phase for this child, did you even watch the video and listen to what the parents said? this wasn't and never is an easy journey for the families. I applaud these parents for loving their child enough to listen properly to her and act in a loving and responsible way, if the world had more parents like this the world would be a much less guilt ridden place which in turn would lead to a more positive place!

    By: kirsty
  9. June 15, 2012, 1:31 pm

    I applaud these parents. This is quite obviously extremely difficult, and I love how they respect her, and are willing to let her walk her own path. Humanity is sometimes unexplainable, and their willingness to provide loving support to their daughter is really touching. As parents, we wish "easy lives" for our children, but not everything is solvable with a cookie cutter solution. The real message to convey to your kids is that what really matters is who you are as a person, inside. The exterior is only skin deep. Good luck with your journey!!

    By: frankie
  10. June 15, 2012, 1:59 pm

    realist, I don't think this was a spur of the moment decision for this family…it sounds like it was a long time in the making, and I'm guessing that (perhaps) they know their own kid better than you do. From the rest of your post, it sounds like you're pretty much transphobic all the way around, so don't try to pass it off like you're uncomfortable with the story just because she's twelve; you don't like it because you are uncomfortable with trans-gender issues, period. You rather she be unhappy in her skin the rest of her life because it makes YOU feel better? Her life is not about you and your perception of how things should be. Did you watch the same video I did? She's happy. Her parents are happy. Take off the tunnel-vision glasses, come outside and look at reality for yourself: any 'tragedy" this young girl will suffer from in her life, will be at the words and hands of people like you- not from the people who love, nurture and accept her for who she is. I wish more grown ups could take a cue from these brave, selfless and unconditionally loving individuals. My best wishes to the whole family.

    By: Haley
  11. June 15, 2012, 3:14 pm

    We are congratulating parents who allow a 10 yr. old to make such decisions? What happens when they become 18-21 and decide that they were just confused as a preteen, and the remorse sets in? How will their parents be depicted in the press then?

  12. June 18, 2012, 6:42 am

    Such a child is sure before they risk stepping out of the norm, long before puberty, often as a toddler. But as soon as the hormones of puberty start to rise, at anything from 7 these days, it become starkly clear, because their wishes and sensuality diverge increasingly from the form of their changing body. And thus the suicides peak if there is no relief, no hope of the life they need. For such children it is all over by 18, even 14, never mind 21. Consider the age that voices break, feet grow, height spurts, or in trans boys growth stops, breasts expand, and menses start. I cannot imagine what you think this about when you mention such late ages. At what age did you start to dream of love or sex, and want your body to grow to be an adult form that would attract and enable that? For me it was 3 months after my 11th birthday, but my body was completely wrong, and heading further in the wrong direction.

    By: _oatc_
  13. April 15, 2013, 6:24 am

    I knew I was transgender when I was around 11 years old. I'm 18 now and feel exactly the same (and am pursuing surgery this year). This isnt something that we choose, this is who we are – our identity. Do you grow out of your identity? Your sexuality? We need to understand as a society that these children cannot help how they feel. What they need is the most support they can possibly get. A phase is something which goes on for a couple months. Being transgender is not a phase nor a choice, it is a part of our who we are.

    By: andy
  14. June 15, 2012, 5:14 pm

    Worse than Sodom and Gomorrah. At least they didn't use hormones on people. And why do they call it medication? There is no disease that needs to be treated.

    By: kjJ
  15. June 15, 2012, 5:48 pm

    Thank you so much Amber and family for sharing your story. As a mother of a transgendered 7-year old I can relate to all of this and applaud you all for doing what you feel deep down is right for your child. For people who criticize, (like realist who posted a comment), you simply This is not a case of parents giving in to a child's whims..A child pretending to be a frog is certainly not the same thing as a boy feeling as a girl inside or vice versa….Even suggesting such a thing minimizes what is a very involved, emotional, and arduous process for trans people and their families. A child wanting to be a frog will never happen..that's fantasy..a child living inside as one gender and outside as another can make necessary changes for his or her well being thanks to medical science and the agreement and support from the medical community about how valid this is….there is no reason as to why someone can't make their outsides (much easier) match their insides than trying to force a child to live as something they are not..A body part is just a body part…why get so into an outrage about denying someone's very being over the fact that they were born with a certain body part? .. Gender involves much more than what is between a person's legs, as it does for *all* of us. Gender identity also has to do with hormones and other brain chemicals. Some children are born with brains that tell them they are one way and their bodies are another way. It is simply a mis-match, a brain difference. In the case of my daughter, there were differences from the beginning and as time went on and she was better able to articulate to us who she is on the inside, we have adjusted to allow her to live authentically to who she is. She has since stopped having crying spells and talking very negatively about herself and her body. Her self-esteem and social relations have dramatically improved and guess what? She is happy and healthy. I hope there comes a day when all parents would really listen to their children and assist them to living authentically to who they are, whether it's about gender or anything else. Sadly that is not the case with many trans people. Transgendered children are highly at risk for depression and suicide and it's because of society and people like realist who aren't willing to accept differences and in fact, completely discount who they are, that makes his experience so tormenting. Thank you again for sharing your story as it always uplifts me when I hear of other families dealing with what we are..and it helps me know that we are not alone in doing what we know to be the right thing for our children. And thank goodness medical professionals are on the same page with us! Progress is a good thing 🙂

    By: ahsila
  16. June 15, 2012, 6:00 pm

    I totally support what the parents are doing, I was a straight dad 2 teenage kids, living in suburbia, conservative background. no lgbt friends That they recognize and support their daughter is brave and admiring. Wow so special

    I am now a full time transgendered female, working as a 6 figure consultant. reborn as a girl. Know this, society will accept you and all, dont they the naysayers detract u.

