You might see him chasing around his brothers or throwing it down with Pikachu, being the voracious Pokémon fan he is. Chances are also good you’ll catch him around the Rainbow Youth HQ on K’ Road with his growing whānau, loving parents in tow. Meet Ben Brockwell-Jones, your not-so-average seven-year-old trans boy.
Much of New Zealand learned about Ben when he marched down Ponsonby Road leading the Rainbow Youth pack in this year’s Auckland Pride Parade. However his path to that point in time, bearing a sign which stated “I’m a boy because I say I am!” started many years before, entirely embraced in love, which is really what this story is about.
“From a very early age Ben showed an unusual character, setting himself apart from our other children with a headstrong, quirky personality,” says his proud mother Beccy Jones, and strong opinions about his youthful peers started way back in kindergarten. “He seems to have preferred the company of boys to girls and was always commenting negatively on those girls that he knew… but he never said anything about the boys; he just loved being around them and really seemed to enjoy their company.”
Beccy and Wes Jones already had four children between them from previous partnerships, all boys. So when learning their first child together would be a girl, Beccy got a bit excited. “I had always sworn that when our daughter was born we would not be dressing her all in pink as I didn’t like the way that people did that… but I am ashamed to say that mostly I did!”
As Ben’s character evolved, however, they quickly learned his chosen appearance reflected the true boy inside. “I can count on my fingers of my hand the number of times he wore a dress or skirt. Then all of a sudden he just started to refuse to wear any girl’s clothes at all so we thought we’d best give them all away and replace what we’d given away with boy’s clothes. It was not an issue for us.”
No matter the direction his interests took, they always supported his choices completely. So it wasn’t long until they realised, through observing Ben’s increasingly determined identity development and some Internet research that he could indeed be a young boy – one born in a girl’s body.
Upon finding Rainbow Youth their world changed. “The next day I made a phone call to Tommy,” remembers Beccy about the conversation that made everything click. “The next day, when Ben came home from school I told him about the conversation I’d had with Tommy and Ben was so excited… it was as though a weight had been lifted from his shoulders… for once he belonged, he was not this ‘odd’ child that didn’t belong anywhere where society normally places you – in the cisgender realm. He himself had a quick chat with Tommy on the phone and it was remarkable to see the transformation in him.”
It wouldn’t be long before Ben and then-Executive Director of Rainbow Youth Tommy Hamilton got to meet face-to-face. “When I first met Ben I treated it like meeting any other child,” says Tommy. “I also approached it like I would any other trans* person. I said hi, introduced him to other people who were around using the name he preferred, we exchanged mutual interests, and he showed me a picture.”
So it was that nine months ago the family’s caring affiliation with the group was born. Through it came an adopted brotherhood between Ben and a trans* guy from Rotorua named KC who will never forget his first encounter with the young fella.
“I first met Ben at GQ (a social group for trans* people). He was initially shy, then as soon as his parents left him alone with the group Ben showed us just how talkative and mischievous he is. We got on well in that first meeting, which surprised me as I hadn’t had much to do with kids before. Ben is just so easy to love!”
That love is reciprocated by Ben’s parents, thankful there’s someone to bond with their son and keep him engaged. “Around once a month we spend the whole day together as a family, and then we leave Ben and him to their own devices for a while so they can both chat together,” says Beccy, who also gets a bit of feedback from Kyle on what her son might not share with his folks.
Let’s not forget about the real brothers mentioned earlier, all behind their newest little bro.
Thomas Parker, age 21, says: “In many ways I still have a lot to learn about identifying as transgender, but what I definitely know is this: Ben being true to how he feels has made him happier as a person. As his oldest brother I have a responsibility to do my best to support his happiness, so supporting him becoming who he is now was an easy decision for me.”
The next oldest, 20-year-old Jordan Brockwell-Parker, is quick to say his acceptance of Ben is rooted in his upbringing. “When I was growing up my mum always taught me to respect that not everyone is the same as you. We all have differences and you either accept them for who they are, and if you can’t you leave them to their life and you get along with yours, but you never ever taunt them for their differences.”
