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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Brave, Strong Girls: Maya

Brave, Strong Girls is a series from cuteheads that aims to shine the spotlight on special girls who have faced challenges in their young lives and continue to be examples to their friends and strangers alike. Through this series, we hope to show that different is beautiful and that the things that make us unique make us special.

Each girl will have a special dress designed and named for her and a photoshoot just for her. Dresses will be sold at and all the profits from the sales of these dresses will be donated to the charity of the mother’s choice. 

Brave, Strong Girls: Maya // Promoting Transgender Awareness. Learn more at

To her friends and family, Maya is just a normal girl, who loves dresses, twirling and gymnastics. She is friendly, funny and a great sister to her twin brother, Max.

But unlike many girls, Maya was born Josh. Maya is transgender, and at 8 years old, she has already faced more challenges than most little girls. She is navigating a new normal, learning how to cope with everyday situations that arise from the life she is living, and doing it with bravery and strength.

Brave, Strong Girls: Maya // Promoting Transgender Awareness. Learn more at

Today, thanks to her incredible parents, Maya has transitioned to living life as a girl, the way she feels she was meant to be. Her parents, Lisa and Jeff, have been on an unbelievable journey through raising a transgender child, and they sat down with me to discuss what that journey has been like, not only for them but for Josh at the time, now Maya.

Even as I edit their story, I have tears in my eyes. Not from sadness, but from the overwhelming love and strength that it takes for parents to provide such unconditional love that their child feels safe and supported to make such a brave and difficult decision.

Brave, Strong Girls: Maya // Promoting Transgender Awareness. Learn more at

The shoot itself was emotional; we all had tears in our eyes, including Maya, who faces the same challenges all girls face. Am I pretty? Am I enough? Eight years old is a difficult age on its own without the added emotional and physical things Maya is tackling. Working on this has opened my eyes, and I’m grateful to be able to tell their story.

You will read the story of a family who did not choose this path, the path of raising a transgender child, but have navigated it with grace, open minds, and love. You will read the words of a young girl who is choosing to be who she is, and has felt called to share her story not only for herself but for others. With that, meet Lisa and Maya.

Brave, Strong Girls: Maya // Promoting Transgender Awareness. Learn more at


The proceeds from the sales of the Maya dress will be donated to Equality Texas. The Maya dress is now available at


cuteheads:  I think it would be extremely informative to the readers if you could explain
Maya’s story and your family’s process helping Maya to transition.

Lisa: We found out we were expecting twin boys 8 Years ago and began planning for there
arrival and imagining their futures. Little did we know that the gender revealed at our 15
week check up might not true. Our kids Josh and Max at the time began preschool at 15
months. Every single morning he would arrive at school and head straight to the dress up
clothes and put on a “princess dress”. He would cry at the end of the day when he had to
take it off. We also noticed for the first time Joshua was excited around toys and yet he
was only gravitating towards the dolls or toys that mostly girls love. We began to joke
that he was gay or as my husband used to say “we have a flamer”. We didn’t care, and I
even joked to my girlfriends that if he was gay at least he would never leave me! You see,
you can wrap your mind around having a gay child, but it never occurs to you that I
might have a Transgender one. To be honest, I didn’t really know any
trans people.

At about 2.5 the questions began:
• When is my penis going to fall off?
• Why can’t I wear a nightgown to sleep?
• Can a fairy g-d mother make me in to a girl?
• When is my hair going to be long like Rapunzel’s?
• When will I get my boobies?
• Why did g-d make a mistake and put me ink the wrong body?
• Can I cut my penis off?

We knew then that this was more than gay… we knew we needed to see a psychologist
and fast because we had no clue how to respond to these questions! So we asked Max’s
neurologist for a referral for Joshua and we began to see Dr. Axelrad, who, at our first
appointment, taught us some new terminology we weren’t familiar with. She explained
that gender is a spectrum, not a binary. That gender was different from sexuality and that
Joshua was Gender Non-Conforming.

