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One of the boys . . . Waitaki Girls' High School pupil James has come out as transgender. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

James did not realise he was a boy until he was 16 years old.

Before that, he lived his life as a female, struggling with confusion and gender dysphoria – a feeling of anxiety or stress over his assigned sex.

And there was noone around him who could help make sense of it , he said.

“Because it isn’t talked about and is unknown, it can be difficult to find your place,” he said.

James, who is now 17, has come out as a transgender male.

He wanted to share his story to be the role model to others that he did not have – someone who could normalise it and help younger people understand themselves.

In New Zealand, transgender teenagers had among the highest suicide rates in the world.

“If I can make people’s journeys a little bit easier that would mean a lot.”

Since discovering his identity, James felt an emotional strength.

“I was always who I am, but back then I was incomplete. Who I was will always be a part of me, but now I am the whole me,” he said

“A lot of trans people will question if they really are transgender, but once you see who you are, you can’t unsee it.

“I know who I am because it makes me happy to be called James, it makes me happy to be treated like a guy. And I feel stronger and braver than I ever did being a girl.”

Coming to terms with himself was one thing, but telling others was a different ball game.

His process of “coming out” was a gradual one – entrusting one friend, who would use his chosen name when they were alone.

Slowly, he started telling people he thought would be accepting.

“The hardest people to tell are family, because you have the most to lose … even if you know they love you.”

Just one supportive parent could make a world of difference, he said.

Luckily for him, he had support from both.

It was really important for parents not to judge their child and make them explain everything, he said.

“It doesn’t always make sense. Just love them.

“Don’t take it personally. They are not rejecting the name you gave them, they are not rejecting you, they are not trying to take away your child, they are just trying to be themselves.”

Though he was happy to be open with his identity, he said it was important not to accidentally out people.

If someone was to say they were trans or non-binary (a third gender, neither male nor female), it was better not to assume others also knew.

A teacher at Waitaki Girls’ High School helped James come out to school pupils.

During a class trip, his teacher asked if they could use his preferred name around other pupils, then people at school started asking what his name and preferred pronouns were.

There were some pupils who would “snicker from the corners”, but their “circles” did not tend to mix.

Since introducing himself as James during a school assembly in honour of Pink Shirt Day, he felt much happier at school.

His name – something that others might take for granted – made him afraid to get a job, not because of prospective employers, but because of the fear that people he knew before his social transition would use his “dead name” (name assigned at birth) in a public space.

While sometimes it was an honest mistake, other times it was not.

This hurt him and he felt people were denying who he was as a person.

“A name can mean a lot.”

That was just one aspect of the “social transition”, or being treated as one’s chosen gender.

Although the process of discovering one’s identity and sharing that with the world could be difficult, support from others was important.

“Humans are really, really complex, and so we’ve got to take time to understand everyone sees themselves in the world differently.

“It may not make sense to you, but as long as you take the time to listen.”

James requested that his surname was not used in the article.