Gemma Telford’s child was just 11 years old when he told her he believed he had gender dysphoria.
As medical professionals raise concerns that the NHS is “over-diagnosing” children having medical treatment for the condition, Ms Telford tells Sky News why her now-16-year-old son Leo has taken his first “irreversible step” in his transition.
The first discussion Leo and I had about his gender was when he was 11 years old.
One night, while putting him to bed he started crying – really crying, inconsolably.
I started to get frustrated. “If you don’t tell me what’s wrong then how can I help?” I said.
Then came the bombshell – “Mum, I think I’m a boy.”
I had not seen that coming and didn’t know what to say.
I sat down and put my arm around him.
I explained that puberty was a time when many people are coming to terms with their identity, that it would be okay and that I’d help and be there.
Then I said words that I wish I could take back – “You’re not a boy.”
Only much later did I understand how much those words hurt.
Over the next few months, things went from bad to worse.
We talked. We argued. We cried. I was at an almost total loss.
I started to do some research and discovered that being transgender was actually much more common than I thought.
I found out that the number of transgender people coming out was increasing all the time and that more and more kids were identifying as transgender.
But I was still confused and I felt hopeless. Our relationship got hard to navigate as we both tried to come to terms with how we felt.
We went to the doctor who recommended family counselling which helped us all address some of the issues and gave us a safe place to talk.
After about a year, Leo and I found a support group for families going through the same thing.
We met a whole room full of other trans kids and parents and finally felt like we weren’t having to struggle alone.
Some kids were just coming out, like Leo, and some were going through a physical transformation too.
It helped us realise we weren’t alone. Other people had dealt with the same issues as us, and had come out the other side, and we could, too.
Since that day, we’ve had to find our way through a jungle of health services, of new terminology, of family counselling and ways of helping Leo to live finally as himself.
Leo being accepted as Leo has made such a massive difference.
I’ve gone from finding him crying, heartbroken and sitting silently in his room to seeing him blossom in confidence.
Leo has been patient, understanding and loving. Sometimes he has been the one supporting me and I’ve cried on his shoulder. I am overwhelmingly proud of him.
We’re now at the stage where Leo has lived as himself for more than five years.
His name has been officially changed and he has a new passport to reflect his name and gender.
We’re going through the process of medical support with hormones, and as he’s now turned 16 he has made his first irreversible step – testosterone.
He will need injections of testosterone for the rest of his life and we know there will be more physical changes to come.
By telling the world about Leo and what we’ve been through together, I hope that I can shed some light on an area that is still so difficult for many people to think or talk about.
It can take years of hormone treatment and surgery before many trans kids feel that they can be the person they were born to be.
Now imagine the strength and courage you need to face that, and you’ll know how proud I am of my son.
Gemma Telford’s child was just 11 years old when he told her he believed he had gender dysphoria. As medical professionals raise concerns that the NHS is “over-diagnosing” children having medical treatment for the condition, Ms Telford tells Sky News why her now-16-year-old son Leo has taken his first “irreversible step” in his transition.