Brave, Strong Girls: Maya // Promoting Transgender Awareness. Learn more at

I no clue what that meant, but she explained that this diagnosis was just a catch-all term for kids who were displaying characteristics that didn’t match the societal constraints for their assigned gender. In other other words, kids who acted or had displayed traits that didn’t match their biological gender. She explained further that some kids in this category grow up to be gay, some grow up heteronormative, and some are transgender. She told us that only time would tell which Joshua would end up being.

At about 5 years old, the kids were in different classes. Every day, Josh wanted to
dress in the dress up clothes and had begun asking at home if he could wear girls clothes
everyday. Dr. Axelrad informed us that we needed to allow Joshua the freedom to dress in
girls clothes and that we should go to Target that very day after we leave the appointment
and pick out some new clothing. In that moment, I honestly felt as thought my heart was
breaking because I knew the direction things were heading and I knew it meant all the
dreams and ideas I had about raising twin boys were going to be destroyed. Nevertheless,
I took Josh straight to target, my heart pounded as we entered the girls clothing section.
Joshua squealed with delight immediately picking the prettiest party dresses instead of
the every day play clothes I had expected to buy. I indulged him and purchased the dress
and a matching headband, anxious to get out of the store.

The very next morning, Joshua insisted on wearing his new outfit. I had a knot in my
stomach and was worried about not having had time to warn the teachers in advance, but
given the doctor’s advice to allow Josh the freedom to dress without any judgement we let

He was thrilled at breakfast that morning, twirling around the kitchen in the blue
dress. The car ride there he was brimming with joy. When we arrived at school, I was
nervous. As I went to open the car door, I felt my cheeks flush and turn bright red with
embarrassment. I immediately thought, “everyone must be looking at us.” We approached
the front of the building when a classmate approached saw us and giggled to her father
“oh daddy look, Josh is dressed like a girl, isn’t that silly!” The little girl who only
commented innocently about Josh triggered a panic in Josh that I had never seen before.

He literally crawled under my shirt and froze, he wouldn’t move an inch and wouldn’t
come out from his hiding spot. We headed to the school office where we met with the
counselor who helped to calm Josh down and Josh was able to express his fear of what
kids might say. I had brought a change of clothes and offered Josh the option to change,
but he insisted on staying in the dress. Finally we told him he had to join the rest of the
class and we walked to the library where the whole grade was. There was an audible
reaction with lots of kids pointing and giggling and commenting on Josh wearing a dress.
Josh ran straight to his teachers lap and hid his face with his hands. Max stood up and
shouted to the rest of the group to “be quiet, don’t be mean to my brother, be nice.” He
then went to his brother and grabbed his hands and kissed them, trying to comfort him.

This was the major turning point for our family, as Josh discovered it meant more to be
able to be herself, even if it meant having a negative reaction from others. We saw how
much she needed this. Shortly after, she requested we change her name and pronouns.
We then gave her a list of girl names that her dad and I both liked with the same initials.
She insisted on reversing the initials from her first and middle name and selected the
name Maya Juliana.

Brave, Strong Girls: Maya // Promoting Transgender Awareness. Learn more at

cuteheads: What an incredible story, especially Max’s reaction at school. How is Max dealing with your family’s new normal, now that Maya has transitioned?

Lisa: When we explained to Max that we were going to start calling Josh a new name and she was going to be his sister now, he reacted as if it was no big deal. He informed us that he always new Josh was going to be a girl when he grew up. He is very supportive of her
and has stood up for her when she has been bullied by other kids. I don’t think the
dynamic changed in their relationship they still have the same twin bond they always had.

cuteheads: You touched on speaking with the counselors and teachers. How did you address Maya’s transition at her school, with her friends and their families?

Lisa: We were open with the school from the time Maya was diagnosed as Gender Non-
conforming and they were very supportive from the start. Once Maya began her transition, we made an effort to provide resources to the school and made sure they were in
communication with our doctor and knew how to best support her. With regards to her classmates and their parents we, tried to communicate openly and honestly about what was going on. I let the other parents know they could ask us any questions and tried to provide some suggested language about how to explain her transition to their kiddos at home.

