Elle Wright at her home in Byron Bay. Photo: Paul Harris
Elle Wright's eight-year-old daughter just wants to be a boy. And while the road ahead is unclear, it's one she is determined they will travel together.
I was driving along in the car recently when my daughter, Ruby*, asked if she could go to the doctor's and get a penis. She's eight. My breath caught in my throat, and without taking my eyes off the road, I said I'd have to Google it when I got home.
The first time I noticed that Ruby only wanted to play with Tonka trucks and tool belts was when she was about two years old. She showed no interest in any of her doll houses or tea sets. By the time she was three, she simply refused to wear anything even remotely girlish.
I had a beautiful Mexican embroidered dress I wanted her to wear one day, and that was the final showdown. She kicked and screamed the house down. From then on we would only shop in the boys' clothing department, where she would pick out what she wanted: board shorts, jeans and T-shirts. Strictly no pastels.
I sent Ruby to an alternative philosophy pre-school, thinking they would be accepting of her wishes, but they only tried to make her conform to what they felt was acceptable. They told her that her favourite grey stonewash jeans and her T-shirts were not suitable colours to wear at their school, and requested she wear brighter colours and "girls' clothes".
I wouldn't force her to do this at home, so they suggested I put a change of clothes in her school bag that was more aligned with their wishes. I tried to defend Ruby's preferences, but in the end I did as they requested and packed a black-and-white dress with little red pom-poms on the hem.
Then one day I picked her up from school and they told me they realised it wasn't worth the fight. They had tried to make Ruby put on the dress, but she caused such a furore that they finally understood what I was talking about. They simply could not change her; literally and figuratively. I had to smile.
Now she's in primary school, Ruby wants to be called "Jack Black" (even though she's never laid eyes on the actor). She likes her hair short, with a long swept-over fringe like the guys you see in music videos. She carries herself with a swagger, and rides skateboards and surfs as well as kids twice her age.
Until recently she had no interaction with the girls at school. It's all been about playing rough-and-tumble games with the boys. As she's getting older, I'm noticing she's making a few connections with girls, but it's definitely a different dynamic: a dynamic I don't feel the need to label at this young age.
There was a school camp where the sexes were separated for sleeping and Ruby was devastated when she was put in the girls' tent. She tried to cajole the volunteer parents into believing she was a boy, but didn't succeed. Wherever we go, people always call her "mate" and "boy". She never corrects them, and I rarely do. I barely even think about it any more.
On more than one occasion, other parents have commented on my parenting. Once, a couple of mothers suggested I must have wanted a son because of the way
I encourage Ruby to dress and behave as she does. I was shocked. I ran away and got into my car shaking with anger. I'd never felt more judged. I've also never been more resolute about letting Ruby be herself.
This type of confrontation still happens, but it has never affected me quite the way it did that day. Perhaps I've steeled myself, or conversely maybe I've relaxed.
When Ruby was six, her principal called me and said he believed Ruby's boyishness was more than just her being a tomboy. He suggested I research gender-identity issues and gender dysphoria. I've always known there was more to her wanting to be a boy but when he spoke with me about it, it made me realise that we needed to start looking at it more closely. I now have an awareness of the implications of gender-identity issues, and what our options are in the future.
At eight years of age, Ruby is still so young, and I have no idea what the next few years will bring. But this has been present in Ruby forever, so I'm not going to overlook or ignore it. After speaking with support and advocacy group A Gender Agenda, I understand that puberty can be a time of great distress for kids who have gender confusion. Depression and suicide are risks at this time. I believe with love and support you can tackle anything, so I'm going to be as prepared as
I can be with information to help Ruby with whatever direction she chooses for her life.
One possibility I've been told about is the use of medications to slow down the progress of puberty. This way, kids have more time to develop emotional maturity, and to decide whether they want to take hormones and begin "gender reassignment", so they can live as the person they feel they truly are.
I can't imagine how confusing it must be to feel you're not in the right skin.
I have no idea what the future holds for Ruby, but whatever the outcome, I'm firmly in her corner and we'll tackle it as a team. •
*Name has been changed.