Friday, October 5, 2012

Led by the child who simply knew


The twin boys were identical in every way but one. Wyatt was a girl to the core, and now lives as one, with the help of a brave, loving family and a path-breaking doctor’s care.

Jonas and Wyatt Maines were born identical twins, but from the start each had a distinct personality. Jonas was all boy. He loved Spiderman, action figures, pirates, and swords. Wyatt favored pink tutus and beads. At 4, he insisted on a Barbie birthday cake and had a thing for mermaids. On Halloween, Jonas was Buzz Lightyear. Wyatt wanted to be a princess; his mother compromised on a prince costume.

Once, when Wyatt appeared in a sequin shirt and his mother’s heels, his father said: “You don’t want to wear that." “Yes, I do,’’ Wyatt replied. “Dad, you might as well face it,’’ Wayne recalls Jonas saying. “You have a son and a daughter."

That early declaration marked, as much as any one moment could, the beginning of a journey that few have taken, one the Maineses themselves couldn’t have imagined until it was theirs. The process of remaking a family of identical twin boys into a family with one boy and one girl has been heartbreaking and harrowing and, in the end, inspiring — a lesson in the courage of a child, a child who led them, and in the transformational power of love.

Until recently, there was little help for children in such situations. But now a groundbreaking clinic at Children’s Hospital in Boston — one of the few of its kind in the world — helps families deal with the issues, both emotional and medical, that arise from having a transgender child — one who doesn’t identify with the gender he or she was born into. The Children’s Hospital Gender Management Services Clinic can, using hormone therapies, halt puberty in transgender children, blocking the development of secondary sexual characteristics — a beard, say, or breasts — that can make the eventual transition to the other gender more difficult, painful, and costly.

Founded in 2007 by endocrinologist Norman Spack and urologist David Diamond, the clinic — known as GeMS and modeled on a Dutch program — is the first pediatric academic program in the Western Hemisphere that evaluates and treats pubescent transgenders. A handful of other pediatric centers in the United States are developing similar programs, some started by former staffers at GeMS.

It was in that clinic, under Spack’s care, that Nicole and her family finally began to have hope for her future. The Maineses decided to tell their story, they say, in order to help fight the deep stigma against transgender youth, and to ease the path for other such children who, without help, often suffer from depression, anxiety, and isolation. “We told our kids you can’t create change if you don’t get involved,’’ says Wayne, 53, sitting in the living room of their comfortable home in a southern Maine community they do not want identified.
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