‘Saying goodbye to Joella has been so very difficult

Proud mum with Joe now. Photo: Tony Jones
Proud mum with Joe now. Photo: Tony Jones
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A mother who was told by doctors to raise her baby boy as a daughter has spoken of the pain she felt when her child grew up and admitted he needed to live as a man.

Julia Farmer (47), of Oldham Drive, Pinchbeck, fully supports son Joe Holliday in his recent transition back to male, but has suffered terrible guilt at feeling she made the wrong decisions when he was a baby.

When I’d had to say goodbye to Joella it was as if I lost a child. I knew Joella was going to go too but I didn’t mention it. I didn’t want to have any input into Joe’s decision. All I needed him to know was that whatever he decided, it was fine with me and he would have all of our support.

Mum Julia Farmer

Joe (27), of Acacia Avenue, Spalding, has recently told his story in a book She’s A Boy – as previously reported in our sister paper the Spalding Guardian. Now Julia has spoken out about her own difficult journey.

Julia said: “From the moment I first put him in a dress as a one-year-old, I’d convinced myself Joe had been destined to be a girl. He was such a pretty baby.

“Later when we fought for and ultimately won a ‘female’ birth certificate, I was told ‘intersex’ was the best description for Joe and, if anything, when he finally had a chromosome test, aged 25, I thought the results would reflect that. I never dreamed they would come back male.

“My first reaction was ‘oh my God, how is Joe going to deal with this?’

“I remember saying ‘What the hell are we going to do now?’ Where do we go from here?’ It was like a swirl of every possible emotion. There was a lot of anger – I just wanted to scream at someone.”

Julia had no idea Joe was to be the victim of a rare birth defect – cloacal exstrophy – until the moment he was born.

Julia, aged only 19, was told her baby may not survive. Joe’s abdominal region was not fully formed – his organs were visible on the surface of his body and he had no obvious genitalia.

There was a rush to complete a bedside baptism – everyone fearing Joe would die. He was named Joel – purely as it was the only name Julia and her then boyfriend – Joe’s father, Gary Holliday – had chosen.

Almost a year later, a specialist told Julia that had Joel been born in his care he would have advised he be raised female. Although by then organs thought to be undescended testicles had been found in Joe’s body, the medical opinion was that Joe would be tormented living as a boy without a penis.

As a girl, with the help of hormone treatment, it was felt Joella – as she was renamed – could have an existence much closer to ‘normal’.

As soon as Joe became Joella – aged 12 months – Julia asked the Government to amend her birth certificate to show her sex as female and her name as Joella, but the request was refused.

Julia battled behind closed doors for the next seven years and, when she was still being ignored, turned to the press for help in 1996.

Joella’s story was covered widely by media worldwide for two years until in 1998 the new birth certificate was finally won.

Julia said: “When we won, I felt so proud of what I had achieved. But in 2013, when Joe discovered he had XY chromosomes, I felt I should never have done it.

“Of all the different emotions I felt, guilt was the biggest. I questioned every decision I had ever made regarding Joe. In my own mind I questioned continually how I had allowed any of this to happen. Was it because I was a stupid 19-year-old kid that I made these decisions?”

However, whilst Julia battled to come to terms with the chromosome result, for Joe it brought a new inner peace.

For years Joe had battled depression. He had always blamed his feelings on his physical ill health – his condition left him with crippling digestive problems that have prevented him being able to work.

But the genetics results left him feeling that much of his unhappiness was rooted in the difficulty he had in trying to live the lie of being a woman.

Julia said: “From the day of the results onward, I looked at Joe and could feel the depression lifting.

“When I’d had to say goodbye to Joella it was as if I lost a child. I knew Joella was going to go too but I didn’t mention it. I didn’t want to have any input into Joe’s decision. All I needed him to know was that whatever he decided, it was fine with me and he would have all of our support.

“One morning I asked if there was anything he wanted to discuss and said ‘it’s okay, I know what you’re going to do’.

“He just said ‘I know who I am now’ and within that one sentence he looked so different, like he had found himself. It was a really elated conversation but then I got in my car and felt like someone had hit me with a tonne of bricks. I realised all this wonderful energy he had got, he could have had that when he was little.

“I thought back to all the times when Joella was young and had said she didn’t fit in. We’d say it’s because she had a colostomy or sticky out tummy and waddles when she walks due to her poorly formed abdomen and pelvis. It started to dawn on me it was none of that. It was because I changed her to Joella.

“I felt like I had ruined her childhood and forced her to be something she never should have been.

“Joe started taking testosterone and I was watching my daughter turn into a man. Every day I noticed something – his neck was wider, his face more chiselled.

“Saying goodbye to Joella has been very difficult for me. I had a different relationship with Joella to the relationship I had with my two boys – it wasn’t better or worse, but it was different.

“I had Joella for 24 years and will always miss her but I am just so proud of how Joe – my son – has dealt with everything that has happened to him and every day I am so grateful to have him.”

• Joe’s autobiography, She’s A Boy, published by Thistle Publishing, is available now from Amazon, £3.99 for Kindle; £9.99 for paperback.