A man whose mother won a landmark victory to have his birth certificate amended to female when he was a child is now fighting for it to revert to being male.
Joe Holliday was born with a rare defect that led to his genitalia being partially unformed and although at birth he was registered male, when he was 11 months old doctors advised he should be raised as Joella.
Joe (27), of Acacia Avenue, Spalding, said: “I feel as if my identity was stolen away from me when I was a baby and now I want it back.”
Joe, who has told his story in a book, was born suffering with cloacal exstrophy, an extremely rare birth defect that left his abdomen partially formed and organs exposed on the outside of his body.
Doctors feared he would not survive and an emergency christening was held during which he was named Joel David Holliday. With no obvious genitalia present, doctors were not confident whether he was male or female but the name Joel was settled upon because his parents had only chosen a boy’s name at that stage and were yet to agree on a girl’s name should they have a daughter.
Joe underwent lifesaving surgery and, although he was left with a colostomy and a raft of ongoing health issues that have required many surgeries, he survived.
It was only when he was 11 months old that a specialist said had Joe been born into his care he would have designated him female. The specialist said he felt Joe would have a much better future as a girl. Joe had no penis and to try to live as a man would be horrendously psychologically challenging, Joe’s mum – Julia Farmer (47), of Pinchbeck – was told.
Julia felt she had to follow the expert advice and renamed Joel, Joella on his first birthday.
Julia thought she would be able to simply request Joella’s birth certificate be changed to female but the Government refused to amend it. It said a birth certificate was a record of the facts at birth and Joella had been born a boy.
Julia sought legal advice and spent many years battling behind closed doors to try to get the new birth certificate. Without it, she feared, little Joella could be forced to go to a boys’ school and when she reached adulthood, as legislation stood then, she would not have been able to marry a man.
In 1996, having been continuously refused the new birth certificate, Julia turned to the press for help.
The story captivated national and international media and eight-year-old Joella’s photograph and story were splashed across newspapers and TV. Princess Diana even wrote to Joella offering her support – but the Government continued to refuse to give her a new birth certificate.
It wasn’t until a barrister offered to help Dianne Miller, the Spalding-based solicitor who had worked tirelessly and for free on Joella’s case, that change was achieved.
Barrister Robert Hill argued that Joella’s lack of genitalia at birth meant she could have been classified either male or female – or neither. He argued Joella was essentially ‘intersex’ and in being registered male, an error had been made.
In November 1998, the Government accepted the argument and issued an amended birth certificate to Joella.
Everyone hoped the new birth certificate marked a happy ending for Joella but sadly it was not to be.
Horrifically bullied at school, Joella had a nervous breakdown when she was 11 and went on to spend years battling depression.
Joe said: “I felt like my mind was as broken as my body. I knew I wasn’t like anyone else – particularly other girls.”
Despite what many newspapers had said when reporting upon her case, Joella had never been interested in wearing dresses or playing with dolls. In her teens she was prescribed oestrogen to encourage her body to develop womanly curves but she wasn’t attracted to men. She told herself she was a lesbian.
Until Joella was 25 she did not think it was possible for her to have a gender test but when she was referred to a new doctor he ran one. It showed she had XY chromosomes, the genetic make-up typical to a man. Joella later discovered she had been born with undescended testes.
Joe knew he needed to finally be true to himself and began transitioning back to being male: “It has been strange seeing my body shape change, the arrival of facial and body hair and my voice deepen, but it feels right. Finally I feel happy.”
lJoe’s book She’s A Boy, written with Louise Chapman and published by Thistle Publishing, is available from Amazon now.