PAWTUCKET, R.I. (WPRI) -- A Pawtucket family has organized a first-of-its-kind support group for young transgender children. Using their experiences as a family, they hope to help children navigate the challenges of growing up in the wrong body .
Hannah Rini, was born a boy named Sebastian. She was 10 years old when she first told her parents she was transgender.
"Well there was one day she came home after being educated about what sex change operations were," said Michelle Rini, Hannah's mother. "She walked into the house and she said 'I want to be a girl.'"
Even though Rini admitted she had always thought her child to be a little effeminate, she said she still didn't see it coming.
"She always had stereotypical male interests," said Rini. "It was kind of a surprise to me."
It was Hannah's persistent and insistent belief that she had been born in the wrong body that led the Rini family to Dr. Michele Forcier, a pediatrician at Hasbro Children's Hospital.
Dr. Forcier treats dozens of gender non-conforming children at her clinic, some as young as 9 years old.
"It's not something that's trendy, chic or cool," said Dr. Forcier. "It's something where a kid realizes my brain says I'm a boy, but I've got girl parts and that's not okay, or my brain says I'm a girl."
Under Dr. Forcier's care, Hannah has been taking puberty blockers to stave off any physical changes to her body, giving her time to think about whether she is ready to make the commitment to cross-hormones that will permanently change her body.
Long performed by physicians in the Netherlands, Dr. Forcier's treatment using puberty blockers has met some resistance.
"When I talk with parents they're like 'well isn't this playing God -- you're changing gender.' Well, is giving insulin to a diabetic playing God?" Dr. Forcier asked rhetorically. "We're like, no, we can do something to help you."
Dr. Forcier told Eyewitness News children as young as toddlers already have a sense of whether they are in the "correct" body. Forcier said the surety of her younger patients did not come as a surprise.
"They have sometimes a more sophisticated way of thinking about things," said Forcier. "They've struggled with major topics like 'Who am I?' and 'My gender and my brain don't match.'"
The summer before sixth grade, Hannah transitioned from Sebastian into the lip gloss-wearing, still skateboard-riding little girl she had imagined herself to be.
Before transitioning, school wasn't easy for Hannah. Though she said she wasn't bullied, her Tourette's ticks had intensified and her anxiety was high.
"As Sebastian I couldn't go to school without inducing myself to throw up," said Hannah.
She said that all changed the first day of sixth grade. With longer hair and a new sense of confidence, that was when she introduced herself to her classmates as Hannah.
"A very amazing experience," recalled Hannah. "I knew who I was and I felt really good about myself."
As a result, she noticed fewer ticks, less stress and more interest in her school work.
However, for many transgender children, transitions aren't always as easy as Hannah's.
Eyewitness News dug into the latest studies from the Centers for Disease Control. Statistics show most transgender children are bullied, with eight out of 10 verbally harassed in school. Almost half or about 41 percent of transgender people have attempted suicide. The numbers are even higher for those transgender people who haven't transitioned.
At 12 years old, Hannah knows she's fortunate to have supportive parents. Her mother Michelle educated herself and attended meetings of the Greater Providence Chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, known as PFLAG.
However, finding little support specifically addressing transgender people, Rini started TransFamily New England; a free and confidential group for family members of transgender, gender variant or intersex people. The monthly meetings aim to offer a safe space where families can work out many issues familiar to the Rini family.
With assistance from administrators in Pawtucket public schools, Hannah's name has been changed from Sebastian Rini to S. Hannah Rini, so as not to confuse substitute teachers. Hannah uses a separate restroom in school.
Health insurance coverage has also been an issue. Many insurance companies will not insure transgender children nor will they pay for any related medications or the expensive sex change operation Hannah expects to undergo.
Despite the challenges and the looming unknown of what is to come with the start of junior high school in August, Hannah has already honed a personal mantra that she offers in support of other transgender children.
"All you need to think about is being yourself. That's the key to success."
TransFamily New England meets in Providence the second Tuesday of each month. For more information on TransFamily New England and meeting locations, email email@example.com
Copyright WPRI 12
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