20 years ago, my life took on a wholly unexpected direction. I was sat watching television with my then four-year-old son. And he said he needed to tell me something. And I said, "Fine, yeah, what is it?" And he turned to me and he said, "Mommy, God's made a mistake, and I should've been a girl." I was terrified, but also, it explained so many things, so many things. But a bit like Monopoly, I jumped straight from fear straight into denial and told Jack that it was fine to be a boy and like girly things, but that didn't make him a girl, and he looked at me, and he dropped his eyes, and he didn't say anything else that day anyway. So what I want to do is walk you through the process that has filled the last 24 years of both my life and my child's life and hopefully explain our journey.
So from Jack to Jackie. So how did this eight-pound baby "boy" - and, by the way she hates this picture, she says it makes her look like a member of The Village People - (Laughter) turn into this 24-year-old young woman? She likes this picture; she says it makes her look hot. Well, Jack was my first child. I thought I knew what to expect, but really I started to notice that as soon as he got mobile and could express himself, he was gravitating towards things that you would see as stereotypically female. But I wasn't bothered. That didn't, you know, that didn't faze me at all. As far as I was concerned, children should be allowed to play with whatever they want, even if it doesn't fit this norm. And at the childminder's when I went back to work, Jack's favorite outfits were the tutu and Snow White costume. And again, that was fine. But not for Dad. So, Jackie's dad struggled, and he blamed me. His thoughts were that because I allowed the Polly Pocket and the My Little Pony, that I was facilitating and encouraging. And I disagreed. And it caused tensions. What I had come to the conclusion with, over the sort of years until she was about two, was that I had a very sensitive, quite effeminate little boy who was probably gay.
But Jack's dad did not approve of our child's effeminate behavior, and it created such tensions that we ended up in couple's counseling. We went to couple's counseling, and what they said to us as parents that we had to agree, no matter what it was that we agreed upon we had to agree. At that point, Tim decided that I must agree with him, apparently, and then all the "girl toys" or "girly toys" as such were taken away and put away, and Jack was made aware that this was not appropriate. And suddenly, a confident, happy little boy became quite quiet, withdrawn, very clingy, and tearful. I didn't like it, and I didn't think it was right. And really for me, the point at which I really put my foot down was about a few weeks later, I think, and my mom phoned me and said, "What's going on with Jack?" and I said "What do you mean?" She said, "Well, I phoned a couple of days ago to ask what Jack wanted for Christmas, and he took the phone out of the room, and he said, 'Can you buy me Barbie Rapunzel? but can you please hide it because if Mommy and Daddy find it, they're going to take it away'" And I realized that I was shaming my child and their toy choices, and the toy embargo stopped. But I went to my GP because I was lost, and I did not know what to do. And she raised her eyebrows, and she said, "Oh, that's interesting." Which wasn't really very helpful, because I was hoping for some direction. And then, she wasn't the first, and she certainly wouldn't be the last person to tell me that it was a phase - it's quite a long one, by now, wouldn't you say? - and that she would grow out of it. But she didn't. And what happened was she kept reiterating, "I'm a girl, I'm a girl, I'm really a girl."
Six years old, she asked me when she could have the operation to make her a girl. And it was really hard for me as a parent to watch the devastation when I told her that she had to wait until she was a grown-up before that could happen. What that identified for me is that I had to do something, and I couldn't keep ignoring this and pretending it wasn't happening. And so I did some internet searches. And I put in "My son wants to be a girl." And it came out with a number of different sites, but I think about tenth on the listing was a site called "Mermaids." So I clicked on that, and there was a phone number. And I made a really quite pivotal call for me, and I spoke to Lynn, who was a founder member of Mermaids, the charity. I think I cried through the entire conversation because it was such a relief to finally talk to somebody who understood what I was going through, and to point to similarities regarding their children and my child. It gave me hope.
At seven years old, Jackie was referred to Tavistock, which is the NH's clinic that supports children and young people with gender dysphoria and received a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Oh, really? Not a big surprise.
And at eight years old, unfortunately, her dad and I separated. But what this did for me was gave me much more freedom to be able to give Jackie expression. The Tavistock said that allowing her girl clothes in the house was helpful, and said that she needed to remain in male persona outside of the home, and that was fine. And I remember our first shopping trip for girl clothes. And we went into the store, and I said, "OK, so over there, there's the girl clothes. You can go and get a couple things, anything you like. And the look on her face was indescribable. She was so happy. And she went pelting off, and she came back about two minutes later, and she had two dresses - she couldn't decide. And she was holding them up, and she was just beaming, and she was just like, "Which one? Do you like this one best or this one best?" and doing a twirl. And I just thought to myself, "Oh my goodness, is somebody watching me now, thinking 'this mother with this little boy with dresses, what is she doing?'" And then I looked back at my child in front of me, and I looked at her face and I thought, "You know something, I can't care about what strangers think. The most important person to me is right there in front of me right now."
