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Transgender reversal: It’s not so easy to become a girl again

A 21-year-old girl was given nearly 600 column centimetres in last weekend’s edition of New Zealand’s largest newspaper. That’s almost two full pages, including photos, of the broadsheet format used by the NZ Herald on Saturdays. What had she done? Sailed solo around the world? Won an international fashion prize? Joined the Trump administration as youth adviser?

None of the above. Zahra Cooper has done something extremely rare, according to the Herald’s research with, admittedly, rather sketchy statistics: after transitioning to male, she has reverted to female, though not without seemingly permanent effects from the testosterone she took for eight months. Her male voice surprises people when she “dresses female”. She would “love to be seen more as a female” but…

Hers is a cautionary tale about childhood problems, self-diagnosis via YouTube, wrong professional diagnosis and inadequate professional care. Yet — though she warns against applying the obvious lessons more widely – her experience could help other young people to avoid a step they may regret for the rest of their lives.

Zahra was born in a rural New Zealand town. Her family split up when she was young. She was shy and struggled to make friends at school. Always a tomboy, she hated the changes to her body that came at puberty and thought she was lesbian. Looking for clues on the internet she came across videos about transgender people and became convinced she was “trapped in the wrong body”. Meanwhile she was bullied at school and online for being “weird”.

At 18 she asked her family to start calling her “Zane” and use male pronouns. By then she was living with her grandfather, Victor Rakich, a retired farmer who had “taken her in” four years earlier. He told her straight that he could not cope with treating her as a male, although it would not make any difference to his love for her and support.

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