Brave, Strong Girls: Maya // Promoting Transgender Awareness. Learn more at

cuteheads: What are some of the struggles Maya faces?

Lisa: In addition to facing adversity and bullying from society and her peers, Maya also
struggles daily with Gender Dysphoria and has a strong aversion to her genitals. She
struggles with anxiety and has told us that she thinks about why g-d made her this way
every day.

cuteheads: Has Maya experienced bullying since coming forward as a transgender individual?

Lisa: The sad reality is that Maya has and will continue to experience bullying for being trans. She knows that not everyone understands or accepts gender diversity and she knows that sometimes people who don’t understand something might be mean or intolerant.

cuteheads: What has been the reaction from friends, family and even strangers toward you
and your husband?

Lisa: For the most part, our community has been wonderfully supportive of our family’s
journey and have shown Maya unconditional love. Unfortunately, there are always some
people with small minds, and we have had negative reactions from some family members
and strangers. We have learned that life is too short to care what others think. It was
particularly painful to have to cut ties with some family members, but we decided early on
that we could not have anyone in our lives who weren’t 100% on board with Maya’s
transition. We had to transition along with Maya and this was all part of the process for us
as parents.

We choose now to focus on all of our amazing family and friends who have stood by us
and we just ignore the ones who haven’t.

Brave, Strong Girls: Maya // Promoting Transgender Awareness. Learn more at

cuteheads: What have been some of her greatest triumphs and wins?

Lisa: Everyday that she goes out in to the world as her true self is a win! But I would say one of the pivotal moments was the day she first came out at school. She saw that kids would be cruel and chose to live her truth regardless. How many adults are that brave that they expose their biggest insecurities about themselves to the world every day and take the rejection in stride?

cuteheads: Hormonal therapy and gender reassignment surgery are potentially in Maya’s
future. Have you and your husband talked about those options, and has Maya mentioned or hinted at potentially wanting that in the future?

Lisa: We have done a lot of research on this issue and continue to learn more all the time.
Puberty is no picnic, even in the best of circumstances. Once the sex hormones estrogen
or testosterone kick in, there’s no turning back: Here come breasts and periods, Adam’s
apples and acne. It’s a tough time for most kids, but for some — transgender youth whose
bodies don’t match their gender identity — puberty can be unbearable.

Maya has an endocrinologist and we have discussed a plan of care for her future which
will likely involve a puberty blocking implant. This implant will stop the progression of male puberty and allow Maya some more time to mature before making any permanent
decisions. This implant simply halts the progress of puberty, so that the body does not
develop secondary sex characteristics.

This has been done safely for decades to suppress sex hormones in children who develop too early, a condition known as precocious puberty and these same drugs are also used to treat various other medical conditions. Maya has consistently stated she wants to develop as a female. During a recent visit to the endocrinologist, Maya learned that surgical intervention would be required to fully transition physically. She has asked lots of questions and has expressed that she wants gender confirmation surgery when she grows up.

If and when Maya decides she wants to continue her transition, we will approach it with the guidance of our medical team to take the next step and introduce cross hormone therapy. At this point, we feel she needs to wait for gender confirmation surgery until she is 18 years old.

Brave, Strong Girls: Maya // Promoting Transgender Awareness. Learn more at

cuteheads: What do you hope for Maya’s future?

Lisa: Like all parents we just want a happy healthy child. We hope that the world will continue to evolve in to a more tolerant and just place, where she can be accepted just the way she is. We hope she finds a community of loving friends and a partner to live her life and family with, just the way we have.

cuteheads: How is Maya a leader and an inspiration to the transgender community?

Lisa: Maya is lucky to have had many other brave trans leaders prepare the way for her. She wants to continue to pave the way for those who come after her. She is a leader because she know that she has to speak out about her journey in order to have an impact. Last year, we traveled to Austin to lobby against the so called “bathroom bill”. We met with
many representatives including one, Mark Keough, who said right in front of Maya that
we were quote: “subverting g-d’s will by allowing our child to express themselves as
female when they are biologically male.” This was one of our more painful days, but also
one of the proudest as Maya handled every encounter like a champ.

