BY: MELISSA WALSH
FINDING A RAINBOW CONNECTION
illy is 10 and loves playing cards and learning the keyboard. She is bright and colourful in her rainbow tights, loves perfume but not makeup. She gets $5 pocket money as long as she does her chores, and usually spends it on lollies. She loves animals so much she has decided to be a vegetarian and is a little girl who knows her own mind. For Lilly and her mum Celeste the past two years has been life-changing as Lilly was born a boy, and is one of the 1.2 per cent of gender diverse children in Australia.
For mum Celeste coming to terms with the authentic gender of her child has been an evolving process, culminating in the founding of Rainbow Connections, a Hastings youth and family group that supports gender diverse children aged under 12. “It came about gradually over the years with Lilly at first having signs that could be put down to developmental age behaviour. Like other toddlers Lilly, who was a boy at the time, would want to wear princess dresses, crowns and tiaras and makeup. The difference was that once she ended up going to school she still wanted to be a girl and asked people to call her by her preferred name Lilly,” said Celeste. ”By the time she was in year two the intensity of aligning with the female gender was strong and I was at my wits' end. I didn’t know what to do and I lived in fear. My family network is small and my largest support network was my church. I knew from the sermons at the church that it was going to be difficult. I was not being a supportive parent to her. I would shut her down and wouldn’t even give her the opportunity to say how she was feeling.” For Lilly her requests were simple. She wanted to be called by her preferred name, be able to use the girls' toilets and stand in the girls' line at school. She wanted to be treated like the gender she felt she was but at only eight years of age it is hard to have a voice so Lilly was ostracised and bullied at school. “She would say to me ‘Can I wear this dress?’ and I would say ‘No’. She would ask me to call her Lilly and I would say ‘No”. It was an extremely stressful household and I realised I needed to do something so I ended up at a paediatrician who referred me to the Royal Children’s Hospital Gender Clinic which blew me away. There I sat in a room with 12 parents with the youngest child six and Lilly who was eight and all these parents were saying the same things I was feeling. It was surreal. Michelle Telfar the leading paediatrician at the gender clinic and Campbell Paul the leading psychiatrist, showed us a video on mental health and gender diversity that explained the statistics that 30 per cent of youth under 18 will attempt suicide and 50 per cent will self-harm. When they explained that I realised I had no choice but to support my child. I wanted a live child, not a dead one, and knew that now we had to work out how to navigate through friends and family in this next chapter of our lives.” That life-altering moment was in November 2014. Celeste cried all the way home, and spent the next week apologising and reconnecting with her child. “I told her I would support her and never fight her on this. The church offered me prayer to have Satan removed and I denied the offer which basically meant we could no longer go there. That was terrifying knowing that 150 people were out of our lives for good,” she said. However as one door closes another one opens as Celeste and Lilly soon discovered.