Would YOU back your 16-year-old if he wanted to change sex How Miranda Johnson is fighting for her son's human right to wear make-up
12:18 GMT, 30 July 2012
Whether it’s the fact that her skirt is too short, her heels too high or her make-up too liberally applied, 16-year-old Ashlyn Parram looks a typical teenage girl — keen to push the boundaries of what is acceptable to her parents and elders.
But while Ashlyn may seem, on the surface, to be just like her friends and classmates, there is one profound difference between her and them.
Ashlyn is genetically male, having lived as a boy by the name of Lewis for the first 15 years of her life. Only in the past year did Lewis become Ashlyn, after changing her name by deed poll.
Big decision: Teenager Ashlyn Parram – who lived as a boy called Lewis – wants to wear make up and women's clothes and has begun hormone treatment
She is now on the waiting list to undergo gender reassignment treatment, which will begin with her taking hormones to suppress male characteristics such as a deep voice and excess body hair. Not until she’s 18 will she be eligible for full-blown gender reassignment surgery.
In the meantime, she is doing everything she can to ensure that people assume she’s a girl. She wears long brown hair extensions and spends many hours in the bathroom waxing her body hair.
The rows of cosmetics in her bedroom would put a beauty salon to shame, and her bedroom walls are covered in posters of male heart-throbs such as film star Orlando Bloom.
Ashlyn’s parents have had to come to terms with the fact that their biological son now lives as a girl — a situation most mothers and fathers would find utterly confounding.
It has also caused problems outside of
family life. As the Mail reported last week, Ashlyn and her mother,
Miranda Johnson, claim she’s been victimised by staff at her school,
Giles Academy in Boston, Lincolnshire, who told her she could not sit
her GCSE exams because she was wearing a skirt.
was allowed to sit her exams after citing equality laws, but was seated
in an isolated section of the room away from fellow pupils.
Defending her child: Miranda Johnson says Ashlyn cannot help how she feels and the world needs to accept it
It is not an enormous surprise, in this day and age, to learn that the family considers this a violation of Ashlyn’s rights. Indeed, they say that unless the headmaster, Chris Walls, makes a full apology, they will consider legal action — a move Miranda claims is to protect other transgender teenagers.
‘Ashlyn is a girl in everything but a certain part of her body — and since when is that the most important part of a person’ she says.
‘People need to understand this is not a choice that Ashlyn has made: it is the way she is. It is a condition, and one the world needs to confront and accept.’
Nonetheless, many people will have serious misgivings about the family’s defiant stance — and be surprised by Miranda’s unflinching acceptance of Ashlyn’s way of life.
When I meet them at their comfortable home in Boston, Ashlyn, who is tall and slim, is wearing skinny jeans and several bangles. Throughout our interview, she fiddles self-consciously with her long hair and stares at herself in the living room mirror.
Only a slightly protruding Adam’s apple and broader-than-average shoulders hint at her true nature.
Until recently, Ashlyn’s could have been any ordinary, hard-working family. Miranda is married to her second husband, chartered surveyor Graham, after having three children with her first: daughter Yasmine, 21, Ashlyn and 13-year-old son Joby.
Miranda seems to have accepted Ashlyn’s changing gender with such incredible alacrity that even her memories of Ashlyn’s babyhood sound as if they have been modified.
‘She was so easy. She was incredibly smiley — one of those babies everyone wanted to cuddle.
‘She was never interested in boys’ toys. Our son Joby liked getting muddy, whereas Ashlyn preferred to stay inside and play with dolls. ’
/07/29/article-2180798-142E2E6F000005DC-248_306x626.jpg” width=”306″ height=”626″ alt=”Ashlyn as a young boy aged 4. She tried to wear a skirt to school but her headmaster made her sit away from the other pupils” class=”blkBorder” />
Ashlyn as a school boy aged 11. She tried to wear a skirt to school but her headmaster made her sit away from the other pupils
/07/29/article-2180798-14353801000005DC-741_634x882.jpg” width=”634″ height=”882″ alt=”United: Miranda Parram fully supports her daughter Ashlyn and is outraged at people's treatment of the teenager ” class=”blkBorder” />
United: Miranda Parram fully supports her daughter Ashlyn and is outraged at people's treatment of the teenager
It was here, following extensive consultations and psychiatric assessments, that Ashlyn was referred earlier this year, after being formally diagnosed with gender dysphoria.
