Warner's story: God put me in the wrong body, I'm really a girl.
Published Monday, June 2, 2014 2:36PM EDT Last Updated Monday, June 2, 2014 5:10PM EDT
An Ottawa-area family is sharing their remarkable story tonight about their little boy, who knows in his heart he's a girl. It's called "gender non-conforming" or "gender creative" and long before his parents understood what that was, he already knew it meant he was in the wrong body. It has taken considerable courage to come forward with this story. Melissa and Elmar Schaettgen know they will face criticism. In fact, many of the other families they know going through this have relocated, changed identity so their child could re-emerge a different gender.
But the Schaettgens didn't want to hide this anymore, for the sake of their 7 year old son, who wants nothing more than to live life as a girl. Seven-year-old Warner and Emery are twins, both born boys. But for years, Warner has known that gender didn't fit.
"I feel like a girl so maybe I’m a girl in my heart,” says Warner as she takes time out from jumping on the trampoline with her brother.
The twins were born into a family of boys, four altogether. At just two years old, Warner had a major revelation.
"I was lying in bed one night,” says Warner’s mother Melissa, “and Warner said to me, “Mommy, God made a mistake, I'm really a little girl", and that was the pivotal moment I knew that something's going on here.”
There were signs along the way, according to both parents. Warner wanted girl toys, girl clothes, like a princess outfit they finally let Warner wear in secret at home.
“The moment Warner put that on,” recalls Melissa, “it was like this whole other child emerged, so happy, so bright, so exuberant. It was amazing.”
The parents, who are Catholic with rural roots, thought it was a phase and wanted to push it off until puberty.
"I thought we'll worry about it then,” says Warner’s father Elmar, “I didn't want to deal with it now, I stuck my head in the sand but Warner didn't give us that choice in the end right?”
It was this past August, as the twins were getting their "boy" haircuts and back to school clothes that Warner stopped them cold with this comment.
"Warner said mommy, daddy, I’d rather die than look like a boy anymore.”
The Schaettgens pursued medical help and ended up at the Diversity Clinic at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, which is seeing more than 70 other "gender creative" children, like Warner.
Dr. Steve Feder and Dr. Margaret Lawson provide the medical expertise for these children as they age into their teen years and adulthood.
“Our feeling, not unlike the conclusion that we've come to with sexual orientation, which is very different issue,” says Dr. Feder, “our feeling is that it's a biological phenomenon. These children for reasons that are unclear, and there are lots of theories going around and research to explain it, but these children, for whatever reason, simply feel they are gender opposite to what their body tells them.”
The Diversity Clinic has only been operating at CHEO for a few years but already the number of referrals has skyrocketed, according to Dr. Feder. The clinic provides comprehensive health care and support for gender nonconforming children and youth in Eastern Ontario.
Warner prefers the term "girlish boy".
“I know I’m really a boy,” she says, her pony tail bobbing as she speaks, “but I like girl stuff.”
Accepting that, and accepting who their children really are, is critical for parents.
“I think the approach is that we need to support children in who they are for the moment,” says Dr. Feder. “This will be positive for their self-esteem. It is critically important the child feels accepted by their parents regardless.”
The Schaettgens broke the news to friends and family on Facebook in August.
“Anyone who has met my Warner knows he is not your average little boy,” wrote Melissa. Warner is very special. Warner now calls himself a girlish boy but still insists he is a little girl on the inside. Now I know some of you are thinking, he is 6, how could he possibly even know. I tell you I have thought the same but the Warner we see today is very obviously a little girl on the inside and the doctors at CHEO have confirmed this.”
That Facebook post immediately cost the family several “friends” which shocked and saddened them. But the Schaettgens were determined to be as upfront with their family, friends and school say as Warner wanted them to be. In fact, Warner insisted on posting a photo showing her in her back to school clothes.
“I asked them to look at Warner with a loving heart,” recalls Melissa of the day she wrote that post, “even though they may have views that differed from it and to have faith in me as a person and know that I would never do this to my child.”
In September, Warner the boy went back to school as Warner the girl, pink backpack, ponytail and all. The Schaettgens say the school was very supportive and the principal, with their permission, immediately called an emergency staff meeting to let the administrative staff know what was happening.
“Sometimes Warner gets bullied and I see it and I go for help,” says Warner’s twin brother Emery.
It's been a difficult transition for all of them including Warner's twin. Melissa says that first day of school was painful to watch.
"But the thing was Warner's reaction wasn't one of pain, she didn't care,” says Melissa, “she was just happy to be able to go to school like that. She was so happy to finally be able to be who she wanted to be.”
And this right now, in this moment, is who Warner wants to be.
“It's okay for girlish boys and boyish girls to tell their parents,” says Warner, “because....if you don't tell them you'll just wear boys' clothes for the rest of your life.” Asked if she was happy she had told her mom and dad about who she really was, she shares this, “Yes, because now I can wear girl stuff.”
So what will happen as Warner ages? Through lots of discussion and lots of support at CHEO’s Diversity Clinic, Warner will go on puberty blockers, probably around the age of 11 or 12, to stop puberty in its tracks until she is old enough to decide what gender path she will take. The Diversity Clinic has a support group for parents and on-line help through Gender Creative Kids at www.gendercreativekids.ca