Our family journey

Our family journey

by Te Roera Puna, Iwi Liaison Coordinator, Wellington District

My wife Caroline and I are very proud of our 17-year-old daughter Awa. She is an exceptionally talented young person in her final year at high school. She is also biologically male - but you would never know.

Two weeks ago Ruckus Media - aka Nigel Latta - wrapped up a documentary which TVNZ is due to air on Sunday 4 June. It’s called Awa – Born This Way.

It’s about a young transgender woman seeking acceptance, working through barriers and breaking the news among her family, school and community.

Today she has an air of confidence. She is intelligent, determined and wants to be an advocate for other youth struggling with gender identity. She is promoting awareness in the community because there is no written pathway. She is an aspiring filmmaker who has made a series of YouTube videos about her journey (see below).

Awa vid clips

I'm a District Iwi Coordinator in the Kapi-Mana Area, having worked 14 years in the MPES group out of Wellington Central Police Station.

I whakapapa back to Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngai Tūhoe and Tūwharetoa Iwi. Although my children do not speak Te Reo, they are proud of their Māori heritage and where they come from.

I clearly remember the day I received a phone call from Kapiti College to say an ambulance was taking Awa to hospital - she had overdosed on anxiety medication.

The news is any parent's worst nightmare. 'Why has this happened?’ and ‘Will we lose her?’ went through my mind.

The then Area Commander, Inspector Chris Scahill, and Prevention Manager Inspector Tusha Penny supported me and my family through the ordeal. My wife Caroline and I wanted to believe Awa had mistaken medication for mineral substitutes but the facts didn't add up.

We were grateful to Tusha for volunteering to speak with Awa and putting Police support networks in place for my family.

Just when we thought everything was on track, Awa had a relapse, bringing on a series of seizures. The medication was so strong that it stayed in her system for many days. Tusha put me on leave to concentrate on my family and home. Police support was overwhelming.

Through a great youth counselling service and our local GP, Awa disclosed her struggle with gender identity. She was not coping with having been born male and was afraid of rejection if she disclosed her need to be female.

Caroline said that no matter what, we as parents needed to provide unconditional love.

That's when I realised I needed to come to terms with my unconscious bias. We booked appointments with counsellors, met psychologists and medical specialists. They gave us a better understanding of transgender – it’s not a choice but the result of a chromosome imbalance.

Midway through 2015 we met the school principal and his senior staff to re-introduce Awa as a female. Simple support plans were put in place to manage her access to toilets and wearing a skirt.

Both would have been highly controversial in my day but today’s young people are much more accepting and less inclined to stigmatise.

The journey has transformed my understanding of diversity, and our Police value of Valuing Diversity.

There are many families like us going through these experiences. If Awa's story can help them discover a path, she is making a great contribution by bringing awareness on this topic to New Zealanders.

Like I said, we are very proud of Awa.