For 16-year-old Quinn Quatember putting on a graduation dress is a dream come true.
“Looking in the mirror I felt that missing piece of the puzzle was put in place and I became more whole,” says Quinn.
Quinn’s fairy tale started not with a glass slipper, but a call from a nurse at a very special clinic.
Quinn identifies as a woman but was assigned male at birth so experiences gender dysphoria, distress caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and sex assigned at birth. With the help of the Gender Dysphoria Assessment and Action for Youth (GDAAY) Centre at HSC Winnipeg Children’s Hospital Quinn started the process of transitioning in fall of 2020.
For Quinn discovering who she truly is happened in a series of events, not all at once. Quinn began exploring her identity at a young age and always loved trying on heels and dresses. At age 13, when she presented male, she came out as gay and in later years experimented with dressing in drag – but still felt like something wasn’t quite right.
“It felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere and it felt like I didn’t belong,” says Quinn.
Quinn’s mother Kathryn says Quinn was always a theatrical child who enjoyed expressing herself through costumes and performing but as she grew older it became clear there was something more she needed.
“It was a progression for her to figure out what she was feeling inside. She didn’t feel right in her body and didn’t know exactly why,” says Kathryn.
At age 15 Quinn started being able to articulate what needed to change in order to find her place – her insides didn’t match her outsides. Quinn began wearing women’s clothes exclusively and shared her name and identity with family and friends. She had decided to transition and together with her mother contacted GDAAY to start the process.
Quinn’s first conversation with an intake nurse at GDAAY was meaningful. She says starting the process – along with expressing herself through clothing, long hair and makeup – made her feel more self-confident.
“I just felt complete, like that moment when Cinderella sees herself in the mirror,” says Quinn.
Quinn has begun hormone therapy and will continue to consult with doctors on what surgeries, if any, are right for her and says each new step is exciting. She also has mental health support from experts in gender dysphoria and says her sessions have been very helpful.
“I was so comforted to hear I’m not alone, there are other people experiencing the exact same thing as me,” says Quinn.
For Kathryn knowing GDAAY is there for her daughter through this journey is a huge relief.
“It’s a support to me to know that my kid is being taken care of and that there are clinical experts who can help her through it,” says Kathryn.
Kathryn remembers the moment when she knew transitioning was right for Quinn very clearly. She and Quinn had gone shopping, and Quinn wore a new skirt and blouse with her favourite wig to the grocery store.
“When we got in the car she burst into tears and said that was the first time she’d ever been out as who she felt like she should be,” says Kathryn.
Kathryn is thankful to the donors who make it possible for her daughter to receive the care she needs at GDAAY.
“We don’t always know what the health care needs of our children are going to be. I’m just so thankful that we have the help in place. We wouldn’t have programs like GDAAY if donors weren’t continuing to support the hospital,” says Kathryn.
This isn’t the first time Quinn has needed hospital care. When she was 11-years-old, presenting as male and going by the name Logan, she spent 12 days in critical condition in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) following a serious motor vehicle collision. Quinn fully recovered with the help of many specialists across Children’s Hospital and is thankful for the care she received then and the support she is getting now.
“Everyone deserves help no matter who it is or no matter what situation they’re in. Everyone deserves the right support,” says Quinn.
Kathryn says Quinn’s experiences have brought their family closer together. Quinn’s father Nik and brother Mal are cheering her on as she gets closer to being the person she wants to be.
“We’re a much stronger family going through this. We support what she needs and who she is,” says Kathryn.
With the help of GDAAY Quinn is looking forward to a life fulfilling her heart’s desires, like wearing a gorgeous dress to prom.
“I’m finally ready to accept myself, to just be me, and live happily ever after.”
Learn more about GDAAY
The Gender Dysphoria Assessment and Action for Youth Centre (GDAAY) is a program at HSC Winnipeg Children’s Hospital to support transgender children’s health care needs and offers treatment for youth experiencing gender dysphoria. The Gender Dysphoria Assessment and Action for Youth Centre (GDAAY) is a program at HSC Winnipeg Children’s Hospital to support transgender children’s health care needs and offers treatment for youth experiencing gender dysphoria.
Someone who is experiencing gender dysphoria feels discomfort or distress caused by a discrepancy between that person’s gender identity and sex assigned at birth.
The GDAAY clinic has a team of clinical experts to support transgender youth, including child and adolescent psychiatry, clinical psychology, adolescent medicine, and pediatric endocrinology. This team sees children ages 7 – 16 for new consults and follows them until they’re 17. GDAAY works with another Manitoba program – Klinic’s Trans Heath program – to transition kids into adult health care at 17.
GDAAY team members work together to develop a plan for each patient they see, and where the process begins all depends on their age. For instance, those early on in puberty will start with a visit to an endocrinologist for puberty suppression. Youth already going through puberty will first meet with a psychologist or psychiatrist to assess readiness for hormone therapy, and then they see endocrine-adolescent medicine for that hormone therapy.
Ongoing care at GDAAY involves discussion with youth about how they would like to express their gender identity, consultation on which surgeries may be right for them, and therapy to support their mental health. Youth who need GDAAY’s services can be referred by a physician, or their family can make contact with the program directly. GDAAY also provides patients with a list of resources like peer support groups, helpful books, and crisis hotlines to support them in their journey.
Fast facts about GDAAY:
- When the GDAAY program was established in 2010 it had a total of just six referrals for patients that year
- Demand for services at GDAAY continues to grow and in 2020 a total of 78 youth were referred
- As of the beginning of 2021 GDAAY had 240 active patients with around 100 on the waiting list
- Youth will wait an average of one year to get in to see GDAAY specialists, but some end up waiting two years or more depending on where they are in their journey
- About 75% of kids seen at GDAAY are between the ages of 14-18
- Evidence suggests most transgender youth are aware of their identity about five years prior to seeking medical help with transitioning
Dr. Brandy Wicklow, Medical Lead at GDAAY Pediatric Transgender Health Services and Clinician Scientist at Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba, says the program is an important resource.
“The ability to present to society as the person children identify as inside means more personal acceptance, less anxiety about the future, and alleviates significant mental distress.”