At 10 years old, we went on holiday. So we had three weeks where Jackie lived as Jackie - girl pronouns, girl names, girl clothes for the entire time. And what that really pointed out to me was how much lighter, how much happier, how much more cheerful my kid was, just like, literally, from getting up to going to bed, and it was at that point I decided that actually forcing my child to live as a boy in school was the wrong thing because I was sending her that message that somehow wanting and needing to be a girl and express herself as a girl was shameful - that it was something to be hidden, secret. So the last year of primary school was her absolute best year of school ever. So she grew her hair, she wore the girls' school uniform, and school said that they noticed an entirely different child from the one from the previous year. And the kids were amazing! I remember the headteacher saying to me that she'd overheard a conversation between two of the little girls and one girl said to the other, "Why is Jack growing his hair and wearing girl clothes?" And the other girl went, "Oh, didn't you know? He's got a girl brain in a boy body." (Laughter) And the other little girl went, "Oh, OK." (Laughter) And that was it. Unfortunately, some of the parents weren't quite so open-minded, and we had to get the police involved when we had a mother, when she was collecting her own child, who is about the same age as Jackie, leaning out of the window of her car and shouting abuse at my 10-year-old daughter walking home from school. By this time, Tim had come around. He had seen more and more that this wasn't something that was a choice, this was just a part of who our daughter was, and he was now supporting, and frankly, she wraps him around her little finger.
But we were now preparing for secondary school, and the Tavistock were fully onboard and helping, but from the minute she walked in the door, she was annihilated. Absolutely annihilated. And within two weeks, she took her first overdose. I spent the next three years on suicide watch. And I look back, and I don't know how I got through that, but I don't know how she did either. To add to all of this, puberty. So at twelve years old, she started going through a male puberty, and it was horrific. She began cutting herself. And we were absolutely desperate and faced with an NHS at that time - it's different now - who wouldn't prescribe any medications to pause puberty, no matter how badly a child reacted to those stages. I went back into research mode, and I found a doctor in America who was working with children with gender dysphoria, and who would prescribe totally reversible blocking medication that pauses puberty. If taken away, puberty resumes, but it gives children like my daughter the time and space to live and be, without their bodies changing.
I know he looks like Indiana Jones, but he really is a proper-proper doctor. And he's Dr. Norman Spack, and he works at the Boston Children's Hospital, and he is a world-renowned expert, and he saved my daughter's life. I have no doubt about that whatsoever. In the midst of all of this, school was up and down. Eventually we found her a school where she went to school eight miles from home, and nobody knew her as anything other than Jackie, and that sort of settled down. But the effect on her education, on her life, was profound. She had had seven overdoses in three years, all related to transphobic abuse and attacks. And one of her best friends was the hate crimes coordinator from West Leeds, so it might give you a bit of an indication of what she went through. But at 16, my daughter underwent gender reassignment surgery.
And now, the next bit, I'm going to let her talk to you. (Video) (Music) I was born in the body of a boy, but I had the mind or the brain of a girl. I think I was five years old when I said to my mother, like, "God made a mistake, I shouldn't - This isn't me. I'm wrong." I think I was like seven when I started growing my hair, and I started to wear the girls' uniform. My school itself, they were really, really good about it, really helpful, and so were a lot of the students. If anything, like, I found some parents were not as accepting. I was walking out of the school gate to go home, and for a good two, three weeks consecutively, she would like hang out of her car window, and shout abuse at me, this mother. I could feel, like, hate. And then I got into high school, which was a nightmare. The story of me spread like wildfire. My first day, like the first day in school, into my high school, I was in my "form" group, and some kid who I'd never met opened the door to my form room and he was just like, "Oh, is that freak in here? That freak." I got spat on, and I got beat up, and it really does hurt to think back at how cruel people could be.
I find it quite empowering that I've gotten through it. And then I got ask to Miss England and I was like "I must be actually ... attractive? Oh my God!" It gave me a real boost that I needed. It's part of my story, but it isn't my whole story, because, as I said, I'm a sister, a singer, actress, model, all kind of things before I am a "trans person." I hate that, like why do I need a label? Why can't I just be a woman? Everyone has the right to live their life how they want to and be who they want to be, so why is it different for me? I'm proud of everything I've gone through, and I wouldn't change it now. It's part of my makeup. It's in my DNA. I'm a girl and I always have been. (End of music) (End of video) I can't watch that, I have to look down, because it still affects me.
I'm now CEO of Mermaids, so I'm running the charity I contacted so many years ago. This gives a little bit of an indication of the demand, and how it's rising, and what we are facing, in terms of young people coming foward. And the good thing is that parents are now listening as well. But you can see the difference. Society maybe is becoming more accepting at the same time children and young people across the country are still being treated like Jackie was. This is from a 2017 Stonewall survey. 51% of trans children are bullied. One in 10 receive death threats. 84% self-harm compared to 10% of the population. And 45% of them attempt suicide at least once. Being transgender is not a mental health illness, but society's prejudice, discrimination, and hatred lead to anxiety and depression.
Now, this is her now. And you can see, she's maybe a little bit of a diva as well, I don't know where she gets that from. Bottom line is she's happy. And isn't that all that matters? Thank you very much. (Applause)