True story of boy who wanted to be a girl that inspired Anna Friel ITV drama
On an afternoon like any other in the Green household 11 years ago, Susie and her four-year-old son Jack were snuggled up together on the sofa watching a Disney film.
Then Jack turned to his mum and said: “Mummy, God’s made a mistake and I should have been a girl.”
Susie was terrified. She knew she had a very effeminate son, who liked girlie things, such as the Little Mermaid film they were watching.
Yes, she thought it likely he was gay, but never dreamed her little boy would want to be a little girl.
Terror quickly turned to denial for Susie and her husband Tim. Over and over again, they told Jack it was fine to be a boy who liked girlie things – but that didn’t make him a girl. But Jack just kept telling them that was not who he was.
Susie, 50, says: “I was completely floored by it. I felt out of my depth.
“It sort of explained so many things, but then at the same time I was like, ‘What the hell do I do with this?’”
Over the next decade, Jack started living as a girl and at 16 had gender reassignment surgery in America, at that time the youngest Brit ever to do so.
She is now a 25-year-old woman called Jackie, who regularly rings up her mum back home in Leeds to gossip about the boys she has met while working on a private yacht in the South of France.
Susie and Jackie’s story is the inspiration behind the forthcoming ITV mini-series Butterfly, about an 11-year-old transgender boy Max who wants to live as a girl called Maxine.
Susie worked as a consultant on the show along with other families at her charity Mermaids.
The team behind the drama, starring Anna Friel, are braced for a backlash.
Nicola Shindler, of RED Productions, says: “I know we’re going to get attacked for it, and I know whatever we do, we’re going to get it wrong for some people because it’s not their point of view.”
Anna and Emmett J Scanlan play the child’s parents, Vicky and Stephen. Max, played by Callum Booth-Ford, dresses as a girl at home and, as puberty approaches, decides that he no longer wants to hide who he really is.
Jackie started living as a girl at home after her parents sought advice on the NHS. She was diagnosed with gender dysphoria at seven and in the last year of primary school, Jackie proudly walked into class as a girl.
Most of her classmates quickly accepted her, and Jackie’s wider family also embraced her new identity.
But Susie says: “I remember calling my brother to tell him and he said, ‘I know it sounds weird but it feel like I have lost somebody’. He said he felt a sense of loss. And I said, ‘She is the same as she has always been’.”
Susie remembers the “indescribable” look of joy on Jackie’s face the first time she was told she could shop for girls’ clothes.
But growing up, Jackie faced cruel abuse from adults and children alike.
Susie, who advised ITV on the Butterfly script, says: “When she was 13 years old she was walking home from a friend’s house and got beaten up by two 40-year-old guys. She had an egg cracked on her head by a girl in the middle of the street.
“It was daily abuse. One boy spat full in her face. She was walking down a corridor with a teacher and another kids called her a ‘tranny’ – and the teacher did nothing.”
Police got involved when a mum at the school repeatedly shouted abuse at Jackie.
Jackie began self-harming and attempted suicide seven times as she struggled to cope with the abuse and the trauma of going through puberty as a boy from the age of 12.
Susie says: “I would go through her room and pull out all of the paracetamol. And then she would go and get some more from the supermarket to stash.
“Just after the boy spat in her face, the school called me in because she was holding some scissors and she said she was going to knife herself in the stomach. Her seven overdoses were always preceded by abuse of some sort.
“I just couldn’t believe it – why would someone do that to a kid? I don’t know how I got through that, and I don’t know how Jackie got through it either.
“In the early days of puberty she started cutting herself. She couldn’t stand it. She was so distressed by the changes and the way they made her feel. It was horrific.”
On her first day at secondary school, Jackie was called a freak by a boy in her class and other pupils would regularly spit on her and beat her up.
Like fictional Stephen and Vicky in Butterfly, Susie and Tim ended up in couples’ counselling and eventually split up when Jackie was six years old.
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Susie says: “No parent jumps into this saying, ‘Yay, yay, let’s change our kid’. Her dad didn’t get it at all.
"My split with my husband wasn’t about Jackie, but when we split, I did have more freedom to allow her to express herself at home.”
Tim, 54, and Jackie have a great relationship now. Laughing, Susie says: “Jackie wraps him around her little finger.”
Jackie was denied puberty blocking treatment on the NHS, but Susie is optimistic that attitudes in the health service, and society, are starting to change.
Last year, the Mirror revealed a record 50 children a week were being referred to the gender identity development service, where they are seen by gender identity specialists.
The number of children visiting the specialist clinic, hosted by the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London, which Jackie attended before she travelled to America, rose by 24% to 1,302 in six months last year.
Around 40% of kids who attend the Gender Identity Development Service now get puberty blocking drugs.
A statement from The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust says: “The NHS now prescribes these treatments for young people who have started puberty based on their physical development rather than their age.”
Susie, a former IT manager, is now the CEO of the charity Mermaids, which supports gender diverse and transgender children.
She hopes TV programmes such as Butterfly will help change the conversation around transgender children.
She says: “We want people to start actually thinking what it is really like. This is what we are going through and it hurts and creates massive issues within families and causes divisions.
“I still get people accusing me of being a child abuser, and I have had to go to the police to report online abuse.
“And I know I will get another backlash of nastiness about the family after sharing my story, but I hope in the long run this will help inform people.”
She adds: “We just want to do what is best for our children.”
- Butterfly, a three-part mini-series, starts on ITV on October 14 at 9pm.
- For more information visit mermaidsuk.org.uk
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