‘My son tried to cut off his penis at 4 – now he’s a girl!’
Tuesday 02 October 2012
As a two year old, Danann Tyler demanded to wear pink dresses and grow his hair long.
But, while his parents put it down to a phase, when they caught him trying to cut off his penis with scissors aged four, they sought professional help.
Terrified and confused, mum Sarah and dad Bill didn’t know what to think, and experts struggled to explain his behaviour – then, aged six, doctors diagnosed Danann with gender identity disorder, a condition where sufferers are unhappy with their sex.
Controversially, the couple made the decision to bring him up as their daughter, despite his young age, allowing him to grow his hair and wear girls’ clothes full time, even to school.
Now, Sarah, 39, says Danann – who hasn’t changed her name as it’s unisex – is happy for the first time – and Sarah says she’ll even support Danann if she wants a full sex-change op at 15.
Danaan as a little boy
Sarah says: “People might think she’s too young, but it’s best for Danann we make the transformation now so she won’t struggle through puberty. She’s a different child now she’s living as a girl – I know we made the right decision. She’s happy, outgoing and doing well at school. This is who she wants to be.”
An unhappy two year old
Yoga instructor Sarah, who lives in California with her older son James, 11, and her police officer husband, Bill, 45, first noticed Danann was unhappy aged two.
She recalls: “I picked him up from a friend’s who has a little girl and found him wearing a Cinderella dress, mini high heels and with pink painted nails. When I made him take the clothes off, he started crying.”
Over the next few months, Danann repeatedly demanded to wear girls’ clothes. Sarah says: “He’d scream when I tried to put him in boys’ clothes and, when I picked him up from nursery, I noticed he’d be playing in the miniature kitchen with the girls and didn’t like trucks or action figures. I assumed it was a phase.”
But, astonishingly, Danann also began drawing pictures of himself as a girl – worryingly, with an unhappy face.
Sarah says: “It really disturbed me seeing him so down. Bill was really freaked out.”
Sarah took Danann to see a paediatrician, who agreed his behaviour was a phase. But, by the time he turned three, Danann’s tantrums worsened.
Sarah explains: “He got really upset when I referred to him as a boy and kept asking me why he had a penis. He’d scream if I wanted to cut his hair. I occasionally let him wear pink T-shirts and necklaces under his clothes, but Bill wasn’t happy. He’s a man’s man – he didn’t like his son looking girlie.”
“I found him in the playroom trying to cut off his penis with a pair of craft scissors."
And when Danann turned four, Sarah made a shocking discovery. She recalls: “I found him in the playroom trying to cut off his penis with a pair of craft scissors. He was weirdly calm, saying: ‘I’m getting rid of this.’ I felt sick – but luckily he just had a few minor cuts.”
A week later, Danann’s GP referred him to a psychologist who told Sarah he was attention- seeking. But she wasn’t convinced it was that simple.
Sarah explains: “I wondered whether Danann was gay – at school, he started trying to use the girls’ toilets and queuing with the girls when they were divided into groups. Luckily, most children at his primary school were accepting.”
Meanwhile, as Sarah worried, Bill became increasingly angry about Danann’s behaviour. Sarah reveals: “We’d row. He wanted Danann to behave like a boy – but I just wanted him to be happy. I found myself secretly letting Danann wear a Cinderella T-shirt.
“I confided in pals about it and two gay friends agreed they thought he could be gay, but that his behaviour was very extreme. I was still left puzzled.”
Over the next two years, Danann was misdiagnosed with ADHD and bipolar disorder as Sarah sought answers. She says: “His schoolwork suffered and he started lashing out when I dressed him. I’d have bite marks and bruises. I was devastated.”
Gender Identity Disorder
The situation came to a head when, aged six, Danann flew into a rage after Sarah refused to let him wear a dress to a party. She says: “He jumped out of the car and ran into traffic saying ‘I want to die.’”
Sarah contacted her local hospital and Danann was seen by a psychiatrist. After a month of genetic tests and therapy, he diagnosed Danann with gender identity disorder – and, despite his young age, said he needed to start living as a girl.
Sarah explains: “He assured us there was nothing psychologically wrong with Danann – but we were shocked. Bill said he didn’t want any part of it. But for me, everything seemed to fall into place.”
The pair were stunned into disbelief for a week, but say watching a DVD about transgender children helped them come to terms with the diagnosis.
Sarah recalls: “We realised we weren’t alone and other families were experiencing this. I was so sad to let go of my little boy – but I knew Danann would be happy as a girl. It seemed so surreal to be making that decision, but I felt there was no alternative.”
The next day, Sarah explained what was going on to Danann. She says: “I told him he’d been born with a girl brain and a boy body. He just said calmly: ‘I’m a girl, I know.’ I explained we’d treat him as a girl, let him wear girls’ clothes at home and call him ‘she’ from now on.
“And when I said we could go shopping for clothes, Danann couldn’t stop smiling. She chose frilly pink dresses and sparkly shoes. We also bought some dolls. She was immediately less withdrawn. It was still strange – I’d never had a daughter – but I knew I had to do it for her.”
Danaan as a girl
Two months later, aged seven, Danann started a new school and began dressing as a girl there too. Sarah says:
“We met with the headmaster and they were happy – but we decided not to tell the other children. We cut Danann’s hair into a bob, so they didn’t guess. Danann didn’t seem to struggle, she referred to herself as a girl and hung out with the other girls – like she always had.”
Sarah also confided in her friends and family, who were mainly supportive, although Bill’s family struggled to accept the decision.
Sarah adds: “I’d often get my ‘he’s and ‘she’s muddled up, but I got used to it quickly as Danann was so girlie.”
Now, two years on, nine-year-old Danann is doing well at school and is even a member of the Girl Scouts. Sarah says: “Bill and I are getting on so much better, although it took time for him to accept things. Now Danann’s a real daddy’s girl. He takes her shopping and they’re closer than ever. James is also coping well – he’s very protective of his sister.”
She adds: “Danann wanted to throw out all her boys’ clothes, but I’ve kept the pictures. I look at them and sometimes miss my little boy. But I know Danann is much happier as a girl.”
Now Sarah says she’ll wait until Danann hits puberty before taking the transformation further. She says: “The next step would be hormone treatment, but that’s her decision.
“If she wants to, she’ll take hormone blockers around 10, then start female hormone treatment at 15, which will make her skin softer, reduce body hair growth and encourage breasts to grow. I’d let her have sex-change surgery at that age – I know it’s been done before and I think at that age she’ll know for sure what she wants.”
She adds: “People may criticise, but I couldn’t have forced Danann to live as a boy. I’m glad she’s finally happy in her own skin.”
By Francine Anker