Navigating the non-linear territory of gender and identity.
Our brand new ‘Let’s Talk’ series is all about inspiring people from all walks of life to open up and let their thoughts, feelings, troubles be known – however trivial or sombre they may seem. Too many individuals are hell-bent on keeping shtum and suffering in silence, so here we are urging everyone to talk, talk, and talk some more! So to kick start the series, we caught up with our lovely Editor, Tara Breathnach who is sharing a beautifully candid account of both her and her daughter Bodhi’s gender and identity journey.
So when were you first made aware of how Bodhi felt?
One day, Bodhi was around 5 years old, and she was looking in the mirror and at first was quiet- and then she made a comment to me that although she saw a girl looking back she didn’t feel like she was a girl – she felt she was a boy.
I know that while, when she was very young she was happy to dress as Elsa or Anna for various dress-up days, but around age 6 she was always dressing in male characters.
Her face may look familiar to readers. Tell us more…
She’s auditioned for some of the biggest directors in Hollywood and the UK and has appeared in movies and commercials across the world. She’s worked in Portugal, Estonia and various places in the UK on location.
When a Mercedes advert in which she starred appeared during the Oscars on television in LA, we received a call from a talent manager in Hollywood who signed her up straight away.
But this is a child in conflict – and I’m not sure how long she will remain my “daughter”. Because she’s a boy – 80% of the time (her words!). So the addition of this very public face of Bodhi adds an extra layer of depth and complexity to what’s happening. She is known for her face, and for acting in female roles.
This is a challenge that will become very interesting over time and could be something that is very public. But we have seen the world does seem to be getting kinder and more understanding in these issues so we hope she will have all the support she needs.
Were there any clues?
I’ve mentioned that very early incident in front of the mirror, and looking back, I guess maybe I’m seeing “signs” but whether they really were or not is perhaps hard to tell. Dressing up days – usually as a man, or even her dad, Willy Wonka, Michael Jackson (80s day) though this was dressing up so we didn’t think too much of it.
There’s no doubt though that this idea of feeling like a boy did become stronger and stronger until we realized that we needed to seek professional help to understand how to deal with the situation.
Did you seek professional help?
Bodhi started attending a club called Good For Girls – became upset and said “I feel guilty being here” because she is a boy.
From here – we knew this was becoming a bigger and bigger thing for Bodhi. We knew she wasn’t attention-seeking as she didn’t even tell us about this episode – we got a call from the club’s leader.
Actually – Bodhi also became a pioneer in this. Visiting the club a few weeks later they told us they had decided to change the club’s name from Good for Girls to True Colours.
It has made us so happy as a family that the club has done this – we see the world is changing from when we were young, that there is an acceptance and understanding of gender fluid and non-binary issues and this was really great to see.
After the incident at the club we decided it was time to call the doctor. She listened and felt it important we be referred to GIDS – the Gender Identity Disorder Service. Unfortunately there is a two year wait for treatment and Bodhi, upon hearing this, was in tears but we are pleased we have been heard and we are at least on the start of a journey, of being seen and being helped through this.
We know there isn’t going to be a quick road for us in terms of how Bodhi will feel or what the best path for her will be. To an extent time is needed in order for her to make the right decisions about her body, and that’s hard because, let’s face it, no one likes to live in the “grey” areas – we like to “know” what things are, we like certainty – but things simply don’t always work out like that and we all need to learn to live with uncertainty and to a certain point – to embrace not knowing.
How has social media played a role in Bodhi’s self discovery?
Youtube became a world where things really started to open up – what Bodhi was looking at etc was very much revolving around this. There’s a community she seemed to resonate with.
She would look at channels about transgender issues, lesbian and gay issues, omnigender – words we have had to look up ourselves!
There are definitely clubs Bodhi will be able to attend such as LGBQTIA+ groups etc, but in London you tend to need to be a little older – 12 plus, so for now, I personally embrace the fact that Bodhi can hear about other young people and their experiences online. I think it’s a good thing though like most parents – I wish she wasn’t on her ipad quite so much!
And how are you, as Bodhi’s parents, feeling about it all?
Bodhi is our only child so we do have the time to focus on this, and talk about it. Luckily we support each other, we have watched a drama series called Butterfly which opened up some issues, we are both on the same page and feel comfortable discussing it with each other and Bodhi.
As individuals I think it has changed us too. To be honest, I think of myself as quite an open, liberal person, but this has probably made me more so, if anything. I’ve come to realise that you absolutely cannot judge anyone else’s reality.
Also that people have struggles no one else knows about many times – I think that there is a simple motto to live by that I do my best to stick to now – In a world where you can be anything, be kind.
The dialogue remains open at all times. We talk about “blue days” and “pink” days when Bodhi is feeling more like a “boy” or a “girl”. Just a few days ago Bodhi wanted to wear a dress which was really unusual. But on her “girl” days she really does love to dress up – they are pretty rare now.
We will attend first London Pride as a family this year which Bodhi is very excited about. I have been going since I was a teenager but to do it with my child and husband is going to be such an incredible experience. We have a gender fluid flag which was one of the gifts Bodhi had asked for last Christmas.
Bodhi continues to build a hugely successful career as an actor and model. We don’t know what the future holds for her though we know she wants to act and this is the career path for her.
Perhaps she will be a gender fluid person, maybe she will want to identify as a boy totally. The next few years will be really important.
But we will be here for Bodhi, whatever her identity. She is not a boy, she is not a girl, she is, simply, our Bodhi.
And I guess that’s the message I would love to give to anyone reading.
Don’t get caught up in the “who am I?” that the world wants – needs – you to be. Boxed into a convenient label, put on a particular shelf. The world likes this because it’s easy, it avoids complexity. But you need to be you – the shining star you were meant to be with all its facets and all its contradictions.
Labels are for things, not people – so tear them up – I’ll let Bodhi speak in her own words now:
With thanks to Tara and Bodhi Breathnach x