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Girl/Boy Interrupted 

A new treatment for transgender kids puts puberty on hold so that they won't develop into their biological sex

Wednesday, Jul 11 2007
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Page 5 of 6

"She's taller than you," blurts out Juan's seven-year-old niece.

Not what a 14-year-old guy wants to hear, but Juan doesn't flinch. In this life, at this South Bay school, his identity is solid, his male status a commonly held truth. But just blocks and three years away sits Juan's old elementary school, where the truth was different. There, kids knew him by another name. There, kids knew him as a girl.

Juan has been on Lupron for two and a half years, sometime after he took down the pictures in the house where he appeared as a girl, said goodbye to his fifth-grade classmates for good, and showed up for sixth grade with a new identity.

Without the monthly Lupron injections, Juan would have breasts by now. He would most likely be shaving his legs, whereas they still only have the slightest whisps of hair. Without the nightly shot of the growth-stimulating hormone, he would likely be shorter than he is, and he's still only 5-2, just taller than his mom. But because of Lupron, he passes as 100 percent boy, and for now, everything rests on nobody knowing any differently. (His name has been changed for this story.)

Before Juan showed up at his new school three years ago, his mother worked out the ground rules with the school for the stealth experiment: The staff would know and Juan would use the nurse's bathroom. During the first few days of school, Juan sometimes didn't respond to his new name, his teacher recalls. She warned him that boys don't dot their "i's" with hearts, and his handwriting got less loopy. His seventh-grade teacher kept the attendance list where Juan was still marked "F" for female in her desk. When a kid noticed that Juan had an "F" by his name for his physical fitness test, the teacher made a fast save: Those state bureaucrats must have made a mistake, she joked. She remembers Juan looked a little sick, but they pulled it off.

Funny, outgoing, and, with his long lashes and delicate features, Juan is pretty cute. The ladies loved him, "and they were the very beautiful popular girls," a teacher remembers. His sixth-grade teacher talked with him outside of class about his string of girlfriends: Was it really fair to the girls if they think they're dating a boy? When in seventh grade Juan started dating a girl who had older brothers who would spell trouble if Juan were to be found out, the school staff got worried. Juan's mom thought they were overreacting. After a chat with the Transgender Law Center, the staff decided they couldn't ban him from having girlfriends. But the romance seemed to fizzle anyway, and Juan started a "girls are too much drama" line that many boys copied from him. But it didn't last long, and soon, he was holding hands and slow dancing with girls again, his teachers recall.

He's gotten good at cover-up strategies. While Juan's mom recounted in the family's living room how Juan cried when he had to wear skirts to elementary school, his niece, who, like the other young relatives, don't know he was born a girl, grabbed his shoulders:

"You're a girl?"

"No."

"Why did you wear a skirt on the first day of kindergarten?"

"Why did you wear a skirt on the first day of kindergarten?" he shoots back.

"Because I'm a girl," she answers, seems to lose interest, and bounces out of the room. Did that bother Juan? He nods, eyebrows knit.

On weekends or breaks, Juan flew to transgender conferences. He'd sit on panels of transgender kids. He'd read a poem he penned at Transgender Day of Remembrance. His mother said he'd then go back to school, the monthly Lupron shots at Kaiser Permanente Vallejo Medical Center sustaining his secret.

"He kind of has this double life," his eighth-grade teacher says. "He's so scared but so brave. I wish he would've [come out]. I'm just scared to death some mean person is going to find out and hurt him with it."

Back at graduation, Juan accepts his diploma and walks out into a congested lobby. A high school hottie in bloom who hasn't seen him for a year hugs him, pressing her body into his side and rocking back and forth. Juan looks a little overwhelmed by the ferocity of her ardor, but doesn't pull away. She kisses him goodbye on the cheek. Out on the sidewalk, a petite bespectacled girl takes a running leap at him that knocks him off balance: "Juan! I gotta hug yoooooou!" A few last hugs and pictures, and Juan climbs into the car and shoots a backward peace sign to a classmate from the window. "I'm going to miss them all," he says.

Done. He pulled it off for three years. Next stop: high school and a whole new set of people to convince. But by the time the first day rolls around, Juan might have a little help from his body to back him up. He got his first testosterone shot the week he turned 14 in May, and the facial hair and low voice are on the way.


Marty chases the Spalding basketball across the asphalt, past the girls on the swings, past his mom Margaret observing from a bench. "I'm trying to shoot from the three!" he yells, before dribbling back to the court, the long late-afternoon shadow of a boy in a baseball hat pattering alongside.

"Would you ever mistake him for a girl?" Margaret marvels. "He looks like a baseball player running out to take his post at second base or something."

Both mothers say they've gotten used to Marty as a boy. They rarely slip on pronouns anymore, and admit that they're sometimes caught off-guard when Marty strips for a bath and they realize he's still a physical girl. When he budded breasts, Janet says she revisited the sadness of losing her daughter.

About The Author

Lauren Smiley

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