Editor’s note: The names in this story have been changed for reasons of privacy.

Maxine’s mom, Cherie, describes her 12-year-old daughter as a tender hearted, precocious, and articulate pre-teen, with a girlish build and long, blond hair that frames her face.

Possessing an inherent sense of fashion that goes beyond her age, the Oak Park girl loves traveling in a group of female friends, just hanging out, playing tag-like running games, and listening to teen idols like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and of course, Pink who Maxine says “is amazing.”

Cherie also describes her daughter as transgendered, a girl, in a boy’s body, who now is living life freely feminine, and because of that, happily. 

“When I was born, I wasn’t aware what transgender meant,” said Maxine, during a recent interview with her mom at a café in Oak Park. “So, for many years all it was for me was confusion, [because] I would always look at girls, and think to myself, “oh, I want to be that, to be a girl. It’s not a thing that I think of everyday, like ‘oh, I’m transgender.’ I just think of me as a girl.” 

After a long, difficult journey up to Maxine’s second year in grade school, Cherie says that, since then, she and her husband, as well as their two other children, and a network of supportive family and friends, have been celebrating her transgendered daughter’s “coming out.” 

Maxine, says Cherie, is now living her life as a girl, and in the future, is aiming to the next step of becoming a woman.

You as you

In 2007, photographer Lindsay Morris began documenting campers’ experiences at an annual four-day wilderness camp for “gender variant” children, age 6 to 12. The camp was born out of a circle of parents who met in a therapy group for gender variant children, and their families. In May, selections of those photographs, as well as an essay by Jennifer Finney Boylan, were published in Morris’s new book “You Are You.”

Among the children featured in the book, and in a recent Time magazine article about it, is Maxine. 

“For the last five years or so, I have gone to this camp that allows all LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender],” says Maxine. “When I go there, I meet other people who are transgender, and I have met some of my closest friends. I just feel free there. We run through fields of dewy grass, and I feel so happy, because I have nothing to hide, whatsoever, and we can just be who we want to be,” she says. “Gender is so confusing, and gets really stupid when people think gender means wearing sparkly or pink [if you are a girl], or dull colors like blue and brown [if you are a boy]. I feel so much more happy as a girl, and it has made me feel comfortable because I am now able to be myself.” 

A real girl

Cherie, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology who has been a Masters level clinician for 20 years, says, “My middle child was about 18 months old, really as early as she could speak, when she told us she was a girl.”

Even then, her parents believed their son “was a boy, because our new baby was boy bodied.”

They started questioning Maxine’s gender when their youngest child, a girl, was born, and Maxine, their middle child was a toddler. A cousin had dropped off a bag of hand-me-down clothes for the new baby girl.

“My middle child got into that bag of clothes, and for her, it was like Christmas,” Cherie recalls. “We really did think that it had more to do with the new sibling. Then, we thought it was a phase, and just that he was really creative, so at that point, we weren”t concerned.”

It is what happened during Maxine’s first hair cut that caused concern. Cherie asked if Maxine wanted to look like a Power Ranger. The toddler preferred to “be Cinderella, and I sort of stopped and looked at my husband, who was looking through the camera, and I was thinking, ‘OK, I do not know what this is, but this is atypical, and not what you would expect from a male child of this age to be wanting.”

As the years passed, the child’s gender nonconforming behaviors became pervasive and intensified.

When they moved to Oak Park and Maxine was set to start the first grade her parents were mulling around the idea of allowing their child to start fresh in a new school as a girl. 

“Maxine would be able to wear a dress all the time, or dress in typically female clothing all the time, and grow her hair out,” Cherie says. 

In addition, Cherie continues that her name would be feminized, the proper pronouns would be changed from him to her, and the boy-bodied girl would be allowed to change her appearance so she could be “able to go about her business as a regular little girl.”

But, based on advice from their networks of professional clinicians, Maxine’s parents decided to hold off on all that. 

Instead, they spent a year on “helping her organize her gender identity, such that Maxine could be a boy, and basically that is what we attempted to do,” Cherie recalls, adding that back then there really weren’t any good clinical options, and after a while, she felt “[making Maxine be a boy] was going to harm her.”

Also, it did not work.

“With every birthday candle, every shooting star, every tooth she lost, every wish there was to be made, including every night before she went to bed, Maxine would clasp her hands together and say out loud: ‘Please, please, please, let me wake up a girl. This happened every day,'” says Cherie.

The sea change came in the middle of second grade, with Maxine’s persistent proclaims of, “Mom, I have to be a girl…I have to be a girl…I have to be a girl,” Maxine said. 

 “One day, my mom said, ‘Maxine you can go to that Boy Scout camp out, or you can stay here and transgender,'” Maxine recalls, adding that her mom knew if she really was transgender she would choose to stay. 

In the future, besides finding a person who can accept her for who she is, and possibly pursuing a career in some aspect of design, Maxine has set her sights on being a transgender rights advocate.

 “I don’t have a choice of who I am inside,” she says. “I am a girl. I am not changing my gender. I am changing to the gender that I am. I am a girl, and that is the part of me I cannot change.” 

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Deb Quantock McCarey

Deb Quantock McCarey is an Illinois Press Association (IPA) award-winning freelance writer who has worked with Wednesday Journal Inc. since 1995, writing features and special sections for all its publications....

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