How Leeds' Mermaids UK charity is supporting transgender young people after ITV's Butterfly series
It began as a cry for help during a phone call, from a mother seeking support as her young child insisted she was born into the wrong gender.
But in the 20 years that followed Susie Green’s first anxious call to the Mermaids UK helpline, she has managed to transform the charity from small organisation to a nationwide outfit, supporting gender diverse and transgender young people from all walks of life.
The YEP yesterday examined the difficult and emotionally-testing journey into adulthood for Susie’s daughter, Jackie.
Today Susie, 50, is looking back at the charity’s success and her own personal battle as a working mother, in the second of our two-part series.
Born as a boy first named Jack, her daughter Jackie went on to become the world’s youngest to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Thailand, aged 16, and is now a happy young transgender woman living abroad at 25-years-old.
But the struggles, abuse and suicide attempts during Jackie’s teenage years - at times unbearable for her and the family - have been used as inspiration for a three-part ITV show, Butterfly, focusing on transgender issues, which ends with the final episode on Sunday.
It was the confusion, lack of support or literature and constant daily battle with the outside world that first prompted Susie to contact Mermaids when Jackie was just six-years-old, showing strong signs of gender dysphoria.
“I found Mermaids online, when Jackie was six,” she says, recalling a stressful period of her life that would only get harder.
“I spoke to one of the founding members.
“She asked me to join the parents group so I did.”
Susie was advised by the charity - then in its infancy - to get a GP referral for Jackie to visit the Gender Identity Clinic in Tavistock, London, where they diagnosed her with gender dysphoria.
It was crucial advice at a time when little support was available on the issue.
Nearly 20 years after that initial call to the then-fledgling organisation, Susie is now its chief executive, having left her job as an IT manager in 2016, and has grown its turnover from just £10,000-a-year more than £300,000 through fundraising, in a remarkable transformation.
As a mark of respect of how far her passion has taken the now award-winning Mermaids charity, when the producers of Butterfly wanted to gather inspiration and understanding among real people involved with gender diverse children for the show, their first port of call was Susie.
The drama starring Anna Friel follows 11-year-old Max, who identifies as a girl, and her estranged parents working through her decision with her, in a three-part series that critics have described as “delicate, compassionate and moving”.
“I didn’t know whether it would work out or not,” Susie says.
“But it seemed such a good opportunity just to be able to get a drama without putting people in the spotlight - and risking anybody individually.”
Susie said they took on board her advice.
“Some of the cliffhangers haven’t happened to anybody - but they’re a possibility,” she says.
“We’ve seen families split over this so that happens.”
It has been an unbridled success for Mermaids, and has brought the issue to the fore while offering an outlet of support to families struggling to cope.
“We’ve had at least double the phone calls that we normally have, and more than 20 parents wanting to join groups within a five-day period,” Susie says.
“It’s incredible in comparison.”
But support is only a reality because of the Leeds-based charity’s expansion.
When Susie, from Yeadon, moved back to Leeds from London, with her mother and children, including Jackie, after separating from her husband, she started working as an IT manager for the Leeds Citizens Advice Bureau.
Armed with her background managing IT systems, she wanted to transform Mermaids UK into a “proper helpline”.
“But if we were going to do that we needed paid staff members,” she says.
When Susie became a trustee in 2000, she described it as a “small, unincorporated charity” without structure.
She later became chairwoman and then told the board of trustees her plans to fundraise and expand, who eventually agreed.
While taking on an increased role to expand, she was still working full-time at the advice bureau, while bringing up children.
In January 2016, Susie took a “leap of faith”, and left her job to run the charity, as its first paid staff member.
“It is my passion,” she says.
“I was the only person who was willing to put the time and effort into making a change.”
It paid off.
Susie took Mermaids from a £10,000-a-year turnover to more than £300,000 today.
“Our profile started to become more prominent,” she says, smiling proudly.
“We had more people doing fundraising for us.
“There is not another charity like us nationwide.”
Mermaids supports children and young people up to 20-years-old, who are transgender or gender diverse, and those involved in their care.
It operates a vital helpline, youth and parents groups, forums, and training to those in need.
“The main thing that we do is put families together,” Susie says.
“I don’t pretend to know what every family’s situation is like - everybody is unique - but the thing I suffered most with, and Jackie, is isolation.
“The feeling that you’re on your own and being judged by everybody around you.”
She said it can be an exhausting experience for families of gender diverse young people growing up.
“Every day is a battle,” Susie says.
“Even if their kids don’t turn out to be trans - because not all kids are trans - it doesn’t matter.
“It’s just being there for them.”
The final episode of Butterfly airs on Sunday, on ITV, when Mermaid UK’s helpline will be extended until midnight.
Mermaid UK’s support helpline will be extended until midnight on Sunday.
For help or support, contact the helpline between 9am and 9pm Monday-Friday on 0344 334 0550 or visit www.mermaidsuk.org.uk