Friday, January 31, 2014

Just a girl, in the world

For Riley's parents, one of the first giveaways was the tea towel. At three years of age, Riley would shape it onto her head like a pair of pigtails and flick it from side to side. "She got into trouble with the person who ran her pre-school," says Riley's mother, Carol. "They said, 'This boy has got to stop playing with the girls and getting the girls to dress him up and wear tea towels on his head.'"

Riley, 15, from Sydney's north shore, is biologically male – but says being born a boy simply never made any sense. The high school student is one of an increasing number of teenagers who identify as transsexuals – those who feel they are trapped in the wrong body. Some are so sure that nature got it wrong that they are taking the bold step of "transitioning" – presenting themselves outwardly as the sex that they feel they are – during their teenage years or even earlier.

For Riley, 2012 has been a watershed year. After going to school with bras secreted under her school shirt and with minimal make-up, she started wearing the girls’ school uniform. She is also doing some schooling of her own, teaching the teachers in the correct use of transgender pronouns. "They were having a lot of trouble with calling me 'she', but they are getting better," she says.

When I meet Riley at her suburban home on a Sunday morning, she's dressed in jeans, knee-high boots, a cropped leather jacket and a T-shirt that boasts she's an "Angel by Day, Devil by Night". Her hair is styled perfectly, framing her prettily made-up face – as befitting for someone who is studying hairdressing part-time at TAFE along with her school subjects. We sit in the living room, where the table is scattered with photos of her as a young child. She seems to be constantly in fancy dress: vibrant-coloured outfits, make-up, glittery headbands. In one photo she's dressed in a cowboy suit but still manages to look feminine.

"All my life I've never really been a boy, I've never liked boy things," she says. "It was always Bratz dolls and Barbie dolls and everything." Her current obsessions are roller derby, vintage fashion and rockabilly music.

Riley's parents, Carol and Chris, have always been incredibly supportive, which has helped her navigate the difficult path through school. "In primary school it was hard but looking back it was easier than high school," Riley says. "When it came to sleepovers, it didn't matter if you were a boy or a girl. Now in high school it is completely different: guys don't sleep at girls' houses, girls don't sleep at guys' houses. People get confused as to which one I am, so sleepovers are not really happening.”

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Physics teacher transitions and helps others

ARTICLE: "Some of my earliest childhood memories were that there was something wrong because I should have been born female," Jody Rendall said.

She was born David Rendall, grew up in West Chicago, Ill., and became a physics teacher at Big Foot High School. She said she was uncomfortable, racked with guilt from living as something she was not — a man.

After retiring in 2006, David became Jody. "What I've done is called transitioning," she said. "I've transitioned from male to female, which basically means I've taken on my affirmed gender."

"With 99.7 percent of the population comfortable in their own body, they can't imagine what it's like to have that gender incongruity or misalignment," Rendall said. "When I speak to groups, there are a lot of ways I try to get them to imagine it. Imagine, if you're a man, you're comfortable being a man, waking up one morning and finding yourself a woman … but inside, you still feel like a male. That's gender incongruity. That's what it's like to be transgender."

Rendall said growing up in the 1950s and 60s, there was no information on being transgender, no one she felt she could talk to. She went to "a little four-room schoolhouse out in the country," she said, before going to West Chicago Community High School. She had to adjust from going to a school with a two-digit population to one with about 1,500 students.

She was David back then, and her high school experience amplified her discomfort level.

"Frankly, I felt there was something very wrong with me," she said. "And so, I had to carry that secret with me for a very long time."

Others, however, figured it out, and Rendall said she was abused verbally and physically. In a food store where she worked while going to high school, a few employees would wait until no one was around, then punch her in the stomach.