'I'm a girl in my heart': Seven-year-old boy explains desire to live as a girl
Marlene Leung, CTVNews.ca
Two Ottawa-area families are finding comfort in each other after discovering they have something in common: Their sons want to live their lives as girls.
One of the families, the Schaettgens, is sharing its story of their "gender-creative" child, Warner.
Warner and Emery Schaettgen are seven-year-old twins. The two were born boys, but Warner knew from an early age that he felt differently.
"I feel like a girl, so I'm a girl in my heart," Warner told CTV Ottawa. "I know I'm really a boy, but I like girls' stuff." Warner calls herself a "girlish-boy."
Her mother, Melissa Schaettgen, said that Warner had a major revelation when she was just two.
"I was lying in bed one night with Warner, and Warner said to me 'Mommy, God made a mistake. I'm really a little girl," she said. "That for me was the pivotal moment when I realized that something was going on."
Warner's parents said there were signs along the way. Warner preferred girls' toys and clothes, including a princess outfit she begged them to wear. They finally let her wear it in secret.
"The moment Warner put that on it was like this whole other child emerged, so happy (and) so bright," Schaettgen said.
Warner's father, Elmar Schaettgen, said at first he thought it was only a phase Warner was going through, and that the family would push it off until Warner went through puberty.
"I didn't want to deal with it now, I sort of stuck my head in the sand… but Warner didn't really give us that choice in the end," he said.
Last August, when the twins were getting new haircuts and clothes ahead of their return to school, Warner shocked her parents when she told them she'd rather die than look like a boy.
Stunned, the family sought support at the Diversity Clinic for Children and Youth at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
The clinic offers support for "gender-creative" or "gender non-conforming" youth in eastern Ontario. Families like the Schaettgens can speak with doctors and other support staff at the clinic. Staff at the clinic currently see more than 70 other gender-creative children.
Gender-creative children are children who identify outside of the traditional gender definition of being simply male or female, with nothing in between, Prof. Kristopher Wells, Director of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, told CTV News Channel.
This often means that the children express their gender in ways that differ from what people may expect.
Dr. Stephen Feder from the Diversity Clinic said that staff can help families with gender-creative children adjust, and learn to accept and support them for who they are.
"These children, for whatever reason, simply feel that they're gender-opposite to what their body tells them," he said. “It's critically important that the child feels that they're accepted by their parents regardless.”
Last August, the Schaettgens decided they'd break the news on Facebook to friends and family that Warner would now be living as a girl.
Warner’s mother said she asked friends to continue to look at Warner with a "loving heart," despite the fact that many might hold views that conflicted with Warner's desire to live as a girl.
And last September, Warner began attending school as a girl for the first time. Her mother said that while it was painful for her family to accept, Warner felt differently.
"Warner's reaction wasn't one of pain. She didn't care, she was just happy to be able to go to school like that," Schaettgen said. "She was so happy to finally be able to be who she wanted to be."
"I have the heart and soul of a girl, but the body of a boy,"
In another case, a family re-located to Ottawa out of safety for their gender-creative child Charlie. The family has asked that CTV News not use their last name.
Charlie was born a boy, but always felt like a girl.
The eight-year-old said she knew from the beginning that her body didn't match how she felt on the inside.
"I was feeling like I should be a girl. My body kept telling me 'Be a girl, be a girl, be a girl,'" she told CTV Ottawa. "I don't know why, but it just kept telling me.
"I have the heart and soul of a girl, but the body of a boy."
Her parents, Anne and Chris, initially thought Charlie was just trying out different roles, as she had always been an expressive child.
"We didn't judge it. If she wanted Barbies, we got her Barbies. If he wanted cars, we got him cars," Anne said.
But others weren't as accepting. Charlie was often teased and bullied when she attended her old school in eastern Ontario.
She recalls an incident where another student teased her because she was wearing nail polish, even pinching and punching her.
Charlie’s father said that even old family friends severed ties with them. "We had friends that we thought we could call for anything… not anymore," Chris said.
Finally the family realized that for the sake of their child they had to move, and re-located to Ottawa.
"When we first realized that Charlie was not going to be the typical boy we expected, we started to fear for her safety," her mother said.
The family has also found support at CHEO's Diversity Clinic. They said that through the clinic they've learned that there are other families out there facing the same issues.
They’ve met many other families with gender-creative kids, through a local support group. They’ve even met the Schaettgens, and Warner and Charlie have become friends.
Charlie's father said it's been comforting knowing they're not alone. "You think you're wearing a special pair of shoes and you're the only one that has them, but they got the same rock in their boot," he said.
With reports by CTV Ottawa's Joanne Schnurr