Lucinda: Her family felt people in Gozo were more accepting of her. Photo: Matthew MirabelliLucinda: Her family felt people in Gozo were more accepting of her. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

One of the first children to have her gender identity legally changed in Malta hopes that the court’s recognition of her true identity will end years of frustration.

Last month, a Gozo court – in a first for that island – ordered official changes to Lucinda Agius Lautier’s name and gender after having been satisfied that the request was in the best interest of the girl and would “help her lead a more serene life”.

Lucinda, now nine, recalls that she was around three when she realised that she was being referred to by the wrong gender.

At that time she could not express herself clearly in words, she told this newspaper.

“Most of the time I came whining to you because I was trying to tell you. But you thought I was hungry,” she said, turning to her mother Samantha Lautier.

READ: Gender reassignment treatment to be publicly-funded

The court noted that the changes would lead to fewer incidents, such as a recent embarrassing episode in May when her name was listed with that of boys in a school race.

Lucinda was competing in the ATQuadKids race organised by the Physical Education Department, representing the Gozo College.

While Lucinda had been assured that she would be allowed to race with the other girls, as was the case when she competed in Gozo, the leaflet with the names of competitors listed her name with those of the other boys.

Eventually, there was a single race and both the girls and boys ran together.

“In Gozo I ran 200 metres and won a race, but when I came to Malta to represent Gozo, I ran 600 metres crying. They had put me with the boys and called my name wrong. And then two boys asked me whether I was a boy or a girl.”

READ: An eight-year-old transgender girl has written a book about her story

The family only recently relocated to Gozo because they felt that people there were more accepting of her daughter.

Since the move, Lucinda’s academic performance has improved and it feels “amazing” to go to school, she says, swinging her feet, clad in bright blue jelly sandals.

Asked whether blue was her favourite colour, she promptly replied: red, purple and pink.

The family initially did not make a big deal over her attraction to pink objects designed for girls, but after a couple of other episodes where she expressed her frustration, they sought professional support.

Everyone will have to call me by my real name

Lucinda recalls she felt “less angry” when she was not addressed as a boy – something the parents were advised to do.

As the months rolled by, she continued to express her feelings as a girl, and one year even told her family that her New Year resolution was to be a girl.

The family was requested by social workers to refer to the child – named Lucian at birth – as ‘Luc’ (pronounced Luce), which however some children pronounced ‘Luke’.

This made her feel “bad and sad” and she knows that with the court’s ruling, “everyone will have to call me by my real name”.

Her only concern remains puberty changes – something she is noticing in her brother and family friends. But the family hopes that the government’s promised gender clinic and gender reassignment treatment would also take into consideration trans children.

Lucinda’s lawyer, Daniela Azzopardi Bonanno, said she was pleasantly surprised that the ruling took only a matter of days to be given.

Dr Azzopardi Bonanno, who has a special interest in family and child issues, said this decree not only upheld the word of the law but more importantly, respected the very spirit of it: the best interest of the child was the determining factor in an effort to depathologise being a transgender child.

The law, enacted in 2015, was a step in the right direction for transgender individuals – it acknowledged their identity and their needs. However, more could be done, she said.

“It is worrying that these children cannot be followed by experts because of a lack of specialised Maltese medical professionals. Meanwhile, it is too costly for the families of these children to take the child abroad every six months to be followed by a foreign specialist.”

At the moment transgender people and their families have to bear all costs of hormone therapy and any gender reassignment surgeries, she noted.

Earlier this week, the government told this newspaper that it was planning to introduce free gender reassignment treatment for transgender people “without delay”, fulfilling an electoral pledge.

Still, for Dr Azzopardi Bonanno, the Gender Identity Act significantly improved the emotional wellbeing of these children as was clearly the case with Lucinda.

Questions answered

The Gender Identity Bill was unanimously adopted by the House of Representatives in 2015.  Peter Muscat, consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist, was contacted to provide general answers:

At what age do children associate with a particular gender?

The concept of gender in children develops gradually between the ages of three and five years. Some children are sure of their gender as early as three years of age and behave as such. However, it can be quite flexible for a while before the age of five. By the age of five children start to incorporate gender into their own identity and engage in gender stereotyped play with toys, interacting in play with their own gender and like to wear colours associated with male or female. Some transgender children state that they feel the opposite sex to their biological gender from as early as three years of age. Most transgender adults recall that before the age of six they knew that they were different and internally felt that they were the opposite to their biological sex.

How do you respond to concerns that this might be too early?

This is always a difficult situation since it will have repercussions for the future of the child. One has to respond with great caution and professionalism. First of all, one has to develop a trusting and caring relationship with the child. Only when, through therapy, trust is established can one start to delve deeply into the psyche of the transgender child. The child will then open up and tell you their thoughts of how they feel and how they would like their life to develop. The concern that this might be too early is a reality, but the sooner that the child is helped to identify his or her own gender, the sooner steps can be taken to help that child in all aspects of life.

What are the psychological effects on a child that transitions?

The effects for a child who transitions are usually healing. The greatest trauma for a transgender child who is made to live according to the biological sex is that the child will grow up misunderstood, ridiculed, bullied, forced to behave in a way that feels alien and the end result is usually anxiety, depression, conduct disorder such as aggression and social phobia. A transgender child needs to be followed up and monitored at regular intervals because of the psychological and physical issues that may arise. There is schooling to be considered besides social interactions, sports and other non-curricular activities. There is hormonal suppression that needs to be addressed pre-puberty and sex reassignment surgery in late adolescence. It is an ongoing process that may need to be continued even after sex reassignment surgery.

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