By Martha Hewett @Martha Hewett
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Videographer / director: Elie Khadra
Producer: Martha Hewett, James Thorne
Editor: Sonia Estal
PARENTS of two transgender children say they are not pushing an agenda, but instead supporting their kids with acceptance and love.
James Kaplan, 11, and Olivia, 7, live with their parents, Ben and Sara, in Berkeley, California.
The family are sharing their story with the hope of normalising the narrative surrounding trans children.
Sara told Barcroft TV: “The reaction when people hear that we have two trans kids is shock and awe.
“A lot of people think that it must be a copycat situation where the younger one is just mimicking the older one.”
James was eight years old when he told his parents he wanted to transition from female to male – he was in second grade.
Olivia was four when she said she was transgender – but didn’t begin socially transitioning and using female pronouns until she was five years old and entering kindergarten.
In reference to Olivia’s transition, Sara said: “It was less shocking because we had just had a child transition – we had educated ourselves about gender.
“We were far more experienced in how to move through the transition as parents,” added Ben.
When James was eight, he began socially transitioning. He had a haircut, shopped for boy’s clothes and asked his peers to use male pronouns.
Last year, he changed his name legally.
“I have always been a boy,” James said. “Before I transitioned, I had a piece missing and it didn’t feel right.
“I was nervous to tell my parents, but when I did, they said they accepted me. I was happy because I know a lot of trans kids don’t have that, and that’s sad.”
Olivia added: “Being trans means you were born in the gender that you don’t feel in your heart – anyone can be whoever they want to be, and it doesn’t matter what your opinion is.”
When Olivia told James about her transition, he was very proud of how brave she had been.
However, like with most siblings, he admits there was the usual competitiveness.
“I reacted to Olivia transitioning like most older siblings would – even though I’m trans,” James explained. “I was a little confused at first and got a little defensive because I thought it was my thing.
“But after like a day of that, I saw that Olivia is a girl and she always will be.”
For Olivia, having her big brother understand was key: “He was my first supporter and it made me feel very confident that I would have many more.”
A month ago, James started hormone blockers – an implant which prevents him beginning puberty, notably his menstruation cycle and breast development, which would be distressing.
When discussing the decision, James said: “I’m a guy, and if any other guy thought about being a woman, that’s uncomfortable.”
James is now waiting to begin testosterone, which would be the first permanent action he takes towards transitioning as the process would affect his fertility.
Olivia, however, is too young to have any medical treatment for her transition yet.
Sara explained: “We have lots of time as she’s only seven – the first thing would be a hormone blocker and that’s not until she would hit the tanner stage two of puberty, so for now, we follow her lead.
“And we parent, for those who think we just follow our children around doing nothing,” quipped Ben.
Ben and Sara want to educate those who accuse them of imposing an agenda on their kids.
“The reason that we chose to be public at this point is because having two transgender children is not that unique, but it’s very difficult to advocate for the second child without it looking like there’s a problem in the house,” Sara explained.
“It looks like there is an agenda,” she said. “Like the mother is sick, and that’s not the case here.”
Ben added: “It tends to fall on the mother, and I get feedback that I’m just complicit and just sitting here watching, which is untrue - I am a faithful father, and I love my children dearly.”
Naturally, there were times where the process wasn’t easy.
“There was a grieving process for me when they transitioned, and it wasn’t because I didn’t love them anymore. It had to do with my own misunderstandings and my own biases. It had to do with navigating a world that I knew nothing about,” Ben explained.
Ben and Sara, through learning and teaching others, are determined that their children live without stigma.
“We are on the right side of history and we are not going to allow our kids to feel shame or fear based on other people – they deserve to feel loved and accepted.”
“We are going about this because we are listening to our children and because are doing a lot of research, which has proven we are doing the right thing,” Ben added.
The alarming statistics of suicide amongst trans children whose families are not supportive terrified Ben and Sara.
They knew the only thing their children should feel from them is love and acceptance.
Sara and Ben check in with their children often, to see if they are happy and confident in the gender they are in, to rule out any kind of wavering.
“We will love and accept them if they come to us tomorrow and say they’ve changed their mind,” Sara said. “And we will love and accept them if they don’t.”
It is this familial environment that has enabled James and Olivia to feel confident with who they are and the decisions they make regarding their identity.
For James, being trans is one of the least extraordinary things about them: “Being trans is just a little part of me – there’s so much more to me than being trans.”
“I would say we are not different,” Olivia continued. “We shouldn’t be treated better or worse.”