She told that rep that she was a lady and therefore she needed to use the ladies restroom
and she didn’t want to use the restroom he used! We ended this contentious meeting on a
positive note with the representative thanking us, as he had never even met a transgender
person before. He also said no one from the liberal lobby even bothers to speak with him, as he is so outspoken about his beliefs. I like to believe that while we may not have
swayed his vote, we certainly put a human face to the issue!

Brave, Strong Girls: Maya // Promoting Transgender Awareness. Learn more at

cuteheads: What do you want people to know about Maya that they may not understand or know?

Lisa: We want people to understand that this is who she really is. That she has always been a girl that we just got it wrong when we assigned her a gender based on her anatomical sex
at birth. We want them to know she is just like any other girl, she is loving, energetic and
creative. She likes playing games, cooking, dressing up, dancing, singing, and playing
sports. She is just a great kid and we should try and put her in a box or make her conform
to fit in or meet anyone’s expectations.

cuteheads: What makes Maya brave and strong?

Lisa: Maya’s journey will not always be any easy one, she has and will continue to face a lot of adversity and people who don’t understand her. She knows her path wont be an easy one but she persists and insists on being true to herself. In doing so she is teaching so many things to others. She has already taught us her parents, so much about what it means to be brave, to be strong, and most of all the true meaning of unconditional love.

Brave, Strong Girls: Maya // Promoting Transgender Awareness. Learn more at


cuteheads: When did you realize you were actually meant to be a girl and not a boy?

Maya: I always knew I was really a girl inside. I didn’t know how to explain it to my mommy
and daddy. Finally, when I was 5 years old I was able to explain that I am a girl in my
head and my heart. I still wonder why g-d put me in a boy body?

cuteheads: How have your friends reacted to your transition?

Maya: My close friends are really nice and nothing really changed. My mom and their mommies helped explain to them that I was always a girl on the inside and that we were going to change my name and just make my outside match my inside now. I think this made sense to my good friends, and they understood so nothing changed. We are still best friends. Some of my school friends didn’t understand what it means for me to be trans and some of them aren’t nice now. I switched schools and now I can just be myself. I still see some of these old school friends at Sunday school and some of them understand now and some are still mean to me.

Brave, Strong Girls: Maya // Promoting Transgender Awareness. Learn more at

cuteheads: Do you know any other transgender people? Do you have any transgender friends around your age?

Maya: I didn’t know any trans people but now my mommy and daddy take me to the Montrose center to meet other kids like me. I haven’t made friends with anyone my exact age yet but I hope to soon.

Also this year I got to go the the Pride parade and ride in a float. I felt so good and I liked
meeting other people who were trans and people who are like me. It feels really good to
go to a place where there are no bullies and where its okay be different, where everyone
can be proud of who they are.

cuteheads: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Maya: I want to be a lot of stuff when I grow up. I want to be a gymnastics teacher and a helper that helps trans people stand up for themselves.

cuteheads: What is your favorite thing to do?

Maya: I love to sing and dance and have playdates with my best friend Lindsey.

cuteheads: What is your favorite subject in school?

Maya: My favorite subject, that’s hard because I love school. I guess ancillary, which is a thing where every day you go to a different class, like gym, art, computers, library, and music!

I like it best because it’s fun!

cuteheads: What is your favorite thing to wear?

Maya: Dresses and fancy clothes. Because they look very pretty and make me feel like a girl.

Brave, Strong Girls: Maya // Promoting Transgender Awareness. Learn more at

cuteheads: What makes you brave and strong?

Maya: I am brave and strong because I am not afraid to be who I really am, even if people don’t like it. I want to help other kids be brave and strong and not be afraid.

Shop the Maya dress now. Photos by Le Zu Photography, shot at West Studios

The post Brave, Strong Girls: Maya appeared first on The Cuteness.

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