Becoming Lily

‘That’s a lovely bracelet,’ I commented to my foster son Ted. He was sitting in the back of the car, twirling his disco bead creation around dramatically so that I could see it in my mirror.

‘I know, it’s beautiful,’ he agreed, grinning.

Ted had been out with a friend of ours to a jewellery making shop the day before and had come home proudly displaying this rainbow coloured bracelet. Not many ten year old boys would have chosen jewellery making as an activity but Ted was unusual, in many ways. His social worker insisted it was ‘just a phase’ but Ted had been interested in stereotypically feminine toys and clothes ever since he had come to live with us, aged two.

‘Do you know what it says?’ Ted now asked.

‘How do you mean?’ I was concentrating on a tricky junction in the road, trying to keep tabs on three lots of traffic coming from three different directions. My mind was only half, maybe a quarter on Ted.

‘The beads…..do you know what they say?’ Ted persisted.

‘Hmmm….not sure….’ I thought I’d seen my moment, was just about to swing out into the road when someone came haring down it in a white BMW. ‘Must be doing over 60,’ I muttered to myself, shaking my head.

‘Lily,’ said Ted, determined to get and keep my attention.

‘Right,’ the traffic had cleared and with a sigh of relief I pulled out and joined the main road. There was a long silence until finally something nagged at me and Ted’s words sunk in.

‘Lily?’ I queried, glancing at him in the mirror. He was staring hard at me.

‘Yeah…the beads, well some of the beads have letters on them and they say ‘Lily’.’

‘OK,’ I wasn’t sure where to go with this information. ‘Did you make it for someone else then?’ I didn’t think we knew anyone called Lily.

‘No.’

‘So, why did you make yourself a bracelet with Lily on it then?’

‘Because I want to change my name to Lily,’ said in a matter of fact tone.

‘OK….’ I was keeping my eyes on the road, but my mind was trying to process what Ted was saying, and trying to come up with some sensible responses. ‘But…if you change your name to Lily and say you’re meeting someone who doesn’t know you, and they are expecting a girl, and then you turn up….don’t you think it will be a bit confusing for them? And for everyone else actually.’

‘Well, no because I want to change into a girl,’ Ted explained.

While I was trying to compose my answer, Ted continued calmly. ‘I want to change into a girl, change my name to Lily, grow my hair, wear dresses and do all the things I’ve always wanted to do. As a girl.’

I gripped the wheel more tightly, my knuckles bleaching. ‘Get this right Grace’ I told myself. I took a deep breath.

‘How long do you think you’ve felt like this?’ I wondered.

‘For ever,’ was the answer. ‘Since I was born.’

‘Well, I am so glad you’ve told me,’ I felt a bubble of emotion rising up my throat and gulped it back down. I had to match his mood and stay calm and accepting. ‘Lily is a lovely name. If I had another daughter I think I would have liked to call her that.’

‘They’ll have to change my name on the register at school,’ Ted said, scrunching his face up with concentration as he ran through the changes which would have to be made. ‘And I’ll need a girl’s swimming costume and a skirt for school and you’ll have to get me a new passport and -‘

‘Hang on a minute sweetie,’ my head was threatening to implode with this new information and all the implications for the little boy sitting behind me. For him it was as straightforward as changing his name, growing his hair and wearing a skirt. For me it was a huge leap into the unknown.

‘Can you give me some time to get used to this?’ I eventually asked.

‘How long?’ the answer came back.

‘A year?’ I crossed my fingers on the wheel. ‘There’ll be a lot of things we need to think about and talk about before you can make such a big change.’

‘OK, a year,’ there was a pause. We exchanged a little glance in the mirror. ‘So, April 28th next year. That’s when you’ll get your wish. A daughter called Lily.’

 

 

 

 

Becoming Lily

The ingenuity of abused children

One child I fostered was two years old when he arrived on our doorstep. Tiny, fragile, vulnerable, terrified. He clearly expected only the worst from adult caregivers. He screamed when I or my husband went near him. He constantly chewed his fists and hid behind doors and sofas. He tried to make himself invisible.

Then, a few weeks after he had come to live with us, he decided to trust me with an enormous, overwhelming secret. It was a secret which left me reeling. The trust and courage it took for that little boy to speak those words – I can’t convey how much it took out of him, or how much admiration i felt for him afterwards.

As time went on, this amazing child found different ways to work out the anger, the fear and the deep confusion which the abuse had left him with. He often dressed as a woman, and obviously felt safer in those pretty clothes, escaping his identity as a boy. The most incredible thing he did, and he only did it for a short period of time, was to take on the role of an adult social worker – someone he knew and felt very fond of. While he was ‘Bridget’, he would ask me to be him – ‘Alfie’. He would then ask ‘Alfie’ why he was sad and what had happened to him. I would talk about the abuse he had suffered, using his own words. As ‘Bridget’ – complete with her accent, mannerisms, a set of fake car keys and a handbag – he would then reassure me that what my parents had done was wrong and that he felt very sad for me. He would finish the chat by telling me that i didn’t have to go back and live with those ‘horrible people.’

I was left breathless by the simple, powerful effectiveness of these role playing sessions. How clever this child was. Not only was he able to feed his need for escapism by becoming Bridget; he was also able to talk through his feelings of anger and fear. Despite his parents best efforts to normalise the abuse he experienced, he knew, already, that it was wrong.

Therapists told me Alfie had Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder) and that these escapist behaviours should be discouraged, or they would start to take over his life. I didn’t agree. I could see how calm and happy Alfie was after them. I’m afraid I didn’t listen to the advice. Even if I had, I think Alfie would have carried on being ‘Bridget’ or whoever fitted the bill, but behind closed doors. Would that have been any healthier?

Alfie is now a young adult, and still amazing. He is colourful, theatrical and charismatic. He still likes to dress as a woman sometimes. He is still angry with his parents, as he has a right to be. But that ability to construct his own therapy has stuck with him.

We worry about him and his future, but we know he has that fantastic ingenuity to fall back on.

The ingenuity of abused children