Roland with his wife and daughter Maddi on the set of Insight.
I was so proud the day our second son Maddokk was born. He was just perfect and I felt so lucky to be the Dad of two brilliant little boys. By the time our third son arrived we began to notice our burly little number two's behaviour was beginning to reflect the exact opposite of his big brother’s.
Dressing Maddokk increasingly became a challenge as he was often offended when we tried putting him in his brother’s hand-me-downs emblazoned with cars and skulls.
The two 'Dora' t-shirts we owned were on high rotation and were soon accompanied by headbands, clips and bracelets. I often questioned this as I was not sure if we were enabling choices that would be detrimental down the track. I did however ultimately see just how happy our child was and felt no harm could be done – he is just a little boy, he'll probably just grow out of this phase soon, especially with kindergarten fast approaching.
Maddi on the set of Insight.
This 'phase', however, lasted throughout two years of pre-school. It withstood teasing and isolation from other children and even our attempts at telling Maddokk that, “you may feel like a girl, but you have a penis and you ARE a boy” as we had been advised to reinforce.
We then took the giant step into primary school, where our little five-year old skipped off happily in new shorts and a polo top accompanied by little pigtails and new black runners with hot pink shoelaces.
All of this was one giant compromise as our child just could not understand why a school dress and a pair of Mary Janes could not be worn. This prep year was a steep learning curve for us as parents who were told to just keep reinforcing to our child that they are, in fact, a boy.
Maddokk had melt downs when the 'girls' and the 'boys' ran separately in races and when kids yelled “you can’t be in here, you’re a girl” when going to the toilet. The big one happened on ‘dress up as your favourite book character’ day. Our first son was set to go as a Transformer with no questions asked, and Maddokk was going to be Cinderella.
We spent many nights reading other books with more gender neutral subjects, The Cat in the Hat, The Hungry Caterpillar, Harry Potter, and suggesting this may be an easier way to go. The response we got was “fine then, I will be Ariel' (The Little Mermaid), followed by “oh ok then, I will go as Snow White”. We were starting to realise this was not something anyone could deny or fight against – our little number two son was really our daughter.
We did not actually make it to school that day as we felt we would be opening our daughter up to too much criticism from others that none of us were ready for. Instead we all went to the shops, with Optimus Prime and Snow White. This day was my big wake up call, our child had been screaming at us her whole life and I finally heard her. We let her know that we would try to make others understand but that it may take some time.
Our daughter soon asked us and her class mates to call her Maddi and we just kept on keeping on feeling everything was fine. Almost a year later, however, we had a couple of weeks where Maddi was hitting herself trying to “get the boy out”, as she described it, and we found a lot of aggressive graffiti in notebooks and written all over her dresser.
We realised things were not going along as well as we had thought. After a long night of tears and far too much emotion for a father to deal with, Maddi told us that “sometimes I just feel really angry and frustrated”. It was then that I knew we needed to step up and give this little girl the life she deserved, the one all other little girls were living. We transitioned from male to female at school, at dancing and with all other friends and family.
Initially we had a few minor issues at school, mostly over which toilet Maddi was permitted to use. Maddi, understandably was using the girls’ toilets, however this was not allowed at the beginning. We initially went along with it until Maddi started holding on and not using any toilet. We approached the school and they were very proactive. Within a day we could use the girls’ toilets! It was amazing just how happy our little girl was when we told her.
The only real hurdles we have come across since have been with parents – it was parents that complained about Maddi using the girls’ toilets, and parents that told their children “that’s not right, a boy dressed up like a girl”, but even that has been minimal. All the kids in Maddi's life pretty much accepted her instantly. Most children did not even struggle with the name change or using 'she'.
From the moment we transitioned, we had a completely different child. Maddi had never been so calm, confident and happy as she was now, living her truth as a girl. I was proud when my second son was born, but that pride is nothing compared to what I feel for my strong, courageous, confident and beautiful young daughter.
Roland, Maddi and Maddi’s mother Beck are guests on SBS's Insight program tonight at 8.30pm on SBS ONE which looks at the increase of young people presenting as transgender. Insight speaks with children and their families, asking how parents can be sure whether their child is transgender and how they chose to deal with it.