When Hayley Waddell’s 18-month-old daughter Lily refused to wear pink frilly knickers, instead insisting upon Bob The Builder pants, she put it down to her being a bit of a tomboy, simply less girly than her three sisters.
But as Lily grew older and continued squirming in dresses, playing only with cars and actually insisting she was a boy – even cutting her blonde hair short at the age of five – Hayley, 48, a hairdresser from Lowestoft, Suffolk, wondered if this was more than just a phase.
And when, at the age of nine, Lily said, ‘You’re not taking me seriously! I don’t want to be a girl anymore!’, Hayley knew something had to change.
Social services stepped in, arriving at their home following complaints Hayley was ‘forcing’ her child to be a boy since she already had three other girls.
But when her son, who changed his name to Leo by deed poll at the age of 11, stood up to them and defended his mother, even they could see the family were all completely serious.
Leo is now one of Britain’s youngest people with gender dysphoria, a condition whereby you feel have been physically assigned the wrong gender at birth.
‘I knew when I was pregnant with Leo that something was different,’ Hayley told Holly Willoughby and Philip Schofield on ITV’s This Morning today. ‘I’ve been pregnant with three other girls and this one was completely new. I was so horribly sick all the way through. I was just certain I was having a boy.’
But having never heard the word ‘transgender’, Hayley was at a loss as to how to act, and simply lived day by day, letting Leo be their guide.
Social services once visited the family’s home following complaints that Hayley was ‘forcing’ her child to be a boy since she already had three other girls.
And having lived as a boy since the age of five, Leo, now 12, is about to begin taking hormone blockers to prevent himself developing as a woman. When he is 16 he will begin taking testosterone, and when he is 18 he will have gender reassignment surgery.
‘I’ve just always felt like a boy,’ said Leo. ‘School was tough. It was normal until year six, but then when I got my name changed they wouldn’t call me Leo for about three months, and then when they started calling me Leo they still wouldn’t call me “she”, they carried on calling me “he”.’
Speaking about supporting her son, Hayley said: ‘Just as it is with all my kids, they are who they are and I do believe in encouraging that. There was no big decision to make, it was just the way it flowed, until we actually decided to change his name.
‘The school weren’t very happy about it and tried to look for legal reasons why they couldn’t call him “he”. Eventually, by law, they had to. But that was a very difficult time for us.
‘Especially where we come from there was a lot of ignorance surrounding it because no one had heard of it – not the doctor, not the schools, not even social services. Though they were really, rreally good, and went away and found out what they needed to.’
Leo, who grimaces at the thought of taking hormones but laughs when people tell him it’s ‘just a phase’, confesses he would not be able to live if he were made to do so as a girl, saying: ‘I would probably kill myself.’
Leo, who wants to be a gender specialist when he grows up, now feels strongly about sharing his story, saying: ‘I think people need to learn to understand it, so they can accept it if it happens again. And it is happening more’
Happily, in 2001, he was referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, and then to Tavistock Clinic in North London, the only one of its kind for under-18s, who referred him to UCL to get the hormone blockers.
For the first time, the family felt as though their story had been heard and understood, and Leo says it felt ‘amazing’ to finally be able to start living his life.
For Hayley, it was relief, and ‘confirmation that I wasn’t doing anything wrong’.
She said: ‘There was always this doubt. If all these people were saying “Why are you doing this?”, I’d question: Am I doing something to make him this way?’
Leo, who wants to be a gender specialist when he grows up, now feels strongly about sharing his story, saying: ‘I think people need to learn to understand it, so they can accept it if it happens again. And it is happening more.’
Read more: DailyMail