For many, transgender is a relatively new word. With transgender TV stars like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner frequenting the media circuit, the conversation about what gender identity entails has become part of the mainstream.
For 10-year-old Dominice Denney of Fishers, Indiana, it’s simply a matter of being who she always felt she was. Though she was designated male at birth and named Dominic, her parents realized she was different from her older brothers.
"I was wondering if there was something wrong when she was very young about 2 or 3 years old. I'm interested in sports, throwing the football and basketball, but she wasn't interested in that. She was more into feminine things. We thought she would outgrow it,” her father, Carl Denney, communicated to WTHR in American Sign Language trough an interpreter. Carl, his wife, Tuesday, and Dominice are deaf.
Before Dominice could express her gender identity, she grew to be withdrawn and combative. "She would be angry in the morning time typically when I would bring her to school. She would take off her clothes and throw them at me on the way to school as I was driving," Carl signed.
Dominice remembers those early battles with her parents. "I just kept taking those clothes off and I just wanted to wear high heels and girl clothes and makeup," she signed.
Initially, Dominice’s parents thought it was a matter of sexual orientation. "At first I thought, ‘oh maybe she might be gay' and I decided to do some research and you know what — that's not who she is," Tuesday said. "So then when I found the word transgender, that's definitely Dominice."
Despite the shift towards acceptance of transgender people, it can still be distressing for those whose identities don’t align with their body. "I saw her sitting in the corner with scissors ready to cut herself, to get rid of the boy part that bothered her so much," Carl said.
The Denney family decided to allow Dominice to wear feminine clothing at home. "We started allowing her to make these changes and we noticed that her behavior changed. She realized that we were more accepting of what she was showing us," Carl said.
As Dominice’s mood improved, the family decided to keep changing things. "We designed her room and she was just dancing around she was singing — ‘oh this is pretty pink, purple so beautiful and ballet princess,'" Tuesday said.
Dominice now shares a room with her younger sister. "Today she is dressed like a girl, and I look at her and I need to stop fighting. I just need to accept that this is who she wants to be," Carl signed. "Because the alternative was very bad, I mean we did the research and saw a lot of negative things, like suicide being an issue.”
According to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, transgender children and teens have a high risk of suicide. More than 50 percent of transgender youth will have attempted suicide by their 20th birthday.
Though Dominice is firm she is a girl, her parents accept that it might change. "Like every once in a while I will remind her, ‘When you grow up, do you want to change back to a boy? Either way, if you go back to a boy, I still love you,’” Tuesday said.
Dominice’s parents have also struggled — someone reported the family to the Indiana Department of Child Services, although they’ve since been cleared. "DCS came to our house three times. And they say the same thing ‘why is Dom dressed like a girl?' all three times," Carl said.
Despite her parents acceptance, things still aren’t easy for Dominice. She’s lonely at school, but she recently joined a youth LGBTQ group. The future remains uncertain — the Denney family isn’t certain about physical intervention. Although estrogen shots would prevent Dominice from developing male primary and secondary sexual characteristics, the cost is high and her parents are concerned about her age.
"I just want people to look at Dominice as a person, not as just a boy, or girl but just as a person. I mean she is a child." Tuesday says.
Despite the controversy surrounding transgender people, Dominice is at ease. "I'm Dominice. That's who I am. And God loves me no matter what."