Bruce Jenner story resonates with Bay Area transgender family

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Saturday, April 25, 2015
Bruce Jenner story resonates with Bay Area transgender family
The revelations that came out of Bruce Jenner's exclusive interview with Diane Sawyer are resonating with a family of a transgender child in the East Bay who are facing a similar struggle.

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- In an exclusive interview with Diane Sawyer, it was revealed that Olympian Bruce Jenner is transgender. The 65-year-old talked about how struggles with gender identity began at an early age. ABC7 News spoke with a family in the East Bay facing a similar struggle.

READ MORE: Bruce Jenner: 'For all intents and purposes, I am a woman'

Scarlett is like most 7-year-old girls, less than thrilled to be doing homework before dinner. She is, however, different from most little girls. That's because Scarlett was born Esera, biologically male. She is one of a growing number of transgender children in the Bay Area.

When asked when she first realized that Scarlett was having gender issues, her mother Sandra Collins said, "So I think when she was 18 months. We would send her off to preschool dressed as a boy and she came home and she was dressed up like a girl. And we were like, (what)? And this happened for like three months, and we were like, maybe she's getting muddy or painting with paints and that's all they had was extra girls clothes. The preschool teachers were like, 'look, Esera at the time was preferring to dress this way, were just honoring that.'"

And so began the Berkeley family's exploration of gender identity and expression.

VIDEO: Members of Bay Area transgender community react to Bruce Jenner interview

"That Christmas, Esera was really sad because all he got were Legos," Collins said. "He was like, 'Mom, what I really want is a dress.'"

It wasn't long before the family realized that while Esera may be anatomically male, she was actually female inside.

"Right before kindergarten, that's when she said, 'Mom, I'm really a girl,'" Collins said.

Ever since, Scarlett has been living as a girl.

"Between two years and now seven years, it's been a five year process of learning," Collins said. "And it has not necessarily been a very smooth path. We have a therapist, we have an endocrinologist to really help us. And it has not necessarily been easy. There has been a lot of crying and growing as a family, but also checking in with her about what does she want and how to support her be her best self."

One group the family reached out to was Emeryville-based Gender Spectrum.

"We basically do a lot of direct support to families and caregivers," said Joel Baum with Gender Spectrum. "We do a lot of education and training work with schools."

A growing number of schools, including Scarlett's, are acknowledging that some kids aren't the same on the inside as they present on the outside.

That's because research shows children who are forced to conform to gender stereotypes are five times more likely to be depressed, four times as likely to attempt suicide or use drugs, and twice as likely to contract HIV.

VIDEO: First openly transgender surgeon has practice in Burlingame

"Gender is a really unique thing to each person that, unfortunately in our system, has been put into these really rigid boxes of male and female, boy and girl, that on an increasing level don't work for a lot of people," Baum said.

No one knows just how many children struggle with their gender. But Baum says the number of schools looking for help is growing. While schools learn how to meet the needs of transgender children, many families are learning too.

"We tell her you can always go back," Collins said. "It's fluid, it's ongoing, it's not something that you're on a path that you can't change your mind. It's always a conversation."

In the future that conversation could include hormone therapy and possibly even surgery.

"I think that it is not so much a day to day thing as it is something that is going to be thinking about over the next few years," said Scarlett's father, Jim Reihnold. "But I think that we are definitely headed in that direction."

When asked if there's a part of them that hopes maybe Scarlett changes her mind at some point, Collins said, "We want what she wants."

The 7-year-old's father added, "Yeah, and I think that it's really not, it doesn't really make sense to wish that this child you love is different than she is."

This summer, Sandra Collins is launching the first summer camp in the nation to provide Scarlett and other children like her with a safe space to explore their gender identity and expression. To find out more, click here.

For full coverage on Bruce Jenner, click here.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel.