Pausing puberty aged 12 saved my life: Transgender beauty queen praises her amazing family ahead of BBC documentary on her mission to become Miss England
Jackie Green, 19, was born a boy named Jack
After seven attempts to kill herself and two years on suicide watch her parents let her become a girl
On her 16th birthday she became the youngest person in the world to have a gender reassignment surgeryBBC3 documentary follows her mission to become Miss England
18:18 GMT, 20 November 2012
Aged 16 Jackie Green became the youngest person in the world to undergo transgender surgery.
Now as a 19-year-old woman, Jackie has made history once again by becoming the first transgender Miss England finalist, and a BBC3 documentary to be aired tonight follows the teen's mission to become a beauty queen.
Today the willowy brunette appeared on This Morning to talk about her life now as a wannabe model and the long road there, starting with a trip to America aged 12 to pause the onset of puberty.
Jackie Green appeared in This Morning today to talk about her documentary Transexual Teen, Beauty Queen
Jackie, who was born Jack and spent her childhood trying to persuade her parents she had been born in to the wrong body, said: ''I knew from the start that I was a girl, it was just actually having the vocabulary to make people understand.
'I would have had the surgery at five years old if I could. After the surgery it felt like starting life for the first time.
'Loads of kids go through stages, some
people go down the transgender route and then change their minds, mostly
because they don't have the support of their family.
'At primary school I dressed as a boy for the majority of the time. The kids understood and just took it in their stride.
'But secondary school was horrible. I was being spat on, being beaten up and called so many different names. The parents were the worst.
'I was prescribed 'blockers' by a doctor in Boston when was I was twelve. It basically paused puberty and it saved my life.
'I would have killed myself. I wouldn't have been able to cope.
VIDEO: Watch Jackie interviewed on This Morning, you can see the whole interview here
When Jackie was aged just four she told her mother Susan: ‘God has made a mistake, I should be a girl.’
in a body she hated, Jackie first overdosed aged 11 and made six more
suicide attempts before she was 15. Medicines were locked in a safe and
knives had to be hidden away. She threatened to mutilate her genitals.
so, aged 16, Jackie Green became the youngest person in the world to
undergo transgender surgery. ‘Without that surgery, I wouldn’t be here
now,’ she says bluntly. ‘I’m a girl, I always have been – there’s never
been any doubt in my mind about that. It’s just that my body didn’t
match because, as far as I’m concerned, I had a birth defect.’
Ahead of tonight's documentary Jackie wanted to use the show to raise awareness of transgender issues.
She told hosts Phillip Schofield and Holly WIlloughby: 'I'm me, I know who I am. I don't care what people say anymore.
'There's so much
discrimination and so much that people don't know about the options that are
'It's really hard and I want to try and stop that.'
Happier than ever: Jackie Green, now 19, became the world's youngest person to undergo gender reassignment surgery at the age of 16
Born a boy: Jackie as Jack on a family holiday when she was three years old
Jackie was diagnosed with gender identity
disorder (GID) aged five after being referred by her GP to the
Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. The same child psychiatric
unit came under scrutiny earlier this year when it was revealed that
another five-year-old, Zach Avery, was diagnosed with GID by its
At present, it is not known why
some people who are chromosomally one sex feel they are the other. ‘It
has been observed that areas in the brains of some transgender people
are structurally the same as the sex they feel they are,’ says Dr Polly
Carmichael, director of the Gender Identity Development Service at the
‘We don’t have a definitive answer, but it’s likely to be a
combination of environmental, genetic and biological factors.’
What is certain, however, is that
transgender people often have tremendously difficult lives. One survey
in the United States found almost half of transgender people have
attempted suicide, and they are twice as likely to be unemployed as the
rest of the population. Jackie’s situation, at least for now, could not
be more different. Could her age be the key
to her astonishingly supportive parents, she was started on hormone
drug treatment at 14, which meant she never underwent male puberty, her
voice never deepened, and she never grew masculine proportions or
Based on her early rate of growth, doctors estimated she may
have reached 6ft 4in, and today she stands a statuesque 6ft.
It’s just that my body didn’t match because, as far as I’m concerned, I had a birth defect.’
lot of transsexuals have distinctive features, because they haven’t
been able to take the blockers early like I did. This makes them stand
out, making it much harder to fit into society, especially when it comes
to a job,’ says Jackie.
medicines are only effective if taken from the first signs of puberty,
until recently they were not authorised for use in those under 16. Now
the Tavistock, in collaboration with University College London, is
carrying out trials into such treatment in children from the age of 12.
seems terribly young. But Susan, a 44-year-old IT manager, was in no
doubt by the time her daughter started hormone therapy. ‘As a toddler,
Jackie always headed for the dolls in toy shops. Initially, I did think
it was a phase but Jack, as she was then, became disruptive in class,
ran away from school, loathed having her hair cut and would rip off her
school uniform and put on girls’ clothes when she got home.’
Aged eight, Jackie sent an email to
everyone at her primary school saying she was a girl trapped inside a
boy’s body. After that, she started going to school dressed as a girl.
Susan recalls: ‘Jackie was so much better after that, more content than I’d seen her in years.
course I knew not everyone would respond well and one mother used to
sit outside the school in her car shouting “Freak” and “Tranny” at her. I
had to call the police to get her to stop.
that, her last year of primary school was brilliant. Unfortunately,
when she went to secondary school everything fell to pieces and I spent
the next two-and-a-half years on suicide watch.’
Change: Jack/Jackie pictured in December 2003 aged nine when she had started dressing as a girl
was bullied mercilessly and took an overdose. Fearing her attempts
might succeed, Susan found her a place at a Specialist Inclusive
Learning Centre for children with health problems.
‘No one knew me so I could go along as a girl and life was a bit happier again for a while,’ says Jackie.
‘Around the age of ten, I remember telling my mum that if I started turning into a man, I would kill myself.
was aware that puberty was approaching and that, coupled with the
bullying, was too much. I took an overdose of paracetamol and ended up
in hospital. Looking back, it was more a cry for help.’
With NHS doctors unable to prescribe
puberty-delaying drugs or ‘blockers’ as they are known, Susan found Dr
Norman Spack, a US-based specialist in gender dysphoria, via the
Dr Spack, of
Boston Children’s Hospital, says: ‘With blockers, you can keep children
in a pre-pubescent state, which allows them time to decide if they want
to pursue full gender reassignment.’
who was 13 when she first travelled to Boston, recalls: ‘I had to have
blood tests and psychological testing. There was no uncertainty for me,
and Dr Spack agreed I needed to be the girl physically that I was
The first stage
of treatment involved an injection of a drug that blocks the production
of the male sex-hormone testosterone. Next, tablets containing a
synthetic version of the female sex-hormone oestrogen were given – a
process known as cross-hormone therapy. ‘The first time I noticed my
body changing was about six months after I started taking the blockers.
My breasts started to develop, my face began to get thinner and I began
to get a more feminine shape,’ says Jackie.
Finally free: Jackie says she considered her gender a 'birth defect' which needed to be treated
Dr Carmichael believes that we may see more cases like Jackie’s emerge. ‘We are now offering [blocker] treatment to a carefully selected group of people under 16. The physical and psychological outcomes will be assessed so we will gain a better understanding of the benefits and risks. It isn’t offered to anyone under 12.’
Yet the area is undeniably fraught with ethical dilemmas. Last week, 18-year-old Ria Cooper, from Hull, went on national television to say she regretted beginning hormone therapy at 17.
So how do doctors decide whether a person is a candidate for this treatment
GID is diagnosed if a child displays several characteristic behaviours, including repeatedly stating the desire to be, or insisting he or she is, the other sex. Most pertinently, many children with GID become increasingly distressed – to the point of depression – as they get older, especially approaching puberty. Typically, they express disgust at their genitalia.
