Published: 06:00, 10 December 2019
Little Ash Lammin splashes around in the bath wearing a sparkly mermaid's costume.
She's the image of your average three-year-old girl from Kent, obsessed with pink, and in her element when wearing a princess dress - the only thing to be seen in at a birthday party.
But Ash - or Ashton as she was then - is biologically a boy.
And tragically, the only reason she is wearing a swimming costume in the bath is to hide the body which confuses and upsets her so much.
Looking back, her mum Terri, 43, admits it was heartbreaking to see.
"Although she was born male, from the moment she could speak Ash insisted she was a girl," she said.
"By the age of five, she was asking 'when is someone going to chop my winky off?' and questioning why she had it at all."
It was a confusing time for the family, who live in Pegwell near Ramsgate.
Ash simply insisted she was a girl, and her mum says she is the perfect example of a child born in the wrong body.
Now almost 13, Ashley, whose name was changed by deed poll aged eight, is under the NHS-run gender clinic Tavistock and Portman.
She is about to start her transitioning journey with hormone blockers to halt puberty and will be one of the youngest children in the country to go through the process.
When she is 18 she will have reassignment surgery.
"She'd ask 'why do you call me a boy? Why do you put me in boys' clothes?" - Terri Lammin
The bright youngster has researched the process incessantly and eventually wants a womb transplant so she can be a mum when she's older.
"I never thought it was a phase," explains Terri. Ash was just Ash.
"She'd ask 'why do you call me a boy? Why do you put me in boys' clothes?
"When she was three she said to me 'I'm a boy because you gave me a boy's name, it's your fault'.
"I remember feeling horrible; she blamed me.
"I personally thought maybe this was what an extremely camp gay man is like as a child.
"I'd never come across it before and I just went along with it. I just thought 'if he's happy, well that's the main thing'."
But Terri, who has seven other children, says when Ash reached school age and started at Chilton Primary in Pegwell life became harder.
"I sent her to school in a boy's uniform," she said.
"I felt awful. She didn't want to wear it and I was making her.
"The school were great. The headmaster at the time said 'if you think it's going to make life easier then bring Ash in in a girl's uniform', so I did.
"I was in a right state. I thought 'everybody is going to think I'm weird' - but Ash loved it, she found it easy.
"Before, when I was taking her into school, she was biting me and kicking me, she didn't want to go in.
"As soon as she put the girl's uniform on, she wanted to go every day."
Terri admits while the children and school were brilliant, some of the other parents were difficult, leaving her out of social events and complaining that Ash was using the girls' toilets.
"When Ash was Ashton, she was invited to all the kids' parties, even though she used to turn up in a princess dress," Terry explains.
"I'd like to see the subject of transgender people included in some lessons" - Terri Lammin
"The parents didn't mind then. But as soon as I let her be Ashley all the time, for a whole year she didn't get invited to one party.
"The kids were fine; it's not the children, kids play with anybody. It's not until an adult comes in and says you shouldn't do that then it changes."
Terri says Chilton were brilliant, but when Ash reached 11 and moved to Sandwich Technology School she became a target for bullies, who would throw things at her on the bus and shout 'tranny'.
She claims a What'sApp group was even set up, with abusive things written about her daughter.
Terri believes the school failed to deal with it sufficiently and after just one term removed Ash, who is now being home-schooled.
She is now calling for better education within schools to teach children about transgender people.
"Chilton were great, I could not fault them," Terri says.
"They let her use the girls' toilets and get changed for swimming separately. But this isn't the same in all schools.
"I'd like to see the subject of transgender people included in some lessons, like there are about same-sex families.
"There needs to be more about liking people for who they are, not what they are."
Terri also wants to set up a support group for other parents with transgender children, believing there to be many more living in the district, and says it would provide an opportunity for people to speak to others going through the same thing.
It's difficult, she admits, seeing your child dealing with something so huge.
For Ashley, who is under CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) for her anxiety, life is often hard.
Her mum says she baths in her underwear so she doesn't have to see her body and has openly said she wants to die.
"Some days she says 'I'm so glad I'm me' but other days she feels terrible; she asks why it has to happen to her and she hates herself," says Terri.
"I say 'well, some people are born with one leg and they have to deal with it'.
"The journey is long and it's still going but I feel like the sense of victory is there through it all" - Ashley Lammin
"I question whether it was a chromosome disorder that led to this. I would like to know why it happened."
In February, Ash has an appointment with doctors at University College Hospital to see if she is ready for puberty blockers, which prevent the release of chemical signals stimulating the production of estrogen and testosterone, halting the changes of puberty caused by sex hormones.
This will stop her growing facial hair and developing physical male traits.
"She is so inspirational," says Terri. "She could easily have said 'I'll just be a boy' but she feels so strongly about who she is she accepts the difficulties.
"But it's a lot for a child to deal with."
Ash admits it's been difficult growing up as a transgender girl but says the sense of victory is great.
"The journey is long and it's still going but I feel like the sense of victory is there through it all," she said.
"I do feel accepted sometimes, but others times not.
"Not everyone is going to understand and people have to have their own opinions and I understand that. Some people might not like the idea of trans.
"I hope I inspire others but I just hope that love and acceptance comes through everything."
Kate Law, head of school at Chilton Primary School
Ms Law says children like Ashley are pioneers.
"Ashley’s well-being was at the forefront of our work and we passionately believed that the school should support her right to be who she is," she says.
"This meant working to find ways that Ashley could feel comfortable at school, and so we sought advice from organisations like Tavistock and Stonewall.
"Our curriculum offers frequent learning opportunities for children to explore and share their own identities and Ashley was able to speak openly with her classmates and explain to them what it meant for her to live as a transgender girl.
"There is a shortage of accessible services available for schools on supporting transgender pupils and children like Ashley are pioneers.
"External services, particularly CAMHS, are overstretched and so much responsibility falls to school-based staff.
"Children like Ashley deserve compassion and the freedom to be who they are, safe in the knowledge that schools are equipped to protect and nurture them.
"Undeniably, there has to be further work to educate us all on transgender children so that we are better placed to both support and educate them."
Tracey Savage, head teacher of Sandwich Technology School
Ms Savage says the school has had a number of pupils who are transgender and they have thrived.
"We are an inclusive school which works hard to ensure that all students are comfortable, safe and feel equally valued," she explains.
"Significant resources and time were given to Ashley during her time with us, both internally and via external agencies who we worked closely with.
"It would be inappropriate for us to discuss the details of Ashley’s case, but there were complex issues during her time with us and at her previous school.
"We have a comprehensive anti-bullying policy which we apply robustly and we take our responsibility towards teaching LGBT very seriously indeed.
"When Ofsted visited in May they reported that 'pupils learn about equality and respecting others' differences'. Some pupils reflected the views of others when they confidently told an inspector 'it is fine to be different in school'."
More by this authorMarijke Hall
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