Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

'Shoved into the wrong body': One transgender teenager shares his story

Jamie Sheerin is a transgender teenager receiving treatment in Wales. Photo: ITV News

When the Sheerins welcomed a son, followed by a daughter, their family seemed complete.

But quite early on, parents Evelyn and Paul sensed their second-born child wasn't entirely comfortable in himself.

“Jamie wouldn’t wear dresses; wouldn’t wear anything feminine in any way,” said Evelyn.

“But that didn’t concern me because I’m not particularly feminine that way myself, and I thought ‘I’m just doing a great job’, raising such a fantastic child that wasn’t swayed in any way.

“Jamie got his hair cut short and he was really delighted, coming out of the hairdresser’s. Every time, it got shorter and shorter. With every haircut, he was happier and happier.”

The Sheerin family sensed Jamie's discomfort from a young age. Credit: ITV News

Evelyn says she thought for a while that Jamie might be gay.

“He kept asking me if he could change his name and I wondered if there was more behind that,” she recalled.

“But he couldn’t bring himself to expand on that. I would go, ‘You can change your name when you’re older if you like’ - and just brushed it off.”

By the time he reached high school, Jamie was questioning his gender to the point where he joined a support group. The onset of puberty, in particular, was very upsetting for him.

It didn’t feel like my body. It felt like I was just watching someone else go throughout their life and I was just shoved into this wrong body to watch everything happen.

– Jamie Sheerin

Jamie eventually told his mother he was transgender, which took every ounce of courage.

“I just remember how much I built it up in my head and how much I’d bottled up what I was feeling for so long,” he said.

“I had to tell my mum, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get things like hormone blockers. I wouldn’t be able to take steps towards things I needed to do to transition.

"But it was so scary just to say a few words - those words were going to change everything.”

Jamie bottled up his feelings before eventually opening up to his mother. Credit: ITV News

Jamie’s family weren’t surprised by his announcement, and were supportive, but admit it’s been emotionally difficult to deal with.

“The phrases that you hear, talking to other parents of transgender children - they talk about the loss of the future that you imagined”, said Paul. “I can’t claim that phrase for my own, but I know exactly what they mean.”

“But then you realise your child is still there - it’s the same person,” added Evelyn. “And you need to do the very best you can to support them - to keep them feeling comfortable with themselves.”

The Sheerin family have supported Jamie throughout his journey. Credit: ITV News

Figures show more children than ever before are questioning their gender and coming forward for treatment - and there’s a debate raging about how best to help them.

Jamie and his family live in Glasgow, but he has been receiving treatment at a private clinic called Gender GP in Abergavenny. It has 1,600 patients, including 82 from Wales.

But currently, both Dr Helen Webberley and Dr Mike Webberley - the husband and wife who run Gender GP - are suspended by medical regulator the GMC, pending an investigation. The couple say they will continue to work from a base abroad while they are being investigated.

Separately, in 2018, Dr Helen Webberley was fined £12,000 after being found guilty of running an unregistered clinic. Concerns were raised over patient safety because it wasn’t subject to the same level of scrutiny by the authorities.

Dr Helen Webberley and her husband run a private clinic called Gender GP in Abergavenny. Credit: ITV News

Dr Helen Webberley told ITV News: “I practise medicine in a way I feel is right for these people. And I know that there are lots of doctors around us who are doing the same as me, but they are not in this country.

“That makes it very difficult, because the UK has a very well-respected health service in many, many ways - but I have to say that I think we are failing transgender people in this country.”

The Tavistock Centre is the only NHS service in England and Wales for children with gender issues.

Last year, 114 children from Wales received treatment there - and demand is growing.

The service has come under fire for not considering other psychological or social factors carefully enough, and also for its long waiting lists.

The Tavistock Centre is the only NHS service in England and Wales for children with gender issues. Credit: ITV News

The aim of those sessions is around discussing with young people and their families their gender; the history of their gender.

But it’s a wide-ranging assessment, so it’s thinking about the young person in a holistic way. How things are going, their development over time, their wishes around their gender - and, importantly, it’s about providing a space for young people to define a pathway that’s appropriate for themselves.

I fully sympathise around the waiting list. I think given the range of young people we see, and the complex personal histories and background, we wouldn't be wanting to move faster than we are working - in terms of the amount of time we see people for, before any decisions are made about physical treatments that are going to be with them for the rest of their lives.

– Dr Polly Carmichael, service director
Dr Polly Carmichael helps young people experiencing gender dysphoria. Credit: ITV News

The subject of youngsters and gender identity is controversial, with some people of the opinion that children aren’t mature enough to make decisions that will affect them for life.

Jamie and his family feel they have made the right decision in seeking treatment, and will continue to do so under the Gender GP clinic.

“Knowing that I’m one day closer to starting hormones; I’m one day closer to getting surgery; I’m one day closer to all these things that I am going to do - it’s just a very hopeful sort of outlook, I guess,” Jamie said.

“I’m not there yet, but I’m going to be there someday.”

You can watch Wales This Week tonight at 8:00pm on ITV Wales, or catch up on the ITV Wales programmes website.