Never too late to choose the life you want video

David Unwin/Stuff

Skye Shaddix talks about his transgender journey.

Even at the age of 5, Skye knew he was different.

His memories of Britain and preschool are fragmented by youth. But he recalls mirror shards of early life – an unworn dress that hangs limp in his wardrobe. A lack of interest in making daisy-chains. A burning desire to play rugby outside in the rain and mud. 

But there was one problem. Skye was born a girl.

Skye Shaddix talks about his transgender journey and his breast reduction surgery.
David Unwin/Fairfax NZ

Skye Shaddix talks about his transgender journey and his breast reduction surgery.

Looking back, Skye Shaddix​, now 22, realises these were the first clues of a transgender journey that would lead to him identifying as a man.

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"It was always a struggle for my parents to get me in nice, pretty clothes. I think I had a couple of dresses that just sat in my wardrobe and never really got worn. 

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"I think my parents just assumed I was a tomboy and that's kind of what I thought I was at the time."

When Skye was 13, and living in Wellington, he came out to his friends and family as a lesbian. But he says that was just a "temporary fit".

"Puberty hit and things kind of went haywire. I just knew I didn't fit in with everyone else. They were all busy talking about dresses and makeup and I was like – 'I don't like any of those things'.

"I didn't realise there was anything I could do about it."

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Skye changed to an all-girls' school and at 15, a chance encounter with a peer became the catalyst for his change.

"I found someone in the year above me who was identifying as male as well and had a chat with him. Something kind of clicked." 

After researching anything and everything about transgender people, Skye realised he could do something about how he felt.

He realised had a choice. 

In his last year of school, Skye came out as transgender.

He says his teachers were supportive and called him by his chosen male name. Most of his peers had a suspicion, so it wasn't a surprise to them, he says.

And, luckily, year 13 students got to wear mufti. 

Among his family, being transgender was "never really talked about".

But after five years of identifying and feeling like a man, he says his family are slowly getting used to the transition.

"They still use female pronouns, which looks kind of funny in the middle of the supermarket when I have a full beard and they're like, 'my daughter'," he says. 

But at Christmas his family finally started calling him Skye, his chosen male name.

As Skye no longer identifies as a woman,  he chose not to share his previous female name. 

"Listening to other trans-narratives, I've had a similar story to most people. I knew something wasn't quite right at a young age but I didn't have the vocabulary to be able to explain it."

Skye says the medical side to his transgender journey continues to be a long process.

For the past 2½ years his life has consisted of hormone treatments, waiting lists, consultations, referrals from GPs and endocrinologists, medical bills and paperwork hurdles. 

He says while there are some great surgeons in New Zealand, the options here compared to countries like Thailand and the United States, were "quite limited". 

"I went to Thailand privately for my chest reconstruction just over a year ago. I was lucky and got my inheritance at 21 and was like, I know what that's being spent on."

The surgery to remove his breasts was successful. However, following the surgery, there was a lack of blood flow to his nipples and they eventually fell off.

Skye's name is legally changed. With the exception of his British birth certificate, Skye is identified as male on all of his passports, licences and paperwork. He is trying to get the gender on his birth certificate changed.

The next step in his medical journey is to have a hysterectomy, but he says his age is a barrier. 

"They're worried about young people changing their minds about fertility. Even though I know I wasn't fertile even before having testosterone, it was never an option for me – I have never wanted a child of my own."

Skye says the transgender community in New Zealand is growing. "Especially in the online groups in New Zealand, there has been a massive increase in numbers, I would say in the last year or so. A lot more people are realising that gender isn't just male or female, it's kind of that in-between as well."

 

Annabel Hardy, 29, has opened up about her experience transitioning to a woman. 

FROM MALE TO FEMALE

For Massey University student Annabel Hardy, her transgender journey started later in life. 

She says she dressed in a regular way growing up, and had a normal childhood as a boy. 

But things changed during adolescence. 

