“From when Miya was three years old, we knew something was a bit different. At Christmas we’d want to buy a train set, boy things, but Miya just wanted dolls. When she came to our house, she went for the high heels out of the wardrobe,” said Sandra, a 74-year-old grandmother from the Warrington area.
“Those many years ago, I personally had never heard of anybody transgender. We live in quite a small, isolated village. We thought when she's five, six, going to school, it'll alter. But it didn’t.”
Miya, 21, is Sandra’s granddaughter, and when she was born, she was assigned the male gender. It wasn’t right for Miya and along with bullying at school and online, it caused her to be deeply unhappy and develop behavioural issues. She would run away from home, feeling confused and angry. Looking back, Miya feels that difficult time almost broke her family apart.
She started counselling at 11 for her behavioural issues, and began talking about her true gender identity.
“They asked: ‘Do you think you're trapped in your body? Do you think you want to be somebody else?’ And I was like: ‘Yeah, I do,” Miya said.
Miya was referred to Gender Identity Development Services in Leeds at 13 and started hormone blocker treatment in London at 14. She was part of an early intervention study, enabling her to transition at a younger age, which Miya credits as saving her life.
“The bullying heightened when I was changing physically,” Miya remembers. “But then it got better because I knew the journey that I needed to be on."
Sandra was relieved that the family had a better understanding of how to help Miya and from the start, along with Miya’s parents, attended meetings and appointments.
“I did go with her [to group sessions with other trans children and their families] on a few occasions. I was quite amazed at how people couldn't cope with it. On some occasions, it was the father, some occasions, it was the mother. I actually was the only grandparent that ever went to these meetings,” Sandra said.
“I felt like I could understand it better if it came from a professional person trying to help us. And I was interested in the next steps, because it doesn't matter if Miya’s a girl, boy, you still love that person the same and you just want to help them as much as you can. There’s nothing worse than going through life not being the person you are,” she added.
Sadly, not everyone sees it this way. Miya had first-hand experience of people not being accepting.
“It was a massive sigh of relief when my Nan was so eager to come on the journey with us. And sometimes I did wonder: ‘Why can't everybody accept it the way that my Nan has?’” she remembers.
“If just one person doesn't accept you, you sometimes forget all the other people that love and support you and it really does get in your head. But you just have to look at the people around you, and how far you've come,” she said.
Sandra was with Miya for an important moment - her gender confirmation surgery in London.
“The operation was very frightening, because it's a major operation. But I knew deep down that Miya would not regret it. They talked to us and Miya enough to know that that was the way she wanted to go,” Sandra said.
“My family definitely got me through the whole transition. I definitely wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for the people around me,” Miya added.
Now, as a young adult, Miya wants to inspire trans kids and see more positive representation of the trans community.
“I love how much more it’s spoken about now, it’s not such a taboo subject. But the trans community is under-represented,” she said.
“All you seem to see on social media is the negative. I think it is 100% looking up but it's so disheartening and sad to think that there are still people out there that would rather have nothing to do with a person who wants to transition rather than to help them and see them grow.
“I always look on the bright side and look to the future. There is hope and it’s going the way we need it to go. For people younger than me, I wish to be an inspiration and show them: ‘If they can do it, so can I.’”
“A decade ago you never saw much about [being trans] on the television. Now, at least once a week there’s something that comes on the TV about it. I think in 10 years there’s been great progress,” Sandra agreed.
Looking back at Miya’s struggle when she was younger, Sandra can now reflect on the importance of families talking to each other about what they’re going through as individuals.
“You were fighting everybody else because you couldn’t understand yourself,” she said of her granddaughter. “We couldn’t understand where you were coming from [but] it’s like everything, if you're all singing from the same hymn book, you're going to get it right… You’ve just got to keep talking about it.”
With her inner resilience and the support of Sandra and other family members, Miya is now in a place in her life where she can offer advice to younger trans kids. What does she say to them?
“Don’t question what’s wrong with yourself, realise what’s wrong with other people. It’s their own prejudiced opinions and small minded opinions that took me back and made me question: ‘Is this what I really want?’”
And to her younger self, the child who once felt the need to run away?
“You are so much stronger than you think you are. Never let the opinions of others stop you from living authentically as yourself. At times I know it might be scary but believe in yourself and look to the future, because it will get easier.”
Mermaids is a UK charity which has been supporting transgender, nonbinary and gender-diverse children, young people, and their families since 1995. Find out more about what Mermaids does and access information and support HERE.
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