Woman’s Own magazine (UK)
14 June 2004
Copyright © 2004, Woman's Own
My Daughter’s Brave Choice
Anke gave birth to a boy, Johannes, but now he’s Johanna.
Here’s their amazing story…
By Hannah Cleaver
Photos by Karsten Thielke
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walked her daughter, Johanna, to school. Dressed in a skirt, with her long
blonde hair carefully combed, the eight-year-old looked like any of her female
As Anke, 44, kissed Johanna goodbye, though, the anxious mum said a silent prayer, hoping her daughter would be strong enough to face the day ahead.
For Johanna's decision to wear a skirt to school was to be greeted with endless teasing, bullying and even calls of complaint to her school near Hamburg, Germany. And all because Johanna had been born Johannes, a boy - but a boy who desperately wanted to live, as the girl he felt he had always been.
Now 14, Johanna is the youngest person in Germany ever to be given permission to take the drugs that will stop her developing into a man and help her become more womanly.
She has monthly injections of testosterone-neutralizing
hormones to stop the onset of male puberty and takes daily female hormone pills
containing estrogen, which have started to give her womanly curves.
“I feel like a normal girl now,” says Johanna. “From when I was two years old, I'd ask my parents whether I was a boy or a girl, and when they said I was a boy, I would cry. I refused to wear boys' clothes at home, and when I was at nursery school, I always played with girls, never the boys.”
Despite resistance from other members of her family, Anke did little to repress Johanna's desire to dress and act as a girl. “People said I was bringing up my child wrong and turning him into a girl, but I knew I was doing the right thing,” says Anke.
But as Johanna neared the age at which she was due to start primary school, Anke became increasingly anxious and confided her worries to a therapist, who was treating her for back and arm problems. The therapist who also happened to be a psychologist specializing in transsexualism, suggested that Anke visit gender expert Hans Georg van Herste. He reassured her that around one in 1,000 people experience transgender problems.
“It was such a relief to hear that Johanna wasn't alone,” says Anke.
Despite learning more about gender issues, Anke decided to dress Johanna as a boy during the first year at school. The following summer, Anke and Hans Georg van Herste discussed whether or not Johanna was ready to start dressing as a girl at school. “We asked her, and she said yes,” says Hans Georg. “She was adamant that she did”.
“But I wanted her to be totally sure,” says Anke.
“At home and on the street she would have me to protect her, but at school she was going to be on her own”.
“I told her I'd support her, whatever she chose, but, deep down, I was terrified. I knew the opposition she would inevitably face would get worse as she got older.”
But Johanna was determined, and that summer Hans Georg and Anke contacted teachers and parents at the school to let them know that from the start of term. Johanna would present herself as a girl and to ask for their support
“On the first day, I went back into my usual class. Some of the boys gave me weird looks and the girls came and asked me questions. But my girlfriends told me they were pleased and proud that I'd been so brave.” says Johanna.
Despite the teasing, Johanna grew in self-confidence Three years later, though she had to leave the relative safety of her primary school and enter the rougher waters of senior school. Now she had to struggle to be accepted as a girl all over again - and, this time, against bigger opposition.
“Some of my schoolteachers would deliberately call me Johannes because, they said. that's what my name was on my official papers.” says Johanna.
Some of the worst attacks came from the parents of other children The school received anonymous phone calls demanding that “that monster” be removed from class.
Swimming lessons also presented difficulties - how to hide her penis in a bikini and which changing room to use. “I wasn't allowed to use the girls' or the boys' changing rooms, so I ended up getting changed with the teachers,” says Johanna.
Anke offered what support she could “Johanna would come home and tell me she'd been called a monster or a hermaphrodite, and I'd tell her how I'd been teased as a child because I was so short. I told her she'd made her choice and now she had to stand up for herself.”
The next hurdle Johanna had to face was the onset of puberty.
“At that stage, we got in contact with an adult transsexual who told us all about herself. She's now a woman but didn't have the sex-change operation until she was 40.”
Having seen her, Johanna was determined to avoid developing the broad shoulders, wide jawline and deep voice of an adult male, says Anke.
But in order to achieve this, Johanna needed to start blocking the testosterone that her body would soon start producing. The next step was to find an endocrinologist who could help regulate her hormone production. It was a race against time.
Having found a sympathetic professional, Anke, Johanna and Hans Georg then had the task of trying to persuade an ethics panel of doctors, lawyers and a priest to give them the legal permission they needed to continue with Johanna’s hormone treatment.
Anke and Johanna managed to persuade the experts of the validity of their case, and the hormone treatment started. Although attitudes are still mixed, acceptance of Johanna has increased since she and Anke told their story on a German TV show. Now, she is sometimes stopped in the street for positive reasons - with people congratulating her for her courage rather than calling her names.
The prospect of a full sex-change operation is still several years down the line, but Johanna is looking forward to surgery. “My penis never felt like a part of me,” she says.
For now, she and Anke are trying to get the German bureaucratic system to agree to her name being changed from Johannes to Johanna on her official ID, a struggle they know could be a long one.
“Parents must keep their ears and eyes open to their children. There are many kids like Johanna, which is why we decided to make her story public.” says Anke. “A lot of them are now grown-up, but when they were children, their parents and the schools they went to swept the issue under the carpet, where it lay hidden for years. All that has to change.”
Johanna's landmark ruling
At 14, Johanna is the youngest person in German legal history to be given permission to receive female hormone injections. When the ethics commission in Germany approved her application, it opened the way for future transsexualism cases to be heard in a favorable light. Even the German press acknowledged Johanna's bravery, with the respected tabloid newspaper Bild supporting her and her mother Anke's campaign for public acceptance of Johanna's right to be regarded as female.
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