My son is a beautiful girl
FISHERS, Ind. (WTHR) — It took time to sink in, but gradually a Fishers couple came to accept that their son was different. They share the hope of all parents - that their child, no matter how unique, be included, be happy and be safe. Already, they can see for Dominice it's not going to be easy. But they want to share their story.
It's homecoming and the stands at the Indiana School for the Deaf are full. Dominice Denney found a spot standing at a front rail. She has a clear view of the court coronation at half time. "I definitely want to be homecoming queen," Dominice says.
Dominice is 10-years-old and likely unaware of just how difficult a dream of the queen's crown may be.
"I still worry about her future," Dominice's dad, Carl, says through American Sign Language interpreters. Carl knows being deaf already separates Dominice, but there is more going on in Dominice's young life than most of us could ever imagine.
"It's funny, Dom has been aware of what was happening long before us, it took us catching up to her to really realize," Carl said.
Dominice was born Dominic, a boy, the fourth in the family of five children.
Her parents remember how Dominice seemed so 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," Carl said.
But instead, the family watched Dominic increasingly grow into a shy, withdrawn and agitated child.
"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 said.
Dominice remembers being mad and fighting back.
"I just kept taking those clothes off and I just wanted to wear high heels and girl clothes and make up," she signs.
Her parents started to look into what may be happening and what their child was trying to express.
"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," said Dominice's mom, Tuesday, who is also deaf. "So then when I found the word transgender, that's definitely Dominice."
‘I'm a girl in a boy's body'
Dominice is a child with the body of a boy but mentally and emotionally identified as a girl. One day, her parents realized that disconnect could be dangerous.
"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 remembers.
"She said she was born wrong she wasn't supposed to be a boy, it was ‘I'm a girl in a boy's body'." Tuesday said.
The parents say that is when they started to understand and gradually change the rules. At home, Dominic was allowed to wear girl's tops
"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 their child seemed happier, Carl and Tuesday allowed more of Dominic's transition to Dominice.
"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 says.
Dominice moved out of her room with her older brother and now shares a room with a bunk bed with her little sister.
Now wherever she goes, she is introduced as a girl.
"I still love you"
"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 says. "Because the alternative was very bad, I mean we did the research and saw a lot of negative things, like suicide being an issue."
Carl and Tuesday recognize that Dominice is still in elementary school and occasionally will ask her if her gender identify is fluid.
"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 says so far, Dominice has steadfastly responded, "No, I am a girl."
"I just want to be the same"
At the Indiana School for the Deaf, Dominice uses the girl's restroom and stays in the girl's dorm. Still, she struggles with fitting in.
"I just want to be the same. I want to have fun and I want to be able to play with everybody else," Dominice says.
"Her favorite word right now is lonely I just want to play with friends - that's her favorite word." Tuesday says.
"Being invited to go over to other people's houses just hasn't happened," adds Carl.
Dominice recently joined a local Indiana Youth Group (IYG) LGBTQ group created for children like her. She understands there is strong public opinion about her circumstance.
"There are some people out there that don't like boys changing into girls or girls changing into boys," Dominice says.
The family wants to openly share Dominice's situation, yet experience has taught them to be unsure of who to trust and what the consequences may be. Someone, aware of Dominice's self-identity, reported the family to the Indiana Department of Child Services.
"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. The family says they were cleared each time but seeking guidance is tricky.
She's the same, yet she's different
As Dominice ages, the family will have to make decisions about physical intervention.
Her options include hormone shots and surgery.
"As far as the surgery goes, most of us prefer at age 18, " Tuesday says.
The family says it's less clear, when to introduce estrogen shots.
Tuesday prefers starting treatment before Dominice develops an Adam's apple during puberty. But considering Dominice's age and exorbitant costs, the family has no plans for physical intervention in the near future.
The change they want now is in the attitudes and acceptance from those around them.
"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.
She's the same, and yet she's different, saying, "I'm Dominice. That's who I am. And God loves me no matter what."
Dominice's photo of her wearing a multi-colored tutu and holding a basketball is one of the centerpiece photos of the Pride IN History exhibit at the Indiana Historical Society.
The exhibit runs through Saturday, November 14th. Dominice's family hopes the photo sparks a productive conversation about children who are transgender. The photo is by Mark A Lee.