Miranda says: ‘There are countless assessments to ensure that this is a case of true gender dysphoria rather than just attention-seeking or a factor of a troubled adolescence.’
Ashlyn told her mother this spring that she wanted to change her name by deed poll. This, however, was one change her family did struggle with.
‘It took a while for us all to get used to,’ says Miranda. ‘I still sometimes find myself saying “the boys”.
‘But Ashlyn’s father and step-father have coped well and my parents are very accepting, though her paternal grandparents have found it harder.
‘It’s been tough for Joby, too. It’s a lot for him to take in. He is at a vulnerable age and has been teased at school, so I keep a close eye on him.’
'The headmaster told me that I couldn’t sit the paper because I wasn’t wearing boys’ uniform'
Ashlyn’s transition has continued to cause problems at school. Earlier this year, she started wearing the ‘skinny’ trousers popular among female pupils, who have the option to wear trousers or skirts under school uniform rules, as well as make-up and jewellery.
She claims that the bullying worsened, and her unorthodox way of dressing also led to repeated altercations with staff.
Miranda says: ‘She kept being called to the school office and told to remove her make-up and jewellery, which was unfair as it wasn’t happening to other girls.
‘Ashlyn would be asked to take off her make-up while sitting next to someone in the classroom with it plastered an inch thick across their face. I have no issue with strict rules, but they need to be applied across the board.’
As far as the school was concerned, however, Ashlyn was still Lewis — a boy — which made the situation rather more complex.
Would it not have been more sensible to encourage Ashlyn to conform within school hours, at least
‘This isn’t about self-expression,’ Miranda says. ‘Ashlyn has a medical condition; she can’t help how she feels.’
Looking to change: Despite the hostility she receives, Ashlyn wants to go ahead with her medication
And so, on her final day at school before her GCSE exams last month, Ashlyn attended wearing a skirt —the first time she had done so.
She claims she was removed from the classroom and put into another room on her own.
‘It was the last day so lots of girls were breaking the rules,’ says Ashlyn. ‘Some had dyed their hair blue, others were wearing 6in heels. I was probably the most conservative-looking one, yet I was the one who was targeted.’
The same thing happened a week later, Ashlyn claims, when she arrived at school to sit her first exam wearing a skirt.
‘The headmaster told me that I couldn’t sit the paper because I wasn’t wearing boys’ uniform,’ she says.
But this time Ashlyn had arrived at school prepared for such a rebuke by printing off and carrying with her a copy of the Equality Act.
‘As far as I am concerned, I am a girl,’ she says firmly. ‘All I want is for people to accept me as one’
‘When I showed the headmaster a copy, he realised he had to back down — but that’s when he put me at the back of the room away from everyone else. It was very upsetting. I’d done nothing wrong, and yet it felt as if I was being punished.’
When Miranda heard what had happened, she was outraged. ‘I was astonished. Children are always going to point out differences, but teachers should know better.
‘I don’t understand why they felt the need to do what they did. I’m not trying to create a fuss and I’m not speaking out to embarrass the school, which is in many ways an excellent school.
‘But I would like them to take responsibility for their behaviour for Ashlyn’s sake, and for other people going through what she is going through.’
A spokesman for Giles Academy denied that Ashlyn had been treated improperly and said the school dealt with any complaint in a professional manner.
But so committed is Miranda to her cause that she may take Ashlyn’s case to court to try to force schools to accommodate and accept transgender pupils.
After the summer holidays, Ashlyn will be attending a sixth-form college, where she hopes for a happy new beginning to her school life.
In the meantime she is hoping to start hormone treatment soon, and to have reassignment surgery when she is 18. Both are available on the NHS, but with long waiting lists.
‘As far as I am concerned, I am a girl,’ she says firmly. ‘All I want is for people to accept me as one.’
Her mother agrees: ‘The most important thing in life is family. Mine might be unusual, but it is my family. Ashlyn is my daughter. The fact that she used to be my son is neither here nor there.’