"Back when I was 17 I started listening to proper metal, and I wanted to grow my hair long." 

At the time she thought she was fitting in to the trending music scene. But looking back, the now 29-year-old says this was a way to express herself and begin identifying as a woman. 

She just didn't realise it at the time. 

For 12 years of her teenage and adult life, Annabel wore black clothes every single day. Well-worn black pants, T-shirts, coats and shoes filled her wardrobe to the brim.

"Basically, I was wearing all black, which was to notice my body less. Plus it kind of helped that I was into metal. It was quite compatible with some of those styles," she says. 

Everything clicked into place for Annabel after trying on a piece of woman's clothing.

At a student flat party in Palmerston North last year, Annabel became infatuated with a friend's cream-coloured, see-through cardigan. 

Instead of joining her friends on a night out in town, Annabel stayed behind.

She waited for everyone to leave before trying the cardigan on. 

"It was freaky, but when I tried it on it was just really energising. It just felt right."

She says before that moment, the idea of cross-dressing freaked her out. 

"You get entrenched in these socialised values – you can't be this, you can't look like this. I guess it's kind of a bit of repression going on there."

But she says the woman's cardigan made her feel like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. And it was that cardigan that acted as a catalyst in Annabel's transgender journey. 

"I just thought, there's not much difference between genders but I was comparing myself to women and I started thinking and exploring a lot of things. I just felt there was a female part of me and that led to me figuring out that there was no male part at all.

"There were lots and lots of clues over the years that just didn't register for some reason. Many trans people know from when they were younger, they figure it out at a certain point but some of us kind of don't quite click on to it."

Like Skye, Annabel didn't want to share the name she was given to at birth because it was the kind of thing "to put behind". 

In January 2016, Annabel began her transition to become a woman. Since then she has been working on her image and voice and for the past two months she has been on hormone treatment. 

She is hoping to start facial hair-loss treatment in November, which will cost about $2000 in total. 

"I think not having to shave and being able to feel a smooth face, it would be amazing. Everything would just feel right." 

Annabel says since her transition, her family and university friends have been supportive and for the first time she feels on top of her university life and assignments.

While her next step in her transgender story is funding her hair-loss treatment, she says surgeries could be an option in the future.

"Bottom surgery is something possibly I would do in the future but we don't have any surgeons in New Zealand because the last one retired. So people often go to Thailand. They have some some pretty good surgeons there and I guess there's a lot less waiting and much less red tape."

Ministry of Health acting chief medical officer Dr Andrew Simpson says the ministry provided funding through a High Cost Treatment Pool for transgender people. 

The ministry is working with referral specialists to send people overseas for genital reassignment surgery. In New Zealand there are 71 people on a waiting list for male-to-female genital reassignment surgery, and 17 for female-to-male surgery. 

GAINING ACCEPTANCE

Skye says New Zealand has a long way to go to improve acceptance within schools, communities and in developing the medical field and transgender surgeries.

"On the surface New Zealand is a very accepting country but when you pick it apart, some people just aren't [accepting]. A lot of that is just education.

"I know people who have been physically abused left, right and centre across all parts of the country, really. Some of them it's being shoved, some of them it's being put in hospital in a critical condition." 

He says in those abusive situations it's hard to tell whether people were picked on because they were transgender or for other reasons – trans people are still people, regardless of whatever their history may be."

Annabel says as exposure increases, more trans students are coming out.

"Some people think it's some kind of a trend or something but really people are starting to learn what these feelings are. They're feeling that it's much more safe to come out and live the life they want to live.

"New Zealand has an OK thing going. People are feeling a bit safer. But we still have a long way to go."

Annabel says it's OK for people to explore their emotions, ideas and to challenge themselves. 

"I think one message that's going around on Tumblr and everything is that it's not too late to transition. No matter if you're 9 or 90, it's not too late to live the life you want to live."

To help Skye change his birth certificate gender visit givealittle. To help Annabel with her facial laser treatment visit givealittle

 - Stuff

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