Trans teen's war with his body started when he was just 10

Theo Ramos at age 14. AP photo by Lynne Sladky.

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Theo Ramos learned how to cut himself when he was in fifth grade, when his body seemed to revolt.

Nothing made sense back then, but Theo absorbed what he saw on websites like a religion. All he could focus on was how the exterior he was born with — that of a girl — didn't look or feel right. That was six years ago, when he had another name and a different gender.

He became a child at war with his body. He wasn't aware of words like gender dysphoria or transgender; those would come later. So would the national debates, the furor over bathrooms and discussions of how to help children who didn't feel right in their own skin.

"When you're 10 years old, you really shouldn't be worried about who you are," Theo would say years later, in a moment of reflection. "You shouldn't be having that existential question when you're in fifth grade. You should be worried about homework and the fifth-grade dance coming up."

When Theo saw thin kids online, he looked at his own baby fat and, once again, didn't fit in. He wouldn't eat for days, or he'd force himself to throw up.

Cutting and vomiting weren't painful, not exactly. They were more of a stress release, a way to match physical pain to what he felt inside: "I just know that it isn't right, that the body I have isn't supposed to be this way."

Small aggressions at school led to outright bullying. Other kids asked what was in Theo's pants, if he had a penis, if he could show them. Theo started missing school. A therapist diagnosed depression and anxiety disorder.

If only Theo could become a boy through hormone therapy — that, he thought, would solve his problems.

"It's just like every time I'm misgendered it feels like a wrench clamping around my heart and it slowly grows tighter and tighter," he explained. "Being addressed as female or identifying as female never felt right to me; it always gave me this acute sense of discomfort and pain."

Experts say impatience is common: Transgender children want to transition, and waiting is frustrating. Even under regular circumstances, teens and patience aren't usually mentioned in the same sentence.

Doctors say going slow when treating trans teens is essential for physical and emotional well-being, and note that if a teen's feelings last until age 16, the desires are probably permanent.

Theo insisted testosterone could bring peace with his body: "If I could just start T therapy, I would know I was on the way to being who I'm supposed to be."

His parents, though, worried about the effects on their growing child.

Theo wanted testosterone, but his anxiety sometimes made him question his desires. It became a regular topic of conversation between mother and son.

"I'm nervous," Theo said in the spring of 2016. He was 14. "What if I do change my mind?"

"Well, what if you do?" asked his mother, Lori Ramos.

"I can always stop," Theo said.

Ramos shook her head. "The changes are permanent."

By TAMARA LUSH, Associated Press
Copyright Associated Press. All rights reserved.
The Gayly – 11/20/2017 @ 1:45 p.m. CST