Upon learning his sister was a trans boy, Jordan set upon learning what it meant. Then “the first time I spent time with Ben after that was no different to me than at any other time I had spent with my youngest sibling, nothing had changed in my eyes. Okay, I may have once had a sister, but Ben’s personality was the same, he still wore the same clothes and he was still the same cute and loving one minute / argue with you and be annoying the next, youngest sibling as I’d always had.”
And when Ben’s parents were sure he was on the way to boyhood, the hard word went out to all that this was how it was going to be, no exceptions.
“We contacted all our friends and our family and announced our news – that we had a new son – and we told them that we understood that it may be difficult for them but that we expected their love and support for Ben to be just the same as it had been for Anoushka. Fortunately most people accepted the situation immediately.”
By now some of you might be wondering how Ben can know at such a young age that he was born into the wrong gender. The realisation you’re not who you should be occurs in childhood far more often most would think. It was addressed by gender re-assignment specialist Dr. Marci Bowers on the Tyra Banks Show in early 2010, who said: “The average age of people who come to me for surgery is 48 years old. Of those 48 year olds, 90 percent of them report that they felt this way since the age of two, three, four, five years old… It doesn’t go away!”
Then there’s the whole clarification regarding the alignment of gender and sexuality, or more accurately the lack of, for as Tommy says: “The golden rule of thumb is that sexuality and gender are two different continuums and operate differently for every individual.”
Beccy’s research has taught her and Wes this vital lesson, one that’s helped them to embrace their son’s emerging identity at the earliest stage possible.
“There are some people who do not come out as transgender until after an age when they are sexually aware, but this tends to be after they have gone through a lot of soul-searching – and often after sexual experimentation with both males and females. More often than not they will say after they have come out as transgender things like ‘I never really felt like I was a boy/girl growing up’, ‘I never felt like I fitted in’, ‘I was born a female and when I slept with males it didn’t feel right, and when I slept with females it still didn’t feel right’ and they will have just tried to conform to societal norms for their assigned gender as best they can for that part of their life.
“As Ben matures into adolescence and his sexuality presents he may identify as a straight, he may identify as gay or he may be bisexual. As long as he is safe and happy, his gender identity and sexuality does not matter to us.”
That’s empirical love – plain, simple and unwavering. The nuts and bolts of rearing a trans* child, however, is not so straightforward and whether it’s Ben’s family or one of the others around New Zealand bringing up gender questioning kids, Rainbow Youth and other youth groups dotted around the country are charged with helping them bridge the gap.
Tommy says: “There are no resources out there for youth this young that are based in Aotearoa, but there are some good links online and a couple of texts Rainbow Youth refers whānau too. To be honest though, the support that Ben needs as an individual is not very well understood yet so therefore support for parents, schoolteachers or anyone else supporting Ben isn’t going to be great either.”
Beyond youth-specific groups, Genderbridge offers unique resources in New Zealand for those who are trans*, questioning and their families, but one book in particular has changed the game for Beccy, Wes and many backing Ben’s progress called The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals by Stephanie A. Brill and Rachel Pepper, recommended to them by Tommy.
“I had purchased and lent the book to the head teacher and some of the staff also borrowed it,” says Beccy who suggests buying a couple of copies so that “you can lend out as it saves you having to explain everything to other people who do care but don’t understand.”
Yes, day-to-day life for Ben comes with school-yard taunts, not to mention distinct discomfort around school bathrooms and even the impending process around his physical changes, later forays into dating and beyond; but it also comes with a heaping mound of acceptance and adoration from his family and newly-formed allies. At the top of the stack are Beccy and Wes whose mantra is to be his advocate, always. Beccy says: “When they are older they will be able to advocate for themselves far more easily, but when they are young they definitely need their parents and other adults to advocate for them too. If people can’t accept and love your child for who they are, let those people go if at all possible.
“We will bring him up with an anti-drug, anti-binge drinking and most important, anti-ignorance and bigotry message, and trust that his personal strength along with the support of us, his family and friends will help him through any adversity he may face.”
| Leif Wauters
Anyone who has a trans* child is encouraged to contact Beccy and Wes at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can read more about Ben and his family in a recent interview on www.curious.org.nz. More trans* resources are available through www.genderbridge.org and remember, Rainbow Youth and other youth-focused groups around NZ are here to support our questioning kids through the links here.