Mum of Leeds transgender woman who inspired ITV's Butterfly opens up about daughter's suicide attempts after bullying
Flourishing as a young woman working abroad and preparing to travel the world, Jackie Green has never been happier.
But behind the 25-year-old’s captivating blue eyes, there lies a painful story of her fight for acceptance, unimaginable abuse and cruelty at the hands of others that drove her to seven overdoses in her first years of high school in Leeds.
“She is a very strong person, very strong-willed,” her mother Susie says, as a proud smile creeps across her face.
And she’s had to be.
Born weighing 8lbs 2oz, Susie’s first child was a healthy baby boy like any other.
Fast-forward 16 years, and Jackie - originally named Jack - became the world’s youngest to undergo gender reassignment surgery in Thailand.
“They handed me a baby that, on the outside, looked like a boy,” says mother-of-four Susie, who moved to the south of England after being brought up in Yeadon but has since returned to Leeds.
“So you do all the things that you expect little boys to like but really, from as soon as she could express herself, she just wasn’t interested in anything like that.”
Today Susie is speaking to the YEP in the first of a two-part series about Jackie’s difficult emotional journey into adulthood, ahead of the second instalment of the three-part ITV show, Butterfly, focusing on transgender issues, on Sunday.
Jackie's story formed part of the inspiration for the drama mini-series.
Susie had met the father of her four children in Crowborough, near Tunbridge Wells, while working in sales, and gave birth to Jack aged 25.
“As soon as she was on her feet and she was out looking for things for birthdays or Christmases, she would just gravitate towards the pink aisle,” Susie said. While she had several gender neutral toys, she wanted girls items like Polly Pocket and Barbie, which caused friction.
“Her dad believed I was indulging it, that I should be making Jack be a boy,” Susie recalls.
“I honestly thought that I had a very sensitive effeminate little boy who was probably gay.
“That was where my head was at.”
Jackie was just four-years-old when she first articulated feelings about gender dysphoria, where a person feels there’s a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity, to her mother.
“We were watching television at the time and she asked me if she could tell me something,” Susie says.
“Then she just told me that God had made a mistake and that she should have been a girl.
“You know one of those moments, when you feel the panic hit you when something is said or done, it was like that feeling.
“It just felt paralysing. I said to her ‘you are a boy’ and that it’s okay to be a boy and like girl things. For the next two years I just kept telling her that, and she kept telling me ‘I’m a girl’.”
In the years that followed, Susie and her husband eventually split after she gave birth to twins, and, aged 33, she moved back to Yeadon with her mother, with Jackie then seven, Connor and the twins, in tow.
After getting in touch with the Mermaids UK charity - where Susie is now chief executive supporting gender diverse young people - for advice she got a GP referral, and Jackie was seen aged seven at the Gender Identity Clinic in Tavistock, London, where they diagnosed her with gender dysphoria.
“They said to allow her to have girls stuff at home but to keep her as a boy to the outside world,” Susie says.
“So she’d continue going to primary school here, living as a boy externally, but at home all of her clothes were girls’ clothes.”
While the majority of children in primary school did not cause problems, Susie recalls one girl and her mother repeatedly hurling abuse at Jackie when she was just nine-years-old.“She used to lean out of her car window and call Jackie a ‘freak’ and a ‘tranny’,” Susie said.
“It was just mind-boggling to me that another mum could treat a kid like that.”
The abuse would evolve into something much worse at secondary school.
Two weeks into high school, Jackie took her first overdose after relentless abuse from other children.
“It was horrendous,” Susie says, shaking her head.
“It was the first day of school, a big lad from year 11 knocking on the door shouting ‘where’s the freak?’.”
As the abuse campaign against her continued, Susie brought the issue up with the school.
But she said they instead blamed the youngster and failed to punish the bullies.
While Jackie, then 12, was being bullied, Susie grew increasingly concerned about the onset of male puberty.
With puberty-blocking medication not prescribed in England for children under 16, she found a doctor in Boston and after conversations, records exchanges, analysis and finally, visits,
Jackie started having monthly injections as she approached her 13th birthday.
“He said we needed to intervene now to stop any permanent changes - like her voice breaking or Adam’s apple showing - and so we went over there [to Boston],” Susie says.
At 14, she was also prescribed a small dose of oestrogen to stunt her growth, as estimates projected she could grow over 6ft 3ins, which triggered a female puberty.
Meanwhile, back at school in Leeds, the abuse continued.
Jackie eventually told her mother that a teacher had been deliberately mis-gendering her, calling her Jack, in class with other pupils present.
“She said ‘if a teacher is doing it, there’s no hope that anyone else isn’t going to do it’,” Susie says.
She would go on to take seven overdoses between years seven and nine while at high school.
“I wanted to make it better and I couldn’t,” Susie says.
“It was beyond heartbreaking.”
In one harrowing attack, when she was 13-years-old, Jackie was assaulted while walking home from school by two people.
“They called her a ‘tranny’ and a ‘freak’ and beat the crap out of her,” her mother said.
The attackers were men in their 40s.
“There were times when I would tell her that the next overdose might kill her,” Susie says.
“She would just look at me and I could tell that she didn’t care - she wanted to be gone, she wanted to be dead.”
Susie moved her to a school in Menston.
But the abuse returned soon after and within four months she moved again to the Grafton Centre - a special inclusive learning centre (SILC) in Leeds.
It was a turning point.
“She went as Jackie and nobody knew about her history,” Susie says.
“She just got on with it as soon as she wasn’t facing this constant, daily battle of kids saying things to her.”
Ahead of her 16th birthday, Jackie confirmed her intentions to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
Because of NHS waiting lists, she would have been in her early twenties by the time she could have the surgery in England.
“My concern was keeping her going until that age,” Susie says.
She contacted a surgeon in Thailand about the possibility of Jackie having the operation when she turned 18 and she was able to undergo the procedure on her 16th birthday.
Jackie became the youngest person in the world to have gender reassignment surgery, a gruelling operation that can last more than six hours. But it was a success, and it changed her life forever.
“For her, it was so affirming,” her mother says.
“It was like this huge burden had been lifted. It was like living with a different person and she was just so much happier.”
After returning to Leeds, Jackie soon got her first boyfriend and she started work in retail.
When she turned 18-years-old, she bravely opened up in a national newspaper about being a transgender woman to tackle stigma.
She has not looked back since surgery and, while in London with a friend, was asked to take part in Miss England after roadshow staff spotted her.
She was the first transgender woman to appear in the semi-finals of the contest.
Jackie is now singing while working in bars while living happily abroad and has a long-term boyfriend.
She’ll soon head off travelling on a four-month trip with her boyfriend.
Tomorrow, for the second part in the series, the YEP speaks to Susie about how her life has changed throughout Jackie's journey, her involvement with the Butterfly show and the expansion of her Mermaids UK charity.
For help or support from the Mermaids UK charity, contact its helpline between 9am and 9pm Monday-Friday on 0344 334 0550.