Zachy AveryAt 4 years old, kids are just starting to exert their independence and make choices for themselves—what they want to wear, what they like (and don’t like) to eat, what songs they love to listen to and shows to watch on TV. When Zach Avery turned 4, he decided he no longer wanted to be a boy. At all. His parents, naturally, were a little thrown off; his mom said he had been a “normal” little boy until suddenly, at the end of 2010, he decided he wanted to live as a girl.
Eventually, their son—who now prefers long, blonde pigtails to his former short haircut and traded in Thomas the Tank Engine for Dora the Explorer—was diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder (GID), one of the youngest kids to ever have their decision backed by the National Health Service in London. For more than a year now, he’s been living his life as “Zachy.”
When he was 3, he started gravitating to pink dresses and tutus. His mother, Theresa, says: “He just turned round to me one day when he was 3 and said, ‘Mummy, I'm a girl.’ I assumed he was just going through a phase and just left it at that. But then it got serious and he would become upset if anyone referred to him as a boy. He used to cry and try to cut off his willy out of frustration.” Now that’s just heartbreaking.
Although he has a male body, specialists say the disorder in Zach’s brain is telling him he’s a girl. The conflict can be devastating, as we’ve seen in more and more stories about kids who break under the burden of bullying, family criticism, or their own feelings. Fortunately, he has the support of both his parents and his community—his elementary school has even made their restrooms gender-neutral to take the pressure off of him. Teachers address him as a girl, which is what he wants, and have been helpful in explaining to his fellow students that Zach's body is male but in his brain, he is female.
“We said, ‘Zach was just happier being a girl than a boy,’” his mom told them.
And because they’re young and innocent and sweet and untainted by the opinions of the world, his classmates haven’t batted an eye at the news. Zach even wears the girls’ uniform to school, which is trimmed in pink.
His parents alternate between calling him “Zach” and “Zachy,” “him” and “her,” (hence why I’ve gone back and forth in writing this), and his mom admits that she misses her little boy and would love to have him back, but that ultimately, she just wants him to be happy. Still, Zach’s parents have outfitted his wardrobe with girls’ clothes—and a few gender-neutral numbers in case he ever wants to wear them. "We leave it up to him to decide what he wants to do—if he changes his mind and wants to be a boy again then he does, but if he doesn't, he doesn't,” she said. She’s also working to build awareness about the disorder.
I’ve purposely backed away from wielding my normally fiery opinion because I haven’t completely worked out my thoughts on gender identity, particularly in children. Once upon a time, it was a black and white issue in my book. Don’t appease that nonsense, case closed. Now, not so much. But I do feel like every kid deserves to be supported and listened to, though I can only imagine how difficult the news must be for some parents. I always try to put myself in the position of other folks and I’m not even gonna lie: this would be a hard pill for me to swallow. So I give all the kudos to the people around Zach for expressing love, patience, and encouragement through his decision-making and transition.
Incidentally, more than 160 kids were diagnosed with GID in England alone last year, but numbers may be much higher as kids and parents both struggle with identifying and accepting the signs. Only seven kids under the age of 5 were diagnosed last year, and Zach was one of the youngest.
Be honest: if your child came to you and said they wanted to be the opposite sex, how would you react?