    Roberta from Vancouver bc

    By: cddd
  17. June 15, 2012, 9:22 pm

    she is lucky
    in my country trancegengar are not legal. and if i want to be gay i may go to Jail and executed.
    Because it is not acceptable in most religions.
    so i must be live with NO identity until dai.
    But I believe in the mercy of god,
    god bless everyone 🙂

    By: fiafi
  18. June 25, 2012, 6:36 am

    Where America is going with this shit ? I don't believe in these stories .. all this, is because people are going softer with their children .

  19. July 3, 2012, 8:34 am

    I applaud the parents for showing the love and care for their child (notice I said child as it is non specific about gender). Also, it is important to recognize that sometimes nature takes a different course during embryonic and fetal development. There is a process during embryonic and fetal development where there is masculinization of the brain. Sometimes this process does not occur or occurs very poorly. Does this mean that the child is deformed and improperly developed, absolutely not! This is just a part of nature and development. Is there evidence to show this actually happens? At this time we are still studying the issue and trying to understand the process. It is important to accept all children as they are and to teach them to be accepting of others no matter how different they may be.

    Don't just be tolerant but be accepting of people and their children and the world will be a happier place. The better we teach acceptance the less reason there is to be angry and exhibit criminal behaviours.


    By: Concerned scientist
  20. July 21, 2012, 11:40 pm

    the worst of this is that in time there will be more and more cases like this in the whole world until the point where people will consider it as "normal" such as gay marriages and gay couples adopting children is "normal" for many people and if i am opposed to that i'll be called narrow-minded non-evolutioned person. Sad. This happens when people are far from God and they look for a solution in medicine, psychiatries and so on. Your body and mind can be sick, but it all starts with a sick spirit and God our Father is the only one who can cure a sick spirit. The devil's work in these times is growing more and more. God knows it and that's why He is also manifesting more than ever. exactly like in the times of the old testament through prophecies, miracles and all kind of blessings. If u wanna know where to go for help, let me know. God bless u

  21. February 25, 2013, 5:06 pm

    How dare you presume to talk for God, when the bible says "thou shalt not take the name of the lord in vain" , it's talking about what you did.

    We are all created by God, and if, as a creation of God, one has a biologically female brain, but biologically male genitalia, which body part defines who God intends that person to be?

    Some children are born with extra toes, or no arms. We call that a birth defect. Perhaps that girls penis is just another birth defect.

    By: Cassie
  22. August 2, 2012, 2:23 pm

    Realist, there are over 7 billion people in this world. There is a pretty good continuum of how feminine and how masculine people are.

    So, given that there is a bell curve with almost everything in this universe, are you at all surprised that there are at least a couple children out there on the far ends of that curve?

    Some ppl are smarter, dumber, taller, shorter, prettier, uglier, darker haired, lighter haired, more freckles, less freckles….and oh, by the way…..more feminine/less feminine, more masculine/less masculine…..this is just a very rare example of a child that nature got it a little mixed up.

    For the love of God, kids want to fit in, not stand out…..Do you think that one day a child wakes up and decides to put themselves through this kind of challenge and torment? ……this child is just one example of when nature got a few wires crossed and the parents are trying to sort it out and help him/her be a healthy happy adult.

    By: Niles
  23. October 7, 2012, 7:50 pm

    I share Amber's feelings, too.

  24. February 1, 2013, 4:58 pm

    Wow — Kudos to these parents for being so accepting and supportive of their daughter, and also, for being willing to share their story so publicly. It's bold steps like this that help to bring much-needed acceptance closer for all.

    By: Shauna
  25. April 15, 2013, 6:09 am

    I wish the world had even known & understood as a concept that transgender people existed & it was one way people might be. Perhaps then I wouldn't have gone through more that 50 years depressed & finally suicidal before finding out about trans* and becoming myself. But the state of knowledge was so poor 50, 40, even 30 years ago, it's really no one's fault.

    My sincere thanks to the parents who are now aware and supportive enough to help when help can do most good. Being out and open will help others as they get to know that there's another color in the people rainbow.

    By: cavan
  26. April 15, 2013, 6:44 am

    Thank you for this posting! There are moments in time where all I can think about is, "what if I had been brave enough to tell my parents I was a boy when I was really really young?" "what if my parents had just realized?" My life would be a whole lot different today. It gives me hope that so many kids are realizing their trans* identities earlier on in life, before all those gendering hormones kick in.

    By: Shawn
  27. April 16, 2013, 5:06 am

    Much respect for those parent , I am sure they know what is best for their kids.

  28. May 3, 2013, 12:51 pm

    As a Christian mom of a 16 year old ftm, I can tell you growing up transgender is not a choice. When my son was no more than three he would gravitate to the note section of store. I thought I had a tomboy. As years went on it became clear it was than that. As my husband and I supported ours sons decision, he became more comfortable in his skin. We subsequently moved him to a new school system where he could be himself. Being in medicine I know being trandgendered will have a base in early fetal development. I look forward to learning more as time for a on. I applauded this family for your steadfast love & support for your daughter. Because if your action now she will grow into a healthy young women. Thank you

    By: Tara
  29. May 11, 2013, 10:36 am

    I'm always amazed at the venom that people pour out in news article comments. Amber is a human being with a very real situation that she ad her parents are navigating through. Why would anyone condemn her parents? I've suffered with being transgender for my entire life and could only imagine how much better my life could have been if I had parental help at Amber's age. Nonetheless, I do find the largely supportive comments for Amber offers some hope that our country is learning to be more caring and loving. I wish Amber and her parents all the best.

    By: Jessica

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