'Not being able to be who you are that's where the damage is done' - Irish mum of transgender teenager
An Irish mum has opened up about her experience as the parent of transgender teenager and said young trans people in Ireland do not have adequate support networks to help them through transition.
Speaking to the Ray Darcy Show on RTE Radio One, Dublin mum Kirsty Donoghue said she didn't know what transgender meant before her 13-year-old told her that he had felt that he was male from a very young age.
Two years ago, Kirsty and her husband were called into their child's secondary school, where they discovered he had been self-harming.
"Dylan had become quite withdrawn in secondary school," Kirsty said.
"He was 13 at the time and we literally got a note home from school that said: "Can you please contact us, we need to talk to you", basically that's how I found out. I found out through a text message he had sent to a friend. That's when the word transgender first came up. There was a self harming aspect of things and as a parent your worst nightmare would be self harm because people know about self harm and I suppose as a parent that's where my fear lay. It is a very stressful situation. You could see the hurt in his eyes and just how distressed he had been. To go to the levels of self harm that he went to, the levels of distress must have been consuming.
"Obviously we talked to Dylan about it and we were very much of the opinion "You don't know what you're talking about, you're 13, it's your hormones". And he kept saying: "No, no, no that's not the way it is. I'm a boy and that's how I feel and that's how I always felt". We didn't understand," said Kirsty, whose story was first highlighted by the Irish Examiner.
Although Dylan had always been a tomboy, Kirsty said the first indication of the distress he was feeling came ahead of his first term at secondary school.
"We're a very rugby-orientated family and we go to all the matches, we follow Leinster and Ireland and even growing up, Dylan always wore the jerseys and that would have been his thing. I am a practical mom and I didn't put little skirts and dresses on him," she said.
"I suppose when you do look back now, when he went to secondary school he had to get a uniform. He was in an Educate Together school prior to that where he didn't have a uniform. Myself and my husband were very shocked at how he reacted when he had to go and get fitted for his skirt. He asked even, "Can I not wear the shirt and tie" but the girls had to wear a blouse. In hindsight we know that was obviously extremely distressful for him."
It has now been two years since Dylan's social transition which Kirsty said has been a process of mixed emotions for her family. Kirsty is also mum to two other sons.
"As soon as he came and told us, we had a very bad couple of days, I'm not going to lie. It was very distressing for the entire family unit but I guess everything happens for a reason.
"He has an old head on young shouders. He's very sensitive of us all going through this. But he's known this since he was so little so he's come to terms with that the whole way along. It's such a big learning curve for a parent.
"It's very mixed emotions. You are trying to marry two completely different emotions. I'm so happy for him that he can go on to live the life he was born to live. Do I miss what I thought I would have had? Absolutely I do.
"When you're pregnant and you know this baby is coming into this world, if you're blessed that they come and they're healthy, you think about walking them down the aisle and all the rest of it.
"There was one night when I was upset and I was saying to my husband: "You'll never get to walk her down the aisle". He goes: "Well I might get to walk him down the aisle" and I thought "Absolutely".
"I still miss something, but I have a totally different future now," she said.
Before Christmas, Dylan was diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria, which is the first step in beginning his hormone replacement treatment, which will allow him to develop male characteristics and continue his transition. However, Kirsty said it could be eight more months before the treatment begins in Crumlin, and she said the process is much too slow for young people struggling with their identity.
"Not being able to be who you are, and say who you are, that's where the damage is done. The younger you can come out with this and tell people and get those supports the better.
"Just before Christmas we got his Gender Dysphoria diagnosis. It's great news. We've been battling for two years to get that. He said: "I know who I am, why does someone else have to tell me that?" He had to have someone else fish around in his brain and figure out what we already know.
"He needs a gender recognition certificate which he can't get until he's sixteen. You have to get a second diagnosis and go through the courts which is a bit of a nightmare.
"Realistically we would love to have [hormone blocking treatment] now but because of the high demands for the services we've been told it could be another six or seven months in Crumlin. When he turns sixteen he can go to Loughlinstown," said Kirsty.
The mum-of-three said she shared her story to help young trans people in Ireland, who she feels do not have adequate support networks.
"The under 18s in the trans community have no voice and this is why I'm doing this. I have talked to him at length about this and he said 'Mom, you're my voice and you're the voice of my friends'. I was one of those people that said it's just not real, it doesn't happen. I don't judge people but what I would ask people to do is research it a little bit, open your mind a little bit. This isn't an epidemic or something that's fashionable. Who wants to live a lie?
"There is so much that needs to happen. We're a very forward thinking country in Ireland, and the marriage referendum proves that. But our services are not where we need to be. TENI are fantastic and help to fight for all the rights of the transcommunity. There is support for parents as well it's called Transparenting. We have meetings once a month in Waterford, Limerick and Dublin. For any young people, parents you're not alone. The BelongTo services are life savers and they have been great for Dylan, but again they mostly deal with children from 14 and up. There is no organisation supporting trans children younger than that. We also have no support groups for siblings of transpeople and there needs to be."
The mum said she is extremely proud of her family and extended support circle and said she has seen her son blossom since he began his social transition.
"I'm proud of every single one of my children, and my husband, and my family and my friends, because they have been amazing. It hasn't been an easy thing. They miss what they thought they had as well.
"It's not a choice. He didn't choose his gender when he was 13, he always knew what his gender was.
"He has changed as a person in my eyes. He's a much more confident person, he's a much more rounded person, I'm very proud to be his mum."