Ria Cooper has spent the last year having hormone injections to turn her from a boy into a girl.
Teenager Ria Cooper has spent the last year having hormone injections to turn her from a boy into a girl. Formerly named Brad, she has already developed breasts, dresses in glamorous outfits, wears her hair in a feminine bob and has dated several young men. At 18, she is Britain’s youngest sex-swap patient.
Yet despite thousands of pounds worth of NHS treatment, as well as psychiatric and doctors’ assessments, Ria has now decided she wants to go back to being a BOY. Her decision, which comes after two suicide attempts, calls into question whether she was too young to be allowed to swap sexes in the first place. “Life has really got on top of me recently,” she says. “The hormones have made me feel up and down. One minute I feel moody and the next minute I feel really happy. “A couple of months ago I’d had enough and took a lot of paracetamol but my friend found me and made me sick. Just before that, I’d tried to slash my wrists and ended up in hospital. I get these dark moods when nothing seems right. “The night I tried to slash my wrists I’d downed a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and just thought about how alone I am, how my decision has alienated my family and how I will have to become a boy again to resolve it. “I don’t want to live in isolation, away from everyone I love. This is the only way forward. I just want to be happy and this is my last chance.”
Ria, of Hull, East Yorks, has been dressing as a girl since she was 12. As Brad, she would wear clothes belonging to her three older sisters and borrow her mum’s lipstick. At school she was taunted for being gay and was eventually excluded for getting into fights. Aged 15, she begged doctors to turn her into a woman, believing it would change her life for the better.
She was referred to a psychologist at Hull Royal Infirmary and later to the Gender Identity Clinic in London, where specialists agreed she was a woman trapped in a man’s body. Aged 17, Ria started hormone injections, making her the youngest ever patient in the UK to receive such treatment. But the controversial decision has devastated her life. She has fallen out with family, got into dangerous situations with men and even worked as a prostitute.
Female hormone injections have seen her develop tiny breast buds and she no longer has to shave every day. She is booked in for the full transgender op in January but now says she will no longer go ahead with it.
“It will be strange because the last time I dressed properly as a boy I was about 10 years old,” she says. “I’m still conscious of the way I look and I want to look like a trendy gay man rather than a girl-boy.” Ria’s last hormone injections were three months ago when she told her doctor she will not be having any more. The breasts she has developed should slowly disappear. She says: “I just can’t be what I want to be. My mum Elaine loves and supports me as much as she can, yet she doesn’t allow me to live at home any more. My dad barely speaks to me and says I’m an embarrassment. I think as the only boy in the family he thought I’d follow him into the steel business and pictured us working out together at the gym. “Obviously it’s not turned out like that. I don’t know who I can trust as friends. I feel really, really alone.”
Critics warned two years ago that Ria’s tender years meant she was too young to make the decision to become a woman. Last night child psychologist Karen Sherr, formerly of Great Ormond Street Hospital, said: “It’s absolutely ludicrous for young kids to make such huge, life-changing decisions... and for doctors and their parents to support it. “At that age you haven’t developed fully, neither physically nor emotionally. You’re still exploring your sexuality and you don’t know how you might end up. “Children need to be allowed to grow into adults before they go through with something like a sex change because, as this case shows, at that age you don’t know yourself well enough.”
But Ria insists: “I don’t regret my original decision. I’ve always known I wanted to be female since I was a little girl but it’s all led to so much trouble.” Choking back tears, Ria reveals how hormone treatment has left her feeling emotionally unstable, highlighting the two suicide attempts she has made in the last three months. At 5ft 10ins with a head of glossy raven hair, Ria attracts a lot of male attention, but her fragile mental condition has led to low self-esteem. “The hormones have given me emotions I find it hard to cope with, teamed with a high sex drive,” she says. “Over the last year everything has been about sex and boys and wanting to be loved. “I’ve had a couple of boyfriends who’ve known what I am, but straight men just see me as some sort of lady boy, a freaky challenge to notch up on their bedpost. “Gay men don’t want me because they want a real man. I’ve nobody at the minute and don’t feel I can ever find love the way I am. “There’s nothing to guarantee I will find love as Ria or Brad but I think I’ll have more luck as a gay man.”
Ria admits to dabbling in prostitution – something touched on by a recent Channel 4 documentary, which followed her life over a year. “If there’s one thing I regret it’s that but, as usual, it was all about looking for love and being loved. “At the time I thought the guys booking me must have really liked me as a person, but now I just realise I was some sort of secret thrill to them. I cheapened myself thinking I was being loved. “I’ve spent the last year looking for love in some way or another... through prostitution, on the internet or with strangers I meet in bars. “I now know I have to like myself before anyone else appreciates me. All I want to do now is find a nice man as Brad and settle down into some sort of normality.”
The rift with her dad Bjorn, who split from Ria’s mum when she was three, has left her deeply affected. She says: “When he saw the documentary he called me and said he was disgusted. I phoned him the other week to say I’d be near his home in Hull and asked if we could meet up but he said he was busy. “I know my mum loves me but it’s hard for her to take despite trying to be supportive. It just seems everything is against me becoming a woman and I’ve had enough. “I just feel tortured. I feel really depressed. I have real problems sleeping. Sometimes I’m still up at 4am just thinking about how life is.”
Ria says she used to be close to her sisters but her relationship with them has also suffered, adding: “They’ve been great but I know they feel everything this has put Mum and Dad through.” Jobless Ria has now moved away from Hull and is sleeping on a friend’s floor nearby. She says: “I just wanted a fresh start, to go somewhere where nobody knows me.” Now she’s considering a career in the Army. “At least if I go back to being a boy I’ll be able to join without discrimination from other soldiers,” she says. “Gay male recruits are now more accepted. “I’ve always wanted to join the Forces. Ironically. I’ve dated quite a few soldiers over the past two years!”