Backtrack to spring 1992, and a hospital in the heart of Buckinghamshire. Out I popped, a whopping 10lbs, 4oz with blonde hair and hazel eyes. Everyone thought I was a sweet, albeit chubby, little baby girl. They made one tiny mistake however - I wasn’t a girl.
I was raised according to the verdict of my mother’s midwife - everyone inaccurately assumed my gender purely based on my sex and, for the next 26 years, I too believed that verdict - despite having always shown signs of hardwired masculinity.
Fast forward to this year however and, with the help of a therapist, I had the epiphany of a lifetime when I realised I was in fact not born a girl but simply born a person.
Since coming to that realisation, gender has been at the forefront of my mind - so when my mum told me about a show starting last week that looked at the family dynamics surrounding a transgender child, I was automatically sold.
I tuned into ITV on Sunday to watch Butterfly’s attempt at showing a realistic portrayal of what it is like to be trans and luckily I wasn’t disappointed.
I could start by saying that Max, the main character, was born a boy but then in early childhood decided he wanted to be a girl instead. This however is where so many of us get it wrong when we think of what it means to be trans. It’s not that Max’s gender suddenly changed one day or that he chose to be a girl, it’s that she was a girl born in a male body. With everyone telling her she was a boy, it inevitably took her a couple of years to realise who she really was.
With that in mind I’ll will write this the way it should be written. Maxine, the main character, was born a girl but because of her male anatomy her parents raised her as a boy. From early age she gravitated heavily towards dresses, nail polish and all things pink, proving that her genitalia had no bearing on her gender.
Maxine’s father, played brilliantly by Emmett J. Scanlan, has his anxieties at the thought of losing his only son (although he wouldn’t be losing him as he never existed - he was always a her, just in disguise). This upset leads to aggression as one day he hits Maxine around the face as she dances in their kitchen in an effeminate manner.
These actions cause him to leave the family home but he is still allowed to see Maxine at the weekends, and so spends this time persistently trying to get her to partake in stereotypically male hobbies like football and self-defence. For a while Maxine engages in it; like all children she just wants her father’s love and approval.
But equally Maxine speaks her truth and talks candidly to her Dad about her gender dysphoria - in one scene she expresses the extreme dislike she has for her penis. Again, her dad makes no effort to understand and simply becomes hostile. Having her dad show such a lack of support along with having to adjust to life in a broken home eventually leads to Maxine self-harming at the tender age of eleven, showing just how difficult it can be growing up trans.
Maxine’s mother, played by Anna Friel, is on the other hand slightly more accepting and allows Maxine to indulge in her feminine side whilst at home. Despite this she still doesn’t fully embrace Maxine for the girl that she is, forbidding her from presenting as a female anywhere else.
As someone who is not cisgender (someone whose sex and gender align), I felt nothing but empathy for Maxine and the show resonated with me so much that it bought me to tears.
Luckily Maxine does have one ally - her sister Lily. She is the only one in the family who seems to understand, as much as someone who is not trans can, and supports Maxine in her quest to wear a skirt to school. The world needs more Lilys.
This first episode was the start of a three-part series giving a raw insight into the complex world of what it is like to be trans and equally what it can be like for the families of those who are. It highlights so many of the often unseen difficulties that trans people face, from using public bathrooms to being told that they’re just going through a phase.
Although I worry some will watch this show and follow in the footsteps of Maxine’s parents, the reality is that unless we start airing shows like Butterfly that allow us to educate each other on the subject of gender and more specifically bring light to trans issues, then hate against the trans community will continue to be an increasing issue. At a time where the world is fighting for equal rights, this simply cannot happen.