Charlie's story: 'I have the body of a boy but the heart and soul of a girl'
Published Tuesday, June 3, 2014 2:55PM EDT Last Updated Tuesday, June 3, 2014 7:03PM EDT
Parents would do anything to keep their child safe. That's certainly what a couple in the Ottawa area has done, even uprooting their family, changing towns, so that Charlie, their son, could begin life anew as Charlie, their daughter. It seems a drastic move to re-locate your family in order for your child to follow her true gender path. But this family's story sadly isn't unique. In fact more than half the families in our area say they've done the same thing; relocate, change identity in order to protect their "gender creative" children.
Charlie is not your ordinary 8-year-old. She is precocious, intelligent, confidant but there's one more thing that makes her special.
“I have the heart and soul of a girl but the body of a boy,” she says, as she tosses her long blonde hair. The family has asked that we not use their last name.
Charlie is "gender creative" or gender non-conforming. She knew from when she was little that her "boy" body didn't fit what was happening inside.
"I was just feeling like I should be a girl. My body kept telling me,”be a girl, be a girl, be a girl.” I don't know why but it kept telling me that.”
Her parents just thought their very expressive child was trying on different roles.
Charlie’s mother Anne says, “We didn't judge it. If she wanted Barbies, we got her Barbies. If he wanted cars, we got him cars.”
But others did judge. Charlie was a boy at her old school in a small town in Eastern Ontario. She struggled with that and sometimes wore nail polish to school.
“One of my worst enemies said, "boys don't wear nail polish,” recalls Charlie, “and I said some do. Then he pinched me in the arm and punched me in the head.”
The family says the bullying continued, both kids and adults.
Anne says "Charlie was being excluded, not just by kids but other adults as well who misunderstand the difference between sexuality and gender.”
They lost friends over Charlie's gender identity.
"We had friends that we thought that we can call them for anything. Not anymore,” says Charlie’s father Chris, “What did we do? Come on.”
Finally, they decided for the sake of their daughter that they had to move.
"For us, when we realized that Charlie was not going to be the typical boy we expected, we started to fear for her safety,” says Anne.
Charlie now attends school in Ottawa as a girl.
Anne adds, "It was refreshing because the principal here was willing to take our hand and learn with us. This was new to us, we're as insecure as anyone else. We're on a learning curve; it's short and fast and a bumpy one and we need all the help we can get.”
Dr. Steve Feder works with parents and children through the Diversity Clinic, "We've had a very busy demand for services in our clinic. We opened only a few years ago and since then, the number of referrals has skyrocketed.”
The families are coming together, too. Charlie and Warner have become fast friends and their parents have started a support group to help the seventy or so other families in the area like theirs. That support is critical.
Chris says "You think you're wearing a special pair of shoes and you're the only one who has them…but you walk in the door and see they got the same rock in their boot.”
For Charlie, the biggest support of all is just the acceptance of who she truly is.
"Going back to a boy if I had to, that would be tragic,” says Charlie, “I would never want to go back to being a boy.”
The family support group meets the first Tuesday of every month in Ottawa. Clearly, these stories will be part of their discussion. The courage it took for these families to come forward. The backlash, if there is any. But most importantly, the fact that there is finally an open discussion about this.