Evidence suggests that four in five
pre-pubertal children diagnosed with GID do not go on to experience the
condition in adulthood. Of those who fulfil the criteria for GID at
puberty, one in five becomes happy in the gender they were born.To add
to the confusion, many children originally identified with GID turn out
to be homosexual instead. It would seem there is a problematic grey area
in differentiating so early between sexuality and gender identity.
However, Dr Carmichael believes there is a strong case for treating
‘There is a
misconception that if you take a child who says they are the wrong sex
seriously, they are on an inevitable path to physical changes. In fact,
exploration of feelings is important. In some cases, drug treatment is
needed. But we work hard at trying to keep children open to all
possibilities.’ Still, it must present a conundrum to doctors – on one
hand, there is the admirable desire to help children in psychological
distress; on the other, the physical ramifications of drug treatment.
Spack admits: ‘When young people halt their puberty and take
cross-hormones for a few years, they are likely to become infertile. You
have to explain to patients that if they go ahead, they may not be able
to have children. When talking to a 12-year-old, that’s a heavy-duty
‘But if you
don’t start treatment, they will always have trouble fitting in. And my
patients always remind me that what’s most important to them is their
reassignment, blockers are no longer needed, although transgender people
must take cross-hormones for life. Susan, who lives in Leeds, took
Jackie to Boston every six months for treatment until she had her
surgery at 16. ‘I’d get her blood tests done here, and then take the
results to Boston. I would order the blockers online from a pharmacy in
Canada with Dr Spack’s prescription.’ Jackie’s treatment and trips to
the US over three years cost 15,000, which, along with the 13,000
gender-reassignment surgery, meant Susan had to use equity in her home
to pay for it.
Confidence: The statuesque teen, far right, dreams of becoming a model and reached the finals of Miss England
‘Having the anatomy of a boy was a constant reminder that she still wasn’t who she wanted to be,’ says Susan.
‘Physical relationships were
impossible and I knew that if it was me, I’d want to be able to take
that final step and have surgery. Jackie fully understood she’d never
have children but there was no doubt in her mind it was the right thing
to do. And if she wants to have a family, she can always adopt.’
the UK, gender reassignment cannot be performed until the patient is
18, but Susan discovered a surgeon in Thailand willing to do the
operation when Jackie was 16 (Thailand has since adopted the
international guideline of 18). Eighteen months of discussions with the
surgeon followed and on her 16th birthday she underwent a seven-hour
operation. ‘It’s hard to find words strong enough to describe how I felt
when I woke up,’ she says. ‘It was like, “Wow, my life really does
start now.” I cried tears of joy.’
‘Without that surgery, I wouldn’t be here now,. I’m a girl, I always have been.'
Jackie was virtually bed-bound for the first five days. For the following three weeks, she stayed in a hotel near the hospital, with nurses visiting her twice a day.
‘When I went home, I had a 16th birthday party but for me it was my first birthday as the woman I should always have been.’
She returned to Thailand when she was 18 for 2,000 breast augmentation surgery, and now has a body she is delighted with. Shortly after her operation, she entered Miss England, making it to the semi-finals. She intends to enter again next year.
Jackie has been dating her boyfriend for two years and says: ‘We’d been together a month when I told him about my surgery, but he was fine about it. He told me he already loved me and I was very much a girl as far as he was concerned.’
While acknowledging the need for caution by the medical establishment, Jackie says: ‘I know there is a lot of controversy about GID and blockers, but I think children need more credit for knowing who they are than doctors give them. Going on blockers doesn’t mean life-changing decisions. There’s plenty of time to change your mind if you want to.’
Dr Carmichael agrees: ‘It is important to monitor and support these young people and their families. Certainly, their feelings about their gender should be respected.’
Susan knows that she and Jackie made the right decision. ‘It’s wonderful to see how happy she is with her life now.’
Jackie adds: ‘I think I’m a good face for transgender. After years of heartache, I want people to understand that we are not weirdos or freaks or any of the other horrible terms thrown at us. As far as I’m concerned, I’m just a normal girl with a bit of an interesting history.’
l Transsexual Teen Beauty Queen will be screened tonight on BBC3